Islam and supportive HIV responses among MSM and transgender people

Jeffrey O'Malley, UNDP
In a press conference at the XVIII International AIDS Conference to mark the launch of a new study by UNDP and Asia Pacific Coalition on male sexual health (APCOM), a journalist from Bosnia asked the impact of Sharia law on health outcomes, particularly in context of HIV prevention and care programmes among men-who-have-sex-with-men (MSM) and transgender people this study refers to. This study report “Legal Environments, human rights and HIV responses among MSM and transgender people in Asia and the Pacific” is co-published by the UNDP and APCOM. Read more

According to the Commission on AIDS in Asia report 2008, more than 50% of new HIV infections will occur in MSM and transgender people. However, “nine out of ten MSM or transgender don’t receive any service at all” said Shivanand Khan, who was conferred upon the Order of British Empire (OBE) by the British Queen in recognition of his contribution to HIV prevention among MSM. Shivanand Khan is also the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Naz Foundation International (NFI).

“The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has worked with multi-faith religious leaders which included both ‘shia’ and ‘sunni’ religious leaders. Look at the theological basis for addressing homosexuality in particular and also drug use in a different way. Islam like all other great religions of the world speaks of forgiveness, protection and tolerance – and I don’t have any illusions and I do realize that many of the states also condemn same sex relations – but where we are making progress is differentiating between individual and religious views – that people can have an individual view that homosexuality is wrong but the same faith that might underpin that also have important views about tolerance and forgiveness and making a case that inappropriate criminalization, penalization, punishment is not good for the individual or for the broader community” said Jeffrey O’Malley Director, HIV/AIDS Practice, UNDP.

“I have worked in Afghanistan with armed security guards, in Pakistan and in Bangladesh and am very conscious of the fact that Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan have the civil law and also the Sharia law” said Shivanand Khan.

There are reports of death sentence, incarceration to whipping for people alleged of same-sex behaviour in these countries.

“First, I have worked with religious leaders – in few areas – on what Quran really says and what it is interpreted, second is approaching the religious leaders to be pragmatic” said Shivanand Khan.

Iran is the only country to legalise sex reassignment surgery (SRS).

In Malaysia, transgender populations are working directly with the religious leaders and it has helped address a lot of issues, said Shivanand Khan.

All religions, including Islam, impart undisputed significance to human values like mutual love, tolerance and forgiveness. It is high time that religion shouldn’t be used to impede public health responses to epidemics like HIV – an epidemic that kills regardless of religion. Rather faith-based responses should be pragmatic enough to help improve public health responses and benefit humankind.

Bobby Ramakant - CNS 

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