The incidence of new HIV infections among young females in South Africa is more than four times higher than that of males. South Africa has the highest prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the world with over 400 000 new HIV infections a year. With February earmarked as Reproductive Health Awareness Month, these shocking statistics places reproductive health in sharp focus. It also raises important questions on why HIV continues to spread, despite intensive health campaigns run by the South African government.
Perhaps more concerning is that there remains a veil of silence over the prevalence of HIV within the Muslim community. It has for long been a societal taboo, due to the cultural and religious debates over sex and sexually transmitted diseases.
Are we doing enough to educate the Muslim community on the topic of safe sex and the dangers of HIV?
According to Nuraan Osman, the director of the Ihata Shelter for Abused Women, for a long time Muslims have felt that HIV does not affect the Muslim community.
“I think we should be having conversations about HIV because we talk about cancer and Tuberculosis but the truth is that one of the ways of di-stigmatising HIV is by talking it.”
She says the possible reason as to why the topic of sex is taboo in the Muslim community is because it is linked to sin.
“I think sex is often linked sin and the whole notion of committing sin. Not often do we speak to young Muslims who are preparing for marriage on the beauty of sexuality. It is always around the line of either sin or marriage for reproduction.”
The most important thing that any parent can offer to a child is information and education.
“Some parents are older and may not be able to relate to children but they must encourage children to ask the questions they want to ask without judgement,” says Osman.
According to Osman, parents are hesitant to approach the topic because they do not know the answer to the questions.
“It is okay to say I don’t know but I am willing to find out for you or to say I am willing to contact other NGOs and services that offer this kind of information,” she emphasises.
From an Islamic perspective, we are taught that adultery is a sin. Discussing the topic of sex and HIV then becomes crucial because we have to make our children aware that they are accountable for their actions once they reach the age of maturity.
“There is nothing worse than the very high teenage pregnancy rate. Teenagers are found almost throwing their lives away because of the lack of information. Islamically, it is very important for our children to know that it is haram to have sex before marriage. There are things we can do and there are things we can’t do. They need to understand the consequences of the actions,” says Osman.
Osman adds the importance of explaining the nature of an action in terms of the negative effect it has on a person’s life in society.
“We should not just say to our children Allah (SWT) will punish you but also tell them what happens societally and in communities when they do these things. Effectively it catches up to someone when they have to drop out of school and can’t pursue tertiary studies because they have to take care of a baby.”
Sex in schools
Sex education has become a part of the school curriculum with children learning about practising safe sex. Osman explains that children receiving the knowledge from educators are at an advantage.
“A lot of parents are concerned that their children are being thought about sexuality at school but I would rather they be thought about it be responsible adults than their peers who are often misinformed.”
“It is important to acknowledge that the child is learning this at school from a biological perspective and tell them yes that is true but in Islam we believe this. It is almost as if you are adding to the education which is good as oppose to getting upset about it,” Osman suggested.
“You could say, yes your teacher said that condoms could be used and have safe sex so you won’t contract HIV, but you could say you should only have sex inside of marriage. This is how you add to the education.”
VOC (Najma Bibi Noor Mahomed)