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The current discourse on HIV/Aids in the media, malaysiakini included, seems to suggest an obsession with the condom culture and safe sex paradigm. In no uncertain terms they advocate this as the main thrust in their crusade against HIV/Aids.

To indiscriminately ape this modus operandi and transplant them piecemeal into our national HIV/Aids programmes may turn out to be a folly.

Some 22 years into the syndrome complex, the World Health Organisation global summary document of the HIV/Aids epidemic estimates that there are 42 million people living with HIV/Aids.

Dr Nafis Sadik, Kofi Annan's special envoy for HIV/Aids in the Asia Pacific, said (in stark contrast) the prevalence of HIV/Aids remains low in the Muslim world with rates well below 1 percent in countries with a Muslim majority and similarly among Muslim minorities in other countries.

These figures would therefore suggest that the infusion and practice of universal values derived from the Quran and prophetic teachings in individual, family and societal life must have endowed considerable prophylaxis against this deadly disease.

On the whole, I believe our citizenry continues to cherish the universal values of self-discipline, chastity, morality, decency and family centricity. A whole host of human values, code of conduct and ethics are shared and guarded enviously by the believers in our nation: Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs or other religious persuasions.

Addressing the HIV/Aids pandemic demands a comprehensive and integrated response which prioritises preventative strategies; provides therapeutic care and support to the afflicted and their families; and puts in place long term macro-economic and social interventions to redress the socio-economic impact of HIV/Aids.

The preventative strategies advocated by Islam and shared by virtually all other religious denominations emphasises the A for Abstinence from sex, the B for Being faithful in marriage, the C for Condom use, the D for Drug abuse avoidance and the E for Education of the public on the disease complex and her myriad of repercussions.

The avoidance of fornication and adultery is fundamental in the injunctions of the Syariah (and I believe most other religions too) to preserve the sanctity and purity of virginity, progeny and family.

In positing the opposite argument, a speaker at the International Muslim Leaders Conference on HIV/Aids arrogantly said: "how empty religious platitudes are in addressing the problem and how, even when those responses are based on the Quran and Sunnah they are ineffective to resolve the problem". And with impunity she added: "In effect, what I present here emphasises the ways that Islam and Muslims exacerbates the spread of Aids "

Farish A Noor in his recent column on HIV/Aids would therefore be well advised to be prudent and careful in his baseless accusations or is he oblivious of the ABCs of the priorities of the Syariah (Maqasid as-Shariah) and Islamic Family Law!

There are obviously circumstances when condom use is indicated but to suggest a national policy of liberal condom use would only unleash a culture of sexual promiscuity and permissiveness. And we need to be reminded that the vast majority, in excess of 80 percent of our statistics comprise intravenous drug users (IVDU).

The government and all its agencies have failed miserably to diminish this social scourge in our society. This however did not attract the press attention during World AIDS Day a stale and non-sensational issue in comparison with the rise in heterosexual transmission. I think a careful analysis of the women affected heterosexually is in order.

Complete and comprehensive data collection is unfortunately not a forte of our major stakeholders in HIV/Aids work. Our experience with the well over 70 women whom we have sheltered in our Rumah Solehah project (Islamic Medical Association of Malaysia's halfway home for women and children with HIV/Aids) showed that the majority acquired the virus heterosexually from their IVDU husbands or partners.

Without exception, all the affected children in our care acquired HIV vertically from their mothers who were themselves heterosexually infected by their IVDU husbands. This is the domino effect of the heroin culture in our society which the key players need to address equitably and judiciously.

Many of our Western counterparts are beginning to awaken to the wisdom of this time tested and best practice strategy. The leading editorial in the British Medical Journal on June 21, 2003 entitled 'Preventing HIV : Time to get serious about changing behaviours' said: "But if behaviour cannot be changed then no amount of money is going to make a big difference in prevention because every successful form of prevention requires change in behaviour."

Arthur J. Ammann, president of Global Strategies for HIV Prevention also wrote: "Data from developed and developing countries show that programmes that incorporate abstinence, mutual monogamy, delayed sexual intercourse and condom work together to reduce the number of new HIV infections."

An emotive issue, HIV/Aids is bound to provoke a multitude of responses based on one's religious, ideological and philosophical underpinnings. As Muslims, the Tauhidic paradigm envelops our responses to the HIV/Aids pandemic.

It is simply a 'back to basics' wholesome blueprint of action which espouses and celebrates universal values of self-discipline, chastity, morality, decency and family centricity and embraces a theology of mercy, care and compassion, forgiveness, healing, benevolence, brotherhood of humanity and belief in the hereafter.

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