Q. I am sending this mail on behalf of the Central Islamic Organization of Guyana regarding some information on the Islamic perspective on HIV / AIDS. What is the position of Islam on the treatment and curbing of the disease, and what solution does Islam offer to world on this issue?

A. The question, my dear brother, is extremely delicate, and not knowing your background, I implore you to understand the finer points involved here. My answer is not meant to be condescending in any way, but just to clear the air, often an answer is given to a question that seemingly has one dimension, when in fact the question has several that the one being asked might miss. On the issue of AIDS, while it has been established that this is prevalent amongst homosexuals, it is by no means restricted to them. Therefore, the issue of AIDS treatment has nothing to do with homosexuality. The issue of premarital sex has also been blamed for the rapid spread of AIDS, but the empirical evidence no longer supports this contention, for in places like Africa, etc., blood transfusion and transfer between spouses, or by inherited genetics, show that AIDS is likely to occur in any scenario.

You will notice that I am pinpointing homosexuality throughout, for many jurists view that AIDS is God's punishment for homosexuality and premarital sex, evidencing the decadence of the world. However, considering that the disease is rampant in Africa, whereas premarital sex and homosexuality are more predominant in the West, does not do justice to God's wisdom. This is not to deny that there is a relation, but in Islam we must have absolute proof. How does Islam see the curbing of the situation? Let us examine the ways that the disease is transmitted:

(1) Intercourse (heterosexual and homosexual)

(2) Parental transfer to the fetus

(3) Blood transfusions

(4) Use of infected needles

It is possible that there are more, but I am only doing a cursory analysis. On issue (1), Islam advocates abstinence before marriage, and on the issue of homosexuality, is clear in terms of the institutional prohibition. But as we have indicated, the transfer can occur between spouses, which means that as much as possible, from an Islamic perspective, a prospective spouse has the right to demand that her / his mate be tested. This is the norm in some states, and it seems like a healthy practice. Given the minimal expense involved, the governments of Islamic countries can incorporate this as a government service. In Islam this would be the duty of the community, which is among the allocations of zakat.

On issue (2), adequate medical checkups would keep this to a minimum. On issue (3), based on the scandals in Canada and the U.S, now there are stringent tests to ensure that there is no such possibility. On issue (4), Islam definitely prohibits drug usage, and the concomitant sharing of paraphernalia. Yet, sharing of needles could occur in non-drug abuse situations, such as in poorer countries, where syringes are used under conditions of poverty to administer needed medication. In this case, the onus is on the richer Muslim countries to contribute to humanity by aiding in hospital equipment, etc. The United States does this under the aegis of humanitarian aid. This is because I feel that in our global village, Islam cannot see itself as only a religion for ritual purposes -- the Muslim countries with their oil revenues owe a duty to God to use their riches for the benefit of humankind, and this involves working with humanitarian medical agencies throughout the world.

There is no taboo on treating the disease, even if one establishes that it has been acquired by committing sinful acts. Once again, the mercy of Islam differentiates between the act and the disease. Islamic logic would dictate that we take strong steps towards educating our youth in the ways by which HIV is acquired, and therefore preach abstinence, and for marriage, exhort towards spouses (or future spouses) stipulating medical examinations. I do not feel (and this is my personal interpretation) that we should refuse to treat those who have acquired the disease by "sinful means." The sinner's business is with God; our business is to treat the patient, hoping that a cure will bring about repentance.

On the issue of punishment for homosexuality and whatever is related thereto, please note that the Qur'an never specifies a punishment to be meted out. As such, if it is a sin, then we leave it to God and those who commit the act. Note too that the Qur'an specificies that such acts, even when there is some sort of punishment suggested, (Q4:16 aadhu huma -- does not specify exactly what is to be done), it is in a situation where four people can testify, indicating that there was lewdness involved. Since Islam does not order us to go breaking down doors to find out what is going on, the four witnesses must therefore have seen the act occurring in a public setting. As such, regardless of the type of sex being homosexual or heterosexual, indeed even between married couples, the infliction of ta'zir would be required on such perpetrators, i.e., discretionary discipline by the authorities. Once again, our concern therefore is not with the act of private consenting parties, or to issue judgments against those who cannot legally be condemned since they have committed no public crime; our priority is to treat the ill. Wallahu A'alam.

Posted February 21, 2004