Hearing their stories: understanding the experiences of Canadian Muslim nurses who wear a hijab




Saleh, Nasrin

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



My experiences as a Canadian Muslim nurse wearing a hijab have sparked the question concerning the experiences of nurses who, in their daily practice, choose to wear a head cover, an immediate visual signifier of their Muslim identity. I wish to generate understanding of how this religious identity and its racialization intersect with gender to shape nurses’ experiences with anti-Muslim racism. Through listening to the stories of ten Canadian Muslim nurses who were recruited across Canada and who wear different types of the hijab, come from varied and diverse cultural and educational backgrounds, and practice in different healthcare settings and contexts, their experiences are highlighted, and their voices are illuminated, revealing valuable insights into the challenges they encounter in their daily nursing practice. I situate these experiences within a conceptualization of Islamophobia and, more specifically, gendered Islamophobia as a form of anti-Muslim racism that is often experienced by women and girls who are identifiable as Muslims. In this dissertation, I attend to the overarching question: What are the experiences of Canadian Muslim nurses wearing hijab and practicing within the Canadian healthcare system? This question encompasses three sub questions: 1) How do Muslim nurses’ social locations that are produced at the intersections of gender-race-religion converge in understanding their experiences? 2) What are the power relations enacted within the discipline of Canadian nursing that produce and sustain social locations experienced by nurses who wear a hijab? 3) What are the ways these nurses resist their racialization and push against master-narratives that are constructed about them? These questions are approached using narrative inquiry as a research methodology that is informed by critical race feminism and care ethics. These questions are also explored through intersectionality as an analytical lens to unpack the complexities of these nurses’ experiences. In this study I present the nurses’ counter-narrative that challenges the stereotypical assumptions about them and unveils the multilevel contextual power structures that preserve racism within the discipline of nursing and reproduce the processes of racialization experienced by nurses who wear a hijab. In doing so, my aim is to provide a vessel in which the nurses share their stories and to reclaim control over the reductionist Orientalist colonial narratives about them. It is my hope that knowledge gleaned from this study will inform the understanding of the structures and processes that produce and maintain racism within nursing with the goal of advancing transformational change in nursing to achieve social justice. I capture the counter-narrative of nurses who wear a hijab in three composite narratives that I constructed from their stories based on key storylines that I needed to unpack. By ‘composite narrative’ I refer to a technique where several interviews are combined and presented in one or more individual stories that are linked by a shared purpose or identity among research participants. The technique of using composite narratives to present and analyse complex and extensive data is congruent with analyzing stories as a whole instead of fragmenting them. The counter-narrative offers a point of resistance as an alternative discourse that uplifts the voices of the nurses through understanding and generating knowledge about their experiences from their standpoint. The stories of Muslim nurses who wear a hijab bridge a gap in the literature about Muslim nurses’ experiences within the current charged political environment, post 9/11 era, the COVID-19 pandemic, the Quebec ban on wearing religious symbols and the ensuing debates it generated in Canada. Their stories provide a needed and timely understanding of the implications for nursing research, policy, practice, and education to create an inclusive and supportive environment for nurses who wear a hijab. Given the interconnected nature between racism and colonialism, fostering such an environment is inherently anti-racist and decolonial. Importantly, doing the work to create safer, anti-racist spaces for nurses who wear a hijab and to decolonize nursing which would benefit all racialized nurses.



Islamophobia, anti-Muslim racism, hijab, nurses, Critical Race Feminism, Care Ethics, Intersectionality, Narrative Inquiry