TANZANIA: African Muslim clerics divided on condom use
STONE TOWN, ZANZIBAR , 6 December 2006 (PlusNews) - Muslim clerics from 25 African countries failed to reach consensus on the use of condoms in preventing HIV/AIDS at a meeting on the semi-autonomous Tanzanian island of Zanzibar.
The Network of African Islamic Faith-based Organisations met in November to discuss issues that included HIV/AIDS and gender-based violence, but could not to agree on a unified HIV/AIDS strategy.
When the network was launched in March 2005, in Abuja, Nigeria, the religious leaders stated in their declaration: "We support all appropriate methods of preventing HIV/AIDS. These include abstinence, being faithful and, when absolutely necessary, correct and consistent use of the condom between couples."
Nevertheless, many clerics at the meeting rejected the use of condoms on the grounds that they promoted promiscuity, particularly among the youth. "The majority still stick to 'no promoting condoms', and believe in abstinence and being faithful as preventive measures - condoms can only be used by HIV-positive couples," said Zanzibar's Dr Issa Ziddy, deputy secretary of the network.
Other participants felt the organisation needed to make a clear statement in favour of condom use in the fight against HIV/AIDS. "I think it is high time we define the preventive measures. Let us strengthen advocacy in abstinence [A] and being faithful [B], but also promote the use of condoms [C] for those who fail to stick to A and B," said Ebyan Salah, a Gender Advisor to the Somalia Transitional Federal Government. "Every tool must be used, including promoting condoms."
Despite the long political crisis in Somalia and current efforts to build a government, many people in the country were aware of HIV/AIDS. Activists, including Muslim leaders, spoke openly about the pandemic, but promoting condom use remained largely taboo, and they were difficult to find on the market, she said.
Dr Hamid Suleiman, of the Zanzibar AIDS Commission, told delegates that condom use was not encouraged by the island's clerics either and they were not directly involved in the campaign against HIV/AIDS until 2002.
At the 2005 Abuja summit, Muslim religious leaders from Nigeria, Senegal and Tanzania, among others, agreed that they should disseminate information on HIV/AIDS in sermons and at religious events.
"Fortunately, for the last three years Muslim leaders in Zanzibar have helped a lot in controlling the spread of HIV/AIDS," Suleiman said. "Since the majority population are Muslims, the message can spread well."
Zanzibar's HIV still relatively low prevalence has reached 0.9 percent, but in 2002 it was estimated at just 0.6 percent. Health workers on the island say lack of information and worrying trends like increased injecting drug use could see the island's problem continue to grow unless urgent action is taken.