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The Story of Sayyida Zainab Remains an Inspiration for Men and Women

To serve fellow human beings is one the best acts of worship as confirmed by the Noble Quran and the narrations of the Prophet (pbuh) and his Progeny (as).

Ijtihadnet: Imam Sadiq (as) is quoted as saying: “No Muslim fulfils the needs of another Muslim unless Allah blesses him/her and addresses him/her that ‘your reward is upon Me and I do not favour you less than Paradise’.” Based on some narrations, believers in showing compassion and kindness to one another are like a body that when a member is hurt, the other members sympathize with insomnia and fever. To help the patients as a “nurse” is among the most outstanding manifestations of this concept.

Nursing is meant to help meet the physical and mental needs of the patient, that is, to care for the patient, the child, and the elderly. On the other hand, religions especially Islam and ethical values of any society, have a significant impact on health care or models of patient care.This ethical value has been practiced since the beginning of human creation, especially by the prophets. Allama Majlisi has mentioned in his Bihar al-Anwar that ‘Imam Sadiq (as) said: “One of the factors that led Prophet Yusuf to be regarded as a benevolent person was that he used to care for the patients in prison.”’

Nursing in Islam has started from the beginning and has a thousand-year history. There are various example of people mainly Muslim women who acted as nurses especially during the wars. In Islam, not only can humans not be indifferent to one another, but above all, they must treat one another with kindness and compassion, and especially with a greater emphasis on the sick, the younger, and the elder. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) has said on the importance of nursing:

«من قام علی مریض یوما و لیلة بعثه الله مع ابراهیم الخلیل علیه السلام فجاز علی الصراط کالبرق اللامع و من سعی لمریض فی حاجة فقضاها خرج من ذنوبه کیوم ولدته امه»

“Whoever takes care of a sick person for one day and one night, God will resurrect him/her with Ibrahim and he/she will pass Serat quickly and the man who strives to meet a sick person’s needs, is cleansed of his/her sins like the day he/she was born of his/her mother.” (Wasa’il al-Shi’a, vol. 16, p. 343)

Nursing, both in terms of caring for and helping those in need and those suffering physically or mentally, and in terms of the medical profession, that is, the correct and accurate execution of the medical instructions for the sick person as a physician’s assistant, is a holy and very precious job from the Islamic perspective.

Nursing has been mentioned in different chapters of jurisprudence including tahara (purity), Salat (prayer), Hajj etc. According to jurists, nursing is mustahabb (recommended) as it is an example for the “Good Deed”. According to a narration, a traveling companion’s right is that if he becomes ill, the other companions stay with him for up to three days, while providing for his needs. (Wasa’il al-Shi’a, vol. 11, p. 457). Also, it is recommended to choose a patient’s nurse from their close relatives who are more compassionate towards them and more aware of their mental and physical conditions (al-Mu’tabar, vol. 1, p. 331). According to some jurists, if a nurse is not able to practice ramy al-jamarat in Hajj because of their duties as nurse, they are permitted to practice that during night (Majma’ al-Masa’il, vol. 1, p. 497).It is also recommended for Muslims to help the patient acting upon their religious duties such as prayer. Visiting the patient is highly encouraged by the Prophet (pbuh) and the Imams (as). According to some narrations, as long as a person is visiting the patient, they are covered by the Divine Mercy. However, to eat something before the patient is discouraged (makruh).

What follows is some recommended instructions for the nurses and those who visit the patient, based on the narrations.

  • Greeting the patient

Greetings are a sign of attention to another. Therefore, this order is emphasized in Islam especially with regard to the patient.The Prophet (pbuh) said: “The perfection of a patient’s visit is that one of you touches his/her face or hands (if not obstructed) and greet and ask him/her about his/her conditions.”

