Detroit’s Only Muslim-Led Free Clinic Is Energized By The Political Environment

The clinic has been doing its work for 13 years, but things have been different since November.

Muhith Musabbir, a son of immigrants, runs Detroit’s only Muslim charitable health clinic, which opened in 2004. The Huda Clinic operates among empty lots and abandoned buildings, providing care to the under and uninsured no matter their religion. 

The clinic has been quietly doing its work — general medicine, ophthalmology, dentistry, psychiatry, and podiatry — for the last 13 years, but things have been different since November.

“We’ve seen an increase in volunteers. After the elections, the Michigan Muslim Community Council received a flood of calls from people who said ‘We need to volunteer and be more involved in our community,’” Musabbir says. The council sent many volunteers — some Muslim, many not — to the Huda Clinic.

The clinic is funded by donations from the Detroit Muslim Community as well as grants from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and Delta Dental Fund. Its more than 100 volunteers and physicians work for free. 

“We take pride in our volunteers. We wouldn’t be able to run our day-to-day clinic if it wasn’t for them,” Musabbir says. The surge in volunteers has helped revitalize the clinic, which it may find increasing need of as the days of Trump’s presidency press on.

According to Musabbir, the clinic saw a 25 percent decrease in patients annually since the Affordable Care Act was passed. As it stands now, many of their patients are homeless or live in shelters. Some pour in from the surrounding community and parts of Hamtramck. 

The clinic is funded by donations from the Detroit Muslim Community as well as grants from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan...

The clinic also works to empower children through education in the community, despite not offering pediatric care. According to Nabeel Shahzad, a medical student and president of the Huda Advisory Board, the clinic offers a “Doctors for a Day” program, which allows school-age kids to experience a clinical setting, dress up, play, and learn interactively about caring for their bodies through nutrition and exercise. 

“The schools in the area are reduced in the quality of education they can give,” Shahzad says.   

Suffice it to say, the Huda Clinic is always finding ways to be relevant in the community while continuing to help those in need. 

Recently, the clinic teamed up with Paul Mitchell School for Beauty which offers haircuts to the homeless. The Huda Clinic provided free medical screenings to over 150 homeless people and collected over 75,000 bottles of water for families affected by the Flint water crisis. 

But, its most successful program yet is probably the Huda Urban Garden. It’s the brainchild of Babar Qadri, who spends one day a week tending patients at the Huda Clinic as a physician assistant and educational director.

He was inspired to start the garden after seeing his patients with chronic diseases return again and again with no improvement to their health. He advised his patients to implement healthy eating and exercise. When one patient asked him if he knew a store in the area that carried all the fresh produce he was advising her to eat, Qadri couldn’t think of one. The neighborhood surrounding Huda Clinic is a food desert. 

“We can’t sustain the system we have at Huda Clinic, because these are patients that can’t afford to be unhealthy,” Qadri says. “If they don’t have access to medicine like other people do, they are in trouble. I believe in teaching the patients how to fish.”

And by fishing, he means healthy living. 

“I ask them what are you doing for your diabetes or high blood pressure. If the answer is I take my medicine. That’s the wrong answer. The medicine is temporary,” Qadri says, “’I’m eating my fruits, drinking water, exercising 30 minutes a day and taking my medicine.’ That’s the answer we want. In order to get that answer, we have to get people involved in their health.”

One early morning in 2013, Qadri stepped outside the clinic to take in fresh air and his attention landed on a huge empty lot in front of the clinic. 

“A thought popped into my head and said use that land to grow healthy food,” he says. He walked onto the lot and noticed a truck passing by heading to another urban garden down the street called Buckets of Rain. It was a sign. He hailed down the driver. 

With help from organizations like Buckets of Rain, Urban Farm Development Managers LLC, and channel 955’s Mojo in the Morning, the 6,000 square foot garden feeds more than 1,000 people annually. The fresh fruits and veggies are given to patients and the soup kitchen across the street run by the Muslim Center.

“The beautiful thing about the Huda Garden is it’s bringing a lot of organizations together under the umbrella of feeding people,” Qadri says, “Ever since the garden has been here, it’s brought a sense of peace to the neighbors. There used to be tons of hoopla and litter, and now it’s ten percent of what it used to be. Now people send their kids to the garden to tend to it and keep their eyes on it from their porch.”