Extremist Muslim Doctors Do More Than Heal

Opinion CategoryWhen I initially read the article Radical Muslim doctors and what they mean for the NHS, I thought about the Catholic Church. Now, before anyone gets all upset, let me clarify: I am not in anyway connecting Catholic and radical Muslim ideology. Instead, I see a historical connection between the political clout the Catholic Church once had and the religious influence many Muslim doctors now have. Let me explain.

The British Medical Journal article mentioned above attempts to answer timely questions regarding doctors and extreme Islamic ideology and actions. When it became public knowledge that several doctors were alleged leaders of the 2007 attempted bombings in London and Glasgow, it shocked many. Muslim terrorists are nothing new; Muslim terrorists who are also medical doctors, well, that’s a whole new story.

Islamic GeometryFloating around, gathering followers are a number of explanations that attempt to explain why the more extremist views of Islam are being endorsed by some Muslim doctors throughout the world. Some of these have merit but the report published by the Centre for Islamic Pluralism brings to light a cultural element that may, at least partially, explain this disturbing trend. This is where the connection between the historical Catholic Church and the operations of current Muslim culture come into play.

In the past, the Catholic Church was not just a religion — it was a government. The entire religion of a country could be, and was, dictated by the ruler. More times than not, this meant that Catholicism was the mandated religion. The fact that there was corruption within the church ranks than is not surprising or abnormal. After all, political power seems to be almost synonymous with personal or government corruption… as we are all witness to on an all-too-regular basis.

Although the extent of this religious-political conflict of interest seems almost bizarre by today’s standards, at the time, this was normal, the way society operated. And to understand why extremist Muslim doctors are an important part of the fundamental movement, we need to grasp the fact that their society still operates on a principal not unlike the one mentioned above.

The Airy Doom of the DuomoIn many traditional Muslim cultures, they welcome this conflict of interest. Just as the Catholic Church was once known as much for its’ political actions as it was for its’ religious doctrine, many Muslim doctors today are regarded both as medical adviser and religious leader. Sometimes, in fact, their professional clout gives them more religious stature than someone known only for their religious authority.

So the question as to why a percentage of Muslim doctors are following suite of extremists such as the Muslim Brotherhood, the Saudi Wahhabis, and the Pakistani jihadists , isn’t an easy one to answer. But, a closer look at the traditional culture, the one that espouses extremists views helps:

  • Muslim doctors are professionals and are thereby leaders.
  • Muslim doctors are considered to be medical and, somewhat loosely speaking, spiritual practitioners.
  • Spreading Islamic laws to patients is considered a duty of doctors.

Along with these cultural beliefs, the study shows that some traditional Muslim professionals, including doctors, are quite open to using a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam to solve problems. Because of the influence these professionals have, simply by the title they hold and the education they have, they are considered a key element in influencing others to take on embrace radical extremist views. These “others” that they are expected to reach are people who, like the majority of Muslims, believe in a “mainstream Islam,” the Islam that can easily co-exist with other major religions.

Just as Catholicism is more beneficial as a religion instead of a governing body; many may feel that a medical doctor would do better to stick to treating physical aliments instead of attempting to recruit others through the status they have attained. But, as all of humankind has learned since 9-11, cultural differences are not always as simple as they first may seem. It’s important to remember that many, if not most, Muslim professionals find this cultural pattern as disturbing as anyone outside of the Muslim community does: a conflict of interest that takes advantage of the title M.D.


Al-Alawi, I., Schwartz, S. (2008). Radical Muslim doctors and what they mean for the NHS. BMJ, 336(7648), 834-834. DOI: 10.1136/bmj.39282.655035.4E

J. R. White

J. R. White is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin. She has over five years of experience in education and pedagogy.
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