Health Concerns For BELIEVERS
Contemporary Issues

(Shahid Athar , M. D.)

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When asked what actions are most excellent, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) replied, "to gladden the heart of human beings, to feed the hungry, to help the afflicted, to lighten the sorrow of the soffowful, and to remove the sufferings of the injured" (reported in the collection of Bukhari). Thus, we physicians are uniquely qualified to do the above, and most of us are doing it on a daily basis. But are we doing it for the underprivileged and uninsured Muslims of our community?

In an Islamic community, if certain community efforts are under way, Muslims in general, and Muslim physicians, in particular, cannot remain uninvolved. Sooner or later they will become users. Their children will be attending Islamic school, and their spouses will be actively participating in various activities. Therefore, it is important that the Muslim physicians become active participants in such projects for the sake of seeking God's pleasure and also to provide an Islamic environment for their children, family and the community at large.

In the United States and Canada, out of an estimated population of eight million Muslims, there are about 18,000 physicians. Yet it is rarely that a Muslim is able to have a Muslim physician to take care of his health problems. Although the interaction is on the increase, still it is not a rule that a Muslim patient will seek a Muslim physician and vice versa. Apart from lack of availability and other difficulties, the major reason is under- and overexpectation from each other.

Many Muslim physicians forget that their privileged position in the community is only because of the mercy of Allah (SWT), and they have a responsibility to serve their fellow Muslims to the best of their ability. The majority of Muslims in North America are neither rich nor carry good medical insurance. They are, therefore, unable to bear the full cost of expensive medical care in the US. Many of the Muslims area are also not old enough (over 65) to be covered by government health insurance for the elderly. It will indeed be unrealistic for a Muslim physician to expect payment of full fee from all Muslim patients.

Ignorance about health matters often results in the patient's refusal to take certain tests or follow a line of treatment. The physicians should be aware of this and should not blame the patient for not agreeing to take recommended tests or treatment.


The role of the Muslim physician can be divided into the following three areas. Providing Health Care to the Needy:

Muslim physicians should start a Friday or Sunday clinic at the mosque or community center, pooling their resources and free supplies. They should be able to provide first aid, take care of minor illnesses, and use free samples of medicines from their office. They should not accept a fee for themselves, but if a nominal fee is collected, it should go for the operation of the mosque. The Muslim physicians should also provide health screening for school age children and youth camp participants. They should conduct screening tests on healthy adults for monitoring their blood pressure, blood sugar, and vision examination.

Training of Paramedical Personnel

Physicians should teach Muslims in the community to prepare a team of volunteers to do the following:

1. First aid and nursing.

2. CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation).

3. Taking blood pressure, temperature, pulse, visual testing and chart reading.

4. Nutritional education and health counseling.

5. Family and marital counseling.

Community Education

Muslim physicians should develop a local speaker's bureau to educate the Muslim community in health matters because considerable ignorance in this area prevails among our people. Subjects to be covered should include:

1. Medical effects of smoking and how to quit.

2. Medical effects of obesity and how to eat a balanced diet.

3. Medical benefits of an exercise program.

4. Stress management.

5. How to watch for and prevent drug dependence in teenagers and adults.

6. How to recognize symptoms of diabetes, high blood pressure and coronary artery diseases.

7. How to prevent spouse and child abuse.

Role of the Community

The Muslim community should support the efforts of their Muslim physicians. They should not expect them to do unethical services, such as calling in prescriptions without seeing the patient, or without going through the tests ordered, etc. They should call him at his office rather than home (except for emergencies) and visit him in the office rather than expect him to make house calls. They should pay him his fee) if they can afford it. If not, prior arrangements should always be made. The Muslim physicians should be extra nice to their Muslim patients in explaining the tests or effects of medicines and should be flexible in the fee charged.

My Experience in Indianapolis

Several years ago, 1, on my own, started a free health clinic at the Islamic Center in Plainfield. The clinic was formally inaugurated on an Eid Day by the then ISNA President Mohammed Qutbi Mehdi. I furnished the clinic with supplies from my office and operated on a weekly basis for an hour after Friday prayers and two hours during Sunday School, seeing 5 to 6 patients each day. The clinic functioned well for two years. Due to a lack of space, the clinic was closed.. For the next few years, I operated the clinic from the trunk of my car, keeping all medicine samples and supplies along with my medical bag, and I saw patients after Friday Prayers at the old Al-Fajr Mosque in Indianapolis.

We now have a beautiful new mosque, and many more physicians are willing to work with me. Thus, we plan to restart Al-Fajr Clinic in the future, with the Will of God. I have also been involved in free health care to the homeless in the city by joining Gennesaret Free Clinic. I work at the mobile van which goes to shelters as well as provides care while parked on streets. It has worked well.

This clinic received President Bush's Thousand Points of Lights Award in 1992. "United to Serve America" bestowed their Diamond Award on me for outstanding volunteerism to the community. However, I seek only reward from God.

In summary, the Muslim physicians and the Muslim community should increase their commitment to each other for the pleasure of God.