International: HIV/AIDS and Islam

Positive Muslims
Excerpts from information by Positive Muslims, which aims to give readers a better understanding of HIV and AIDS related issues affecting Muslim countries and 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.

Do Muslims need HIV and AIDS education?

Accurate information about HIV and AIDS will help to control the spread of the disease in our communities. It will also reduce the fear and discrimination against people who become HIV positive. Information will also help us to challenge any myths surrounding the disease.

HIV spreads mainly through unprotected vaginal and anal sexual intercourse with an infected person. The virus is also transmitted through the sharing of needles by intravenous drug users. Therefore, HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) can affect anyone who engages in these activities, irrespective of their religion.

Islam’s view on Human life and health

Human life is highly valued in Islam; it is considered a gift from Allah. In the Islamic view, Muslims are not supposed to think that it is their life with which they can do what they want. Instead, individuals have been entrusted with life by Allah. We are supposed to look after life and not abuse it. A healthy body is a gift from Allah, we are the trustees, and therefore we have no right to misuse and abuse it.

Our Holy Prophet Mohammed, (peace be upon him), has stressed the importance of health at many times. He once said to his one of his companion, “O’ Abbas ask Allah for health in this world and in the next” (Al-Nasa`i). “No supplication is more pleasing to Allah than a request for good health” (Tirmidhi). The Prophet Dawud (pbuh) said, “Health is a hidden kingdom”. Our bodies are trust from Allah that must be returned one day and we will be asked how looked after it. Therefore we should avoid any act which will harm our physical or spiritual health.

Does the concept of modesty in Islam permit us to talk about sex?

Discussing HIV and AIDS would involve discussing sexual and intimate matters. Islam has always encouraged discussions on matters which will help us protect our health and life. Modesty in Islam does not mean that we should not discuss sexual matters. Muslim men and women never felt shy to ask the Prophet (pbuh) about intimate sexual matters. The Holy Qur’an has discussed reproduction, creation, family life, menstruation and ejaculation.

The Prophet (pbuh) has said, “Blessed are the women of the Ansar (citizens of Madinah), shyness did not stand in their way for seeking knowledge about their religion” (Bukhari & Muslim). The Qur’an and hadith (words and sayings attributed to the Prophet Mohammed pbuh) have repeatedly stressed the importance of acquiring knowledge. “Are they equal those who do, and those who do not know?” (Qur’an 39:9). It’s through knowledge that we can achieve closeness to Allah, marvel at his creative work, and appreciate the divine rules of conduct given in the Holy Book and practised by the Holy Prophet and his companions. We should not feel embarrassed or shy when discussing or reading about HIV/AIDS. However, Islam does require people to be modest and so it is not so much the discussion of sex and sexual matters that is an issue, but how this is done.

How should Muslims behave towards people who are living with HIV or AIDS?

There are many Muslims who are affected by AIDS. These people are someone’s son or daughter, brother or sister: they are part of the Muslim community. We cannot shun people living with HIV or AIDS. Any person with AIDS should be given attention, care, love and affection, so the person can lead their life with dignity. We also have no right to judge or condemn people. AIDS and HIV is all around us, inside our Mosques and in many of our homes.

It does not help to ask if someone is innocent or guilty in this. All of know that alcohol is prohibited in Islam (and all of know of some Muslims who do drink); All of us know that sex outside marriage is not allowed in Islam, but all of us also know our own lives and history bit better than outsiders. Suppose a Muslim arrives at the scene of a motor car accident and he or she notices that a number of people are badly injured. Are our first concern how it happened or to get help? Do we go around and point fingers at the guilty driver and then say, Well he caused it, and then just move on? Do we go around and smell the breath of the injured and when we find that they smell of alcohol, do we say, alcohol is haram; they should not have taken it and that they asked for it?" No as Muslims we know the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said: Have compassion towards those who are on earth and the One who is beyond will have compassion towards you."

Islam is a religion that is full of compassion, love and mercy. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) reminded Muslims that: “You will not enter into paradise until you believe, and you will not believe until you love one another.” In another Hadith, it has been said, “Allah shows compassion only to those of his servants who are compassionate.”

Love and compassion are the qualities of a good Muslim, and people with AIDS cannot be denied these powerful emotions. Visiting and caring for the sick is another good deed that is highly recommended by the Prophet (pbuh). “Whoever visits a sick person is walking along the high road to heaven” (Bukhari). “A visit to a sick person is only complete when you have put your hand on his forehead and asked him how he is” (Tirmidhi).

People with AIDS need our compassion, our love, and our affection, so do not be afraid to embrace them or touch them. The Prophet (pbuh) also said, “If you enter the house of a sick person, then only speak good words, for truly the angels will confirm what you say, and they will open up the way of heaven to him” (Nasa’i). There are many more sayings from the messenger of Allah about showing love and compassion to people in ill health. Therefore, we must remember what is expected from us by Allah.

Some Muslims may think that HIV and AIDS are not issues for the community. The reality is that HIV and AIDS are major issues in many Muslim countries. It is therefore becoming extremely important that we accept that we are equally vulnerable to HIV and AIDS. Given the increase in HIV infection globally, it is more important than ever that we discuss HIV and AIDS openly.