As Children's Hospital Boston's only Imam, or Muslim chaplain, Salih Yucel has the weighty responsibility of providing spiritual care to Muslim patients and families. Many of them are wary, worried and experiencing major culture shock, having traveled to Children's from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries. "Because of the images of Muslims in the media, and because of the war on terrorism, many Muslim families are hesitant even to come here," Yucel says. "They think they could be discriminated against. But when people see an Imam, they're so happy. I speak their language and can make them feel more at home."
Religion is an integral part of Muslims' lives, so Yucel helps families maintain their religious customs while they are here. He provides them with a Koran and a prayer timetable, and shows them which local restaurants meet the special Islamic diet requirements. He also prays with families at their child's bedside in the traditional Islamic way: first saying a general prayer for every patient in the hospital, and then one just for that family's child. "You should be generous in terms of prayer, and not just pray for yourself," he explains.
Although helping Muslim families feel welcome is Yucel's main goal, he's also come to find himself in the role of educator. He's even given several lectures to Children's employees about the unique needs of Muslim patients. "It's extremely important to be aware that certain American customs don't translate," he says. "For example, a doctor tried to shake hands with the mother of a Muslim patient. She started screaming. Shaking hands with the opposite sex in the Muslim culture is not a gesture of kindness."
Yucel sees every successful interaction between Children's staff and Muslim families as building a new bridge between countries and cultures. "Some people look at you differently if you're Islamic, especially if you're a woman wearing a hijab. Little gestures go a long way. I tell hospital staff to smile at the families. Just say, 'Hello, how are you?'
Yucel points out that these gestures of kindness are good publicity for both Children's and the United States. "When these families—who are usually very influential—return to their country, they take a positive image home with them. In times like these, that's very important."