sohail ashraf manchester

A Muslim family says a Virginia hospital told them they couldn’t visit a newborn baby because they looked ‘scary’.

Ahmed Zahr’s wife had just given birth in early December at Inova Fair Oaks Hospital in Fairfax, Virginia, where his parents, aunt and uncle went to visit.

When they arrived at the birthing center on the third-floor, they were approached by a security guard, reported News4.

‘He screams and he says: “You’re not allowed to be here!” And then he said: “You know, you look scary”,’ the aunt, Arwa Zahr, told the station. 

The Zahr family believes the security guard was referring to the long black veils worn by Arwa and her mother.

Both women were wearing a niqab, which is a veil that is worn by some Muslim women for reasons of modesty.

The niqab covers the entire face – unlike the hijab, which just covers the hair – leaving an opening slit for the eyes.


Ahmed Zahr’s parents, aunt and uncle went to visit his newborn baby at Inova Fair Oaks Hospital in Fairfax, Virginia, in early December. Pictured, left to right: Ahmed’s uncle, Ahmed’s aunt and Ahmed

There is no law in the US that bans the wearing of the niqab, though wearers may be required to unveil their face during a traffic stop, for a driver’s license photo or at an airport.

Ahmed Zahr told the guard he was being disrespectful after the family was ordered to return to the lobby, according to News4.

That’s when the guard asked the shift supervisor to intervene, whom the Zahrs said is the head nurse.

‘We tried to explain to [the supervisor] our side of the story. He looked at my mother as she was trying to explain what happened, and he told her: “Close your mouth or I’ll kick you out”,’ Ahmed told the station.

‘He’s telling them: “Nobody wants you here. The nurses don’t want you. The doctors don’t want you here”,’ Ahmed Zahr said.

When the Zahrs tried arguing back, hospital staff called the police. 

Fairfax County officers arrived on the scene and left after speaking to the family, whom then filed formal complaints against Inova.

The Zahrs say they feel particularly hurt by the incident because the newborn baby’s grandparents, Dr Nabil Zahr and Karima Zohdi, have volunteered as chaplains at another hospital in the system, Inova Fairfax, reported News4.

Ahmed said his family has never been the subject of this level of discrimination.

‘Just to be treated like that just because of the way you’re dressed,’ he said. ‘We’re been living here for, you know, 20-plus years. I haven’t witnessed discrimination to this extent.’

The hospital says it has offered to meet with the Zahrs, but the family refuses until an investigation has been conducted. 

However, News 4 received a statement that read in part: ‘Inova respects and values our diverse patient community and believes that all patients have the right to a respectful, safe environment, free from all forms of discrimination.

‘We hold our team members and contractors to the highest ethical standards, supported by a strict zero tolerance policy against discrimination of any kind.

‘We are reviewing the family’s concerns and we continue to look for opportunities to better manage these situations in the future.’

INOVA’S FULL STATEMENT

Inova respects and values our diverse patient community and believes that all patients have the right to a respectful, safe environment, free from all forms of discrimination. We hold our team members and contractors to the highest ethical standards, supported by a strict zero tolerance policy against discrimination of any kind.

We are reviewing the family’s concerns and we continue to look for opportunities to better manage these situations in the future.

Inova’s senior leadership values our longstanding relationship with the family and has extended an invitation to meet in person.

All employees are aware of our anti-discrimination policy and are required to complete ethics and compliance training annually. Following this incident, as part of staff awareness, the policy was reviewed at all of our daily safety meetings.

We understand how important visitors are to our patients and their care. However, certain units in the hospital require family visitation hours to assure that all patients have a quiet, healing environment.