  • Giving hope to the patient

Islam has given tasks to strengthen the morale of the patient who may lose hope in difficult conditions and problems. Nurses are certainly the main target audience for these tasks. The Holy Prophet (pbuh) is quoted as saying:

«إِذَا دَخَلْتُمْ عَلَى الْمَرِيضِ فَنَفِّسُوا لَهُ فِي الْأَجَلِ فَإِنَّ ذَلِكَ لَا يَرُدُّ شَيْئاً وَ هُوَ يُطَيِّبُ النَّفْسَ»

“When you visita patient, give them the hope of surviving. This saying -though does not change the destiny- rejoices the soul.” (Mustadrak al-Wasa’il, vol. 2, p. 154)

  • Meeting the needs of the patient

Muhaddith Nuri, the famous Shia scholar of Hadith, has dedicated, in his Mustadrak al-Wasa’il, a chapter to the “the importance of trying to meet the needs of a patient”. According to him, it is a recommended deed especially with regard to the close relatives. The Prophet (pbuh) said: “Whoever strives to meet the needs of the sick, his sins fall; whether or not they manage to meet their needs.”

  • Congratulations on health

According to many narrations, the sick believers are covered by Divine Mercy during their period of illness to the extent that their cry of pain is regarded as glorification of God. Therefore, when they are recovered physically, they are also recovered spiritually. Whenever Imam Sajjad (as) saw a patient that healed he would say: “Congratulations for getting purified of the sins”. So, it is the moral duty of the nurse and others to say two congratulations to the healed person: congratulations for being cleansed of sins and congratulations on health.

The birthday anniversary of Lady Zainab, the daughter of Imam Ali (as) and Lady Zahra (as), on the 5th of Jumādā al-Ūlā is known as “the Nurses Day” in Iran when the selfless activities of the nurses are appreciated. This year, it coincides with Wednesday, the 1st day of 2020 AD. For this occasion, we have interviewed brother Aleem Noormohamed who lives in Edmonton, AB, Canada. He is 36 years old and has obtained a bachelor of science in nursing. Now he works as a registered nurse in long term care with that of the geriatric population but through work and school, he has much experience in nursing throughout the spectrum of life from obstetrics to acute care to now long-term care. He has worked in a variety of settings with a diverse population that presents various challenges but also provides various avenues for professional growth as well.

As you know, the birthday anniversary of Lady Zainab (as) is known as the Nurses Day in Iran. In your viewpoint, why this day has been chosen?

I didn’t actually know that the birthday of Sayyeda Zainab (as) is the day of the nurse in Iran but I’m not surprised now that you mention it. Clearly, being the daughter of Imam Ali (as) and having the qualities of knowledge, strength, perseverance and patience is something for us all to aspire to. But when you look at the qualities of a nurse in our setting you find it is very much a collaborative effort. However, the registered nurse is expected to be both a leader and an inspiration while at the same time providing those values of compassion and mercy. When you look at Sayyeda Zainab’s efforts following the Tragedy of Karbala and how she had the confidence and inner strength to persevere through so many challenges from Karbala to Syria and to take care of her family and the children of the Ahl al-Bayt (as) whilst at the same time keeping that hope and trust in Allah you may consider her as a great role model for all the nurses throughout the history. We can’t compare, of course, nursing or any profession to the courage that she showed by maintaining the dignity and grandeur of the Ahl al-Bayt (as) in the face of such atrocities but I feel like as nurse you are meant to be a leader and you are meant to adapt and provide the best care, regardless of the situation and you are meant to provide hope and inspiration to your patients even in the darkest of times such as when a tragedy occurs and provide compassion and a good attitude in both the best and worst of times. I think Sayyeda Zainab did this during the journey to Syria and back to Medina and her story remains an inspiration for both men and women that we should never give up but keep moving forward and seeing hope. Her famous words addressing the tyrants of her time that “I saw nothing but beauty” while she faced such hardships make her an example for all people regardless of gender, religion and ethnicity.

How much value and importance do you think Islam gives to nursing the patients?

Islam is a perfect system for living based on the commandments of God. As such, we find that, regardless of the profession, God in His mercy and perfection never fails to reward any of the good deeds no matter how insignificant we might think they are. Islam then I think would give a high importance to nursing because it is a profession based on providing mercy and compassion. Since Allah is our Creator and is more compassionate and merciful to us than our own parents then I feel Allah is very much pleased when we serve and take care of the creation too. In fact, it was in reflecting on this and on the ethics of Islam that I decided to embark on my career as a registered nurse.

Question: Allāma Tabātabā‘i, the well-known contemporary philosopher, mystic and the author of al-Mizān, is quoted as saying: “I’m ready to exchange the reward of my 70 years of saying night prayer for the reward of nursing a patient for one night”. What’s your idea in this regard?

