Al-Aqsa Clinic: run by Muslims, service for all

I extended my hand to shake hers, as is the custom that my father taught me.

“I’m sorry, I cannot,” Amal Khdour, founder of Al-Aqsa Community Clinic, said while recoiling from my gesture.

Remembering my time in the Middle East as a U.S. sailor, I greeted her again. I took a deep bow, raised my right hand to my forehead, and gently touched my index and middle-finger to my brow while uttering a respectful, “Salaam.”

Salaam means peace in Arabic, and is the proper greeting at Al-Aqsa Community Clinic, whose motto is “Run by Muslims, providing service for all.”

Tucked away at 108 South Walnut Street in Greensboro, Al-Aqsa works to heal our most desperate townsfolk.

“We receive no support from the state,” said Khdour. “All doctors and staff are volunteers. Medication is what doctors can provide from samples that pharmaceutical representatives leave at their clinics.”

Founded in February 2009, the clinic was initially started to address the hundreds of refugees that were settling in the Triad from Iraq, Sudan, Somalia and other nations affected by war.

“When refugees first come to America, they often do not trust government services,” said Khdour. “Partly because of experiences in their home nations, and partly due to the language barrier.”

Refugees who come to our country seeking the American dream quickly find it hidden behind a fog of bureaucracy.

“The hardest thing for my family, coming to America, was getting past the language barrier,” Bluebird taxi driver Khmer Rhyad said. “Even when you speak good English, the accent barrier can make communication hard.”

“Legally, they are supposed to get Medicaid, but it takes a very long time for their paperwork to get done,” said Khdour. “The refugees are settled in the Triad due to our strong Muslim community.”

“The government brings the refugees to our door and says, ‘Here, you take care of them,’ without providing financial support,” said volunteer Dr. Muhammad Arida.

Thirty doctors volunteer their services at the clinic, which is open to the general public on the first and third weekends of every month.

Soon after opening, the clinic discovered the need for low-cost health care in the Triad extended beyond the refugee community.

“We quickly found out that health care was not just a refugee crisis,” said Khdour. “As the recession deepened, we expanded our scope to help the entire community.

“No one should go without healthcare.”

While other low-cost clinics in the Triad have closed their doors as financial support from Raleigh has been cut, Al-Aqsa Community Clinic has continued to serve over 2,000 people who regularly rely on their services.

Al-Aqsa finds itself in a peculiar position. Because it does not rely on subsidies from the state of North Carolina, it is not affected by state budget cuts. But because they do not rely on the state, they have trouble reaching everyone they would like to provide health care to.

“We would love to have much more support from the state,” said Dr. Arida. “But we will not let that lack of support affect our mission to help those who need it.”

Al-Aqsa operates in a building whose landlord is seeking a permanent tenant and allowing them to use the facility until then.

“If we lose this building we disaffect 2,000 people,” said Khdour, “we need a dedicated site for our clinic and charitable donations to achieve that goal.”