Amin Rahmatullah, Pakistani American Cardiologist

Amin Rahmatullah, Pakistani American Cardiologist

The Muslim Experience in Minnesota project aims to capture and convey the Muslim experience in Minnesota through oral interviews and photographic portraits. This Minnesota Historical Society funded project documented 40 Minnesota Muslims chosen carefully to represent a diverse collection of experiences.

Continuing in the series of interviews from the Muslim Experience in Minnesota project, in this entry, I feature Dr. Amin Rahmatullah, a Pakistani American Cardiologist. Dr. Rahmatullah's leadership in providing free health care services to the needy assumes an added significance in view of the news about rising poverty in Minnesota and in the country in general.

Transcript of Amin Rahmatullah Interview:

My name is Amin Rahmatullah. I’ve been in Minnesota for the past 20 years. I am a physician, a cardiologist. I work at Mercy Hospital and Unity Hospital in town. And I’ve been working in these hospitals for the last ten years now. I am married for twenty years now and live at home with my wife and three children. Asad who is fourteen, Ali is ten, and Maheen, is four.

I grew up in Pakistan, and I was born in Karachi, Pakistan. And I went through medical school and I graduated in 1991. And that’s the year that I came to the United States. So, final year of my graduation one of my mentors who lives in Minnesota right now suggested that I basically check this place out for my further training. I said ‘Where is that? I never heard about this place’. And, and I did come here. I did come here and fortunately, fortunately for myself or whatever, was in June, was in summer. I, I just fell in love with this place. It was just beautiful. And that was it. That was it. And that was twenty years ago. And many winters I’ve sort of thought about running far and far, far away, but once you start taking roots in a place, that’s where you call home and this has been my home.
I am currently the director of the Al-Shifa Clinic which is a philanthropic clinic that we run at the Islamic Center of Minnesota every Sundays. The project has been existent for, I believe, almost fourteen years now. It, it works from 10:30-1:30 every Sunday, and, you know, thankfully we’ve got a lot of volunteer physicians in the community that have come in different stages of their development and their training that are here working in different hospitals that are free to volunteer. And they certainly do that. And it’s just been an extremely valuable service for the community.
We basically provide consultative service. There are people who are uninsured, underinsured, have high deductible insurance co-pays. They basically come in and, with their ailments that we basically try and see if we can take care of and consult on and prescribe. We have, we have actually worked with the Hennepin County Lab Services where we can draw labs, blood tests for a very normal, very, very much for subsidized charges. We’ve also worked with, with one of the radiology practices in town to provide free or low cost services to these patients as well. So that has really worked well for the patients. A lot of times during the summers there’s, there’s, there’s parents or relatives who visit residents here in the clinic. They’re either out of their medications or don’t have insurance, don’t have coverage or get into trouble. I think, I think the clinic serves not only as a point where they can receive their prescriptions and consultative medicine, labs, but also provides a resource for further utilization of services in town.
So, I could basically send them to one of my other associates who either own their practice or a part of their private practice where they can receive further care, subsidized care if there are patients that need to be given some. And that’s really been very helpful.
And I think that’s just been the main strand of this clinic. You know, I think as, as we sort of go through this rough economic batch there have been, there have been other services and organizations, you know, it’s, you know that have a recognized clinic and send patients.
Right now the Anoka County Social Services, there are a couple of churches, there is, there is a Hindu temple, they basically, you know, advocate and advertise our services. So pretty much every week now we’ve been seeing at least twenty percent patients which are, who are non-Muslims which is great, which has been wonderful, which has just been wonderful for us. And we’ve actually gone out to the city council board in, both in Columbia Heights and in Fridley to advertise our services and to provide whatever we can for our community, around for our neighbors and for our fellow Minnesotans.
It’s for all Minnesotans. So, and that’s been, that’s been great . We’re also in the process of forming a new non-profit organization. Actually we got that thing chartered under the State of Minnesota last November. It’s a Muslim Physicians of Minnesota Association. So we basically bring together almost two hundred physicians of, within Minnesota altogether under the single umbrella of, as a non-profit organization.
A consortium like that that basically can not only deal with health care advocacy for Minnesota, for all Minnesotans, but also come together as a single organization that not only provides charitable services, volunteer physicians and we don’t wanna restrict ourselves just to the Islamic Center. If there is need for Muslim physicians to volunteer at your local church or your synagogue or one of the under served area in downtown, or at the soup kitchen or at the Salvation Army, or the United Way or wherever. Wherever there is a need for physicians to come in and volunteer, we will provide the physicians to do so. We’re gonna carry out healthcare education seminars, we’re gonna carry out healthcare screenings, provide resources for a lot of upcoming new medical students, that would like to work, work and do some research or we wanna provide basically for career counseling.
