The Iraqi patient held me in a blank stare as the doctor and I approached the teenager’s bed carrying a stack of books.
The books were Qurans. The patient, like most of our Arabic-speaking patients, was Muslim.
The doctor is our bilingual adviser. He was a practicing physician for many years in Iraq, but fled during Sadam’s regime. In the United States, he couldn’t practice as a physician, so he took varioius healthcare jobs.
A few years ago, he decided he wanted to do something for Iraq, so he returned to work here in the Air Force Theater Hospital at Joint Base Balad.
“This patient,” the doctor whispered, about 30 feet from the bedside, “comes from a part of Iraq that has had a lot of violence.” The 16-year-old had a bullet wound to his leg, “allegedly from playing with an AK-47,” the doctor said, hinting that there was more to the story.
“This,” he said, thumping on the Quran, “can be an important part of winning the hearts and minds of the people from this area.”
At bedside, I met the teenager and his father, a local cleric. With the doctor’s help, I introduced myself as a chaplain and offered the father and son an English/Arabic translation of the Quran.
The father smiled appreciatively and received the Quran with a kiss on its binding. He opened the Quran to a passage explaining that Christians are the closest religious relative to the Muslim.
“Find those who say, ‘We are Christians,’ ” the Prophet declared, “because amongst these are men devoted to learning and men who have renounced the world, and they are not arrogant” (Surah 5:82).
I graciously accepted his teaching and moved to another room where we met a pregnant Iraqi woman who was visiting her husband. They were expecting their first child when insurgents shot the husband in the chest. He would recover, but without the ability to swallow or talk.
I repeated the gift of the Quran, but this time I offered to say a prayer or a Duaa. Under the doctor’s coaching, I’ve learned the Duaa is more like the everyday prayer request of Christians.
“In this kind of prayer, you can request, ‘May Allah heal you soon and return you to your family,’ ” the doctor said.
After a quick prayer, we walked down the hall as the doctor questioned the motives of the people who shot the patient.
“I don’t know how insurgents justify what they are doing. It has nothing related to religion.”
Between more Iraqi patient visits, the doctor referred to the book I wrote, “No Small Miracles,” and added, “We see miracles with the Iraqi patients, too. Recently, a boy came to us with shrapnel in his brain. We didn’t think he’d survive, but now he’s doing fine — walking, running and going to school.”
But even without obvious miracles, Muslims ascribe a lot to intention.
“You remember the boy with 55 percent burns on his body?” the doctor asked.
“Yes,” I said. “How could I forget? We sent him home to die.”
“Yes,” the doctor said. “He came to us four days after the accident, much too late to save him. But we showed our best intentions to save him. Muslims will praise the intentions of the Americans to care for every patient, regardless of religion. That’s a unique care that will definitely cause change for the good.”
The doctor described this Muslim teaching as “Works by Intention.” It means God gives credit for the good intended, your motives, not the actual outcome.
In the form of a parable about motives, Jesus thanked his followers: “I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me a drink . . shivering and you gave me clothes, sick and you stopped to visit.”
Unable to recall such a single incident, the followers asked: “When did we do this?”
“Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me — you did it to me.”