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Tuesday 8 March 2005
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Previously eyes-wide-shut on HIV and religion

Dear Diary

I am amazed at how an isolated incident can influence a person's perception of things.

Take my baptism. At the age of eleven when a preacher almost drowned me, I vowed never to see the inside of a church again.

But as more of my mostly Christian relatives and close friends succumbed to AIDS-related illnesses over the years, I was forced to reconsider my fear of the church.

So too was I forced recently to reconsider my fear of all things Muslim. And it is with wide-eyed admiration that my perception of the Muslim community changed for the better.

While South Africa's large HIV-positive population - made up of people from all religious persuasions, including Muslims - struggles with the pandemic, the country's Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) made a most commendable public statement earlier this week.

Last Saturday the world and South Africa's Muslims embarked on their annual religious period of Ramadan, observed by 30 days of fasting. By no means an easy task, even for a healthy individual, considering the time frame - 4:00am to 6:30pm.

So it was with great relief that I read how the council had cautioned HIV-positive followers against endangering themselves by fasting.

Although terminally ill people and pregnant or breastfeeding women are among those already exempt from fasting, it was especially considerate of the council to place particular emphasis on the needs of all HIV-positive Muslims.

The council said it feared that strict fasting from sunrise to sunset could negatively impact on the equally strict antiretroviral regimen of followers living with the HIV virus.

Highlighting the council's concern for HIV-positive Muslims, MJC secretary-general Sheikh Achmat Sedick warned: "You can't stay away from your medication. Some people are on regimens that start at 8am and it needs to stay that way. Changing [regimen times] may have negative effects."

Sedick did however point out that the sickly should still respect the fasting period by not eating in public.

A small request, recalling the misconception shared by many people, including myself until recently, that all Muslims were so fanatical about their faith that they would rather forsake all else for a place in the hereafter.

A reliable Muslim source also helped to further broaden my acceptance and respect for the faith by informing me that the exclusion of the ill during fasting has always been there.

But, my admiration comes from an entirely different place altogether. And while some may not realise it, the council's ability to publicly acknowledge the specific health needs of people living with HIV and AIDS says a lot about the positive way in which Muslims are dealing with the pandemic.

In my opinion, the council's statement acknowledges the seriousness of the virus and encourages acceptance of HIV-positive people. Acceptance that is vital in erasing the stigma and discrimination often associated with the disease.

I still do not know if any statistics exist on the prevalence of HIV within South Africa's diverse religious groups, but I'll definitely be keeping a close eye on what I think could become a remarkable effort by our Muslims to manage the spread of the virus.

Others should look and learn.

Forever Positive

Hayden Horner

Previous Entry :: All Diary Entries :: Next Entry
Diary Entries
HIV Prevention 101: Ignoring the Church's views on condoms
Stigma and HIV/AIDS: lethal bedfellows
In remembrance of our women and children
Maids, madams and the "terrible thing"
Internet love and inter-related HIV-prejudice
Previously eyes-wide-shut on HIV and religion
Love, lies and disclosure
Black pot and blacker kettle
Things better left unsaid on the bus
Food for thought while waiting to die
Test results not all good
Diary speaks back
The truth about disclosure
Dangerous myths and damaged angels
Not the final countdown
Sticks and stones may break my bones
A spade is still a spade
Perceptions and deceptions

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