Stitching it together: Reflections on Danforth from a Muslim Surgeon

Written by Haneen Al-Hassoun, NCCM Intern

Dr. Najma Ahmed, a Muslim trauma surgeon at St. Mike’s Hospital in Toronto saved the lives of the same people shot by Danforth shooter, Faisal Hussain – also a Muslim.

Dr. Ahmed was the on-call trauma surgeon on the horrific night of July 22 when a senseless shooting spree claimed the lives of an 18-year-old woman and 10-year-old girl. Several others were wounded.

The team at the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) was so inspired by Dr. Ahmed’s story, and spoke with her about what it meant to her to be a Muslim surgeon on that horrific night.

While the identity of the shooter as a Muslim took precedence in public discourse and media coverage, so did Dr. Ahmed’s identity, which she told NCCM was bitter-sweet.

“It’s sweet that one is recognized, and one’s hospital, and one’s community. There are trauma physicians and trauma surgeons across the country…[and] very often the work we do is kind of silent, people don’t really know about it,” Ahmed explained.

“So, it’s sweet that way, but it’s bitter in that it needs to be said that the shooter was a Muslim, but so too was the surgeon. It’s bitter that we sort of have to stand up and defend Islam and defend Muslims because of the actions of a few that have undermined the reputation and the role of our religion in society,” she said. “Acts of violence are political and not religious in nature.”

Ahmed said gun violence in Toronto is not something new. Rather, more often the victims are those within marginalized communities who are involved in gangs or criminal activities.

“Those incidents are just as tragic…[they] just don’t make the news.”

Despite having worked as a trauma surgeon for many years responding to all manner of injuries, she said Danforth felt different for her.

“This was tragic on a different level because I think it made everyone feel that even if you’re in a public space with your family, one could be subject to such horrible violence,” she said.

Yet, violence begets violence.

Following the shooting, the NCCM recorded a spike in hate incidents against Muslims in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and surrounds, including a Muslim family being harassed by a man at the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal in Toronto and a visibly-Muslim woman being verbally assaulted in Whitby.

When we asked Dr. Ahmed why she thinks these incidents increased in the aftermath of the attack, she said, “There are always people who take an opportunity to turn the tragedy into a political thing, and to point to differences of a certain community, certain people, certain ethnicities.”

“Thankfully there are always people who stand up and point out that these are not matters related to race, religion nor ethnicity, which was very heartening actually.”

Dr. Ahmed said it’s important to stand up for others–especially for newcomers–who may not have the same bold voice other Canadian Muslims have.

“I do worry about the children in school who may be in grade school and in universities, in colleges, in workplaces who maybe subject to bullying or intimidation, harsh words, or death threats as a result of this rising anti-immigrant tide that frankly seems to be a bit of a world-wide phenomenon at present,” she said.

“Hopefully in Canada…we can rise above these terrible things.”