Muslim-Run Free Clinic in Los Angeles Falls Short of Necessary Funds

November 18, 2000

Source: Los Angeles Times

On November 18, 2000, The Los Angeles Times reported that "It began as an audacious vision by a handful of idealistic Muslim medical students: move Islam out of the insular immigrant communities and take the religion's charitable ideals into the streets. Four years and 14,000 patients later, the UMMA clinic on Florence Avenue has drawn widespread attention as the only free medical clinic in South-Central Los Angeles and the nation's first major Muslim foray into health care for the poor. In this spotless clinic festooned with Koranic sayings and children's colorings of Winnie the Pooh, toddlers such as 3-year-old Anthony Jones sit happily through exams because of what his mother calls the staff's welcoming nature. Vandals and gang members have shown respect by leaving the building largely untouched. But now the clinic is threatened with closure as its federal and city funds, provided in the aftermath of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, run out this year. To fill the gap, clinic founders are appealing to the Muslim establishment in a major fund-raiser tonight aimed at raising the $ 240,000 needed to keep the doors open another year. The response will measure how far this fast-growing faith community has come in extending Islamic charity not only overseas but also to the needy in its own backyard. Many mosque leaders initially declined to support the fledgling venture, but the clinic's success and the community's growing maturation have prompted more of them to pledge their support in recent weeks. 'This is a wake-up call to the Muslim establishment that we need to look beyond our own mosques and schools,' said clinic director Yasser Aman, 25, the American-born offspring of Egyptian immigrants. Aman and clinic co-founder Mansur Khan, a 32-year-old Pakistani native and doctor of internal medicine, represent a new breed of younger Muslims who are diverging from their parents' more insular focus to take Islamic social activism to the broader community. The two Muslims met at UCLA, whose Muslim Student Assn. has spearheaded programs to tutor youths at juvenile detention camps and inner-city schools. To Aman and Khan, social activism is not an option but an obligation under Islam. Citing the Prophet Muhammad's counsel to fix whatever you see wrong, Khan said younger Muslims are equipped with the English fluency, American educations and cultural savvy to put those principles into practice outside immigrant communities...The UMMA clinic is a case in point. As much of South Los Angeles lay in disarray after the 1992 riots, Khan and a group of about six other Muslim students felt moved to reach out. They initially envisioned sponsoring a medical trailer to drive through the city offering blood pressure exams and other services. The students unabashedly made cold calls to dozens of medical supply companies and, in a year's time, collected $ 150,000 worth of donated equipment and supplies: state-of-the-art microscopes, computers, exam tables and EKG machines. As the students searched for a trailer parking site, however, Los Angeles City Councilwoman Rita Walters encouraged them to consider a standing clinic instead. Walters helped the group obtain a $ 700,000 grant from federal housing authorities, which it used to renovate an abandoned auto repair shop. Then occupied by homeless people and drug addicts, the slate-gray office now boasts a lab, a cheerful lobby and six examination rooms. The city kicked in a two-year operating grant of $ 680,000, which the bare-bones staff has managed to stretch out over four years. The students affiliated with the UCLA School of Medicine and Charles R. Drew University to obtain malpractice insurance and other support. UCLA agreed to make the clinic an official teaching site and now sends dozens of medical students to volunteer as part of their training. A pool of 20 physicians--both Muslim and non-Muslim--regularly volunteer, treating ailments that are key problems in the surrounding community: hypertension, diabetes and sexually transmitted diseases. The clinic serves an annual patient load of 5,000, offering adult care Tuesdays and Thursdays and pediatric services Wednesdays and Saturdays...For the mostly non-Muslim patients, the UMMA clinic appears to be living up to its name. Although the acronym stands for University Muslim Medical Assn., the Arabic word ummah means community. Tasha Jones, a 27-year-old food-service worker who wears an "I love Jesus" key chain around her neck, says the clinic indeed bridges religious and racial divides. She could take her three children elsewhere, under their government health coverage, but chooses to go to the UMMA clinic because of the time and care the staff gives. 'It don't matter if they're Muslim or Christian,' Jones said. 'They're good people.'"