Malawi Faiths Unite Against AIDS

"People of these major faiths were not living in harmony because of hatred that was created by some early missionaries," Dr. Shareef

Malawi Faiths Unite Against AIDS
Christian and Muslim leaders in the Southern Africa country of Malawi have come together to address the problem of HIV/AIDS pandemic, which they say is drastically affecting their congregations on a daily basis.

"There is no way we can ignore the fact that HIV/AIDS is eating up the very fibers of our respective congregations," Bishop Peter Misukiwa, Chairperson of the Malawi Interfaith AIDS Association (MIAA), told

"We are all affected by the pandemic in one way or the other, so we need not turn a blind eye to this problem," he added emphatically.

"That's why we have come to realize the need of a multi-faith approach to fight the disease," said Bishop Misukiwa.

According to official statistics, HIV prevalence in Malawi is currently at 12.5 percent in economically productive adults aged between 15 and 49.

This shows a decline from the 15 percent some four years ago and 14.4 in 2004.

MIAA coordinates religious organizations dealing with HIV/AIDS issues and programs across the country.

It currently groups 172 members from both the Islamic and Christian faiths.

Mother bodies representing the different faiths are the umbrella Muslim Association of Malawi, Qadria Muslim Association of Malawi, Episcopal Conference of Malawi, Malawi Council of Churches and the Evangelical Association of Malawi.

Islam is the second largest religion after Christianity.

Official estimates suggest that Muslims comprise 12 percent of the country's 12 million people, but MAM puts the percentage at 36.

Volatile Past

Malawi's history of inter-faith relations indicates there was hardly stable relationship when it came to working together on religious matters.

"People of these major faiths were not living in harmony because of hatred that was created by some early missionaries," Dr. Imran Shareef Mahomed told IOL.

"Muslims felt betrayed by the Christians when they were forced to convert in order to be enrolled at mission schools," he recalled.

"This was extended for long, hence animosity."

Dr. Mahomed said the coming of multi-party politics also played a role when Muslim Bakili Muluzi was elected president.

"Detractors of Islam said he would Islamize the country, a development that widened the rift between the faiths," he asserted.

Riots broke out and mosques were set ablaze by Christians. Muslims retaliated by demolishing and burning churches.

However, inter-faith dialogue helped improve the relations between the two Abrahamic faiths.

"We need to bury the hatchet and learn from our past," Reverend MacDonald Sembereka of the Anglican Church told IOL.

"This is a rare collaboration that could be of great impact to all the people," added the Christian cleric who lives in the predominantly-Muslim district of Mangochi.

Sembereka believes it was high time all the people worked towards the improvement of humanity, which is a shared objective of the two faiths.


Some donors have been impressed by the Muslim-Christian collaboration, which they have dubbed "very rare."

Peter Struijf, Southern Africa Program Officer for Novib OXFAM Netherlands, expressed contentment at the way the major faiths were running HIV/AIDS programs they sponsor.

"This kind of collaboration between Christian and Muslim organizations is rare, as far as I know."

As more people are becoming aware that HIV/AIDS is not a curse or punishment from God, confidence in faith organizations as the most effective institution for behavior change grows.

In a recent baseline survey conducted by MIAA, 82.4 percent of respondents indicated that mosques and churches should talk about sex and sexuality, while only 17.6 percent viewed this as unacceptable.

Nearly 62.9 percent of the interviewed believed that the disease is not God's punishment, while the other 37.1 thought otherwise.

This, according to MIAA's project officer George Alufandika, provides a basis for a common understanding among various religious institutions on HIV/AIDS, gender, sexuality and human rights.

"Although HIV/AIDS is transmitted through other means, sexual promiscuity is the main mode of transmission here," said the Reverend Sembereka.

"Religious people can be the only way to have people change their risk behaviors and instill a sense of pride of what God made them."

Güncelleme Tarihi: 20 Eylül 2018, 18:16