CAIRO - In an effort to comfort them in sickness, a group of Muslim medical students in Ohio are visiting patients in state hospitals and bringing them gifts, giving an example of compassion in Islam.
"It's a blessing. It's kind of tear-jerking," Janae Johnson-Tyler, a patient at Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center, told The Columbus Dispatch.The 34-year-old mother felt happy after receiving gifts from Muslim doctors at the hospital, where she gave birth.
Her gifts 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 Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him).
The gifts also included a card with inspirational and healing verses in both Arabic and English from the Noble Qur'an.
"I didn't expect anything like this at all. ... It's just so deep and touching."
The gifts were part of an initiative launched by Muslim doctors in 2009 to solace Muslim patients at state hospitals in Ohio.
Dr. Yosef Khan, a volunteer Muslim chaplain at the hospital, said the initiative was the brainchild of Muslim medical students who wanted to do something special for patients.
The initiative 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."
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.
Organizers say the initiative gives an example of compassion in Islam.
"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.
He said the program has been replicated at the University of Toledo Medical Center, voicing hope it would be expanded elsewhere.
The Muslim initiative won praise from Rev. Dana Schroeder, director of the medical center's department of chaplaincy and clinical pastoral education.
"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."
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.