International: Muslim call for action on HIV/AIDS

Amana Media Initiative
About 50 representatives from across Muslim Asia called for greater understanding and more decisive action on HIV & AIDS in Sri Lanka in mid-August.
At a summit held ahead of the International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific, delegates challenged discrimination in the Islamic world.
"HIV & AIDS continues to present a massive challenge for socio-economic development globally, and threatens the wellbeing of millions of people worldwide, including Muslims. AIDS breeds in conditions of misery and affects people living therein, irrespective of their faith. AIDS knows no colour, gender, sex, religion or age, and there need to be Muslims willing to brave the tide of bigotry and reach out to those who also have a right to the infinite mercy of Allah.

We believe that HIV & AIDS is an illness among other illnesses; in other words, it is not a peculiar disease for which a particular group has been singled out by Allah or by nature.

We representatives of the Muslim community in Asia and the Pacific have gathered on 14-16 August 2007 at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute with the aim of sharing our experiences, best practices and weaknesses in Muslim responses to HIV & AIDS; and to harmonise our responses on the issue.

We have noticed that like many other communities, our responses as Muslims are not always shaped by the best of our religious values. Much of our current response to the HIV & AIDS pandemic can be described in one or more of the following ways:

* Denial that this could happen to Muslims
* Silence and refusing to speak about it
* Confusion when confronted with the reality
* Rejecting Muslims who are living with HIV
* Feeling sorry for those people who are infected

We emphasise the necessity of breaking the silence from the pulpits of our mosques, religious schools and all the venues we may be called to speak in. We need to speak of ways to deal with the HIV & AIDS epidemic, based upon our genuine spiritual principles, our creativity, and armed with scientific knowledge, aiming at the innovation of new approaches to deal with this serious challenge.

Therefore, we reaffirm our commitment to:

* Mainstream faith-based initiatives in our interventions to respond to HIV & AIDS.
* Mobilise resources and ensure the utilisation of available infrastructure to optimise faith-based approaches and consequently strengthen Muslim responses to HIV & AIDS.
* Create an enabling environment in target communities which leads to improvement in health seeking behavior and increases access to necessary HIV & AIDS related services.
* Focus on the empowerment aspect of affected, vulnerable and those with high risk behaviours in our interventions to respond to HIV & AIDS based Islamic principles e.g. harm-reduction programs, counselling, testing and peer education.
* Work with religious leaders and scholars in their key role in responding to HIV & AIDS.
* Maximise the involvement of PLWHA in our initiatives to respond to HIV & AIDS e.g. stigma reduction, advocacy and BCC activities.
* Promote and strengthen positive networks at the national and regional level.
* Strengthen monitoring and evaluation systems for faith-based approaches in responding to HIV & AIDS
* Continue with and strengthen interfaith exchanges and collaboration on best practices and strategies which can be replicated in Muslim society.

Drafted collectively by 45 representatives from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

27 August 2007