World Bulletin / News Desk
Ishmael Baya is a street beggar who calls an old shack and waiting shelter at Blantyre's Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital home.
"In the morning, I go to the streets and ask for alms," he told Anadolu Agency (AA) on a cold Wednesday.
"I have no place to call my own, no food and no clothes," said Baya, wearing only a shirt and a torn pair of trousers.
He is one of over 40 street beggars who live in the hospital's abandoned waiting shelter and who survive on alms from passersby and Muslims who attend prayers at a nearby mosque only a stone's throw from the government hospital.
"We have been receiving a lot of help from our Muslim brothers. They give us a lot of food and clothes," said Baya before running over to a passing car to ask for small change.
Baya, who looks like he is in his mid-20s, said his mother had succumbed to AIDS when he was only nine years old.
"I decided to come to Blantyre and find a job; but I did not find one," he said. "So I joined my friends who gave me a place to stay at the hospital's waiting shelter."
"When we get nothing from the streets, we eat leftovers from the food that the hospital prepares for patients or is thrown away," he added.
Malawi has one of the highest AIDS infection rates in sub-Saharan Africa.
According to the World Bank, AIDS is a major cause of death among Malawians between the ages of 15 and 49.
In Blantyre, people like Baya can beg from those who work in factories, government agencies, hospitals and other institutions. But in the remote villages of Chiladzulu, a town located some 20km from Blantyre, affected people have no choice but to suffer in silence.
That's why local Muslims have teamed up to help the poor with food and blankets during the fasting month of Ramadan, which will end next week.
Enerst Bwanali, a local community leader, said the less privileged had been receiving sugar, salt, maize flour and clothes.
"This is winter and Malawi is very cold in the morning and at night," he told AA.
"In addition to food, we have secured some 100 blankets to give to the elderly so that we do not record any deaths as a result of the cold," added Bwanali, whose team paid for the blankets from their own pockets.
"We used our own resources. We did not get the money from anywhere but our community," he explained.
Bwanali said the most vulnerable groups in Malawi were the elderly and those suffering from AIDS.
"These are the groups we have targeted and will continue to target," he stressed.
Apart from community initiatives, the major Muslim organizations in Malawi have also joined hands this Ramadan to reach out to AIDS sufferers, according to Altaf Gani, chairperson of the World Association of Friends of Africa (WAFA).
"It is something that we have not given much emphasis to, but we believe HIV victims deserve our attention," he told AA.
"It's unfortunate that AIDS patients, widows and orphans are stigmatized and discriminated against to the extent that they are even denied food," Gani lamented.
He stressed that Islam taught Muslims to show compassion in all circumstances.
"We are taught to be compassionate as Muslims, as our prophet was," said the Muslim leader.
"We should be more compassionate during this holy month of Ramadan by providing food and love to people affected by this killer disease," he added.
Government figures suggest that Muslims account for 12 percent of Malawi's 14 million-strong population, while the Muslim Association of Malawi (MAM) puts the number at 36 percent.
Islam is the second largest religion in the country after Christianity.
There are no clear statistics regarding the HIV/AIDS prevalence rate among Malawian Muslims, but the rate among the total population stands at about 15 percent.
Tweya Issa, a 64-year-old AIDS sufferer, said Muslims were equally at risk, but often remained silent because the disease was associated with acts that are prohibited by Islam.
"The disease spreads through some immoral behavior, such as indulging in immoral sexual activities, drug use and intoxicants consumption, which are all regarded as haram [religiously prohibited]," he told AA.
"This has made most people tight-lipped, but this won't help put the matter to rest," Issa said.
He added that Muslims should come to terms with the harsh reality of HIV/AIDS and respond to the disease by spreading the word about Islamic teachings.
This Ramadan, WAFA and other charitable agencies, such as Gift of the Givers (Malawi), have pledged to donate assorted foodstuffs to help provide iftar – Ramadan fast breaking-meals – to HIV/AIDS patients and those who had lost spouses or parents to the disease.
Shaibu Makina, for one, lamented the lack of special care centers catering to Muslim AIDS patients and their children.
"I am worried, as HIV-positive people, that our children may not maintain their Islamic identity after our deaths, as they may be exposed to un-Islamic care centers that are doing everything possible to win their attention through feeding schemes," he said.
"I appeal to the Muslim organizations that are assisting us with food to also consider establishing care centers for our children to learn Islam while being taken care of," Makina told AA.
There are about 70,000 children under the age of 15 with HIV/AIDS in Malawi, according to Health Ministry figures.
It is estimated that as many as 80,000 people die from AIDS each year, while another 110,000 new infections occur, many of them young people.
Sheikh Mohamed Uthman, publicity secretary of Malawi's Majlis Ulama (Council of Muslim Scholars), said the council had recently launched a campaign aimed at raising public awareness about the dangers of discriminating against people living with HIV/AIDS.
"These people need to be helped so that they come to terms with the reality of HIV/AIDS, while at the same time being encouraged to seek Allah's mercy and forgiveness," he told AA.
"Any negative attitude towards the HIV-positive [person] is discouraged by Islam," Sheikh Uthman added.
"Allah always leaves the way open for repentance," he asserted. "We should help to add value to their lives by encouraging them to engage in acts of worship this Ramadan by sharing the little we have."
Given the seriousness of the pandemic, most Muslim organizations have declared "jihad" against HIV/AIDS.
Several of them are providing HIV/AIDS education through local imams and religious schoolteachers in both rural and urban areas.
Muslim institutions, such as the Bilal Trust's Madina Social Services and the Social Islamic Development, have set up clinics and mobile clinics to help people – including AIDS sufferers – obtain medicine free of charge.
"Plans are in the pipeline for these health facilities to start distributing the much-needed anti-retroviral therapy (ART) in their respective catchment areas to support government efforts," Uthman said.
He added that the Muslim Association obtained grants from the government through the National AIDS Commission to facilitate awareness programs among the country's Muslim community.Last Mod: 25 Temmuz 2014, 11:40