I’ve never heard this quote before but that’s amazing if such a personality has this opinion and it is a high praise that I don’t think I’m worthy of. I can only speak for myself that when I go to work, I just try my best to provide the best care I can. This means providing care that is patient-orientated and addresses the needs of the patient and their family. I chose nursing because it gave me a chance to do something tangible that allowed me to make a difference in people’s lives. That the reward of serving and helping a patient for one night is greater than 70 years of tahajjud (keeping night vigil) was not expected but if true, very much welcomed. I would encourage my fellow brothers and sisters in faith and humanity to pursue nursing and help transform as many people’s lives for the positive as possible.

Question: Any advice for the nurses with regard to the patients?

I think one of the most important aspects of nursing is patience. Of course, technology is always changing and we always have to upgrade our knowledge on an annual basis to stay current on new developments and issues and of course the complexity of patient care and roles and responsibilities are always increasing. I think that nurses have to try and have a good opinion of their patients just as the Prophet has encouraged the Muslims to give the believer 70 excuses for those actions that might seem improper. Sometimes, if a patient is rude or mean it doesn’t necessarily mean that this is their true personality. You have to take a step back and have empathy and try to remember that a patient is in a different setting; they might be scared or tired or in pain and that’s why they might be irritable. If the nurse can be patient and try to see things from the patient perspective then they are able to keep a calm and cool demeanour and mind and start focusing on solutions. Sometimes the best thing to do is just let the patient know that you are there and that you are listening and that their feelings matter. After this, you can deal with the symptoms like pain or unmet needs. The nurse always needs to keep an open mind and have a “short memory” so that you move on from unpleasant situations and don’t allow one bad interaction to paint the entire picture negatively. Sometimes if things get tough, the best thing to do is to take yourself out of the situation and get a breather then go back and try a different approach or get advice from other staff members.

Question: Any advice for the patients with regard to the nurses?

In regards to patients, I hope they remember that we as nurses are also human beings. We have a good niyyat (intention) to provide expert advice and care and we try our best but we are not perfect. Sometimes we get very busy and try to manage multiple tasks; so, if we can’t always get to a call bell quick enough please try to be understanding. Just like patients are complex and might have various things that may be going on in their lives we also have things we are trying to balance; so, as we try to always be kind, compassionate and respectful please try to reciprocate that as well whenever possible.

Question: Any interesting memory during the years you are serving the people as a nurse?

There are many memories but one that sticks out is of an elderly gentleman who had just gotten the news from his doctor that he only had a few months to live. I think the majority of doctors have amazing bedside manner and are very empathetic and compassionate but in this case, the doctor was very brash and up front when there are better ways to break such tragic news to people. I remember approaching him after the doctor had left. I got him a coffee and we sat down for a bit and talked about his feelings he had opened up about being scared of dying but that he had lived a good life. We talked about his beliefs and his hopes to see his wife again in Paradise and he shed a few tears and felt better. It was just a powerful moment that I won’t forget. This for me underlined the importance again of listening and the use of therapeutic silence and self-disclosure. I think so many times, many of us want to do “things” to make things better but sometimes, the best thing you can do is just to be calm and listen to an upset or distressed patient and this calm demeanour can then help create a sense of trust and ease where the patient feels comfortable to open up leading to a therapeutic and helpful interaction.

Question: As a Muslim nurse working in the West, how do you adjust your profession-related activities with Islamic teachings?

A. I find that many religious authorities have extensive verdicts on medical ethics; so, I refer to my Marja’ Taqlid’s handbook when needed. Clearly, there is a fine balance when working in the West but as the sanctity of life is the same for any human being as we all have a soul, then I act in accordance with my medical ethics including that of autonomy, the right to choose, beneficence or doing good, non-maleficence, no harm and the right to do justice in that you try to treat and provide care equally. At the same time, I try to also remember our Islamic teachings and be a source of compassion and mercy as our Prophet (pbuh) and his Ahl al-Bayt (as) were. This is very important in terms of palliative care and attending to the needs of those who are passing away to convey to them that they are not alone and that we do our best to provide comfort and care in a respectful and dignified manner, regardless of their faith, creed.

This interview was conducted by Sayyid Mostafa Daryabari and Dr. Morteza Karimi.

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