Letter to Malaysiakini

Letter to Malaysiakini
by Dr. Musa Mohd. Nordin

The current discourse on HIV/AIDS in the media, Malaysiakini included seems to suggest an obsession with the condom culture and safe sex paradigm. The libertarian occident in no uncertain terms advocates this as their main thrust in their crusade against HIV/AIDS and have seduced a substantial volume of support for this strategy elsewhere. To indiscriminately ape this modus operandi and transplant them piecemeal  into our national HIV/AIDS programs may turn out to be a folly.

Some 22 years into the syndrome complex, the WHO global summary document of the HIV/AIDS epidemic estimates 42 million people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA). Dr. Nafis Sadik, Kofi Annan’s special envoy for HIV/AIDS in the Asia Pacific, said that (in stark contrast), the prevalence of HIV/AIDS remains low  in the Muslim world with rates well below 1% in countries with a Muslim majority and similarly in Muslim minorities in other countries.

These figures would therefore suggest that the infusion and practice of universal values derived from the Quran and prophetic teachings in individual, family and societal life must have endowed considerable prophylaxis against this deadly disease.

On the whole, I believe our citizenry continue to cherish the universal values of self discipline, chastity, morality, decency and family centricity. A whole host of  human values, code of conduct and ethics shared and guarded enviously by the believers in our nation, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs or  other religious persuasions.

Addressing the HIV/AIDS pandemic demands a comprehensive and integrated response which prioritises preventative strategies, provides therapeutics, care and support to the afflicted and their families and puts in place long term macro-economic and social interventions to redress the socio-economic impact of HIV/AIDS.

The preventative strategies advocated by Islam and shared by virtually all other religious denominations emphasises the A for Abstinence from sex, the B for Being faithful in marriage, the C for Condom use, the D for Drug abuse avoidance and the E for Education of the public on the disease complex and her myriad of repercussions.

The avoidance of fornication and adultery is fundamental in the injunctions of the Shariah (and I believe most other religions too) to preserve the sanctity and purity of virginity, progeny and family. How may I ask would you respond to a speaker at the International Muslim Leaders Conference on HIV/AIDS (IMLC) who arrogantly said “.how empty religious platitudes are in addressing the problem and how, even when those responses are based on the Quran and Sunnah they are ineffective to resolve the problem”. And with impunity she adds “In effect, what I present here emphasizes the ways that Islam and Muslims exarcebates the spread of AIDS .” Farish Noor in his current column on HIV/AIDS  would therefore be well advised to be prudent and careful in his baseless accusations or is he, like the associate professor of Islamic studies oblivious of the ABC of the priorities of the Shariah (Maqasid as-Shariah) and Islamic Family Law!

There are obviously circumstances when condom use is indicated but to suggest a national policy of liberal condom use would only unleash a  culture of sexual promiscuity and permissiveness. And we need to be reminded that the vast majority, in excess of 80%, of our PLWHA are intravenous drug users (IVDU). The government and all her agencies have failed miserably to diminish, if not eradicate this social scourge in our society. This however did not attract the press attention (or Farish Noor for that matter) during World AIDS Days – a stale and non-sensational issue by comparison with the rise in heterosexual transmission. I think a careful analysis of the women affected heterosexually is in order. Complete and comprehensive data collection is unfortunately not a forte of our major stake holders in HIV/AIDS work. Our experience with the well over 70 women whom we have sheltered in our Rumah Solehah project (Islamic Medical Association of Malaysia’s Half Way Home for Women & Children with HIV/AIDS) showed that  the majority acquired the virus heterosexually from their IVDU husbands or partners. And without exception all the affected children in our care acquired HIV vertically from their mothers who were themselves heterosexually infected by their IVDU husbands. This is the domino effect of the heroin culture in our society which the key players need to address equitably and judiciously.

Many of our western counterparts are beginning to awaken to the wisdom of this time tested and best practice strategy. The leading editorial in the British Medical Journal, 21st June 2003, entitled “Preventing HIV : Time to get serious about changing behaviours” writes; “But if behaviour cannot be changed then no amount of money is going to make a big difference in prevention because every successful form of prevention requires change in behaviour”. Arthur J. Ammann, president of Global Strategies for HIV Prevention further writes “Data from developed and developing countries show that programs that incorporate abstinence, mutual monogamy, delayed sexual intercourse and condom work together to reduce the number of new HIV infections.”

An emotive issue as HIV/AIDS is bound to provoke a multitude of responses based on one’s religious, ideological and philosophical underpinnings. As Muslims, the Tauhidic paradigm envelops our responses to the HIV/AIDS pandemic. It is simply put a “back to basics” wholesome blueprint of action which espouses and celebrates universal values of self discipline, chastity, morality, decency and family centricity and embraces a theology of  mercy, care and compassion, forgiveness, healing, benevolence, brotherhood of humanity and belief in the hereafter.

Dr. Musa Mohd. Nordin