The inclusion of faith communities in evidence-based health education is crucial in improving quality of life and also for the preservation of life, an important value in many faiths. Faith communities and the faith-observant can often be viewed as resistant to evidence-based or scientifically backed information. On the contrary, the faith-observant view life and make choices not by opposition to science, but through a lens guided by their faith and how they identify as observers of the faith. By respecting and honoring that, and engaging with faith communities in their spaces, health educators are invited, welcomed, and received as subject matter experts who can remove barriers created by misinformation. When dialogue begins, myths are dispelled.
Though discussion of HIV in many faith communities can be difficult to navigate, individuals who are trusted can be the gatekeepers to access sacred spaces. Mutual trust and respect are key components to engaging in HIV education and de-stigmatization efforts in faith communities. The subject matter experts must be trusted, and the dignity of the faith community must be preserved by the health experts.
Some of the most important values in Islam are preservation of dignity, sanctity of private life, and benefit to the community at large. My work in Muslim communities has illuminated the need for and the efficacy of faith-based approaches to HIV education. These efforts honor and create capacity for inclusion into sacred spaces for our sisters and brothers living with HIV. We know that whatever affects the majority, also affects the minority. Black and Latino communities are disproportionately affected by HIV, which is true for the faith-observant as well. I continue the work of Latin and Black Muslims who have used Islamic values to create impact in their communities, and who have created the legacy of a bold and untethered approach to effect change.
Likewise, as a Latina, working within the Latino community with people of all faiths allows me to reach a population disproportionately affected by HIV. Working with non-Latino Muslim communities, particularly those from Muslim majority countries, allows me to reach communities that are further at risk because of a perception or denial that HIV poses a risk to them.
Bringing HIV education into faith communities is especially important for the faith observant, as they may not seek education and resources outside their faith communities. Discussion, dialogue, and education about HIV in faith communities also allows space for faith observers who are living with HIV. For those of us living with HIV, connection with faith and the divine are essential for health and well-being. The more we destigmatize the conversation, the more inclusive our sacred spaces become, and the more whole we become as individuals and communities. Inshallah.