Where worlds meet
On concluding the midday prayer, the imam turned to the congregation, which must have numbered over 100 people, and told them that he had, that morning, been informed that their friend and fellow worshipper was making good progress in hospital. Being a visitor to the area, I had no idea to whom he was referring and paid little attention to the progress report that followed. The imam's parting advice did, however, catch my notice: "There is, therefore, no need for you all to visit him today, and please pass this message on to your family and friends. Also, please remember that, when you do go, agree visiting timings among yourselves so you do not attend all together and cause unnecessary problems for the nurses and doctors."
As someone who knows first hand the central importance of supporting the ill and dying within the Islamic ethic, I fully appreciate the communal desire for regular visiting that may be present. My experiences of working on busy hospital wards, however, have also made me acutely aware of the logistical difficulties that may result from large visitor numbers and how these difficulties may be compounded if people visit outside of the designated visiting times (as many do). The failure to bridge such differences in perspectives effectively leads to misunderstanding and resentment, and I have, unfortunately, witnessed this often. But this need not be the case, for pluralism canthrough mutual sharing of ideas, experiences, and aspirationsoffer penetrating insights into the worlds inhabited by others. Respectful interaction also offers the potential for learning new ways of making better sense of our own worlds and, in so doing, developing new ways of negotiating potential areas of conflict without necessarily compromising our values.
This small incident impressed me in many ways. I was moved by the concern so evidently on display for a fellow human in difficulty. The imam's advice was thoughtful and, I hoped, persuasive. Perhaps most impressive of all, however, was the recognition of the "behind the scenes" discussions and problem sharing that must have taken place. Inspired, I made a silent parting prayer for the wellbeing of the invisible actors and actresses who had momentarily been the centre of my thoughts, and through whose narrative I had once again been reminded of the need for, and power of, dialogue.
Aziz Sheikh, NHS/PPP national primary care postdoctoral fellow.
St George's Hospital Medical School, London