By Ayana Jones
As a leader in Philadelphia’s Black Muslim community, Imam Asim Abdur-Rashid believes he has a responsibility to promote HIV testing and awareness.
“One of my responsibilities is to protect the community, so prompting testing is something that I highly regard as necessary,” says Abdur-Rashid of the West Philadelphia-based Masjid Al-Mujahideen. (Masjid is the Arabic word for place of worship, or mosque).
|Masjid Al-Mujahideen (photo by Carol Bates Photography, Inc.)
He feels obligated to bring awareness to the Muslim community, particularly to the youth. Masjid Al-Mujahideen is located in the 19143 zip code of Philadelphia – an area that has been billed as having one of the highest HIV infection rates in the city. This has Abdul-Rashid alarmed.
“There’s no way that it could be that high of a rate and not have an impact on the Muslim community. There is a high concentration of Muslims in this area,” he says. “It is concern to us. It has to be of interest to us. That’s why whatever we can do to promote the concept of awareness, we are willing to do it.”
The push for awareness is a part of the Masjid’s overall efforts to promote overall good health. With that in mind, Abdur-Rashid says the Masjid plans to host an HIV testing and awareness event this summer.
Abdur-Rashid leads the Majlis Ash Shura, a group of Islamic leaders in Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley. To help combat against the spread of HIV, the Majlis Ash Shura has adopted a standard policy in the tri-state region for couples planning to marry.
|Imam Asim Abdur-Rashid and Amin Abdul Aziz, Director of Pastoral Care. (photo by Carol Bates Photography, Inc.)
“One of the agreements that we have in regards to marriage is that couples be tested for HIV prior to marriage because of the seriousness of this disease in this society,” says Abdur-Rashid. The policy has existed for more than 10 years.
Abdur-Rashid encourages couples who plan to marry at Masjid Al-Mujahideen to undergo testing prior to submitting their official paperwork to the Masjid. Most couples have complied with this recommendation. “We can’t be naive and believe that this disease is not going to impact our community — because we live in this society,” says Abdur-Rashid. He recommends that anyone who tests positive start treatment, and encourages individuals to discuss their results with their partners.
Rafiyq Friend of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community concurs. He’s in favor of HIV pre-marital testing, especially at a time when there are high divorce rates, which he notes may contribute to some individuals having more sexual partners. Friend says while many mosques encourage their members to be screened for HIV, they are not too receptive to hosting testing events. However, he notes that some mosques are finally embracing efforts to raise awareness about the local epidemic.
“We are really starting to scratch the surface,” Friend noted. He’s hopeful that at least one mosque will step up and provide onsite testing, which could encourage others.
“What we’re trying to do is to change attitudes,” he added.
Ayana Jones is a freelance writer.