[OnIslam] In a desperate attempt to curb expansion of HIV and AIDS in the Malawian society, Muslim traditional leaders have demanded a ban on condom use for unmarried people, arguing it was fueling the spread of the pandemic in the secular, but diverse religious southern African nation.
“Islam has always been against use of condoms outside the confines of marriage,” Dr. Imran Shareef, Secretary General of the country’s supreme Muslim body, Ulama Council of Malawi, told OnIslam.net.
“We allow condoms to be used only for discordant couples and in situations, where a mother is breast feeding for about 2 years, but other than that, we are totally against it. Its ban would save the next generation of this country from further peril.”
Dr Shareef was commenting on the recent debates the surrounded the use of condoms in Malawi.
The debates erupted after a group of Muslim traditional leaders from the predominantly Muslim south stunned activists of HIV and AIDs recently during a public debate on gender, HIV and AIDS organized by the country’s Network of AIDs Service Organizations (MANASO).
“As traditional leaders, we have noted with grave concern at the rate we are losing young men and women who could have been productive citizens of our country due to the pandemic. Our observation is that condoms are fueling HIV and AIDs,” an influential Senior Chief Kadewere told the debate.
“If government could ban them and declare that anyone unmarried found using it, should face the law. This could help curb the spread of this deadly disease.”
Kadewere added: “Unmarried people are having sex for fun because there are condoms. But if you observe in Islamic countries like Saudi Arabia where condoms are banned, the HIV and AIDS prevalence rate is very low. People are using condoms here, when they sleep with strangers, but when they get to know each other, they stop using them.
“If these were banned, people could be afraid to be promiscuous, because they would doubt each other’s statuses. If there are people who can abstain they will start practicing abstinence when the condoms are outlawed. Abstinence was the only powerful tool among unmarried people that would help minimize the rate at which the pandemic is being spread and nothing else.”
Concurring with Kadewere, Senior Chief Likoswe said in the past, it was possible for children to heed abstinence messages from their parents “but that has been eroded by the social marketing of condoms.”
“We had ‘condoms’ before and they were in form of a message that a boys and girls should stay away from each other. This worked wonders during that time, but that’s gone.”
Dr Shareef, the Secretary General of Ulama Council of Malawi, expressed similar support.
“We are therefore in support of proposals for its ban, where it is used only for sexual fun outside marriage. Much as it would be very difficult to police this piece of proposed legislation once it succeeded, but we are in support of any measures to have it banned,” he told OnIslam.net.
The support offered to the new proposal was not limited to Malawi Muslims after Fr. George Buleya, Secretary General of Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM), mother body of the country’s largest Christian denomination the Catholic Church, praised the suggestion as a “move in the right direction”.
“The move taken by traditional leaders is the right step towards bringing the current situation to normality,” Fr. Buleya told OnIslam.net.
“Our young people are putting their lives at risk by putting much hope in the condom. As a result, they are living wild lives. As a largest Christian denomination in the country, we are in full support of this proposal,” he said.
Added Buleya: “As a Church, we have all along preached against condom use outside marriage. We have instead opted for abstinence for unmarried people and mutual faithfulness for those married. Calls therefore for condom ban is something that we can support to the letter.”
Showing support to the proposal, Fr Buleya was pessimistic about its application.
“However, we are very pessimistic that this proposal would not achieve its intended goal. The condom has become the only hope for many people in this country. They are using it as a weapon to engage in all sorts of destructive sexual behaviors,” he said.
“We can’t therefore imagine a situation where a larger section of the society would support measures to have the condom banned. However, it is our fervent prayer that this should come to pass.”
Away from religious leaders, HIV and AIDS activists voiced concerns over the proposed banning of the use of condoms among people, saying it would further escalate the prevalence rate of the pandemic in the country.
“It is very difficult to police morality. If condoms were indeed banned, are we not going to see a situation where people would take risks to have unprotected sex, because they are being afraid of the law to use a condom? Are we not going to lose many lives in the event that condoms are banned? And how do we police its effectiveness, since sex is done within closed doors? How do we ascertain that people are not really smuggling the condoms in their rooms?” wondered renowned HIV and AIDS activist, Donald Makwakwa.
Malawi is home to Muslims who constitute 36 percent of the country’s 16 million population. Islam is the second largest religion in Malawi after Christianity.
The south African county has one of the highest HIV and AIDS prevalence rates in the world with about 80,000 people dying every year, according to the National AIDs Control Commission, an organization managing the issues relating to the pandemic in the country.
The first case of HIV and AIDS was diagnosed in Malawi in 1985.
The World Bank ranks Malawi one of the poorest nations in the world, with its majority poor surviving on less than a US$1 a day. Poverty has been largely blamed for the escalation of the pandemic in the country.
Traditional leaders in Malawi enjoy some semblance of influence and power in enforcing morality and cultural values.
“We are putting this proposal to those who are formulating various policies on HIV and AIDS. If this can’t be effectively implemented in the short term, at least a way should be found to minimize people’s unquenchable appetite for condoms,” Kadewere told OnsIslam.net in a separate interview.
“Unless, this is done, all efforts to fight the pandemic will go down the drain,” he added.