A mission to heal for free

Al-Shifaa, a Muslim-run student organization, provides health screenings for underprivileged citizens.

Hamna Zafar (left) and Tasha Mur are active members in the organization Al-Shifaa. | Jenny Kerrigan TTN
Hamna Zafar (left) and Tasha Mur are active members in the organization Al-Shifaa. | Jenny Kerrigan TTN

Temple-affiliated organization Al-Shifaa doesn’t think healthcare needs to come with a steep price.

The name of the organization, which means “the healing,” is exactly what president Taha Mur said Al-Shifaa sets out to do.

The group recently started a partnership with a Philadelphia outreach program named FeedPhilly to run Muslim-run health screening initiatives that serve underprivileged and homeless people in the city.

FeedPhilly is a social humanitarian project started by American Muslims for Hunger Relief that, according to its website, feeds about 700 to 1,000 underprivileged people in the area.

“It wasn’t until I volunteered at FeedPhilly one day and realized they attract the audience we were looking for – that’s when our partnership began,” Mur said.

Al-Shifaa, which previously worked with only medical students, is expanding to include students at Temple’s dental, pharmacy and podiatry schools, all of which will provide services in the community outreach program.

“Our goal is to provide them basic healthcare – to connect them to the healthcare community and health care services,” Mur said.

Hamna Zafar is the public relations media outreach coordinator for the organization Al-Shifaa.  | Jenny Kerrigan TTN
Hamna Zafar is the public relations media outreach coordinator for the organization Al-Shifaa. | Jenny Kerrigan TTN

Mur said the group received funding from the School of Medicine after he spoke with staff members who were excited about the project.

Al-Shifaa provides a wide range of services at FeedPhilly’s monthly events to promote health.

“A person would just come for a hot meal but [they now have] the option for a full health screen as well,” said Kamil Amer, vice president of Al-Shifaa.

At events, medical students check vitals and blood pressure and give basic health care tips and education, while podiatry students focus on foot, hip and knee care. Pharmacy students educate patients on prescription and supplemental drugs and vitamins and dental students provide various dental services and give out toothpaste and toothbrushes.

“We always have one Temple [University Hospital physician] attending who comes to supervise and if we do find anything they’ll know exactly what to do,” said Salman Aziz, medical chair.

Students also advise people on how to deal with simple health issues. Hamna Zafar, Al-Shifaa’s media outreach coordinator, said the screenings help people in small, but important ways.

“Helping them for one day for 30 minutes, it’s not going to change their health all around,” Zafar said. “But it might give them the initiative to see a primary care doctor regularly.”

Expanding access to health care isn’t the groups only goal – Mur said members also want to “heal” the image of the Muslim community.

“Muslims in the media are represented by a fringe minority that really doesn’t portray the true values of Islam,” Mur said.

The organization wants to show first-hand what the true value of Islam is, Mur said, and what the Muslim community is all about.

While Al-Shifaa is representative of Muslim medical students, Mur said the group won’t exclude someone from another faith.

“I think a lot of our students tend to be Muslim because we are trying to do this in the face of Islam,” Zafar said. “We’re just trying show a different face of Islam – it tends to be Muslim students who are passionate about it.”

Al-Shifaa currently has 14 core members and a roster of about 40 other student-volunteers waiting to be a part of future screenings.

Mur said other Philadelphia medical schools, like Drexel and Thomas Jefferson University, reached out to the group in hope of joining their community efforts.

“We are attached to Temple, but we are [also] more inclusive of other schools,” Mur said.

The student health care organization has seen a lot of success so far, Mur said, estimating members have treated more than 100 patients. Al-Shifaa members plan on consistently partnering with FeedPhilly to provide screenings.

“One day we’re going to be the group that people come to for recognition,” Zafar said.

Jane Babian can be reached at  jane.babian@temple.edu

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