Keeping the Faith on the Frontline: A Muslim Doctor, COVID-19 and Prayer

Interview with Dr. Muhammad Anwar Malik who is a Consultant Anesthesiologists & Intensive Care in RCSI group of hospitals in Ireland. He is The National President of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Ireland.The Review of Religions’ team was able to interview him on March 31, 2020 regarding the current world pandemic and its effects on Ireland.

Tariq Malik: Dr. Anwar, thank you for coming here today. We are really excited to talk to you. 

Dr. Anwar Malik: Thank you very much. 

Tariq Malik: Dr. Anwar, obviously there is a lot going on in Ireland right now as you know and we just wanted to talk to you about the current spread of the Coronavirus pandemic and wanted to see, how are you personally dealing with this and what precautions have you taken to protect your family from this? 

Dr. Anwar Malik: As you know that all the countries in the world are dealing with this epidemic and because I am a frontline healthcare worker, that is why I am at more risk. So generally, we are following the guidelines issued by our country, our government. So schools are closed, kids are at home, they are not stepping out. Myself and my wife, we are not going out of home other than essential groceries. I have to work at a hospital and I am dealing with Covid-19 patients, so when I come home I make sure I take a shower in the hospital, and when I come home and try to keep a distance from my family. So I am sleeping in a separate room as well. Not allowing [my] kids to come close to me. So these are general measures that we are taking here. Other than that, there is a lot of emphasis on prayers as well which we spiritually believe in prayers so we are writing to His Holiness (aba) for prayers and there is a lot of emphasis on prayers as well at home. 

Zubair Hayat: Perfect, perfect! So Doctor, what is the situation in the hospitals in Ireland because I am in lockdown in London, Tariq is obviously in America. Have the Covid-19 patients started to flood the ICU units? Or is it still quite empty? And how are the doctors managing the workload. I know you doctors have to work twenty hours a day sometimes. How is that working? 

Dr. Anwar Malik: Yes, the surge officially has begun, it has started in Ireland and the ICUs are also filling now. But we haven’t reached the peak of the surge as predicted yet. But we did a lot of planning .We knew that it is coming. Fortunately our Prime Minister is a medical doctor. So I think they had a better understanding as compared to other leaders in the world perhaps. So we did a lot of planning, although Ireland is a small country with very limited resources, but we have stepped up our ICUs’ capacity three to four times (to what is) normal. So we are ready to, if the numbers reach the peak, we are hoping to manage it effectively. 

Zubair Hayat: Dr. Malik, you know on Instagram, on YouTube and on the internet in general, you see a lot of doctors and nurses with face masks but they have been working for so long that the face mask starts to rub onto their skins and cause damage because they have been working twenty hours a day, [they are working] a lot of long shifts. So have you seen that where you work and what kind of hours are people putting in to help stop this virus from spreading. 

Dr. Anwar Malik: Yes, the face masks which you are seeing on social media and tv, they are specially designed, tight fitted face masks. They are called ‘N-95’ face masks. If you wear them for a long time then they can cause some facial, you can say, some injury or lacerations or very tight marks. Ideally, in ideal situations, you are not supposed to wear them for a very long time but due to the short supply of these masks in different countries, the staff are forced to wear them for a longer time. In a very ideal scenario, if you go in and see a patient and come out, you should remove these masks. So, Alhamdulillah, in Ireland so far we have adequate supply of Personal Protective Equipment and we are managing. So the time hasn’t reached yet to the point that we will see this type of picture. So, thus far our staff is well protected. So far, we have enough supply of Personal Protective Equipment but I don’t know what will happen in the future. We are predicting that in two to three weeks’ time we will get the peak. 

Zubair Hayat: So, I just wanted to ask you if you get nervous or scared dealing with the Coronavirus patients that you might contract it or you know – how do you feel while dealing with them? Because obviously this is a new thing for many doctors out there. 

Dr. Anwar Malik: Yes while working in hospitals, you know, we are professionally trained people, very highly professionally trained people. So personally when I am in the hospital, this question does not come to my mind, you know. I just go and attend to these patients. I am an intensive care specialist as well an Anesthesiologist background but I work in intensive care. And the intensive care part of patient management is the most risky part where we have to intubate the patients meaning that we have to pass a tube in their windpipe to put them on a ventilator and this is considered as the risky procedure in terms of Aerosol generating procedure, so we are very exposed. But with the right gear we are dealing with the patients. So in the hospital, this does not come in my mind. I just deal with this very professionally. But when my shift finishes and then when I hear stories of colleagues getting sick, and the fact that families are effected, obviously then I get a little bit worried, but I take full precautions. So as I said, I go home I make sure that I have taken a shower, I changed my clothes when I reach home and I try to keep whatever distance that is possible with family. 