We also have a bunch of women physician who volunteer. They’re very popular when they work at the clinic. So for a lot of women to come by and talk to a female Muslim physician is just wonderful.
My wife is a physician as I mentioned. She is a nephrologist. She works part-time, at least works out of house part-time. So, so she’s really been busy in terms of, in terms of commuting, in terms of shuttling the kids to their different activities. Both my boys play tennis twice a week, two to three times a week as a matter of fact. So, I know that on Mondays and Wednesday and a few Sundays I have to basically pick and drop them. So that keeps us busy. Two of my kids swim. Two out of the three swim regularly on a weekly basis. So, being at their events. The older two certainly have been active at school, in the school events, also participating in school.
But, you know, I believe very strongly about parental participation in school activities. So, we’ve been really involved with, with school meetings. My wife would volunteer at school when she’s, on the days when she is not working. We would do that. And it’s important for, for their growth, both in terms of, in terms of their personal growth, academic growth and, and the growth of their personalities for the parents to be involved as much as we can. As physicians it’s extremely hard to do so, but certainly being involved in their lives it does take priority. You know, on, on Sundays, we take them to the Sunday school. They both learn Arabic. They both learn religious education and the Quran, to read the Quran in Arabic. Both me and my wife believe that that’s of immense importance. Besides that, my middle one plays music. He plays the piano. So, so committed to that as well. My younger one likely will start in the next few months. So, it’s really busy. Really busy.
I think as an individual I feel very strongly about what you owe to your family, to your kids, work, society, your fellow workers, your fellow society members, and your fellow Minnesotans. I think that little piece and little part of you that you feel that, that should be dedicated to all these aspects in your life. And I feel very strongly about being involved, you know. I’m only around here for once. Gotta make an impact here.
Both me and my wife believe, I think regardless of our Pakistani heritage, what’s most important is, is the fact that we’re Muslims. I think that’s what defines us more than being, being of Pakistani heritage. I think being American Muslims for us is most important. And I say American Muslims, not just Muslims. I think that’s most important for us. You know, language isn’t something that defines a person to a great extent, I think what defines a person to the great extent is the, is the code of conduct, their morals, their ethics, and the way they interact with their fellow human beings. And that is most important for me and my wife to instill those kinds of values for our kids. You know, being a Pakistani immigrant my kids will probably never relate themselves to Pakistan. The only thing that they’ll relate off is that my parents came from Pakistan as immigrants. But they’re Americans. What I would like them to take pride in is the fact that they are American Muslims, they’re born here, they are part and parcel of the fabric of this society.
I would like them to understand and follow in the footsteps of their parents. We like to impress upon them how hard we work, about the strict values in our home, about the importance of religion, importance, and what religion teaches in my mind for them is morality, ethics, and the moral fiber. And that’s what’s important. But connecting to answer your questions to connecting back to our culture, you know, we still, we still do connect with a lot of friends who are immigrants similar to us. We connect with them. Almost every weekend there is some kind of a social event - less so in the winters, more so in the spring and summer and fall. During Ramadan which is a holy month we make it a point to go to the mosque every day, break our fast with our fellow Muslims, pray with them, sit and socialize, read the Quran, and at the end of the night participate in a longer set of prayers which is a specific in Ramadan itself. I think doing that not only you do it for yourself in terms of spiritual growth, but also for the kids and for yourself connecting with the other fellow Muslims whether they be from Pakistan, whether they be from Somalia, Iraq, Bangladesh, India or where, wherever, or right here from the United States. So, I think, I think bringing that kind of a culture in mix and bringing that kind of an interaction in your lives and in your children’s lives, I believe that’s extremely important for us to do so.
My role model as I was growing up were my parents. Like, like I said my dad is a physician. He still works. He is a family practitioner and he’s been working for forty-five years now. Yeah, forty-eight years now. He loves what he does. One of the things that I learned is, as a physician, you gotta love what you do. And, and he always, he always sort of impressed upon me his, his love of his job, love of his profession. And the human aspect of the profession and that’s something why I love what I do is it just is immensely emotionally connected. I think that part of medicine derives me a lot of gratification. So, and that’s what basically bails you out through long working hours, long weeks, being on call. I’m still on call and I could be gone from my home and be working for thirty hours, twenty, twenty-four to thirty hours before I come back home and see my kids. But the aspect, this aspect of medicine what I just described truly bails you out. And you gotta love what you do to be able to withstand this for so many years, hard on you physically, hard on you mentally, but you gotta do, you gotta love what you gotta do, what you do. The second question about what do I aspire for my kids. I aspire nothing but the best. You know, I saw my dad struggle, grow out of nothing.
