COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — As Janae Johnson-Tyler watched her father rocking her newborn daughter, her wide smile was joined by a few tears of gratitude.
A volunteer had stopped by the Columbus woman's hospital room at Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center to bring gifts of healing consistent with the new mother's Muslim faith.
"It's a blessing. It's kind of tear-jerking," said Johnson-Tyler, 34, placing her hand on the packages holding dates and an urn of holy water. "I didn't expect anything like this at all. ... It's just so deep and touching."
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 gifts were so well-received that they decided to continue the program year-round, and the recipients now average four patients a day, Khan said. Each gift costs about $10 and is funded by donations.
Deliveries are made by Khan and members of the Islamic Professional Student Association at Ohio State. Johnson-Tyler and other women were presented gifts this month by OSU dentistry student Sulekha Abdi, while medical student Khalid Ebrahim delivered gifts to male patients.
"It's compassion, a humanistic thing, caring about not just you, not just your fellow Muslim, but your fellow human being," Khan said.
The water comes from the Well of Zamzam in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, a city considered the holiest place in Islam. According to Islamic history, God miraculously revealed the well to Hagar, the second wife of Abraham, as she sought water for her infant son Ishmael. The water is believed to have healing properties for those who drink it or rub it on their bodies, Khan said.
The dates are Ajwa dates, grown from an orchard of seedlings from a tree planted by the Islamic prophet Muhammad. It's believed that eating seven of the dates will ward off evil. The gift also includes a card with inspirational and healing verses in both Arabic and English from the Muslim holy book, the Quran.
Khan said the program has been replicated at the University of Toledo Medical Center, and he hopes to see it expand elsewhere.
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.
It also comforts families to swab a dying patient's mouth with Zamzam water and know it's the last thing the loved one will taste in this world, he said.
The 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, including volunteers who offer communion to Christian patients.
"When you're sick, you gravitate toward faith," he said. "And having visible, tangible things is very nice. ... It definitely broadens your idea of what healing is."
Demba Diallo, 62, who underwent a heart transplant 10 months ago, received one of the gifts when he was hospitalized last week.
A native of Mauritania in western Africa, the Columbus man called the service "very, very much important" and said he hoped God would allow it to continue.
"Here in the United States, I didn't expect to have a gift like this," he said.