Tag Archives: Religion

Greenwald’s Heated Exchange with Maher on “Night Time”

I do not think Bill Maher, the self-appointed champion of atheism and liberalism, was expecting Night Time yesterday to be as hairy for him as it ended up being.

The constitutional litigator, who is now a full-time columnist for the Guardian, Glenn Greenwald used reason and facts to expose Maher’s bigotry and supremacy. Greenwald argued that Islam is as violent of a religion as Christianity and Judaism. He reasoned that much of the instability and violence occurring in the Middle East is in part due to US interference in the region. Therefore, we as American citizens need to be aware of that and take responsibility. Some of it at least and not to completely blame “… that primitive religion out there.”

This is not the first time that Maher dismisses Islam as the one and only evil threat of all religions. He never digs deeper to understand whether or not Islam actually promotes what he thinks it does. An AFP report on a recent Gallop survey on Islam destroys Maher’s generalizations and perceptions of Islam. The study shows that of religion’s 1.3 billion followers 93% are moderates with the vast majority of 1.3 billion condemning 9/11 and other attacks against the US. So what does this leave us with for Maher? He bought into the disgusting rhetoric championed by radicals on the right.

What’s funny – or not funny, interesting maybe – is that whenever Maher doesn’t like something he says “That’s silly liberal view…. .” Here’s the Youtube video via StopTheWarCoalition:

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Art Tells a Story: “Kissing doesn’t kill: greed and indifference do.”

Poster

Image Title: Kissing Doesn’t Kill (Color postcard)
Creator: Gran Fury

I came across a poster that read “Kissing does not kill: greed and indifference do,” above a picture of three couples making out. It is the picture what draws the viewer’s attention for a fraction of a second. The line above it, then, complements the picture and tells its story. On a white background, the poster depicted biracial, multiethnic heterosexual, gay, and lesbian couples. The three couples looked like as if they were frozen in a moment in time, infatuated by their significant other. However, there is a distinct, rather deliberate affection difference between the heterosexual, gay and lesbian couples. The heterosexual couple were making out casually with some space between them. The gay and lesbian couples, however, were passionately trying to French-kiss their partner in a close proximity relative to the heterosexual couple. Trying. Heterosexual couple were already making out, whereas the gay and lesbian couples were trying to kiss.

If anything, the poster raises key issues such as recognition, respect, and equality for gay and lesbians. The depiction of them not being able to kiss publicly, unlike heterosexual couples, signifies too little progress made in the fight for equality. The poster – picture and text – brings into surface yet another issue: HIV/AIDS. I think the point the creator was effectively trying to argue – which I totally agree with – is that homosexuality does not necessarily lead to AIDS, and certainly not death. The artist argues for a need for social change; he is criticizing the status quo in that our society is taken by greed and indifference. People live in a bubble not caring about the world outside, and discriminating against those who are different. The message is three fold, I think: acknowledging HIV/AIDS, inequality, and criticizing the society.

I think this art work should be displayed in public. People of all ages, religious/political backgrounds should learn that we are all equal regardless of age, race, and sex. I think art should be funded by the government. Art keeps a cultural record of society at the time art work was created. It raises questions and starts discussions about interesting and controversial issues, such as equality and discrimination. This ad is still relevant; so as issues of sexual orientation and equality are still controversial.

Different upbringing and cultural feedbacks fed in my response to this art work. Firstly, I was brought up in a religiously traditionalist, arguably conservative society. My parents, however, were, and still are, moderates. They accept gay and lesbians as functional, productive members of society. They see them as similar as other human beings – though they do not recognize their right to marry and have a family, I do not think. But, society is on the contrary: homosexuality is a disease that has to be cured. Secondly, moving out of my society opened my eyes to different realities; homosexuality was no longer a disease, nor it was a choice.

I came to realize that discrimination and prejudice against others were unjustified regardless of what is written in the Holy Book. I think I see this art work as enlightening and rather comforting that it is displayed to the public to bring about discussion about LGBTQ. If it was displayed in a conservative society, then it would definitely not be welcomed, certainly not in my old traditionalist society…

Religious Traditions in the Pre-Modern World

Please note: Everything addressed in this paper represent my personal views and interpretations of “facts.” Similar to all historical narratives my essay is, by default, biased. Should you wish to discuss it further, object, correct some of the information presented, feel free to contact me.

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History has proven that religion is inseparable from man’s development. The notion of a higher being is consistent throughout cultures in the pre-modern world. By examining the world starting from 2000th BCE until 8th CE, one gains a better understanding of the conception, nature and evolution of a higher being in Indian, Chinese and Western religious traditions. Indian Hinduism of 5th century CE had its roots in the Vedic Tradition that dates back to second millennia BCE. Mahayana Buddhism of China had its roots in a strictly polytheistic tradition; whereas Christianity of Western Europe had evolved from an early Jewish tradition. Those religious traditions were evolved to contextualize societal developments in political and social spheres.