And I came here granted with a solid education, a solid medical school education, being brought up in a very supportive, in an educated environment and being confident enough to stand up on m own two feet and take my career from there. And I am immensely thankful to God and, and my parents and my family who supported me through this and sent me here to the United States. But beyond that, with the help of God and a lot of opportunities, I work hard. And that’s what I want to impress upon my children is the value of hard work, the value of perseverance, the value of hanging in there, and doing the best. Growing up in the United States as good Muslims. That is of extreme importance. It takes priority over and above being a good professional, you know. I don’t, I don’t care what they become, what they do in their lives, but what I truly do care about is that they are good human beings, that they, that they are, that they are compassionate human beings, they’re kind human beings, they’re polite human beings and they love what they do.
Interviewer: You alluded to some noticeable changes for the Muslim community after 9/11. Talk about some of those changes that you saw and maybe some of the misconceptions that you see around you.
You know the noticeable changes were that I think prior to 9/11 the community blended with the rest of the community, with their neighbors and their friends. We, we were, we were looked at as immigrant population, no different than immigrants from any other country in the world. After 9/11 I think, I think what was brought to the forefront was a lot of misconceptions, misperceptions. Unfortunately, these were the doings of a few who blended the political ideology with religious beliefs. And in my mind that is not right.
The larger Muslim population does not endorse that, does not condone that. And, and I think this is the message that we as Muslims had to bring out to the rest of the community and let them know. That your neighbors, your friends to the left and right who are Muslims are peace loving, kind Americans that, that anybody would expect, you know. So I think that, that perception, people are very curious about who we are, who we were. And I think to this day we continue by way of examples, by way of leading your life, continue to impress upon them. “But jeez, I mean, I know my neighbor, he’s a Muslim, he’s a physician, he’s a, he’s a Muslim American. What’s wrong with that? Now, these are, you know, what I am seeing in the news, what I am seeing at Fox, what I am seeing this commentator talk about is an aberration or is biased or is misrepresentative.” That’s what we want our neighbors to basically take away. That’s want we want our community to take away. And we’re very clear about that.
I think this is of immense importance that we as a Muslim community get the word out in the larger Minnesota community about who we are. And our genuine need and our genuine desire to first be Americans and then be good American Muslims. Well, we practice our religion, tolerance, peace, acceptance of, of everybody else around you. In the Quran, as many times as God commands us to, to return His favors to Him, perhaps more number of times He commands us to be compassionate and merciful towards parents, kin, families, poor, orphans, and widows. Okay. And anybody can go to multiple, multiple passages in the Quran where, where God basically talks about ‘huq’ as in Arabic it says ‘huququl ‘ibad’. What that means is ‘the rights of people’. And I believe that that’s so important that we do that.
And that is the idea behind a lot of us in the community, in the Muslim community; we wanna give back in whatever way or form we can. Whether it be volunteering in Haiti, and we had a team of Muslim physicians that did that, whether it be collecting, you know, pennies for a cause or the march, volunteering in the March of Dimes, volunteering with the special needs children, whether it be volunteering in soup kitchen, food shelves, whatever it takes, whatever it takes. I think it’s important that we live by our faith and helping fellow Minnesotans, helping fellow human beings more important. That’s basically living by what our values and faith is, but as an additional area of importance and impressing upon our non-Muslim neighbors, friends, and community members that we are peace loving citizens of the state and of the country. And what they hear extreme views on TV and radio are people who are like, you know, any other community or set of people or groups of people on the fringe, are people who have the right to express their extreme views and they may or may not be true, and for most part they’re not. What they basically expound upon is acts of a few that give a bad name to our religion, to our community, to our faith. And that is something that we certainly wanna move away from.
So I think it’s important that people realize that we are here as friends, as families, and as neighbors. And we will do whatever it takes to provide and to live as fellow citizens and work towards a healthy cause in building for whatever it takes for the country.

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