Muslim doctors run clinic for uninsured at St. Louis church
By Tim Townsend • firstname.lastname@example.org
The Salam Free Clinic at a church in north St. Louis grew out of a Memorial Day barbecue and a desire to help.
In 2007, about 50 Muslims intent on serving their community and their country, hosted a barbecue at the Veterans Affairs hospital at Jefferson Barracks, dishing out chicken and burgers to the patients and nurses.
It was the beginning of the Muslim Community of St. Louis, an organization dedicated to helping others. The following year, the organization returned to Jefferson Barracks and also added visits to homeless shelters, bringing food to the hungry.
A focus of the effort was to engage the community’s youth in good works, so typically half of the 40 or 50 Muslims volunteering were teenagers.
Many of the members of the group worship at two mosques in west St. Louis County. A Sunni mosque in Ballwin, Dar-ul-Islam, includes more than 200 doctors of mostly Pakistani and Indian descent. A Shiite mosque in Wildwood, Dar-al-Zahra, includes about 40 doctors, mostly of Iranian descent.
As the group’s service projects began to grow, some of the doctors at the two mosques began discussing ways to offer their medical expertise to those who fall through the cracks of the health care system. The doctors could have chosen to serve less well-off members at some of the St. Louis area’s more than 20 mosques. But they decided to approach a church in north St. Louis about a partnership.
The doctors “were not only interested in our own people,” said Bahar Bastani, president of Dar-al-Zahra and professor of internal medicine at St. Louis University. “We chose north city because there are so many people there who don’t have jobs and don’t have insurance. We picked the community, not by faith.”
Through a contact with Interfaith Partnership/Faith Beyond Walls, the doctors met the Rev. James Morris, pastor of Lane Tabernacle Christian Methodist Episcopal Church in north St. Louis, who has been a member of the Missouri Christian Health Alliance and Missouri Healthcare for All, and has fought against proposed Medicaid cuts.
They asked Morris if they could set up a free clinic on Saturdays. They would staff the clinic if Lane Tabernacle could provide the space.
Morris said when he first announced the clinic, his congregation was skeptical. “They kept asking, ‘What’s the catch?’” he said.
“Given that the nature of the relationship between the Muslim and African-American communities has not always been the best,” he continued, “I thought what better way for the communities to come together than have Muslim doctors working with people of color to provide them with vital care they wouldn’t otherwise receive.”
Morris said on any given Saturday, 20 people might come through the clinic. On slower days, only three might visit. Over four years, the doctors have seen hundreds of patients, Morris said.
The Salam Free Clinic opened for business in June 2008. Today, a rotating group of 14 physicians and pharmacists see patients for three or four hours each Saturday. A Catholic nurse, Barbara Frye, is there every week. Everyone who walks in is seen by a physician. All simple X-rays and routine labs – screens for heart, kidney, liver – are processed by St. Mary’s Health Center for free.
Bastani said the Muslim doctors are motivated by their faith. He leans, in particular, on a verse from the Quran that says followers of different faiths should leave their differences aside and compete instead over doing good deeds, leaving to God decisions on whose faith represents truth.
He said there are hadiths — traditional anecdotes and sayings attributed to the Prophet Muhammad — that say “the best of you is the one most serving the community.” Another hadith says that “in the eye of God the best people are those who serve God’s family most.” Asked who the family of God included, Muhammad answered, “people.”
Since the Salam Free Clinic started, other Muslim doctors — in the spirit of what Bastani called “healthy competition” — have founded two other free health clinics.
In September 2011, the Association of Physicians of Pakistani Descent of North America, established a clinic providing free dental, ophthalmologic, pediatric and pain-management services on Sundays at the Balal Mosque on St. Louis University’s campus.
And the Islamic Foundation of Greater St. Louis, in partnership with Volunteers in Medicine, opened a clinic in Manchester, 14395 Manchester Road, in October 2011 that accepts patients who meet poverty requirements (appointments are also required – see vimwestco.org for details) on Wednesday and Sunday afternoons.
The success of the Salam Free Clinic after four years persuaded its doctors to branch out. On Jan. 19 they will open a second site, this one in Ferguson.
The Rev. Mauri Peaco, pastor of St. Peter’s Church said her 200-member congregation has a long history of social justice work, and that the Salam Clinic would fit perfectly into its community outreach mission. The church runs a popular program for young men in the community, opening its gym Wednesday nights for basketball games.
St. Peter’s, a United Church of Christ church, was already hoping to start a free clinic for the uninsured when church leaders heard that the Salam doctors were scouting a second location.
“We were two groups on parallel paths when we found each other,” Peaco said.
Getting the new clinic started with the Muslim doctors has enlivened St. Peter’s interfaith experience, Peaco said.
“We are both children of Abraham, and when we pray together to start a meeting, I believe we are praying to the same God,” Peaco said. “They are committed to making a more just and peaceful world, and so are we, so it’s a natural collaboration. I think we all feel a spiritual connection with one another.”
Original post: Muslim doctors run clinic for uninsured at St. Louis church