A free health clinic whose Islamic affiliation stoked fear and skepticism among some Northeast Philadelphia residents when it was announced last year is set to open in April, and organizers say they hope residents will embrace them.
"The community has been more positive. I know initially it had a little bit of hesitation," said Ammar Shahid, a doctor with ICNA Relief, the nonprofit launching the Holmesburg clinic. It will be open to anyone who can't afford basic health care and will offer free blood-pressure screenings, dental work, and counseling.
The clinic has emphasized that it will be available regardless of religion or race. A similar clinic run out of a mosque in Cherry Hill stressed that as well when it opened last year.
The openings come as reports of discrimination against Muslims have surged nationwide.
For Northeast Philly, one of the city's most rapidly diversifying areas, the clinic's affiliation with Islam has been a test of tolerance.
One woman, upon reading a story about the clinic posted last year on a Mayfair Facebook page (Mayfair borders Holmesburg), said Muslims should "go back to wherever you came from." Some people on another neighborhood Facebook page reacted with fear — "God help us!" — and suggested the clinic was a sign of the area going downhill.
Councilman Bobby Henon's office received a handful of angry phone calls about the clinic last year. One person asked why Muslims need doctors, while another called the clinic a "terrorist group," he said. Henon has said the callers "don't reflect the neighborhood," most of which has supported the clinic, despite some vocal opponents.
"The neighborhood knows what the right thing is, and they're going to do the right thing," Henon said. The Northeast also has a growing immigrant population, he said, "but affordable health-care options are not there. So this is a much-needed service."
ICNA Relief operates several free health clinics across the nation. This will be the organization's first in Philadelphia.
A soft opening occurred at the end of February. The grand opening will be April 7 (details are on the flier below). Henon said he plans to attend.
The clinic will then be open every other Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.