Three years ago, Peter and Suzan tied the knot at a colourful wedding. It was indeed a wedding of the decade. The couple gained numerous showers of praise, both from within and outside the village. Not only did it turn out to be a symbolic and exemplary knot-tying event, but also a foundation of the family‘s capital, as it fetched over half a million kwacha in contributions from well-wishers.
The couple looked healthy and none of the family members or clergy asked if the two had gone for an HIV and Aids test. They assumed the couple was conversant enough with the danger the pandemic has posed onto the society and the need to be careful. Little did they know that fate was lying ahead of them–waiting.
Suzan fell pregnant. But the happiness was short-lived as the untold story started to unfold. Her body begun to wither, but the elders within the family saw nothing wrong with it, as they heaved Suzan’s unpleasant skin paleness to first time pregnancy.
She was rushed to a nearby health centre due to diarrhoea, pneumonia and persistence coughing, among others.
She prematurely, delivered a frail and underweight male child who only lived for four days. A nearby grandmother, Nasibeko, was accused of bewitching the child and its mother.
But one family friend was not blinded by all the superstitious talk. He advised the couple to go for voluntary counselling and testing. The couple rejected the advice.
Susan became seriously ill and tested HIV positive. She was instantly put on Anti-Retroviral treatment but succumbed to death.
Peter, the husband, became a familiar face at the health centre until his body could no longer respond to treatment.
This couple’s story triggered a debate on whether religion should play an active role in preventing the spread of the pandemic, especially, in relation to prospective couples.
Responding to this question, Sheikh Ahmed Chienda, programs coordinator of Limbe Islamic Information Bureau said Islam has teachings that might prevent such tragedies, but it would take the two to be true believers who follow the way of Prophet Muhammad.
Chienda cited two Qur’an verses from the Qur’an relevant to the subject in question.
Sullah 17:32 says: ‘nor come nigh to adultery for it is an indecent (deed) and an evil way and Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that will make for greater purity to them and Allah is acquainted with all that they do.’
The Sheikh also explained that Sullah 24:31 clearly states the dress-code required for Muslim women, saying fancy and revealing dressing that many women have adopted is what is contributing to the rise in promiscuity behaviours as men are looking to see what is contained in that exposed female body.
“In Islam, prospective couples are given advice during Nikkah (wedding) although not at a larger scale, because we believe that the message is already available for everyone through various media channels that are tirelessly disseminating messages of HIV and Aids,” explained Sheikh Chienda.
He also acknowledge that at Mosques they do not have a program of advising prospective couples to go for VCT because they believe love is beyond the two’s health condition.
“We only believe that as true Muslims, the two should not indulge in sexual intercourse until they are officially married through Nikkah,” he said.
Mtumwi Eliya Sakarawo of Apostolic Church says their church uses different gifts given by God to people within the church to advise couples intending to marry.
“Through special God-given gifts such as preaching and prophecy elders in the church consult God for direction before confirmation of any marriage. If God tells us that one of the suitors is HIV positive, we pray for guidance,” explained Mtumwi Sakarawo.
Mtumwi Sakarawo who lives in Soche, Blantyre believes God has healed HIV positive people who have married in his church.
Gerald Phiri of African Abraham International Church in Mchinji pointed out that as a church they just advise couples to follow church rules and guidelines.
“We do this because it is beyond the church’s control as couples meet outside and away from the church but just come to church just to have their wedding officiated,” he said.