Islam is increasingly grappling with the spread of AIDS, with Muslim leaders taking similar approaches to Christians in their early attitudes to the spread of the disease, reports the Washington Post (Aug. 13).
Warnings that AIDS-related sex education and condom promotion will undercut individual morality and lead to societal destruction have come from Islamic leaders in Pakistan and evangelical Protestants in Jamaica. Last winter, the Council of Islamic Clerics in Nigeria’s northern Kano state condemned a planned seminar on HIV/AIDS prevention as violating Islamic law. Imam Ibrahim Umar Kabo called it a Western “gimmick to spread immorality in our society.”
When the Kenyan government announced plans in July to import 300 million condoms to prevent the spread of AIDS, Sheik Mohammed Dor of the Council of Imams and Preachers said the country was “committing suicide” and encouraging sexual experimentation among young people. Complaining of the expense, President Daniel Arap Moi suggested that all Kenyans instead abstain from sex for two years.
“My experience today, reaching out to faith-based organizations in Africa, has a similar quality of 10 years ago in this country,” says Jason Heffner of the U.S. Agency for International Development. “You could not get the major [U.S.] leaders to sit down around a table . . . [and] we didn’t have the leadership we needed. Now, we see the religious community on board in many ways.” [see the June issue of RW for more on world evangelicals addressing AIDS].
The explosion of AIDS in the developing world has also begun to challenge some views on the disease. Uganda’s Islamic Medical Association organized a prevention campaign that has become a model in Africa. In Niger, Islamic leaders this year recommended that Muslim teachers learn to teach about AIDS and that couples receive premarital HIV testing. In Senegal, where more than 90 percent of the population is Muslim, the spread of HIV slowed dramatically after Islamic and Christian leaders joined a government AIDS-prevention campaign advocating condoms along with abstinence and fidelity.
“Sixteen years ago, people didn’t talk about AIDS,” Senegalese Imam Ousmane Gueye said during a U.N.-organized visit there last month. “Islam forbids all evil and fornication” as well as condoms, he said, but that teaching has been adapted for people with AIDS to prevent the spread of infection. “AIDS is . . . not a divine curse,” Gueye said.
“It is a disease and there is no cure, but you must not run away from people with AIDS.” UNAIDS, the umbrella organization of U.N. and World Bank AIDS programs, has produced an HIV-prevention video with quotes from the Koran for Islamic religious leaders. “Our approach has been to work with those church leaders who are open to it,” said Peter Piot, executive director of UNAIDS.