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AUG09

Uniting Faith Communities in the Fight Against HIV

Khadijah Abdullah, the Executive Director of RAHMA (Reaching All HIV-positive Muslims in America), is a powerful advocate for people living with HIV and the founder and lead organizer in the inaugural Faith HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NFHAAD), which will be held on August 27.

We caught up with Khadijah Abdullah to learn more about her work and the upcoming awareness day.


Tell me a bit about yourself and how you got involved in this work?

I was studying to be a nurse in college. In 2008, I was working in a hospital part-time as a student nurse. One day, a Muslim man living with AIDS came in to the hospital. We ended up hitting it off, and I learned a lot from him. He shared how he felt no connection to his faith community, because no one would talk about HIV or AIDS. He felt stigmatized and couldn’t seek solace in his faith community.

This affected me, because I had never met a Muslim openly living with HIV or AIDS and I realized that we didn’t talk about HIV in my community at all. No one should feel like they don’t belong with regards to their faith.

This experience encouraged me to switch my major from nursing to public health, to focus on community education to end HIV stigma. In 2012, I founded RAHMA (Reaching All HIV-positive Muslims in America). Rahma means mercy in Arabic, and I try to follow that principle in all of the work that I do. RAHMA’s mission is to address HIV/AIDS in faith communities through education, advocacy, and empowerment. We provide a safe space for Muslims living with HIV and education in the Muslim community to raise awareness and counter stigma.

How can faith be an important tool for countering the HIV stigma?

One of the core tenants of every faith is having mercy and compassion towards everyone, especially towards those who may be in a group that is considered “taboo.” It's important to have rahma – mercy and compassion – to everyone, and not be selective in who we give mercy to.

The first step is having that willingness to learn. Faith communities can be central in educating their communities and there is so much to learn regarding HIV. It’s 2017 and there are so many advancements in the field that people are unaware of. Sharing that knowledge within your faith community also normalizes the conversation. Have testing and HIV ministries in your faith community. Provide spiritual support to those who seek it and let people know it is a safe space.

What motivated the creation of Faith HIV/AIDS Awareness Day?

Through my work with RAHMA, I realized that many faith communities don’t have HIV education. In my community, for example, some people are doing this work, but still more needs to be done. Everyone, no matter their faith, should feel welcome in their faith community, regardless of HIV status.

The idea for National Faith HIV/AIDS Awareness Day started in 2015, and we have done a lot of outreach to unite faith communities in working end HIV stigma. We are coordinating with leaders from the Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Baha’i, Sikh, Hindu, and Buddhist faiths.

On August 27, we will gather for a prayer, led by the different faith leaders, in front of the White House. We will then do a prayer walk to Freedom Plaza, where we will hold a rally with speakers, performances, testing, community resources, and more. In addition to being a space to raise awareness, this is also a time to network and stay connected to continue the work after the event.

We hope that National Faith HIV/AIDS Awareness Day inspires faith communities across the country to create safe spaces for people living with HIV. This is a catalyst to change.

What are your next steps after the inaugural Faith HIV/AIDS Day?

We are working very closely with the United States Conference on AIDS (USCA), which is held in DC starting on September 6. We are combining forces and will continue the conversation at a pre-conference at USCA about faith and HIV. The goal is to have more and more events to train faith leaders so they can in turn provide their community with updated and accurate information and create a welcoming space.

What keeps you motivated day to day?

Knowing and seeing that we are having an impact on people. Through this work, people have told me that they no longer feel alone. That is incredibly powerful and motivating.

The Inaugural National Faith HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is on Sunday, August 27! Want to get involved? Visit faithaidsday.com.

 


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Posted By: Sarah Hashmall, Communications Manager - Wednesday, August 09, 2017



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