MUSLIM THEOLOGY AND THE HIV EPIDEMIC
Sunday, December 1, 2013 was World AIDS Day, a global event that reminds humanity that regardless of their common and unique demographics, this virus continues to take lives because of heavy-handed theocracy and cultural stigma based in religious and political rhetoric. President Barack Obama, in his speech given the same day, stated:
"We will stand with you every step of this journey until we reach the day that we know is possible, when all men and women can protect themselves from infection; a day when all people with HIV have access to the treatments that extend their lives; the day when there are no babies being born with HIV or AIDS, and when we achieve, at long last, what was once hard to imagine -- and that’s an AIDS-free generation," he said.(1)
Yesterday, while rereading President Obama’s words, my mind wandered to last Saturday’s phone call I got from a queer Muslim activist, while I was awaiting my flight from Atlanta to Washington DC, informing me that one of my young, queer Muslim 26-year-old mentees was in a Chicago hospital in the last stages of life. When I heard the news, the emotions of 35 years of HIV/AIDS activism again cause me to ask myself, “O Allah, when will this epidemic end?” After finishing the phone call, I sat quietly as the numerous faces of people I had known over the last 40 years who had succumbed to this virus flashed through my mind. I was glad to know that the US government would increases funding towards a cure to this epidemic, but knowing that it would not come soon enough for my surrogate gay-son and many others whose lives are important to some special person, family member, friend, or community.
As I thought about it during my two-hour flight, the reason why my surrogate gay-son remained noncommunicative about his status, and what could have been different, was due to the stereotyping and stigmatization of queer Muslims globally. Patriarchy is the foundation upon which the pillars of anti-woman and children, anti-queer and queer Muslim, anti-non-Muslim, anti-Western, and anti-reinterpretation and modernization of Islamic thought, hangs the lifeless bodies of the brain dead. It is the underlying fear due to the lack of reform and revival. Muslim orthodoxy is replete with Salafist and Wahabist literalism, it has grown globally and dissent is martyred to pristine myths of 7th Century perfection.
Muslim states, let’s take Iran(2) for example, have escalating HIV rates due to drug abuse, premarital sex, lack of sex education about HIV, and condom use. I knew back in the late 1990s this would eventually be the case, for when I lived in Saudi Arabia from 1996 to 1999, western medical personnel were told to not inform patients of their HIV status, just treat their symptoms. So in many Muslim contexts, not unlike in other third-world situations, non-communication of HIV modes of infection, lack of sex education, and not providing medical knowledge to treat those who are infected, along with the fear of social stigmatization kills, and kills thoroughly, one-by-one. The clock ticks.
If our global Muslim communities continues to act like the three monkeys of anicient lore—see no HIV, hear no HIV, speak no HIV—and fail to take steps to educate about all the sources of HIV infection, the HIV epidemic will ravish their lands. The HIV virus respects no sexual orientation—heterosexual or heterosexual—and continued forced ignorance allows HIV to spread carefree. Non-communication and fear, milieus in which the HIV epidemic thrives, Muslim states and wherever Muslims may reside globally, will be crushed under its own weight of Islamic "religiousity." May Allah guide us out of this tangled web that some Muslims have spun.