| It's no more a taboo in Jammu & Kashmir to discuss AIDS in mosques. And the pioneers in this awareness campaign are clerics. They weave their sermons at the mosque around Islamic tenets, which urge the Muslims to refrain from promiscuity and homosexuality-believed to be the two major reasons for the spread of AIDS. Hundreds of Imams, guided by doctors and Islamic scholars, are using mosques to spread awareness about this fatal disease and inform the devout regarding its prevention and control. "In the larger picture, making people aware of this disease corresponds to the teachings of Islam," says Mufti Nazir Ahmed, a religious scholar. |
The idea of using Islamic tenets against AIDS was the brainchild of an IAS officer Ashok Parmar who, on a tour to Malaysia in 2001, had chanced upon a book titled Islam and AIDS prevention, which showed how religion was helping fight AIDS in African countries with a Muslim majority population. Parmar, then project director of Jammu & Kashmir State AIDS Prevention and Control Society, along with Dr Muneer Masoodi, who heads the Social and Preventive Medicine Department in the Government Medical College, Srinagar, launched the drive in 2001 and it was a big hit. "We spoke to religious scholars who agreed to help us in the mission," says Masoodi. Today, the authorities are banking on nearly 800 clerics who have been trained to educate people about AIDS. In fact, Moulana Showkat, head of Jammu & Kashmir Jamiat Ahle Hadees, a socio-religious body, has asked the Imams of nearly 600 mosques, which it controls, to spread awareness about the dreaded disease. "It's a jihad that spills no blood and Imams should be in the forefront of it," says Showkat. The drive focuses on loyalty to one's spouse. "Adultery is forbidden in Islam. We tell people that if you are loyal to your wife, no disease will touch you," adds Showkat.
The number of HIV positive patients in the state is low compared to the rest of India. Masoodi says at least 37 people have died of AIDS in the state over the past 10 years while another 1,000 people have tested positive. India, with 5.7 million HIV-positives, has the highest number of HIV cases in the world. "Faith can motivate a person for behavioural change. That is why Imams can effectively help in combating AIDS," concludes Masoodi.