Religious groups make common cause

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					Religious groups
make common cause
Religious leaders in Indonesia have been searching their scriptures to find justification
for supporting the campaign against HIV/AIDS.

                                                                                                  coordinating agency based in South
                                                                                                  Sulawesi’s provincial capital, Makassar.
                                                                                                     Islamic scholars held workshops recently
                                                                                                  to review Islamic literature and identify
                                                                                                  principles that support prevention of
                                                                                                  HIV/AIDS and STDs. They prepared a
                                                                                                  document urging the teaching of HIV/AIDS
                                                                                                  awareness, promoting responsible, safe
                                                                                                  sexual behaviour and advocating tolerance
                                                                                                  of and compassion for affected people.
                                                                                                     Muslim clerics preach HIV/AIDS
                                                                                                  awareness in their sermons and provide
                                                                                                  education in mosques, schools and
                                                                                                  community halls. Although their primary
                                                                                                  message is abstinence and fidelity, they also
                                                                                                  offer advice on condom use in specific
                                                                                                  circumstances. ‘That shows how far we’ve
                                                                                                  come since then,’ Ridwan says.
                                                                                                     In largely Christian West Timor, Flores
                                                                                                  and surrounding islands, similar sentiments
                                                                                                  prevail. When AIDS was first reported in
                                                                                                  the region in 1996, Reverend Mesach Beeh,
                                                                                                  general secretary of GMIT, a Protestant
                                                                                                  church organisation based in Kupang,
                                                                                                  realised his church faced a serious problem.
                                                                                                     He says he saw a ‘moral obligation’ to
In an innovative AIDS awareness model, Muslims in South Sulawesi, Indonesia, learn from Islamic   address the issue, and if that meant
preachers in mosques about preventing AIDS transmission.                                          rethinking what he was teaching his
                                                                                                  congregation, so be it. The project provided
The call to prayer rings out through the            tested with the support of Australia’s aid    financial support for an education program
loud speakers as the faithful wend their way        program: mobilising religious networks in     but, more importantly, it offered
along the streets to the mosque, prayer mats        several Indonesian provinces to educate the   information about HIV and AIDS.
over their shoulders. It is Friday, the Islamic     community about AIDS prevention.                 As a result he was able to develop an
day of religious observance, when mosques              The province of South Sulawesi has a       education program for his ministers. The
throughout Indonesia often fill to capacity         strongly Islamic heritage. ‘Islamic law       church’s basic three-point program for
as millions fulfil their religious obligations.     operated here, as in Aceh and West Java,      sexual health is ABC: abstinence, being
   In this predominantly Islamic nation, an         until 1971,’ says Ridwan Abdullah, director   faithful, condom use.
innovative AIDS prevention tool is being            of IMMIM, an Islamic preachers’                  The Catholic Church in the region has

8 f o c u s December 2000
developed a similar approach. ‘That
community chose to examine cultural
and religious values to find the motivation
                                               An illness, not a curse
to tackle a totally new social problem,’
says Chris Dureau, the project’s               A cornerstone of the Indonesia HIV/AIDS and STD Prevention and
institutional strengthener.                    Care Project, supported by Australia, has been the support of the
   Provincial public information
campaigns, implemented by the Australian-
                                               religious community.
funded Indonesia HIV/AIDS Prevention and
Care Project, are intended not only to stop
the spread of AIDS by conveying basic
AIDS facts to the general community. They
recognise also the influence that religion
and religious groups still have in             ‘Before the AusAID program, we thought          Makassar) was assigned the task of training
developing countries, not only on the          HIV was a curse from God,’ says Rawaden, a      Islamic preachers in the province, says that
community but on key government                17-year-old Makassar high-school student.       trying to persuade the preachers to promote
decision-makers.                               ‘We had problems letting go of the idea that    anti-HIV/AIDS messages was like waving a
   As well, they provide a comprehensive       it was sinners who caught the disease.’         red rag at a bull.
network, down to the neighbourhood level,         Attitudes have been changing in                 ‘But after the Muballig [Islamic
of trusted, educated personnel and             Indonesia since its first HIV case was          preachers] completed their five-day training
volunteers who are familiar with local         reported in 1992. A year after that the         course, there were only two preachers out
culture and languages. Local differences are   Indonesian Government put into action a         of the 312 that we trained who refused to
often among the main obstacles to AIDS         medium-term plan for HIV/AIDS control.          change their views,’ he said.
education in multicultural and multilingual       The Australian Government, through              ‘The condom still remains controversial,
countries such as Indonesia.                   AusAID, supported the plan, which became        however, while the Muballig continue to
   Programs funded by the project have         known as the Indonesia HIV/AIDS and STD         preach that sex outside marriage is a sin.
reached Indonesian youth. Perkumpulan          Prevention and Care Project. Almost 90 per      However, they also emphasise that sex
Keluarga Berencana Indonesia (PKBI — the       cent of its $20 million cost is being           outside marriage without a condom is a
Indonesian Family Planning Association)        contributed by Australia.                       bigger sin,’ Ridwan said.
has been promoting family planning and            The project operates in conjunction with        The condom controversy is being
providing sex education since 1957.            the National AIDS Commission in the             neutralised, as are other problematic
   The project supported the development       provinces of Bali, South Sulawesi and           subjects such as mass blood-testing and the
of AIDS-related publications and training      Indonesia’s eastern islands and is designed     labelling of all HIV/AIDS-positive people as
materials, and PKBI now has a nation-wide      to strengthen Indonesia’s effort to combat      sinners. This reduces the stigma and
peer-educator program.                         the spread of HIV/AIDS.                         discrimination associated with this still-
   ‘Before AusAID, there were just                The strategy is to explain to Indonesians    controversial illness.
seminars,’ recalls Sukri, PKBI’s Makassar      what AIDS is, how it is transmitted, how to        Similar activities are being conducted in
director. ‘Now we have an education            care for infected people, and to encourage      East Nusa Tenggara. In this province, both
program for youth about STDs.’ High-school     changes in behaviour to stop its spread.        the Catholic and the leading Protestant
students say the program has taught them       Concentrating on the management of STDs         church — the Timor Evangelical Church —
all they know about HIV/AIDS. PKBI             and social, cultural and behavioural            have trained preachers to provide outreach
encourages dialogue between children and       research, the strategy works at the national,   to congregations, in church services as
their teachers, parents, families and          provincial and community levels.                well as in other forums such as Bible
religious educators.                              The project has funded about 60 local        discussion groups, marriage counselling
   As the young are most vulnerable to         NGOs in more than 100 HIV/AIDS activities       and youth groups.
AIDS infection, district youth leaders are     and has devised various ways to get                The Catholic Church has even produced
trained too, and assigned to conduct peer      HIV/AIDS prevention information to target       a special list of questions and answers for
education in both their own religious youth    communities.                                    AIDS prevention, which is much in
groups and more informal settings such as         Ridwan Abdullah, whose agency, IMMIM         demand in Catholic dioceses throughout
gatherings of school friends, or families      (a Muslim organisation with headquarters in     the country. — GR s
and neighbours. — WM s

                                                                                                                        f o c u s December 2000   9

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