Jamra primary scholl for children affected by HIV/AIDS, drugs or poverty, Senegal (c) Nell Freeman/Alliance Participants in the Photovioce project, Ecuador © Marcela Nievas for the Alliance

Malaysia: HIV and Islam


(c) The Malaysia AIDS Council

Important steps are being taken in Malaysia by the Malaysian AIDS Council (MAC) and the Islamic religious authorities to address the HIV epidemic.

In this traditionally conservative country MAC has been building partnerships with national and state level religious departments and the policy making Department of Islamic Development (JAKIM) to provide greater support to the Malay Muslim population who have been hardest hit by the country’s epidemic.

71% of the total cases of HIV are among the Malaysian Muslim community, with injecting drug use being the main driver of the epidemic in the country.

Strict legal, religious and socio-cultural environments affect peoples’ ability to access appropriate HIV and AIDS education, treatment and care services.

MAC's initiative HIV & Islam was started in 2008. Partnerships have been successfully developed between JAKIM and MAC which are creating opportunities for more meaningful engagement with religious leaders to advocate for evidence informed public health approaches to respond to HIV and AIDS.

HIV & Islam manual

An HIV & Islam manual was launched in 2010 with the critically important message about Islam’s intolerance for stigma and discrimination, a huge barrier to HIV prevention, treatment and care in the Muslim community.

The manual has been developed to institutionalise HIV and AIDS education into the formal training of new Muslim leaders. The manual covers issues such as the role of religious leaders in spreading messages of HIV and AIDS awareness, principles of HIV prevention from the perspective of Islam, and healthcare and welfare services available for the Muslim community.

AIDS memorial day

The International AIDS Memorial Day is an annual event in Malaysia. For the first time in 2009 the Memorial Day was held at a mosque, complete with mainstream media coverage. The event was marked with mass Islamic prayers and Qur’an recitals to remember lives lost to HIV, along with a panel discussion on HIV for a popular religious television talk show. Around 1000 people attended.

Last year involved the local Islamic council in Terengganu one of the states hardest hit by HIV and this year it will be led by Selangor State Islamic Council on May 13th.

Providing treatment, care and support

With the gap in provision of support services for Muslim people living with HIV several religious authorities have improved the availability of home based care services.

In 2010 the first shelter home was opened in Kuang, an hour’s drive outside the capital city Kuala Lumpur. Istana Budi was funded by the Selangor State Islamic Council. It accommodates up to 50 residents and is run by professional care givers providing rehabilitation and basic nursing care.

Another centre is in the pipeline and should be available next year. This is a joint collaboration between MAC, JAKIM and the Federal Territory Islamic Council. It will be a hub where high quality nursing, palliative care, counselling, job placement, family reunification and hospital follow up services will operate.

Employment training for transgenders

One of the most highly stigmatised groups in Malaysian society are the transgenders who find themselves shunned by society and struggling to get employment. As a result they often resort to sex work and which increases their risks of HIV and vulnerability to violence.

In an unprecedented move to improve the livelihoods of Muslim transgenders, Dagang Halal, a food products and services company through a joint collaboration with JAKIM and MAC piloted an employment training programme for transgenders.

The aim is to increase greater social acceptance of transgenders within the highly conservative Muslim community. The pilot provided transgender participants with HIV and AIDS education and religious and spiritual lessons, as well as professional skills and development training. At the end participants were given the opportunity to apply for jobs.

Following the success of the pilot it will be replicated in other parts of the country and expanded to include former prisoners, people who use drugs and single mothers.

Reaching drug users

A mosque in one of the country’s most prominent universities in Kuala Lumpur is currently being used as a place to administer methadone treatment to people who use drugs for a study on treatment of drug dependence.

Based on the findings of the study JAKIM will develop a protocol to standardise operational procedures and packages of services.

This is all part of the wider work being done by the state religious authorities and JAKIM to provide HIV education and spiritual support through outreach activities to those communities most at risk of HIV such as sex workers, transgenders and people who use drugs.

Communicating about HIV and AIDS

One of the most effective ways to communicate about HIV prevention and awareness to the Muslim public is through Friday sermons. JAKIM have now made it practice that for the Friday sermon closest to World AIDS Day should be about HIV.

Since the start of the HIV & Islam programme in 2009 a total of four one-hour HIV centred episodes have been broadcast on the highly popular Forum Perdana television talk show.

While still in its infancy is it impressive how much has already been achieved by the HIV & Islam programme. The work will continue to create an enabling environment for Muslim people to access HIV prevention, treatment and care thanks to the ongoing commitment of the religious institutions and MAC.

Fore more details read the report: HIV & Islam: responsible religious response to HIV & AIDS in Malaysia