Muslim Health Clinic Goes Beyond Muslim Identity

May 6, 2010

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IMAN's Health Clinic on W. 63rd St., photo courtesy of the Inner-City Muslim Action Network

There's a growing number of Muslim-run free health clinics in the United States. And this includes at least two in Chicago. For the doctors, providing health services is not just about a Muslim identity or only helping Muslim patients. Yet the tenets of Islam do guide the physicians.

The Inner-City Muslim Action Network runs a free medical clinic two days a week out of its storefront space on West 63rd Street.

ambi: patient making an appointment with sore throat

Adiba Khan is in charge. She says the clinic is based on the Islamic principles of zakat.

KHAN: Zakat is we are obligated as Muslims to make some sort of contribution to mankind because it's very easy to become a physician who takes care of daily, routine mundane things but you may not do things that are free…to selflessly give a part of yourself to a community. Not just your own immediate Muslim community but to give to a community that's apart from your community.

The doctors volunteer their time and see about 30 patients a week. But the clinic isn't just for Muslims. The IMAN clinic is in the Chicago Lawn neighborhood – a predominately black and Latino area. And that's their clientele. Just about 10 percent of the patients are Muslim.

Khan speaks a little Spanish as she takes a woman's blood pressure.

ambi

Doctors do physicals, high blood pressure screenings. They also monitor of chronic diseases and treat minor ailments.

KHAN: This was considered a medical desert and a food desert. And it's improved a lot. Medical desert in the sense that our patients who don't have insurance and also may have low or zero income only have two choices. And that may be a pay-scale clinic or our free clinic.

The health clinic opened several years ago, and it serves a vulnerable population.

KHAN: And so with those two choices then also transportation barriers and also access to telephone are the two difficulties patients have in establishing continuity of care.

According to the American Muslim Health Professionals – a support organization – there are approximately 32 Muslim free health clinics in the U.S.

Two years ago the Michigan-based think tank Institute for Social Policy and Understanding put out a study about Muslim free clinics. It concluded that the recent rise in these clinics is an indication of the American Muslim community's growing civic and public service role in the cultural mainstream. There's a desire to give back to the community.
 
Of course, there's some cultural sensitivity that a Muslim clinic can give to Muslim patients. But even Muslim patients find that principle of zakat important.

Judith Muhammad is in the IMAN clinic waiting room to pick up her test results.

MUHAMMAD: The fact that they are Muslims for me it just makes a difference because they're giving back to the community. They're doing work that we're taught we're supposed to do anyway, according to the Koran. And the fact that they're more than just a clinic, serving the community with other things really excited me.
 
The other clinic in Chicago isn't exactly a clinic. It's called Compassionate Care Network and it's a web of doctors who provide free health care to patients as an addition to their own practices.

Azher Quader is one of those doctors. For him, this network of doctors helps address the problem of lack of health care.

QUADER: That's the model I think that is needed across the county where access to affordable health care is not limited to certain days or certain weekends but it is available 24 hours, seven days a week.

The study on the surge of Muslim clinics also noted that they follow the tradition of other religious groups like Catholics and Jews who build health institutions.

Adiba Khan of IMAN says that sometimes patients mistake her as a nun because her head is covered. And with a chuckle, she says that's fine with her.