For Aziza Mohammed, her work helping the uninsured get medical care is an obligation of her Muslim faith.
“My parents always do things for people without expecting things from others,” said, Mohammed, health plan enrollment specialist for the Affordable Care Act at non-profit P.E.A.C.E. Inc. “Our religion teaches us to be humble and do things out of the kindness of our hearts.”
Aziza is one of the many Muslims in Central New York whose work with the uninsured is inspired by religion. Aziza, for example, works with local residents who face challenges in obtaining health plan benefits of the new federal health care law called the Affordable Care Act or sometimes called Obamacare.
Almsgiving is one of the obligations, or pillars of faith, that each Muslim must achieve in their lifetime as part of their service to God. The other four primary pillars are profession of faith, prayer, fasting during Ramadan and the pilgrimage to the Holy City, Mecca, according to the website of the Saudi government. Almsgiving is when Muslims help the most vulnerable members of their community.
For example, the Rahma Health Clinic in the Southside of Syracuse treats local residents with no health insurance. The clinic name means “mercy” in Arabic. It opened in February 2013 by Mohamed Khater and Magda Bayoumi, who are husband and wife and prominent members of the non-profit Islamic Society of Central New York.
“You’re obligated to help the world,” said Bayoumi. “But you are more obligated to help those around you.”
She and her husband are heavily involved in the Islamic Society. Bayoumi, is the chair of the outreach committee. Khater is the Society’s president. Their network of people help them find doctors who voluntarily help patients with illness like high blood pressure, diabetes, and asthma, Bayoumi said.
Niether Bayoumi nor Khater are doctors. She praises the doctors who’ve given their time and expertise to the Rahma Clinic patients. “We felt it is not true that people become doctors mainly for money,” Bayoumi said. “They became doctors because they want to help.”
The clinic depends on volunteers and donations. They run the clinic every Saturday. But they are working to gather enough money and volunteers to run the clinic on more days, Bayoumi said. They are organizing a dinner fundraising event on May 4, 2014, at the University Sheraton Hotel.
She has seen an increase in patients since they first opened in February 2013. “We started out with two to three a week, but now we see on average of 14 a week,” Bayoumi said.
At P.E.A.C.E, enrollment specialist Aziza Mohammed advises about four clients per day on which health plan options is in their best interest.
Since December of 2013 two clients have opted to risk paying the $95 penalty for failing to purchase a qualified health plan or failing to commit to a monthly pay rate. “They say, ‘I don’t know if I’ll work next month or if my income is going to change,’” Mohammed said. The tax penalty rate will rise to $325 next year and to $650 by 2016.
She sees her work as an act of almsgiving. “It’s your duty as a Muslim,” said Mohammed, “to help a person out.”
(Vekonda Luangaphay is a graduate student in magazine, newspaper, and online journalism.)