CAIRO - A group of Ohio Muslim medical students have launched a new initiative to visit Muslim patients in the state's hospitals to comfort them in sickness and bring them gifts in consistence with the teachings of Islam.
It's a blessing. It's kind of tear-jerking, Janae Johnson-Tyler, who received a gift from Muslim doctors after giving birth at Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center, told The Columbus Dispatch.
I didn't expect anything like this at all. ... It's just so deep and touching, the 34-year-old mother added.
The gifts, presented to Johnson-Tyler, included an urn of holy water coming from Zamzam well in Makkah, the holiest place in Islam.
She also received Ajwa dates, grown from an orchard of seedlings from a tree planted by the Islamic prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him).
The gift also includes a card with inspirational and healing verses in both Arabic and English from the Muslim holy book, the Qur'an.
The gifts, presented to each Muslim patient who registers at the medical center, were initiated in 2009.
Dr. Yosef Khan, a volunteer Muslim chaplain at the hospital, said the program was the brainchild of Muslim medical students who wanted to do something special for patients during the fasting month of Ramadan.
The program was later extended to continue across the year, reaching an average of four patients a day.
The service is very, very much important, said Demba Diallo, 62, a native of Mauritania who underwent a heart transplant 10 months ago and received one of the gifts when he was hospitalized last week.
Here in the United States, I didn't expect to have a gift like this, he said.
Though there are no official estimates, the US is home to from 7-8 million Muslims.
An earlier Gallup poll found that the majority of Americans Muslims are loyal to their country and optimistic about their future in the United States.
Deliveries for gifts, costing about $10 each and funded by donations, members of the Islamic Professional Student Association at Ohio State gave an example of Islamic compassion.
It's compassion, a humanistic thing, caring about not just you, not just your fellow Muslim, but your fellow human being, Khan said.
In Islam, illness is considered a blessing in disguise, a trial through which God cleanses, purifies and forgives, Khan said.
Visiting the sick also is an important part of the faith, viewed as an act of worship and mercy that brings blessings.
This is one way of allowing the patient to get better on their own, to have their faith hand-in-hand with their healing, Khan said.
The new initiative was praised by Rev. Dana Schroeder, director of the medical center's department of chaplaincy and clinical pastoral education, likened the gifts to similar programs for patients of other faiths.
When you're sick, you gravitate toward faith, Schroeder said.
And having visible, tangible things is very nice. ... It definitely broadens your idea of what healing is.
Khan said the program has been replicated at the University of Toledo Medical Center, and he hopes to see it expand elsewhere.
Islam invites to all that is good and warns from all that is bad. From those good and virtuous deeds is the visiting of the ill and afflicted.
When people visit each other while they are in good health, bonds of brotherhood and friendship are strengthened.
But when they visit each other in times of sickness and poor or failing health, their brotherhood grows even more.
The virtue of visiting the sick is not restricted to Muslims, but it includes non-Muslims as well.
Such a visit to a non-Muslim patient can be such a touching and moving experience that it might even cure the most fateful of diseases: disbelief.