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Islam, Condoms and AIDS

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In a region, where HIV is rife and AIDS an unending pandemic, it was breath taking to hear the condemnation of condom use. It sounded surprising and incredible for the Muslim clergy and other religious authorities in North East Kenya would decide to campaign against the promotion of condoms as a means of preventing HIV and pregnancy. As a consequence, there will be no further education about, or distribution of condoms, the Muslim "scholars" decided.

They said that huge amounts of money were used to buy condoms. And immorality. They further said that the Ministry of Health's method of preventing HIV/AIDS was not acceptable to the Muslim traditions and generally believed that the use of condoms led to HIV infection because the condoms had been laced with the HIV. The discussion of sexual issues is a taboo in this as in other regions where most people are Muslims.

After I punched the wall a couple of times, I relaxed, took a deep breath. Memory took the place of agitation. I remembered another life; my youth among Muslims in Mombasa, Kenya. At a time when my youthful friends and I sought intellectual knowledge, our Muslim counterparts had but one purpose in life: to learn the Koran.

We walked for miles to the missionary schools where we learned how to write, and count and how to speak English. Eventually exotic theorems - Pythagoras and Euclid became our friends in the tropics; Julius Caesar and Cicero men we were famliar with. It was heady stuff.

We walked to school and passed by classrooms, where hundreds of Muslim kids, dressed in white, clean and crisp with white caps, sat on mats on the ground in large open rooms. We heard them repeat, in a chorus, in unison, the same words, day in and day out. Their eyes trained on the Koran; little heads bobbing to and fro, rhythmically. They repeated the Koran in Arabic. They did this day in and day out; year after year. Until they grew old and out of it. They went to be laborers. Or just lay abouts. Or edict givers.

We discussed among ourselves the demerits of madrassas. And the advantages of our mission schools, where, a few of us were able to advance to new academic levels, but all of us had new knowledge: we could all read, write and do simple mathematics. The reality is: missionary schools taught us something positive and useful. The madrassas taught Islamic edicts, Arabic and Koranic passages, without leaving anything that could help their students to become a part of the new nation. Kenya that became independent in 1962 and an African government composed of men and women, who had been educated in missionary schools, became the new ministers. None of them was a madrassa graduate.

The madrassas' main curriculum was rote repetition of a message reverberating across centuries of Islamic tutorship without scientific or any other knowledge relief. They taught one to close their eyes to knowledge; emphasized an ancient culture of bigotry and narrow mindedness. Sadly in some desperately poor parts of Pakistan and elsewhere, Saudi money is used to support similar schools. They are the only choice for the poor.

That the imams in Garissa are rejecting the use of condoms to prevent HIV/AIDS and pregnancy is a backward step in an Africa that needs to reduce the incidence of the infection. These men are held in high esteem by their Muslim community. Their edicts that resound with theocratic meaning and authority reinforce their standing. Sadly their arguments are devoid of any logic. Scientific knowledge has absolutely no use to their way of thinking. It is as if they pride themselves in their ignorance.

The condom debate simply turns out to be an issue that magnifies an ignorance manifested by this particular culture. Whereas in much of Africa, a hunger for knowledge, enlightenment; education and a desire for forward movement and progress are evident -- despite the many tribal and cultural pitfalls -- in Muslim dominated regions of Africa, ignorance is celebrated.

I'm reminded of the Muslim youth in my childhood, who, happy as they may have been, are today the issuers of edicts about condoms, decrying a purported but unfounded statement about Europe's desire to exterminate Muslims. These, as any rational thinker knows, are not just ignorant, but idiotic notions. They are made worse because no attempt is made by their authors to inform themselves of reality or the truth.

The ignorance that epitomizes the anti-intellectual existence of the present day Muslim mind is best illustrated in parts of North Africa where Islam is the religion of choice. Today's Sudan exists in a 19th century mindset. Sharia law, slavery and crass brutality are the order of the day. One pities the Christian black population hitched to the Arabs by the British; their misfortune is they have come under the sharp, ignorant Muslim whip, which believes in slavery, dogma and mindless recital of the Koran.

To Karl Marx religion was the opium of the people. There is no question that there isn't a religion that has not served to retard man's progress towards truth and enlightenment. Sadly, like all opiates, some have more toxic influence than others. From my life's vantage point there is no doubt that Islam as practiced today has had more of a noxious effect and spread more ignorance onto those who believe in it than any other religion.

Many Africans in north east Kenya will die from HIV/AIDs because of misguided Imams whose ignorance disqualify them from making any health related decisions and should be muzzled by the Kenyan Health Ministry.

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