The Islamic star and crescent moon adorn the sign at the UMMA Medical Clinic, and quotations from the Quran are written in Arabic on the walls. But inside the South Los Angeles clinic, it would be unusual to find a Muslim patient – or staff member, for that matter.
A few miles away, in Harbor City, the Niswa Association Inc. center sits in a nondescript commercial complex that’s easy to miss off Pacific Coast Highway. Aside from a few pieces of office furniture, the place is empty and the shades are drawn.
Yet, over the past two decades, hundreds of mostly Muslim families have received a range of social services through a large tight-knit network of physicians and medical providers.
“For many of the women in particular, they feel comfortable with us because of language barriers or cultural issues,” said Shamim Ibrahim, a former public school counselor who founded Niswa in 1990.
UMMA (University Muslim Medical Association) and Niswa, both founded by immigrants, may be different in appearance and mission, but they are examples of a growing trend within the Arabic and southeast Asian Islamic community, according to a first-ever national report looking at the emergence of Muslim health organizations.
“It’s really been about claiming a space in the public health movement,” said Lance Laird, a professor at Boston University School of Medicine who wrote the report. “When we think of faith-based health organizations, we think of Protestant, Catholic and Jewish institutions, but that is changing.”
The Muslim community, according to Laird and others, has reached a point where it has moved beyond building mosques and schools and into the business of providing badly needed services for the communities in which they live.
In his analysis of this trend, Laird looked at four major U.S. cities with large Muslim communities: Los Angeles, Detroit, Houston and Chicago. Funded by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, a national think-tank and research group, the report focused on 10 clinics and social organizations, looking at their history, clientele and how they fit into the nation’s larger network of health care. (MORE)