Who is this article for?
This article is for Muslims who are unsure about what HIV and AIDS is, and what it means for them and their families. This article will also be of value to those who deal with Muslims in a health advisory role. We hope that once you have read this article, you will have a better idea of how HIV is transmitted and how people can protect themselves from contracting the virus. People reading this should also get a better understanding of Islamic views on HIV and AIDS education. This article also considers why it is important that people deal compassionately and sensitively with those who are living with HIV or AIDS.
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.
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). And, “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 trusts from Allah that must be returned one day and we will be asked how looked after them. 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 is 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. For example, in sex or Aids education, as far as possible, publications containing explicit graphic illustrations of the sexual organs should not be used.
How should Muslims act in this time of crisis?
Although Islam only approves of sex between a married couple, it should be acknowledged that this view is not held by everyone. (And acknowledging something does not necessarily mean that one agrees with it.) Muslim people living in the West and elsewhere can therefore find that society around them accepts short-term sexual relationships and sex between people of the same sex. This can lead to people behaving in a way that many Muslims find completely unacceptable.
If they do behave in such a way, it is important that they know how they may be putting themselves at risk of acquiring sexually transmitted infections, or even HIV. They should know how to protect themselves from infections. The following information will help in the understanding of HIV and its transmission.
What is HIV?
HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a virus that damages the body’s defence system, stopping it from effectively fighting infections. When HIV enters the body, our defence system starts fighting the virus. Over time, our defence system becomes too weak to protect itself from many different kinds of infections. The virus lives in certain body fluids, such as blood, semen, and vaginal fluids. It is this virus which causes AIDS.
What is AIDS?
The AIDS acronym stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. A person has developed AIDS when they are affected by certain infections and cancers because their body’s defences are weakened.
Can you tell if a person is HIV positive?
The answer is NO, by looking at someone you cannot tell if that person is HIV positive. After infection, when HIV gets into your body, for a period which may last up to ten or fifteen years, an infected person may feel healthy, and may even not know that they have the HIV virus.
How does HIV get into our bodies?
HIV can be transmitted in the following ways:
- Unprotected sex between a man and a woman, or between two men.
- By sharing unsterilised needles, syringes, and other injecting equipment.
- By blood transfusion with HIV infected blood or blood products, e.g. plasma or Factor 8.
- Through organ transplants that are infected with HIV.
- Through artificial insemination with HIV infected semen.
- From an infected mother to her baby (either in the womb, during labour, or through breastfeeding). Rates of transmission from mother to baby are 14-25% in developed countries, and 29-40% in developing nations.
Islam absolutely does not approve of sexual relations outside marriage. However, if someone does so anyway, they still should use a condom in order to avoid the exchange of body fluids which may be infected. This advice is important for the protection of their wife or husband.
Is blood transfusion safe?
Blood transfusion services check all blood for HIV, so it is usually safe to receive blood. However, because there is a short period of time after infection when HIV might not be detected (called a window period), you should not donate blood if you have had unprotected sex.
Can you get HIV through everyday contact from someone who has the virus?
HIV cannot be passed on through everyday contact.
HIV cannot be passed on by touching, shaking hands, kissing, using toilet seats, sharing cups, cutlery, crockery, towels, coughing, sneezing, insect bites, or swimming pools.
How can you protect yourself from HIV?
We know that HIV is mainly transmitted through unprotected sex with an infected person. The most important means of protection is obviously abstinence from sex and to remain faithful to your partner in marriage and not to have any sex before or outside such a relationship. However, one does not always know the full history of sexual activity of one’s partner in marriage and this is why it is important for all individuals to also go for HIV tests before they engage in marital sex.
Besides staying away from sex altogether or faithfulness in a relationship, which is the most important measure, using condoms is the only way to reduce the risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. If used correctly, condoms are up to 99% effective. Injecting drug users should not share needles and syringes. Pregnant women should have an HIV test, and if they are HIV positive, seek medical advice on ways of reducing the risk of infection between mother and child.
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 his/her life with dignity. We also have no right to judge or condemn people. It is up to the Almighty to forgive or punish. AIDS and HIV is all around us, inside our Masjids and in many of our homes.
It does not help to ask if someone is innocent or guilty in this. All of us know that alcohol is prohibited in Islam (and all of us 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. Is 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 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.
HIV, AIDS and ISLAM
Islam is a religion that is very close to human nature. It appreciates the powerful sexual desires that humans have. Therefore it encourages that these desires be fulfilled, and advocates and encourages marriage, so that through marriage sexual desires can be fulfilled. Like other heavenly religions, Islam provides us with a moral code for sexual enjoyment. Islam also prohibits the use of substances which may impair the senses. Therefore the use of narcotics such as heroin and alcohol is strictly prohibited.
However, we must recognise that people engage in sexual activities before marriage, and there are also people having extra-marital sex. Islam means the submission or surrender of one’s will to Allah, and therefore it follows that a Muslim should not be involved in any act that is prohibited by Islam. Nevertheless, we need to be realistic and must face the fact that not all of us follow our religion fully.
Sexual practices that may not be allowed by our religion do nevertheless exist. Therefore, there is the need to accept reality and develop HIV and AIDS educational programmes for all our communities. These programmes must emphasise Islamic moral values, but should also inform people about methods of protection from this life threatening illness.
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.
This article is reprinted from the website Positive Muslims of South Africa – Positive Muslims – published by Abdul Kayum Ahmed and Fahmeeda Miller