Report on a Christian/Muslim CoH Facilitator Training. 02/2010

Lyn's Comment: As many of you know, World Vision present a Christian/Muslimversion of the Channel of Hope training in countries with a large Muslim representation.  This co-version adds interesting new dimensions to the impact of Channels of Hope. Peter wrote the following report about his experience.  We would like to thank him for permission to share this and I would encourage your feedback and comments!

 Demystifying Christian/Muslim Relations:- HIV and AIDS as a Unifying Factor - The Kenyan Experience.

By Pete Fusire

Recently I attended an Interfaith Channels of Hope Facilitators Training at Jumuia Beach Resort in Mombasa, Kenya where, beyond my normal comprehension Christians and Muslims spend 12 days staying together, sitting together and sharing information and experiences on HIV and AIDS. Everywhere, the two religions have lived in contempt of and conflict with each other to the extent of declaration of Fatwa and Jihad. I shall not write on behalf of the Muslims but make important comments on the experiences I learnt from this training. Furthermore, this article has been written to solicit debate and discussions on how best these two religions can best work together to fight HIV and AIDS.

Fanaticism has reared its ugly head in both religions with suicide bombers taking a toll of many lives the world over. Christians view Muslims as being violent and extremist and in my view this has created a defensive attitude by Muslims towards Christians. If people concentrated on the teachings of Jesus Christ and Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) without comparison of the two, this world would be a better place to live in.

The purpose of the training was not to convert one another to the other’s religion but to work together for the good of those infected and affected by HIV and AIDS. This was to remove stigma that is rife between Muslims and Christians. This helped to create an atmosphere of mutual co-existence. The guiding principles from the Bible and Qur’an were read and reflected upon by all the participants and areas of synergy found which could foster Inter-faith partnership in the fight against stigma and discrimination with regards to HIV and AIDS. From these reflections we realised that what Jesus Christ and Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) preached was similar though from different perspectives. Both religions emphasise the need to show compassion, love and forgiveness to our neighbours. Muslims and Christians are neighbours hence there is also need to show compassion, love and forgiveness to each other as human beings. The parable of the Samaritan is a good case in point.

Jesus Christ and Prophet Muhammad used stories (parables) and the direct teaching from the Bible and the Qur’an respectively to help people of their time understand their messages, therefore, the Channels of Hope Training, every morning started the day with reflections on the guiding principles from the Bible and Qur’an. A Christian and Muslim perspective would be given respectively to reflect on the Biblical and Qur’an guiding principles. One of the issues that Christians and Muslims struggle with a lot is the use of condoms. More often than not most Christians and Muslims associate condoms with promiscuity. You cannot find a verse in the Bible or Qur’an that talks about condoms but as a Christian you use “Wisdom from Heaven” and as a Muslim you use “Wisdom from Allah”. It is here that we as people who are endowed with the power of thought use that wisdom endowed on us by God/Allah to do good to protect one another in a healthy way. In Islam there is a Hadith of the beloved Prophet Muhammed which says, “Don’t harm yourself and don’t harm other people.” The Bible says in Hosea, “My people perish because of lack of knowledge.”We need to make a reflection of the scriptures and use the wisdom we acquired from above.

Muslims and Christians have a lot in common when it comes to compassion, love and forgiveness. The following guiding principles used in the training programme would lend credence to the above statement.

Muslim Guiding Principles;

- We are compelled by Allah’s love.

- We should accept as Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) accepted.

- Serve Allah in the practical aspects of love and compassion.

- Utilise the wisdom from Allah.

- Break the silence by speaking the truth with compassion.

- Be Allah’s Ambassadors.

- Uphold the value and dignity of human life.

Islamic religion has been viewed with scepticism and more often than not associated with violence. From the Channels of Hope Training I came to realise that Islam is not about violence but compassion, love and forgiveness. The guiding principles above give credence to the religion’s endeavour for people to love one another for the benefit of mankind. When they talk of upholding the value and dignity of human life they do not segregate between the healthy and those infected by HIV and AIDS. For example, they support the use of the condom as a preventive method as long as it is used to protect one another from harm and to maintain a healthy sexual relationship between couples. There has been a lot of stigma from the Islamic brotherhood because people could not use wisdom from Allah to discern what was good and bad.

Christian guiding principles;

- Our actions are compelled by the love of Christ.

- Accept others as Christ accepted you.

- Perform practical deeds of love and compassion to your neighbour.

- Speak and act with wisdom from above.

- Break the silence and challenge stigma as you speak the truth in love.

- Live a life of hope.

- Identify with the suffering body of Christ.

The statement below from the Southern Cross summarise the Christian perspective on HIV and AIDS that was incorporated in the training.

  “A Theology of AIDS will make it clear that God did not send AIDS as punishment, it will reveal the compassionate dimension of our Christianity, and it will seek to give us a spark of hope in the darkness. Crucially, that will reflect that AIDS concerns all Christians, a notion that is neatly encapsulated by the analogy: The Body of Christ has AIDS (The Southern Cross, February 26-March 4, 2003).

All Churches teach that the Church is the Body of Christ. If you analyse the practices in these Churches, you might find other models for being church that are incompatible with the Body of Christ model, for example informed by consumerism or tribalism, actual suppression of women or misuse of children, or stigmatisation of the sick and the poor. As Christians, let our minds be of things that are eternal, as it is said in 1 Corinthians 13:13, “Three things will last forever-faith, hope and love-and the greatest of them all is Love.” Jesus Christ never discriminated against anyone in his time, hence his confrontation with authorities at every turn. 

Inter-faith meetings like the ones being held in the coastal region of Kenya will help people reflect and more often than not change attitudes that Christians and Muslims might have of each other. HIV and AIDS has made Christians and Muslims in Kenya to realise that after all they are drinking from the same bowl, only using different utensils.

The coastal region is predominantly Muslim but there have been partnerships with Christian communities especially in Marafa Region in an effort to combat the effects of HIV and AIDS. A lot of interfaith meetings have taken place were religious leaders share information on best practices. Pregnant mothers from both religions meet at antenatal clinics to get information on PMTCT funded by World Vision. Interfaith partnerships are now very common in Kenya. I wish this could translate to our Zimbabwean scenario.

As a concluding remark , the following statement made by the World Council of Churches in 2001, in my view sums up the need to network with other people of good will regardless of their religious affiliation including Muslims in the fight against HIV and AIDS;

    “The Church is an influential and powerful institution, with the potential to bring about change. The intention is that its activities become more effective, efficient and sustainable as a result of greater coordination, better networking, strengthened communication, and mechanisms for working together, building on each other’s experience and success, and avoiding unnecessary duplication of effort”.

Therefore, the official message of Christians should not contradict what people are reading from their actual life. Lets speak with one voice for the good of mankind, after all HIV does not discriminate on religious lines.

Peter Martin Fusire is the National HIV and AIDS Coordinator with Assemblies of God PMU Inter-life (Sweden) Projects but writes in his personal capacity. He can be contacted on or cell +263772385261.


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