Tariq Malik: So Dr. Malik, I also have a question about, you know generally speaking, when anybody is sick, there is a lot of emphasis on staying strong mentally. There is this aspect of will power that if you are strong enough, you can over-power through most of the things because mentally…don’t lose it mentally. When you are seeing these Covid-19 patients, and they are aware of the situation, they are aware of the high mortality rates around the world. What have you noticed about them and their spirit to fight against this virus? 

Anwar Malik: I am dealing with the cohort of patients who are very sick, you know. When I get involved in the management, because I am not working in the normal Covid war. So generally the patients come into the Emergency Departments and they are triaged to Covid and non-Covid wards. And the initial management is that they are just isolated and they are just given oxygen and medicines which are not proven but people are trying different medicines. They call us when these patients get very sick and they cannot breath. And at that time we get involved. And when we get involved, these patients feel like they are dying and our job is to resuscitate them, we give them oxygen, we have to give them sleeping agents, we induce coma so they should not feel distressed and pain. Then we put them on ventilators and the time they remain on the ventilator they are deeply sedated or comatose. This is medicine induced coma. So they don’t feel anything and when they wake up, none of my patients have woken up yet. So it’s very hard to say but definitely it is a horrible feeling, I think, when you get to this stage. I can understand that patients feel like that they are going to be dead soon. 

Zubair Hayat: My last question Doctor is, you know you are a doctor, a consultant, but you are also a Muslim, so how does your faith, your spirituality keep you grounded and allow you to keep on moving forward? 

Dr. Anwar Malik: It is very important for us as Muslims and Ahmadi Muslims. We have very strong faith in Allah Almighty and we have a huge support from our Caliph His Holiness Mirza Masroor Ahmad (aba). So we get a lot of comfort writing letters to him. So as I said, in the beginning that in this pandemic period right from the beginning we are also following instructions from our Caliph and he has instructed us to follow the instructions given by the government and do a lot of prayers and put a lot of emphasis on prayers. And in the free time do read books and increase the level of your religious knowledge and spirituality. And this is a custom among Ahmadis or Ahmadiyya Muslim Community to write regularly to His Holiness for prayers and from kids to adults, young and old, everyone writes to him regularly. And when you write a letter, you feel so much comfort and peace in your heart that we believe that he is a man of God and God listens to him. In difficult time; this is a great help. 

Tariq Malik: Excellent! Dr. Anwar, I just have one last question if you have time, just another minute. 

Dr. Anwar Malik: Sure, please go ahead.

Tariq Malik: As you are the National President of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Ireland, there has been medicine which has been prescribed by His Holiness, it’s a homeopathy medicine. Some doctors are really skeptical of this. Can you comment on this? Is this something that we should take as followers of His Holiness or is it something that is proven or something that works? 

Dr. Anwar Malik: I am a medical doctor, I am not a homeopathy doctor. So it’s very hard for me to answer this question. I think my belief is that every medicine or every practice of medicine has some role. Now modern medicine; to prove something you have to conduct some studies in a certain way. Even the drugs that are being used to treat Covid-19 – either its Chloroquine

or Hydroxychloroquine, or various names you are hearing on the social media – they are also not proven. So these are the compassionate use of these drugs which people are trying. Homeopathy medicine, being an Ahmadi Muslim, our Caliphs have practiced this in the past and we have a strong belief in these medicines and I believe every Ahmadi is taking these medicines prophylactically. And I am, being a medical doctor, I am also taking this medicine. So this question did not come in my mind. But every system, it could be herbal medicine, could be homeopathy medicine, could be Greek medicine, has some role. These medicines have been practiced since centuries. So, because our beloved Imam His Holiness (aba) has instructed us to take these medicines, so we are also taking these medicines without any doubt in our mind and we believe that insha’Allah (God Willing) we will get protection. 

Tariq Malik: Thank you so much! Thank you so much for your time and thank you for coming here. We really hope that you and your family stay safe. 

Dr. Anwar Malik: Thank you very much! 

Zubair Hayat: We pray for Ireland and everyone there. Thank you very much! 

Dr. Anwar Malik: JazakAllah! Assalamo ’Alaikum wa Rahmatullah (Peace and blessing of God be upon you) 

Tariq Malik: Assalamo `Alaikum (Peace be upon you)