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Pakistan-born doctor tells of shock at racist radio comments

By Noel McAdam

A consultant psychiatrist has spoken of his shock after a Belfast woman said she would rather die than be treated by a Muslim doctor.

Dr Saleem Tareen, who is based in Whiteabbey, said the outburst on the BBC Stephen Nolan radio show had upset many Muslims.

"It was very hard to hear that being said. It was quite hurtful that there are people who think like that," he said.

"And then I thought 'how would anyone actually be sure a person was Muslim?' The colour of their skin?"

Originally from Pakistan, Dr Tareen said that in 17 years working in Northern Ireland he had only "once or twice" felt that a patient was uncomfortable with him.

"And of course you do what you can to alleviate those feelings," he said.

His comments came after the Belfast Islamic Centre voiced "deep sadness" about the comments and pointed out there are "numerous" Muslim doctors, nurses, pharmacists and others working in NI.

The centre in south Belfast is holding an open day tomorrow for visitors to learn more about the Muslim community and faith and "commonalities".

Dr Tareen said: "As you know there is a quite a shortage of GPs in practices and hospitals and if it was not for Muslim doctors that situation would be even worse. Queen's University and Ulster University get a lot of students from Malaysia and other Muslim countries who then work as junior doctors here."

Presenter Nolan said he had been shocked by the woman's comments and knew he would be criticised for allowing her air-time.

Asked if she would receive treatment from a Muslim doctor, the anonymous 'Janice from Belfast' said: "I wouldn't like to be treated... I would rather go home and die."

The centre, which will be open on Sunday from noon until 5pm, said in a statement: "We were deeply saddened to hear the comments on the Nolan show. Among the Muslim community of Northern Ireland, there are numerous doctors, nurses, pharmacists, carers, scientists, medical students and other health care professionals who will treat you regardless of your religion or racial origin. We are also business owners, taxi drivers, lecturers, students, shopkeepers, office workers, parents, volunteers and more… all contributing to Northern Irish society in our own way".

The statement added: "Muslims have been here for at least 100 years. Many of us were born here, others came for work, education, love or seeking safety and refuge from war and violence abroad.

"It is very important to obtain your information from appropriate sources.

"The Muslim community in Northern Ireland always welcomes visitors, but in particular this Sunday we have an open day at Belfast Islamic Centre and we invite you to join us to find out more about our community, our faith and hopefully our commonalities".

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