U.S. Muslim dentist opens free clinic for all

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SHAFAQNA – When he immigrated to America about 30 years ago, Makbul Patel experienced something he hadn’t in his native India – a bone-chilling winter.

Patel, who lives in Riverside with his wife, Nasim, said his first stop when he came to the United States to continue practicing dentistry was Chicago.

“It was amazing,” he said. “When I came to Chicago, I saw my first winter. I didn’t have any exposure to snow.”

In an article in The Press Enterprise, Patel explains how who lived in California called him and urged him to come to a warmer climat which he did six months later. Thirty years later he has been serving patients in the Inland Empire and helping the community through his work and volunteer efforts.

Patel, 57, earned recognition from the city in late 2014 for his service when he received a Riverside Heroes Award.

Patel also founded Al-Shifa Dental Clinic, a free clinic in San Bernardino that provides care to patients regardless of their income, social background, religion, race or ethnicity.

Patel, a devout Muslim, sees his mission to help people in need as a duty, he said.

“In my faith, medicine is a noble profession,” he said. “So serving the community is one of the noble things to do.”

Patel has been very active in his community especially as he saw a sharp rise in anti-Muslim sentiment after the 9/11 terrorist attacks – he spearheaded several efforts to connect the Muslim community with Riverside, and established the Open Mosque Day event, inviting the public to visit and learn about Islam.

He helped to establish the Annual Ramadan Iftar Dinner in Riverside, an event that brings residents from various faiths and walks of life together.

Omar Zaki, who met Patel more than 15 years ago at the Islamic Center, nominated his friend for the Heroes Award. What he saw in Patel, was his ability to give and still maintain his piety and humbleness. He pointed out that for Patel, the driving force was his Islamic faith.

“As a Muslim, it’s his responsibility to help others. He does this without asking for him. He is the guy in the back of the room doing 90 percent of the heavy lifting.”

Zaki recalled how Patel created an annual event that recognized students graduating from high school and going on to college, giving each youth a gift and providing them with a boost from the community.

“This man has really tried to demonstrate to everyone he has come across what the meaning of being a good Muslim is,” Zaki said. “He does so with his generosity. We as American Muslims need more Dr. Patels.”

Patel, born one of 10 children in Gujarat, India, was the first in his family to become a dentist but his shining example also has spurred his son Sameer and daughter Asma to dentistry and  a nephew who is also studying. His youngest son Hamza is at UC Riverside and is considering dentistry as well.

Patel’s nonprofit dental clinic is closest to his heart. Patel said in 1999, a group of Muslims started a nonprofit medical clinic in the unincorporated area of Muscoy. In 2004, Patel opened a dental office there.

“I’ve always wanted to do this,” he said. “I came here and saw lots of people who come to my dental office with no insurance. I was looking for a good opportunity. I’ve always wanted to give back to the community.”

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