“I just want a place where I can connect with people who share my faith, understand my condition and don’t pass judgement”. – Fatima Bilal.
Being HIV positive in a society where ignorance is still prevalent can be detrimental to a person’s physical and mental well-being. Instead of focusing on being healthy, shame is often felt and the negative effects of stigma forces them to retreat to dark places. Sometimes these dark places include forsaking treatment, which can ultimately lead to death. Being Muslim and HIV positive can double the risk levels:
- The rise of Islamophobia already makes it difficult to be a Muslim in America. Being Muslim and HIV positive deals with two phobias that ultimately heighten stress levels, and can contribute to ongoing stress that is a barrier to maintaining good health.
- In many Muslim communities, HIV phobia is an ailment that relentlessly infects the masses. HIV-positive Muslims have difficulty finding comfort within their own communities and often times suffer alone. Many are stuck between a rock and a hard place when seeking support elsewhere, as it’s difficult to find allies that thoroughly understands their faith.
- The ability to find a health care provider that caters to their religious needs and is well versed in HIV treatment can be an exhausting and frustrating search. If the doctor happens to be a Muslim doctor, hesitancy may arise due to the fear of judgment and stigma.
A Place to Call Home
RAHMA, a nonprofit located in Washington, DC was founded to advocate for change. RAHMA which means mercy addresses HIV/AIDS in the American Muslim community through education, advocacy, and empowerment. At the same time, RAHMA does not turn anyone away regardless of their religious beliefs. RAHMA has provided cultural sensitivity trainings to community based organizations and health providers, held workshops in the Muslim community to dispel myths and misconceptions surrounding HIV/AIDS and has traveled across the country speaking out against HIV stigma and the importance of creating safe spaces in faith communities. Muslims from across the nation have reached out to RAHMA, seeking support and expressing the need to meet others who are HIV positive.
This summer, RAHMA will host a weekend retreat focused on faith, empowerment and healing for HIV-positive Muslims. This retreat will cater to the need of providing a safe and non-judgmental space. Hailing from diverse backgrounds and identities, attendees will travel from across the country to the retreat which takes place in the Nation's capitol from August 12th – 14th. The retreat will provide mental health services, spiritual advice and guidance, yoga, relaxation, counseling, support from licensed professionals, networking, importance of self-care, and healing. Sessions will be led by Muslims who are HIV positive and their allies. There will be crying, laughter, hugs, and acceptance. New friendships will form and unbreakable bonds will forge.
Most importantly of all, resilience and faith will prevail.
Amir Hussain, an HIV-positive Muslim states: “The retreat would give voice to Muslims who may not be as fortunate as I to have built strong ties of support and friendship outside the Ummah (Muslim Community) around HIV. It gives our Ummah a chance to hear and be heard; a chance to glean from the experience of others around social, spiritual and medical issues. It also provides a safe place where support can be exchanged and hope.”
If you are interested in attending RAHMA’s retreat, please apply at www.haverahma.org/retreat. The application deadline is extended to July 15th.
Note: Names have been changed by request.