More than 33 million people are living with HIV in the United States today. And much as Muslims would like to think that they are immune, they aren't. "It's here, it's your sister, mother or father," says Sharia Mohammed of Washington, D.C. who has been living with HIV since 2000. She started a support group for Muslims living with HIV in the DMV metro area.
The number of new HIV cases annually in the District has fallen sharply since 2006, official statistics show, and the number of patients entering medical treatment within 3 months of diagnosis has risen by 31% from 2006 to 2010. Even though the overall number of cases is dropping, the proportion of Washington's population living with HIV/AIDS is almost 3%, markedly higher than the 0.4% for the U.S. as a whole. A 1% prevalence is termed a "severe and generalized epidemic" by the World Health Organization.
The really bad news is that HIV infection amongst heterosexual African American women in the District’s poor has doubled in two years, from 6.3 percent to 12.1 percent, according to a study by the D.C. Department of Health.
There is some good news, no HIV positive child has been born in the District since 2009.
Those who live and treat HIV know that it is much more than a physical ailment. It affects the entire person, physical and emotional. And for many, the best way to treat an emotional issue is through religion and spirituality.
"When HIV hits, many people begin to look at their lives in an effort to understand why they got HIV. This is an opportunity to examine the past, taking stock of one's life up to the point of diagnosis and trying to figure out where life will take the person after their diagnosis," says Mark Cichocki RN, an HIV/AIDS nurse educator at the University of Michigan's HIV/AIDS Treatment Program. "Religion and spirituality helps a person examine their life, interpret what they find, and apply what they have learned to their new life with HIV. Simply put, spirituality and religion helps a person find a "new meaning to life" after their HIV diagnosis." Mark is the author of the book "Living with HIV: A Patient's Guide".
People find solace in faith, in their communities and in their places of worship. Research shows that people seek out religion and spirituality after an HIV diagnosis. Ironically, even though newly diagnosed people report being more religious, feeling alienated especially in the Muslim community is the norm.
According to Islamic Resources and Muslim Participation in Responding to HIV & AIDS, a report published by Asian Muslim Action Network (AMAN), there is often a popular misconception amongst Muslim communities that if a person has been infected with HIV, that he or she has indulged in sexual misconduct outside of marriage.
The idea that HIV and AIDS is a punishment from Allah, and that you’re being punished for leading a promiscuous life or immoral life is the dominant discourse in the Muslim community. There are a number of asexual ways that HIV can be transmitted, such as blood transfusion or mother to child transmission, that do not involve sexual interaction of any kind. The discourse needs to change and compassionate support is the need of the day.
"When I told some of the sisters at the masjid, they said "you shouldn't tell anybody" or "I don't think you should be open,"" says Mohammed. "People don't want to discuss this." That is when she made the decision that a support group is needed. ."We need this to talk somebody."says Mohammed.
"You don't have to be afraid today, to be HIV positive," states Mohammed,"they cannot expect us to just roll over and die." Many experience ostracism; their presence shunned out of fear that it is contagious
Compared to 30 years ago, when the disease was first discovered, HIV patients are healthier than ever and living longer lives. "When I started in 2000 I would take many medication, now I am down to 3 pills a day. Hopefully, with medical updates, it will get even better," says Mohammed. HIV positive individuals need advice and marital opportunities. They need support and Mohammed hopes this group for Muslim men and women living and struggling with HIV on a day to day basis can offer them a shoulder.
The need to tell someone and share the pain is human. People need to know that there are others who are struggling that "I am not the only one."
“My love is due to those who love each other in Me and those who sit with each other in Me and those who give to each other generously in me," The words of this Hadith Qudsi resonate with Mohammed. She came to Islam after her diagnosis and finds great joy in the religion.
Despite all the negative connotations, at the heart of it a person living with HIV is ill. The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) attacks the body’s immune systems and increases the risk of developing serious infections. The Muslim response to any disease is based on what was taught by the Prophet Muhammad in the hadith concerning the sick.
"[If a] Muslim visits a (sick) Muslim in the morning seventy thousand angels will bless (and pray for) him until the evening, and if he visits him in the evening, seventy thousand angels will bless (and pray for) him until the morning, and fruits from Paradise will be his." (Tirmidhi 3:292)
Sister Sharia hopes to spread awareness and offer support. She handles all the public relations for the group. The new support group hopes to host a meeting once a month, with a meeting on the first weekend in March. These meetings will initially cater to brothers and sisters who are 40+ years of age. "A couple of sisters are trying to get people to come. We need to let people know we do exist and we are touching others' lives," says Mohammed.
Mohammed had initially used online Meetup to advertise the group but most of the people who responded were from overseas. Local DMV residents can still use this link to get in touch with the group. http://www.muslimslivingpositive.com .
In 2010, a sister from Virginia started a matrimonial service for Muslims living in the DMV area who carry incurable STDs. The service designed to “help you meet someone, without being blamed, and help you get over the headache of having to explain what you have, because they already know,” explained Sister Zaynah to The Muslim Link.
Mohammed says they plan to have group discussions on health updates, marriage, family and Islamic issues. "The meetings are nothing formal, come as you are," says Mohammed. Her thinking is that if it is kept simple it will continue.
The Prophet Muhammad sallahu alayhi wassalam said: "Have compassion towards those who are on earth and the One who is beyond will have compassion towards you."
Muslims Living Positive ( HIV Support Group )
Group Purpose :
Muslims Living Positive provides each member with a safe haven to discuss their issues and realize that they are not alone " We are your Mothers, Fathers , Sisters and your Brothers ..
We offer :
• Emotional Support
• Information to Educate Friends and Family Members
• Care and Healing for Members by Reducing Feelings of Isolation and Discrimination
• Empowerment for All Members
We are Mobile friendly. Go to http://www.muslimslivingpositive.com
For more info, contact :
firstname.lastname@example.org or call 202- 793- 2776