Magharebia (Washington DC)

Algerian Imams Preach Aids Tolerance

Algiers — The Algerian religious affairs minister is calling for tolerance regarding citizens with HIV/AIDS.

During events on December 1st commemorating World AIDS Day, Religious Affairs Minister Bouabdallah Ghlamallah sent out an appeal to all imams and mourchidates to cover the subject with worshippers.

Addressing the imams, the minister said that AIDS was not a shameful disease and that people attending mosques needed to know the dangers so that they could protect themselves.

Ghlamallah stressed the "importance of the message sent out by mosques and their influence in educating and guiding society, especially when dealing with a disease as serious as AIDS".

He invited the imams to "make people aware of the seriousness of the situation and work practically to make the public aware of the deadly danger of this dreadful scourge, particularly by focussing their preaching on prevention as the only single way of halting its spread".

That message was clearly understood by the imams and mourchidates. Mounira Hafed, a mourchida at an Algerian suburbs mosque, told Magharebia that the mosque was "the ideal setting for passing on reliable information for AIDS prevention".

"I'm in direct contact with women and the directives from the religious affairs ministry, so I'm much more comfortable talking about AIDS. There is no question of stigmatisation, nor of calling for those who are ill to be excluded. That's not part of our values system. Most of all, it's about prevention and spreading a more tolerant message," Hafed said.

The initiative was also appreciated by actors in other sectors.

Samia Amrani, deputy director of prevention at the health ministry, attended the meeting between the imams and the religious affairs minister. She expressed her satisfaction at the active involvement of religious affairs ministry in the fight against AIDS, saying it would strengthen the national strategy to eliminate transmission of the virus from mothers to their children.

"The contribution made by all partners, particularly the religious affairs ministry, is vital," she added, sending out an appeal to imams and mourchidates to use mosques to raise women's awareness and encourage them to attend screening centres.

The disease is still a taboo subject, and sufferers are often stigmatised. This is what upsets Amina Taleb, a teacher and mother of three. "In our society, AIDS is closely linked in people's minds to sexuality," she said. "The fact that mosques are going to talk about it will help break the taboo and remind one and all that AIDS cannot be caught only by having sex."

"The mosque is an excellent route for getting the message across, because the believers listen to their imams," Taleb added.

Mahdi Hennine, a senior manager, said it was about "restoring the mosque to its true role in society".

"In the 1990s, places of worship sent out messages of hatred. It is time for messages of tolerance to be heard coming from the imams' mouths at last," he told Magharebia.

"AIDS is a taboo among us, and it's an excellent move to ask imams to talk about it," he added.

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