Muslim center has help for all faiths

Posted Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Call the Muslim Community Center at 817-589-9165.

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RICHLAND HILLS -- People seeking respite from religious and cultural divisions can instead find bridges being built Tuesday mornings at the Muslim Community Center for Human Services.

That's where retired dentist Allen Roach, a Christian, donates his time to treat a largely Muslim clientele. Christians and other non-Muslims are welcomed.

People of all cultures and religions can get fillings and tooth extractions for a flat-rate $25.

"I enjoy doing it," Roach said as he peered into patient Malik Ali's mouth. But Roach added that he wishes he could get some donated help, especially a dental hygienist.

"This is a good doctor. The problem is he talks too much," Ali joked as Roach discussed his volunteer practice.

Bridges between cultures are also crossed in other ways almost daily at the center on Glenview Drive.

When police need a translator for an Arabic-speaking family, when hospitals need answers about why a Muslim patient might reject his meal or when someone might wonder why a Muslim customer won't look at him in the eye, they can turn to the center's staff for answers.

The center serves low-income residents and refugees though the dental clinic, a medical clinic, counseling services, immigrant resettlement efforts, breast screening referrals, and domestic violence and women-empowering programs. But it has branched into a cultural information outlet for non-Muslims.

Daniel Stafford, chaplain and patient advocate at North Hills Hospital in North Richland Hills, said he turns to the center along with local rabbis and Catholic churches for advice, particularly when someone dies. Stafford, a Baptist, said he wants to be sensitive to religious beliefs without asking relatives a lot of questions when they're grieving.

"Those resource centers are invaluable," Stafford said. "They are a great reference to ask questions."

The Muslim center was founded in 1995 and serves more than 4,000 people in Tarrant County and some parts of Dallas County on an annual budget of about $320,000, said Talaun Thompson, the center's program director. More than half the budget comes from donations from individuals. Grants from the state, the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation and local hospitals help cover the rest.

"It comes from our religion," said Aftab Siddiqui, chairman of the center's board. "Helping each other, helping out the needy and the weaker segments of society is part and parcel of our belief."

A practicing Muslim is expected to donate 2.5 percent of his savings to charity, Siddiqui said. Other pillars mandate a belief in one God, praying five times a day, observance of the monthlong Ramadan holy days, and a pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia at least once in a lifetime if finances and physical ability allow. The center has a strong focus on empowering women. In Saudi Arabia women are banned from driving or from traveling without male chaperons, though in Muslim Bangladesh and Indonesia, women have led their countries. At the Muslim center, most women do not wear a hijab or headscarf. Siddiqui, a Muslim, said his sister and nieces wear a hijab. His wife does not.

"There are many women who do wear hijab," he said. "But there are many who do not. It's a personal decision on their part."

Thompson, who is not Muslim, said the center empowers women by keeping them healthy and safe through marriage and family counseling and discussions about breast cancer at mosques, community centers and libraries. If a woman faces domestic violence, the center will create a plan for safety and care management, and if needed, a referral to a shelter.

"When we think about empowerment, we think about information," Thompson said. "It has so much to do with just the knowledge. Once you know, you can act." Each year the center helps resettle hundreds of refugees from Muslim countries. In the past year the center has helped settle about 700 refugees, many of them Iraqis.

Part of the challenge is teaching native-born Americans about Muslim cultures, especially with so many refugees coming to North Texas.

Most Muslims avoid pork and alcohol, said Siddiqui, who immigrated to the United States from Pakistan in 1993. They will refuse foods with gelatin because gelatin is often a pork-based product, he said. If people see a Muslim reading the Quran and praying, they should not be alarmed.

"We have to pray five times a day," he said.

And Muslims often will not look into the eye of someone of the opposite sex. That can be unnerving for flight attendants, Siddiqui said.

"It is no security threat or anything like that," Siddiqui said. "It's just out of respect for their spouses."

The group's primary mission is to help low-income residents with healthcare. Roach said he retired from his Haltom City dental practice about three years ago. He said he had planned to just donate and help set up his equipment but agreed to volunteer his time after he saw the need.

Ali, 57, of Hurst, said he came to the United States from Pakistan in 1983. He works as a store cashier and cannot afford standard dental fees.

Roach said he sees 10 to 12 patients every Tuesday. And he takes great care.

"Is that hurting?" he asked Ali as he began to drill. "You made a little face. I was getting ready to duck."

Ali smiled a little and said he was fine.

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