Medical association offers support to Muslim healthcare workers

on August 16, 2011

The Islamic Medical Association of North America, or IMANA, is launching its first chapter in the Bay Area. A network of Muslim physicians and other health care professionals all over the country, the Chicago-based organization promotes Islamic medical values and provides medical relief to disaster-affected areas around the world.

Its Bay Area chapter, also known as IMANA Allied Health, is the organization’s newest branch in California. While IMANA is mainly made up of physicians, IMANA Allied Health is a network for non-physician health workers, including nurses, therapists and paramedics.

Headed by North Oakland resident Rabi’a Mirhadian and two staff members, the group just rented its first office in Berkeley. “It’s very exciting because it feels like we’re legitimate now,” Mirhadian said, adding that although the office is small in size—only about 100 square feet—and has no furniture in it yet, it’s the beginning of something big. “When we start getting out to hospitals, we’re going to see things really start to pick up,” Mirhadian said.

Mirhadian believes that the large number of Muslim nurses in local hospitals are in need of an advocacy group like IMANA Allied Health, because other unions, such as the California Nurses Association and SEIU Nurse Alliance, do not provide specialized attention to the kinds of issues encountered by Muslim health workers on the job. For example, Mirhadian said, if a Muslim nurse is feeling uncomfortable because someone at work is making offensive remarks about her Hijiab (the traditional head scarves Muslim women wear), the organization can provide immediate help to comfort her and talk with the hospital administrators about the issue.

As a registered nurse for 25 years, Mirhadian said that more than once her co-workers had made “weird” statements or bad jokes about her scarves. “People would say things like, ‘Why don’t you take that off? You’re too pretty to be wearing that,’” she said. “It takes time and education for people to understand your culture—being advocates, we can bring that education.”

“Sometimes people are just thrown by differences,” she added.

The month of Ramadan, Mirhadian said, is also a time when Muslim health workers are subjected to uncomfortable inquiries. For example, she said, someone had repeatedly asked her to drink some water during the daytime, when her faith forbids drinking and eating.

The organization is currently offering a $500 scholarship for anyone, regardless of religion and race, who is involved in a nursing program in the Bay Area. Mirhadian said most of the existing scholarships for Muslim students are in the fields of law and engineering, “What if someone just wants to be a RN [registered nurse] or LVN [licensed vocational nurse] and needs $500 to buy books?” she asked.

However, like many other start-up non-profits, Mirhadian said the most pressing matter the group faces at the moment is seeking more funding. The small grant from the IMANA headquarters they secured to initiate the chapter is “going really fast,” she said, adding that in order to lower the new office’s administrative costs, they may have to share it with others during the week.

Despite its current financial hardship, Mirhadian remains optimistic about the organization’s future and is hopeful about recruiting more than 500 members in the coming year. “We really want to be out in the community,” she said, adding that until they have more donations and sponsors, she will make up the difference by volunteering more of her time.

To get more information regarding membership and the scholarship, email Rabi’a Mirhadian at iahcncc@gmail.com or call 510-672-2018.

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