People in the ancient world were fascinated with the question of origins. They sought to explain the unknown using supernatural beings. This is especially apparent in ancient Vedic Tradition of India that was prevalent in the 2nd millennia BCE. According to Rig Veda – sacred Vedic Sanskrit hymns – the world was created from a “Primal Man.”[1] They demonstrated their understanding of the vastness of the world by the size of the Man. This being was big, had numerous feet, arms and eyes that encompassed the earth. In addition to that, the primordial man laid the foundation for many ideas that persisted in the society and were later adapted by future reformists, such as the infamous caste system, notion of sacrifice and Dharma, and afterlife.

The Vedic Tradition is a heaven-based tradition in which people pray for the male gods for material things and protection. Vardhamarma Mahavira of the 5th century BCE rebelled against this after he was enlightened. He dismissed the personification of a higher being. Rather, “God” is everywhere within the environment, nature and us. People should seek salvation by taking the ‘right path’ that is practicing non-violence against all creatures, meditating to gain knowledge and awareness, fasting to limit body’s demands and giving up entirely on worldly things.[2]  He created the Jain order. Jainism was a bit radical in rejecting material and worldly things. It was not appealing to a large number of people for its extreme ideas.

Siddhartha Gautama, Mahavira contemporary, also known as The Buddha, sought to reform and build on the Jain ideas. Upon enlightenment, the Buddha advocated the middle path for salvation.[3] That is neither the Jainist way of living nor extreme indulgences in worldly things. He postulated the so-called Four Noble Truths: life is suffering, it originates from desires, its destructive nature, and how to overcome it. Although this may seem similar Jainism, it, nonetheless, advocates for the Middle Path in going about salvation and it does not regard any soul-like component in salvation.[4] It is very critical to note that Mahavira and Buddha were enlightened by a higher being. The idea of the higher being who intervenes in the earthly world to help the people prevailed from the Vedic Tradition. It is equally important to note that the Buddha did not develop an idea of afterlife, because the religion’s focus is the individual. He was more concerned with rejecting worldly attachments than to have an elaborate idea of afterlife. These two religions might be a social response to the Vedic Tradition’s caste system and hierarchy. The system was notorious, therefore the Buddha and Mahavira rebelled.

By the 4th century CE, the three main religious traditions were synthesized into one religion known as Hinduism. Although it might seem at first as a Vedic religion at first, theological components were added to it from the ideas of Jainism and Buddhism. This new religious tradition synthesized ideas from the previous orders such as reincarnation, following the right path, desire to escape worldly suffering, the notion of one supreme creator, being with multiple manifestations.[5] Furthermore, the relationship between Gods and humans were altered due to Jainist and Buddhist influence. Hinduism came to reinforce the notion of a divine being supervising the workings of the universe.

Religious traditions of ancient Chinese were polytheistic and varied in nature due to the size of what later would be China. Although early Chinese people had slightly different cultures, dialects and religious traditions, they shared similar conception of supernatural forces governing  the world.[6] The Shujing describes the life of the early Zhou Dynasty, and specifically the Mandate of Heaven. This is important because it demonstrates the relationship between power, influence and the notion of higher beings in heavens. The mandate ensures the legitimacy of monarchies on religious basis.[7] This is critical to understand future developments in political and cultural spheres that had their impact in creating modern day China. The Zhou Dynasty suffered from political fragmentation and long periods of warfare. This prompted the development of philosophical ideas about morality, ethics and ‘the proper way’ to run a government in response to the political distress.[8] These philosophical ideas were mainstreamed, championed by Confucius during the 6th BCE; they later became collectively known as: Confucianism. This was not a religious order, rather, strictly ethical and legal teachings stressed the importance of family ties, conduct in presence of authority, hierarchy, education and proper behavior.[9] This stirred a fierce discussion about human nature and its tendencies.

By the 5th BCE, Lao Tzu, Chinese philosopher who founded Daoism, contested the pragmatism of Confucianism and stated that practical matters do not matter as much. His ideas were more theological than political. He dismissed the need for scholars and a hierarchical system to govern the state because those distract people from understanding the true nature of the Dao. In fact, he preached for as little government interference as possible.[10] His major ideas were about living in harmony with nature and that humans are not as important as nature itself. Nature, which is perceived as a higher being or a form of divinity, expresses itself in a profound way that is beyond human conception and knowledge. Thus, human should follow the right path, the Dao this is.[11] This tradition might have arisen due to the nature of the warring periods. People sought comfort and protection in nature; they might have distrusted scholars and hierarchy, and thought that living according to the Dao is what the mandate of heaven favored. Intertwined theological and philosophical ideas of a higher being formed the Chinese society at the time.

