HIV and AIDS: Positive MuslimsThe posts on Muslims in London (My trip to the UK and London is a dump for Muslims) raised important questions about the kind of activism we need, given the conditions Muslims live under these days in the US , Canada, UK, and Europe... An important point was made about living and breathing the lives of our communities - and not making loud noises from an ivory tower somewhere.
Its time for our community spokespersons (self-appointed or other) to step out of the ivory towers and come take a look at how folks are really living. And then begin the dialogue on Activism that focuses on uplifting Muslims in need, as opposed to all the "we is just like yall" shuckin' and jivin' that seems to have invaded so many Muslim circles, regardless of their interpretations of Islam.
One of my first involvement in "social work" was working with People With AIDS in San Francisco. At the time most people, including activists, still considered AIDS a gay white man's disease, and the training I received reflected some of this misperception. I was trained as an "Emotional Support Volunteer" for the Shanti Project - that gave me an understanding of HIV and AIDS, the stigma, the medications, and most importantly, helped me work through my own prejuduices.
I worked with two men - both of whom were in advanced stages - and passed away within a year. Being an emotional support volunteer within the context of the Shanti Project was different than being a therapist - my role was to "be there" - to listen - and be available for all the range of emotions that come up when one knows that life is terminal. This role gave me a glimpse of the "inside" that is just not available to many Social Workers or therapists (or even close friends and family) unless one has had a very long term relationship. Imagine all of life, and relationships, and the emotions involved becoming compressed to just a year - or sometimes less. And then add the stigma, and then add to this the politics of AIDS - the denial, and the sometimes shunning from family and friends. You get the idea? Maybe...
I'd like to introduce the readers of this blog to Positive Muslims - a South African organization that works and advocates for Muslims with AIDS.
(Abu Dharr - a contributor to this blog - interned with this organization, and has promised a blog entry on his experience, and on the politics of AIDS in South Africa within the next two days (he has a deadline for Tuesday midnight :-)).
But here are a few excerpts from their web site:
From HIV/AIDS and Islam
Is HIV a threat to Muslim communities?
Every single country in the world has been affected by HIV, including Muslim countries.
The United Nations Joint Programme on AIDS (UNAIDS) estimates that since the start of the global HIV pandemic around 29.4 million people have been infected with HIV. Although many Muslim countries claim that they have not been affected by HIV, this is not true. HIV infections have been reported in every single Muslim country. According to UNAIDS there are an estimated 300 000 people living with HIV in North Africa and the Middle East. Anyone can become infected by HIV, including Muslims.
The Muslim community, although not openly hostile to the issue of HIV/AIDS, has been very complacent and slow to respond to the needs of Muslims living with HIV/AIDS. According to Fahmeeda Miller, an AIDS activist who is also HIV positive, Muslim organisations that she contacted appeared to have been more concerned about how one became HIV positive as opposed to asking how they were able to assist those who are living with HIV/AIDS. This has led many Muslims, including Fahmeeda Miller at certain stages, to become very despondent.
The alienation of people living with HIV/AIDS is not only limited to the Muslim community. It extends to black communities such as in KwaZulu Natal where Gugu Dlamini an AIDS activists, was murdered for talking about her experiences as an HIV positive person.
As Muslims we must ask how can we can contain the beast and how can we limit the damage that it wreaks upon is. When we come across those who have been touched by it; we need to embody the compassion that we expect from Allah. “And humankind have been created frail” says the Qur’an. This is why everyone of us is utterly, utterly dependent on the grace and mercy of Allah. It is not our deeds that will save us – that may help – it is ultimately the boundless grace of Allah.
When each one of us is so equally dependent on that grace – we need to go slowly in our handing out of labels of “innocent” and “guilty”, “worthy of compassion” and “unworthy of compassion.” My bother, son or father who is on umrah can be infected with HIV by the blade that is used to shave his hair. Will we ask him to wear a label – “touched but innocent” around his neck when it comes to light that he is HIV+, will we leave his food at his bedroom door so that we can not be touched; will we say that the word condom must never be used...?