Do not judge individuals who have the HIV/AIDS infection, a gathering of Muslim leaders and community members were told by a prominent Canadian Imam.

“You should look at individuals and leave judgment to the Creator,” Dr Munir Elkassem, Imam at the Islamic Centre of Southwest Ontario, told the participants at an HIV/AIDS session at the TARIC Mosque.

“You must offer help, support and understanding to individuals who are living with HIV/AIDS,” Elkassem added.

The program, entitled “Islamic Education & Awareness Forum for discussing HIV/AIDS”, was held on Saturday, March 24 2012 and sponsored by the social agency, Africans in Partnership Against Aids (APAA), and the TARIC Islamic Centre.

The forum included presentations by a public health nurse, a family doctor who works with HIV/AIDS patients and Muslim community leaders and Imams.

The health care providers spoke about the stigma and fear that keep many individuals with HIV/AIDS from seeking support and medical assistance.  

The high cost of drugs, as well as mental health and heath care issues, were discussed during the sessions.

Other prominent speakers at the forum included Shaikh Imran Ally, Imam of the TARIC Islamic Centre, Shaikh Ayman Al-Taher, Imam of the IMO Mosque, Imam Abdur-Rashid Taylor, Executive Director of the Islamic Chaplaincy Services, Imam Habeel Alli, Secretary of the Canadian Council of Imams and Fanta Ongoiba, Executive Director of the Africans in Partnership Against Aids (APAA).

Dr Munir ElKassem told the participant that HIV/AIDS means human suffering and pain for individuals, and religious leaders need to know what to do when people with the condition approach them.

“HIV/AIDS affect Muslims too,” Fanta Ongoiba, Executive Director of APAA, told IQRA. “The purpose of this event is to decrease stigma and discrimination coming from religious leaders, most of the time due to the lack of information.”

“It is estimated that many Muslim communities in Africa, Europe, India and North America are waking up to the call of HIV/AIDS after some thirty years of silently witnessing the destruction caused,” Ongoiba added. “Silence and denial can no longer be the response.”

Africans in Partnership Against AIDS (APAA) is a volunteer-driven, charitable organization serving African communities in Toronto.

The mission of the agency is to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS infection within African communities and to enhance the quality of life of African people living with or affected by HIV/AIDS.

“We believe that a supportive environment is essential to the well-being of people living with HIV/AIDS as well as their partners, family and friends,” said Fanta Ongoiba.

The organization offers a number of support and counseling services, and educational and awareness programs.

During last year’s Reviving the Islamic Spirit Convention at Toronto’s Metro Convention Centre, the Muslim Girls Project at APAA provided HIV/AIDS outreach and prevention information to a large cross-section of the Muslim community.