Illinois’s First ‘Sharia-Compliant’ Hospital Drops Label In Bid For Financing

Excerpted from Chicago Business:

A Chicago doctor who proposed opening the state’s first “Shariah-compliant” surgery center is dropping references to Islamic law, a bid to reduce confusion — and controversy — about the plan.

Dr. Naser Rustom’s original proposal for a $5.5 million medical facility in southwest suburban Orland Park that would adhere to the tenets of Islam was issued a preliminary denial in May by the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board. The proposal was a sign of the growing population of Arab-Americans and other Muslims in the Chicago area.

But by catering to conservative Muslims, the center raised thorny issues because some interpretations of Shariah would require strict segregation of the sexes. Dr. Rustom, who also owns the Alhambra Palace restaurant on West Randolph Street, didn’t intend to follow that practice because he said it would violate federal and state law.

Now, he has revised his application, “removing all references to Shariah law,” according to a letter to the facilities board staff from his lawyer.

“The intent of the change is to simplify and clarify the special health needs of Arab-Americans and Muslim-Americans,” according to a letter from Joseph Hylak-Reinholtz of the Chicago office of law firm Holland & Knight LLP.

“There are hundreds of different interpretations of what Shariah is,” Mr. Hylak-Reinholtz said in an interview. “It’s better to avoid mentioning it.”

The project still would focus on meeting the heath care needs of Muslim and Arab-American patients, by offering areas for prayer and ritual washing, and some employees will speak both Arabic and English, he said.

‘HOT-BUTTON TERM’

The term “Shariah” needlessly complicated the proposal, said Robert Vischer, dean of the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis, who has written about the intersection of Islam, health care and the law.

“ ‘Shariah’ has become a hot-button term in America that signals a theocratic takeover of American law,” he said.

Despite fine-tuning the pitch, Dr. Rustom still faces obstacles showing there is a need for the surgery center. The facilities board reviews health care construction projects to avoid duplication of services. More than 60 percent of hospitals and surgery centers in the area around the site are underused, according to the staff report on the original application.

The board vote, which was 8-0 against the plan, was taken after the facilities board staff found there was no evidence that the project would actually improve health care for Muslims and Arab-Americans in the southwest suburbs.

The revised application asks the staff to reconsider that finding, citing as many as 30 letters from individuals and organizations expected to be filed in support of the project. Keep reading

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