“People living with HIV, in particular those who are underprivileged, irrespective of their gender, age or how they acquired the virus, have the right to benefit from our tithe trust fund (zakat) to help improve their livelihoods and access appropriate HIV treatment, care and support services,” said Dato’ Setia Hj Mohammad Adzib Bin Mohd Isa, Chairman of the Selangor State Islamic Council (MAIS) in his keynote speech at the ceremony to mark Malaysia’s International AIDS Memorial Day 2011.
The event on 13 May, marking the third annual Islamic memorial observance, was held to remember more than 12,000 individuals who died due to AIDS related conditions by offering mass Quranic recitals, prayers and religious sermons.
Leading the way
With MAIS at the helm, the event served as an urgent wake up call for other state religious authorities to address HIV and AIDS related issues in the Muslim community by amalgamating public health principles and faith-based responses to the epidemic.
HIV hits the Malay Muslim population the hardest, accounting for more than 70% of cases in the country. The majority Muslim-populated state of Selangor has the second highest number of new HIV infections in 2010.
MAIS is actively involved in HIV programming and runs a number of initiatives including the Ar Riqab Department that provides financial assistance and other welfare services to Muslims in the state living with HIV. They also support two shelter homes – Rumah Baitul Islah and Darul Ukhwah – for women, men and children living with HIV to improve access to home-based palliative care and nursing and other treatment services. Furthermore, they are involved in the collaboration of the Selangor Tithe Council with the Malaysian AIDS Foundation through the Medicine Assistance Scheme to improve access to second line antiretrovirals for permanent residents of Selangor living with HIV.
HIV & Islam initiative
The celebration was part of the ongoing HIV & Islam initiative pioneered by the Malaysian AIDS Council (MAC) and Department of Islamic Development (JAKIM) to educate religious leaders and officials on HIV and issues affecting communities at greater risk of HIV infection.
MAC and JAKIM served as co-organisers of the event which saw a turnout of some 1,000 guests comprising religious leaders of various faiths, government officials, healthcare providers, members of communities, activists, and celebrity spokespersons.
Highlighting the problem of stigma
Another area of concern is the prevailing stigma and discrimination people living with and the communities affected by HIV are subject to This was emphasised by the President of MAC, Datuk Mohd Zaman Khan Rahim Khan, when he talked of the role of religious leaders in educating the public on Islam’s intolerance for discriminatory practices that negatively impact access to HIV prevention and treatment services.
The event was testimony to the collaborative action that exists to tackle HIV and AIDS in the country. The Ministry of Health, Tesco Stores Malaysia (the country’s leading hypermarket chain), and Grand BlueWave Hotel Shah Alam were also involved in the event. Media Prima Berhad, a leading Malaysian outlet, provided extensive media coverage, in the lead up to, and throughout the event.