Transforming Chicago Health Access, One Neighborhood at a Time

The Inner-city Muslim Action Network (IMAN) is centered on 63rd Street in Chicago’s historic Marquette Park. It was in Marquette Park over 50 years ago where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. united side by side with African American residents seeking housing equity. They were met with extreme hostility. But the moment pushed discourse around equality in a way that recognized the need for many institutions to change for the better.

In less than a half century, IMAN—a holistic community organizing hub—has woven itself into the fabric of that same neighborhood. Islamic Relief USA, through its health clinic partnership, is walking hand-in-hand with IMAN to provide access to medical care for residents who have come to call the blossoming organization home.

I visited IMAN’s headquarters in Chicago this month with Fareeha Amir, another member of our communications team at IRUSA. Community Relations Director Alia Bilal walked us through a busy day at this transformative project. It showed the power of many minds and hearts contributing to one goal: an enhanced quality of life.

“This component of health and wellness was part of our inception really. We were fully aware of the fact that these screenings were a necessary component of getting to some of the core issues around health confronting the community,” explained Executive Director Rami Nashashibi.

IMAN’s newest health center, located less than 50 feet away from its main office, is still undergoing light construction, but between both bustling lobbies were dozens of patients—some unfortunately without health insurance—waiting to be seen. What makes Islamic Relief’s partnership special is that despite so many patrons arriving with ailments or for general health screenings, the staff at IMAN have never turned a patient away in 20 years. For members of the community this can be life-saving.

Patrons have an array of services to choose from. Whether it be dental exams, preventative health screenings, substance abuse help, or the new expansion of family behavioral treatment, the health center works as a one stop shop for visitors. “The staff are very friendly and relatable. I’ve never been to a predominantly Muslim clinic. I’ve been to Chicago County clinics and it’s not as personable. I felt like I was rushed out. But being here, especially after talking to some of the staff, I was surprised with the questions that they asked and the care they gave. It was surprising,” said patient Andrew Talley.

IMAN’s Health clinic is an integral part of IRUSA’s Health programs operating nationally. Senior Director Harriet Lewis spoke to the continued ability to adapt to the constantly growing demand for diversified care, saying, “We have over the years responded to the needs of the community, whether that be culturally competent healthcare—we have healthcare in English, Spanish, Urdu, and Arabic, and of course also access to other languages. And responding to the dental needs, the behavioral health needs, being open six days a week, specifically on Sundays when there are no other clinics open in the area.”

With continued investment, models like IMAN can complete their registration as Federally Qualified Health Center look-alikes, which will greatly increase the amount of services delivered, and in turn, improve the lives of communities on a large scale.