By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
Just before he was scheduled to undergo surgery to treat oral cancer, Mohammed A. Hussain went to the bathroom at the hospital -- and that's when he says the humiliation began.
Inside the restroom at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, the 61-year-old Muslim performed the Islamic ritual of washing his hands and feet. The private ritual, known as wudhu, was to purify his body and soul before praying.
But Hussain never got to pray. A hospital security guard saw him washing himself in the sink, Hussain said, and proceeded to manhandle him, yell racial epithets at him, push him down the corridor and order him to exit the hospital.
"He was just very loud and yelling at me," Hussain said. "He pushed me and literally dragged me into the lobby. . . . It was very terrifying."
Hussain filed a $30 million lawsuit Friday against the hospital, alleging assault, battery and emotional distress from the incident about 10 a.m. March 22.
Because the case is in litigation, hospital officials would not comment other than to release a brief statement saying that hospital executives contacted Hussain on several occasions before the suit was filed to discuss his concerns.
Hussain's lawsuit was first reported by the Baltimore Examiner.
Hussain, who lives in Upper Marlboro and is a practicing physician and radiologist in Waldorf, described his experiences in an interview yesterday with The Washington Post.
He said he was treated as if he were homeless or a criminal. It was "humiliating," he said.
"People who are coming in the bathroom and treating you so harshly and thinking everybody is either a terrorist or somebody who you don't recognize of your color or your race -- this is something that is a very emotionally tortured experience," Hussain said.
The guard, identified in the suit as Rodney Corban, yelled at Hussain to "get out here!" Hussain said. Corban "was extreme and outrageous, and beyond the bounds of decency in society," according to court filings.
Hussain said he repeatedly told Corban that he was a patient at the hospital and a licensed physician, but he said Corban did not seem to listen. Hussain said a crowd -- including his wife, who is a psychiatrist, and their two adult daughters -- witnessed the scene in the lobby.
"Everybody in the lobby, including my family, was stunned as to why I had been treated like this," Hussain said. "They were very devastated."
Hussain said he underwent the oral cancer surgery later that day and has returned to the hospital for other procedures.
Hospital officials would not say yesterday whether Corban was disciplined after the incident. Corban worked a shift yesterday, a hospital receptionist said, but he did not respond to a message left for him there yesterday afternoon.
Hussain's attorney, David Ellin, said his client sued the hospital because he did not think executives were taking his case seriously enough.
"He felt the only way to get their attention and make any changes was to really put their feet to the fire and file a lawsuit," Ellin said.
Ellin said Hussain's aim with the suit is not to win compensation but to raise awareness about Islam and religious prejudices.
"This is really done to try to educate people on the religion of Islam and make people more tolerant and just educate them on different religious backgrounds," Ellin said.
Hussain said he immigrated to the United States from India in 1972 and has been a U.S. citizen for two decades. He said he blames his experience at the hospital on a general lack of education about his religion.
"People are so much ignorant about this and deal with it so harshly," Hussain said.
A survey by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington-based civil rights and advocacy group, found last year that just 2 percent of Americans were "very knowledgeable" about Islam and that 60 percent were "not very knowledgeable" or "not at all knowledgeable" about the religion.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll last year found that nearly half of Americans had a negative view of Islam.
Ibrahim Hooper, communications director for the council, said education is the key to overcoming the kind of prejudices Hussain faced.
"I think it's just a lack of knowledge of Islam and basic Islamic practices that led to this unfortunate misunderstanding," Hooper said. "With the filing of this lawsuit, there may be more awareness in the general society about what to Muslims is a fairly routine practice but to others who don't know what it is might be something that they would be concerned about."
Staff researcher Rena Kirsch contributed to this report.