By Khadijah Abdullah
“The silence in the room was deafening. All eyes were on me. If I had the power, I would become invisible.
But there I stood.
The looks of disgust and hate were overwhelming and pierced my soul. People threw their plates of food away and wanted me removed as a server. I stood motionless as the serving spoon I was holding fell to the floor. People were whispering and shaking their heads…. all directed towards me.
It was the month of Ramadan but no one showed an ounce of mercy.
Why were they acting like this?
Because I am HIV+.”
HIV/AIDS is a taboo issue in general, but even more so in the American Muslim community. Many Muslims living with HIV suffer in silence due to the fear of stigma and backlash from their own community.
Reaching All HIV+ Muslims In America (RAHMA) was founded in 2012 to change all that. The intro rings true for a brother who was ostracized from his own community due to his HIV status. This happened during Ramadan and mercy was nonexistent. He is now afraid to seek support from other Muslims due to his experience.
It should not have to be this way.
RAHMA is based in the Washington, DC area where HIV infection rates are the highest in the Nation. In 2009, The Washington Post released an article that HIV infection rates in DC are an epidemic comparable to parts of Sub Saharan Africa. Nationally, there over 1.1 million people living with HIV; 1 in 6 are not even aware of their status. About 1000 youth between the ages of 13 – 24 are infected each month and 1 in 4 people living with HIV are women.
Do you think we are immune? Or are our heads still buried in the sand?
The mission of RAHMA is to address HIV/AIDS primarily in American Muslim community through education, advocacy and empowerment. Through Rahma (mercy), the team hopes to change the way the Muslim community views HIV/AIDS and open the doors of compassion and support that community members living with HIV most desperately need. RAHMA will not turn anyone away regardless of religious beliefs and has partnered with organizations and led events for people of all faiths.
RAHMA conducts HIV 101 workshops that cover HIV prevention, transmission, dispelling stereotypes and misconceptions, supporting HIV+ community members, available treatments, disclosure and more. At these workshops, RAHMA partners with local health care organizations to provide free HIV testing to attendees.
RAHMA recently launched the EMPOWER HIV/AIDS Youth Peer Educator program. The program is currently training 5 youth between 18 and 22 on issues surrounding HIV/AIDS & STIs (sexually transmitted diseases); emphasizing the importance of education, pregnancy prevention, and becoming effective advocates. Once trained, these educators will conduct workshops for their peers on HIV/AIDS which will include free HIV testing. They will also do outreach on the streets, metros, shelters, youth hangouts, places of worship, and other places youth may congregate. Ultimately this program hopes to decrease the incidence of HIV infection among young people and support those who are positive.
This summer, RAHMA will launch a support group for Muslims living with HIV in the Washington, DC area. This group will provide comfort, solace and empowerment in line with spiritual and religious needs. The support group will serve some of the following purposes:
- provide emotional support and coping mechanisms to group members.
- empower members with knowledge about HIV/AIDS.
- draw strength from other members’ experiences.
- share information about treatment, medical adherence, care and healing.
- cultivate a spiritually nourishing environment based on Islamic values.
- create networking opportunities for those involved in the support group.
Religious leaders serve a vital role in efforts to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS and other STIs as well as provide support and appropriate referrals for infected Muslims. They are the face of the Masjid, and are looked upon for support and comfort when trials and tribulations occur. Unfortunately many Muslims hesitate with the decision to seek support. Many Muslims also do not receive any education about the transmission and prevention of HIV/AIDS, or are given inaccurate information. This puts them at risk of acquiring HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). The purpose of Project Imam is to engage religious leaders in the Muslim community to serve brothers and sisters infected with HIV and other STIs by providing accurate education, addressing stereotypes in the general community as well as reinforcing a religious understanding of STIs that is most conducive to prevention and supportive of the needs of those affected. Another major goal is to institutionalize mandatory HIV/STI screenings before marriage. RAHMA will be working with Churches and organizations that already have programs in place and adapt it towards the Muslim community.
RAHMA trainers plan to hold 6 extensive trainings to educate 12 Imams in DC, MD and VA. One goal is to discuss and implement strategies on how the Imams can talk about HIV/AIDS in their khutbahs.
If successful, RAHMA plans to make this a National program inshallah.
RAHMA will conduct research on the attitudes of American Muslims towards HIV/AIDS, and the needs of Muslims living with HIV. Information will be gathered through online surveys, personal interviews and surveys completed at events or in community settings.
Being a Muslim AND living with HIV can be a barrier when it comes to marriage. Muslims from across the nation and even the world have reached out to RAHMA hoping to find a spouse. RAHMA hopes to host a retreat for those who seek marriage. This retreat will offer marriage counseling; spiritual growth and development, relaxation activities, education and the chance to sit with an Imam and a potential spouse. Qualified professionals and Imams will be present at this retreat to in sha Allah enable its success and ensure it falls within Islamic guidelines.
To carry out these programs, your help is needed. RAHMA currently has an online campaign with a $10,000 goal.
Donate at least $10 today. Click HERE.
You will make a difference in the lives of those living with HIV. Thank you for your support.
The Prophet Muhammad said: “Be merciful to those on earth, so the One above the heavens will be merciful to you”.
For more information about RAHMA please visit www.haverahma.org. Also like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/haverahma.
[Ed. Note] By the time you have read this one more person will have been infected with HIV. Every quarter Muslimmatters uses our platform to raise funds for a Muslim organization that addresses unmet needs of our Ummah. RAHMA is our organization for this quarter. We can vouch for the work that they are doing, please support them.