The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said,
“Every Muslim has five rights over another Muslim: to return the greetings, to visit the sick, to accompany funeral processions, to accept an invitation, to respond to the sneezer” [Bukhari and Muslim].
In the days of the Prophet (pbuh) and his companions, visiting the sick was not limited to relatives and acquaintances, but included strangers and non-Muslims (remember the Jewish kid who served the Prophet (pbuh) and took the shahadah on his deathbed when the Prophet went to visit him.)
Today, unfortunately, some Muslims do not even perform the minimum, using excuses like “I’m too busy,” or “I’ll ask about them on the phone,” or “I don’t like going to hospitals,” or “It’s a long drive!” What we fail to remember is that someone who is going through a health low is probably bored from sitting in bed all day, needs a psychological boost, and needs to be surrounded by people who care. So, believe it or not, you’ll be doing them a favor by paying them a visit. However, it is important to make it a productive visit for everyone by keeping in mind the following tips (some inspired by my own experience as a patient who received a diversity of visitors).
Here are 8 ways to make sure you are productively fulfilling one of the five rights a Muslim has over another Muslim: visiting the sick.
1. Make multiple intentions
Visiting someone who is ill is a highly rewarded act, but you can make it even more rewarding simply by making several intentions. Examples include: making a fellow Muslim happy, supporting another Muslim in time of need, improving relations with family or friends, softening the heart of a non Muslim, and so on. Act smart and be sincere!
2. Setting an appointment
Inpatients are probably used to receiving visitors during visitation hours, but out of courtesy make sure you text the patient or their family member to notify them of your visit. This way you will avoid going at a time when they are sleeping, eating, taking a bath or receiving treatment. Be flexible and understanding if you are asked to come at a later time and don’t let this put you off making a visit altogether; you don’t want to miss the opportunity for tremendous thawab. It’s also a good idea to take a friend or more with you, but don’t turn it into a party! If you’re being accompanied by someone unknown to the patient, it is advisable to check with the patient first since they may not be ready to meet strangers.
3. Choosing a suitable gift
Generally, flowers and chocolates seem to be the most popular gifts people take when visiting someone who is sick. Although flowers are beautiful to smell and gaze upon, they wither quickly and usually end up outside the patient’s room (it’s funny, but they sort of ‘compete’ with the patient for oxygen). It’s time we put more thought and creativity into the gifts we buy, by considering the person’s age, health condition, and any restrictions (e.g. dietary). Think of what would make the person happy and help them make good use of their free time without exerting themselves. Ideas include personal items they can use during their hospital stay (e.g. pajamas, travel-size beauty products), items they can fill their time with (books, movies), or anything they’re known to enjoy. Ask them if they need anything before you go and offer to lend them your own items (e.g. iPad) where possible.
4. Length of the visit
While patients enjoy some company, it’s highly recommended that you make it short and sweet. Inpatients in particular wake up early and sleep early, and medication may wear them out. Unless you are a very close friend, be a light guest; try not to stay for more than 20-30 minutes (or less), depending on how well they are. In addition, don’t act uncomfortably if there are no chairs or if it’s too hot, for example, and try to minimize chatter if the person looks too tired to engage in conversation. Avoid bringing your children if they are too young or you will end up disturbing other patients.
5. Conversation do’s and don’ts
Please don’t feed your curiosity and start off by asking, “So, what’s wrong with you exactly?”
Remember that you are here to get them out of the mood, not probe them for medical information! What if they had a surgery that is embarrassing to discuss? Instead, ask about how they’re feeling and when they’re expecting to return home, for example. Offer to babysit their children for a day if you can, or offer any other help they may need to reduce their burden.
If they choose to reveal details to you, be a good listener. Give them advice, cheer them up, remind them of Allah’s mercy and how He tests His good servants to elevate their ranks. This is not the time to remind them of death and hellfire or share with them depressing news! Choose your words wisely and carefully.
6. Safety comes first
It was narrated that Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said:
“There should be neither harming nor reciprocating harm” [Ibn Majah].
How does this authentic hadith relate to visiting a sick person? Well, if you’re suffering from a bad cold, it may not be wise to visit someone who is already weak. In this case, apologize and pay them a visit when you’re better. On the contrary, if the patient is suspected to have a contagious disease, do not put yourself at risk; follow safety protocols as instructed by the hospital staff. A good-intentioned behavior which I did not appreciate as a transplant recipient with a very low immunity level was visitors who refused to wear a face mask, insisted on kissing me, and brought their sick kids over to say hi. These things do more harm than good, so please be aware!
7. Power of Dua’a
One of the most beautiful things in Islam is the collection of supplications we have been provided with to recite in each and every situation we may encounter in our daily life. Instead of saying “Get well soon!”, learn these two duas and remember to recite them when visiting the sick.
Remind them to regularly make dua for themselves, perhaps even give them a small book of supplications. Before you leave, don’t forget to ask them to make dua’a for you as well.
(Everyone used to ask me that, even the doctors!)
8. Reflect, reflect, reflect!
Hospital visits ought to get you reflecting and your tongue oft-repeating “Alhamdulillah.” You are likely to see many patients, young and old. You will see worried parents and hear weeping children and agonized patients. Seek out good deeds sincerely and Allah will lead you to them insha’Allah: comfort a person in distress, surprise a child with a simple gift, or try to find out if a patient on the ward needs financial help or has no family around. Smile and spread salaams wherever you go. Additionally, make it a habit to say this dua’a whenever you see somebody who is afflicted as well as remember those who are sick in your prayers.
The next time you’re too lazy to visit a sick friend or colleague, just read this hadith which will motivate you to hit the road insha’Allah:
“Ali Ibn Abi Taalib related that he heard the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) say: ‘If a man calls on his sick Muslim brother, it is as if he walks reaping the fruits of Paradise until he sits, and when he sits he is showered in mercy, and if this was in the morning, seventy thousand angels send prayers upon him until the evening, and if this was in the evening, seventy thousand angels send prayers upon him until the morning”[at-Tirmidhi].