An Unexpected Visitor: My Journey as a Spiritual Support Volunteer for Muslim Patients

Muslim doctor meets with patient (Bangkok Click Studio/Shutterstock)

I stepped into the next patient room after morning classes and Friday prayer to visit the patient who had that toothless grin that was as radiant as it was goofy. Mike was a boisterous man who tried to give me a kiss on my forehead as soon as he heard why I was there — clearly, his battle with leukemia with so many potential years ahead of him failed to dampen his spirits. His proclamation of gratitude to Allah in the face of such a serious medical condition was inspiring and intriguing, to say the least. After we recited a few Islamic prayers of healing together, I asked Brother Mike, as I called him, if he could tell me a little about himself. If I wasn't “inspired” already, I cannot think of the right word to describe how I felt after he shared his story with me. Stories like this continue my drive as the founder of a patient visitor program for hospitalized Muslims at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. 




Muzzammil Ahmadzada. Photo courtesy

Born in Washington D.C. but having grown up forty-one miles northeast in Baltimore, Mike grew up in a single parent household in a complex that was home to some of the highest gang activity on the entire East Coast. There were no internships or career opportunities beyond dealing amphetamines, and no student organizations or youth mentorship beyond initiation into gangs, so Mike indulged in both. He quickly learned the tricks of the trade and was successfully working his way up in the underground hierarchy until he was charged with a serious crime that landed him in prison. Surprisingly, I saw tears roll down Mike's cheek as he emphasized each word: "Going to jail was the best thing to ever happen to me." 

It was during the two decades he spent in jail that Mike was introduced to Islam. He had no prior exposure to reading or writing, but through daily lessons with the prison chaplain and fellow inmates, Mike was soon able to read entire books about the religion that so intrigued him. This reminded me of the story of the Prophet Joseph, who also spent many years in a prison cell but never let his connection with God wither away.  

When I asked Mike what it was about Islam that he felt himself so drawn to, he replied without hesitation: "The sense of community and brotherhood." It was not long after he was released from prison that he fell ill and was diagnosed with leukemia, but he was still able to find a warm welcome in the Baltimorean Muslim community in that brief time. I was amazed at how I, an Afghan American Muslim, could ease into a friendship with Mike due to our bond of Islam. One thing that people may not know is that Muslims span a plethora of ethnic, linguistic, and cultural identities but largely come together through their belief in one God and his final messenger, Prophet Muhammad.   

However, since his hospitalization, that very same community and sense of brotherhood that he so craved was gone, just as fast as it had come. COVID-19 visitor restrictions had barred friends and family from coming to see him, further compounding his sense of loneliness and isolation. The grimmest realization for me was knowing that had he been hospitalized just a few weeks earlier, neither myself nor any other Muslim would have had the privilege to learn about Mike’s story, as the hospital did not have a spiritual care service specifically geared to the Muslim population. 




Anees, in Arabic, symbolizes one of the highest forms of friendship. Photo courtesy

To ensure similar interactions between visitors and Muslim patients in the hospital, I recently started Anees, which in Arabic symbolizes one of the highest forms of friendship, literally translating to “a friend whose presence brings calm and happiness.” I started this program with Muslims in Medicine — a nascent medical organization that brings together Muslims clinicians and trainees to brainstorm patient care solutions and innovative professional growth opportunities—which spread the program to two hospitals in Texas and New York. After establishing the patient visitation service program at Johns Hopkins Hospital two years ago as a sophomore, I am working with a team of Muslim chaplains and student organizers to expand this to other hospitals nationwide with a standardized training curriculum for spiritual care volunteers. Through this, we humbly hope that we follow the legacy of Prophet Joseph, where those in a place of isolation can find a light to God through camaraderie.     

 

Muzzammil Ahmadzada is a fourth-year undergraduate student in the biology department at the Johns Hopkins University, originating from Afghanistan and having grown up in Elk Grove, California. His career interests lie at the intersection between medicine and religion, with his long term goal being the service of disadvantaged populations in the United States. 


 

#Interfaith is a self-paced, online learning opportunity designed to equip a new generation of leaders with the awareness and skills to promote interfaith cooperation online. The curriculum is free to Interfaith America readers; please use the scholarship code #Interfaith100. #Interfaith is presented by IFYC in collaboration with ReligionAndPublicLife.org.

 

more from IFYC

Muslims around the world celebrate Eid al-Fitr this week, a three-day holiday marking the end of Ramadan.
Muslims throughout the world will celebrate the holiday of Eid al-Fitr, a celebration at the end of Ramadan. Here’s an introduction to this important feast and its partner, Eid al-Adha.
It is high time that we change how we recognize and respond to hate.
As the last days of Ramadan are upon us and Eid al-Fitr begins on Monday – take our interactive quiz to find out how much you really know about this holy month.
The Interfaith Leadership Summit is the centerpiece of the yearlong Interfaith Leadership Institute, where students and educators can gain knowledge and practice what's needed to deepen the campus communities they love. 
Two decades ago, Eboo Patel got married, founded Interfaith Youth Core, and the indie band Wilco produced “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.” Coincidence?
Co-author Christina Edmonson said ‘there is a benefit and a gift to people who don't identify as Black Christian women to listen respectfully to these stories and narratives.’
A convergence of major religious holidays led the way to a day of interfaith fellowship and education.
Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Christians, Sikhs and more mark sacred observances this month. Learn more about the holidays here.
Despite excellent performances and production values, Hulu's 'Banner' left me with the same wary bewilderment I felt after reading Jon Krakauer’s book.
Giving back to the community is central to Islam, especially during Ramadan.
A wide variety of worldviews -- Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Humanism and more -- include reflections and sacred texts that emphasize valuing the environment.
The kind of giving known as Zakat can include everything from donating to nonprofits to smiling at strangers.
The tradition of shmita, a Jewish answer to how to fight climate change, is spreading beyond Israel.
Imagine my surprise upon coming to the U.S. and celebrating my first Easter, but didn’t people realize it was Easter? Why are all the egg die and chocolates already sold out and none left for us celebrating a few weeks later?
The faith-based climate justice group is hosting dozens of interfaith prayer services around the globe for the holiday. Organizers hope prayer will inspire action. 
Faith and climate expert Ibrahim Abdul-Matin urges people of faith to step up and be the conscience that the world desperately needs.
As this holy season of Lent ends, Jared Deane reflects on his Ash Wednesday experience and sharing that with his friends while abroad.
"It is a holy season of celebrations, each unique but each inviting its own faith community to be intentional in bringing about an era of redemption," the authors write.
At the University of Illinois veterinary school, students can take an innovative class, "Religious Perspectives on Caring for Animals," that looks at the intersection of religion and veterinary medicine.
With Earth Day on April 22, climate justice advocate Ibrahim Abdul-Matin says, "For me, climate change has always been about faith." He's on a quest to find like-minded activists.

The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.