I could hear the whispers. They weren't exactly discreet. I walked right into it, completely blindsided and vulnerable. All the precautions I took, every calculated decision I made, no longer mattered. Just like that, I was exposed, to judgement, hurt, and pain.
A few hours before, I disclosed my secret to someone who I thought was my best friend. She promised me it would be okay, and that she would never tell. Instead she was vindictive, conniving and destroyed my life. I felt my heart start to race, body tremble and face ignite on fire. I couldn't protect my emotions and they emerged from me...raw...uncut...organic...coming deep from within my soul. The tears streamed down my face, forming black raindrops as it mixed with a thin line of mascara that once illuminated my eyes.
As I looked around through the blurred veil my tears created, I saw my "sisters" pull their children close, staring at me with disgust, hatred and accusatory glares. My whole world was ripped apart. I knew when I was not wanted.
It took every ounce of strength and courage to raise my foot that suddenly turned to lead. This mosque, a place where I sought comfort and solace, now roared at me, clawing at my spirit, and covered me with darkness. There wasn't any compassion, mercy or love. The sisterhood that I thought I had was only an illusion. I truly understood the stigma of living with HIV.
As the bone-chilling cry broke free from the imprisonment of my lips, I turned around and ran away defeated, never looking back.
"Faith communities are called to advocate for justice on behalf of those who cannot do so or are not heard," reads a line in "The Age of AIDS: A guide for Faith Based Communities".
My name is Khadijah Abdullah and I am the founder of Reaching All HIV+ Muslims in America (RAHMA), a 501c3 nonprofit organization located in Washington, DC that addresses HIV/AIDS in the American Muslim community through education, advocacy and empowerment.
While this story isn't about me, it reflects the experiences of many HIV+ American Muslims who are ostracized from their place of worship, due to fear, ignorance and judgment. Places of worship are supposed to be a place of comfort and refuge; however, for Muslims living with HIV and other stigmatized diseases, it can be a place of scorn, exclusion, or even violence. Several factors contribute to the stigma including a lack of understanding about the fundamentals of HIV and outdated assumptions on how the virus is transmitted. The issue is further complicated by an attitude that HIV simply doesn't affect Muslims.
HIV affects everyone.
For years, other faith-based communities such as the Christian community have recognized this fact and founded HIV/AIDS ministries in their churches to combat stigma and educate their congregations. Mosques across the nation, need to step up and do the same. This attitude that it doesn't affect us is particularly dangerous, as a lack of understanding and awareness about HIV will increase incidence rates and add fuel to the fire of fear and stigma. The fact of the matter is many may be living with HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STI), yet completely oblivious of their status.
What can you do?
Educate yourself and become an advocate in your community. HIV/AIDS can affect any of us regardless of our way of life. Stop the stigma that has become a ravaging leech burrowed deep within our communities. Join RAHMA, the only U.S. non-profit with a prioritized focus on HIV/AIDS in the American Muslim community. Since its inception in 2012 we have diligently worked to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS, and dispel misinformation in order to combat the stigma many associate with disease. RAHMA has a unique approach combining the latest public health practices regarding HIV/AIDS with the rich and nurturing framework of Islamic teachings.
To learn more, visit RAHMA at www.haverahma.org and become a catalyst for change.
Are you woke yet?