By the first century CE Buddhism trickled into China due to trading in the Silk Road. While some Buddhist teachings fit into the Chinese culture, such as detachment of material and worldly things, Buddhism did not appeal to the Chinese population due to other radical teachings such as living in monasteries away from their families and abstention from sex and procreation.[12] It was during the 3rd century CE that Buddhism took a turn to fit the Chinese tradition. This new sect was called Chan Buddhism, or commonly known as Mahayana Buddhism. Synthesis of different philosophical ideas from Xunzi, Confucious, Buddhism and Daoism gave rise to this theological take on Buddhism. Why this had arisen at this time is probably because of political turmoil – people usually turn to religion in tough times. Mahayana Buddhism perceives The Buddha as a higher, divine being who should be worshipped.[13] Theravada, or old, Buddhism does not address higher beings, soul-components to humans and definitely not worshipping the Buddha. Mahayana Buddhism, on the other hand, teaches that the Buddha never died; rather he is going to be always there to inspire, teach and help people.[14] This religious order is very interesting because it synthesis ideas from different traditions in the Chinese society: ethical, moral way of living, the mysterious nature of the Buddha, private worship and non-violence.

Christianity in Europe has evolved from an ancient monolatric tradition in ancient Judea. This earliest forms of Judaism had originated in the Canaan region when a tribe of Hebrews settled there during the 2nd millennia BCE. In the 5th century BCE, while captives in Babylon, they adapted some of the religious ideas prominent in Mesopotamia at the time: Zoroastrianism. Following their release they brought back to Judea a synthesized version of early Judaism mixed with Zoroastrianism.[15] The Hebrews later have become known as the Jewish people. Injections in the Jewish theology such as the notion of the Messiah and afterlife helped the Jews shaping their religious beliefs, while still worshipping in one God: Yahweh.[16] The idea, image of higher being who was protective and caring was very important because Jews were prosecuted many times throughout their history.

In the 1st century CE, people in Judea were angry at the policies Roman imposed on them. Jesus Christ, who was enlightened, attempted to reform the political and social spheres of Judea under the Roman Empire. Jesus did not come to ‘abolish’ Judaism, but sought to ‘fulfill’ and reinforce its teachings.[17] He came with five main values: forgiveness, salvation, anti-materialism, egalitarianism and passive resistance. These values had political and social messages embedded in them. Seeing charismatic Jesus influencing people, the Roman occupiers felt threatened so they executed him.[18] Following the death of Jesus, two of his Jewish apostles, Peter and Paul, spread what became known as Christian values. Peter sought to reform Judaism and teach Christianity for Jews. He thought of Christianity as an extension to Judaism. Paul, on the other hand, wanted to spread and extend Christianity to the gentiles. To do so, he defined Christian ideas and noted what distinguish them from the Jewish ideas. It is believed that Paul injected theological doctrines to Christianity – that is why it stood out as a separate religion. He built on the Jewish idea of afterlife, explained resurrection, talked about God’s spirit that dwells in Christians and defined what it means to be a Christian.[19] He also set the cornerstone for the idea of atonement, the original sin of Adam and Eve and that Jesus is the Messiah, son of God and Savior.

In 3rd century BCE, the Council of Nicaea – a council of bishops – developed the idea of Trinity. It came to the conclusion that God has three images: the father, who is the creator of the universe, the son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, the trinity.[20] This idea was needed to unite people under one Christian faith. It ensured political and social stability within the Christian Roman Empire. Augustine’s City of God laid the foundation for development and strengthening of the Church. He argued that there are two kingdoms: heaven and earth. To be in the heaven city, one had to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ; that was what the Roman emperor and the Church endorsed.[21] It was not until the 8th century that Christianity became the prominent religion in Western Europe. The Capitulary of Saxony made it clear that if one opposed Christians, he/she were to be put to death.[22] Thus, if one was living in Christian territories he or she in a way or another had to convert to Christianity. He also supported the Church and clergy and expanded their authorities, wealth and influence. This gave rise to the all-powerful Church and papacy that characterize modern-day Western Europe.

From India to China to West Europe, peoples over two millennia have developed complex set of beliefs to explain their worldviews and conception of world at the time. Although the religious traditions of these regions might be different, they stand on similar grounds of a higher being protective of us. The idea of a divine being governing workings of the universe transcends political, social and cultural differences among peoples of the pre-modern world. Could certain injustices in our modern day world prompt the development of a new religious tradition?


[1] “The Sacrifice of Primal Man,” Rig Veda: http://www.mountainman.com.au/rig_veda.html

[2] Vardhamarma Mahavira, ‘Arkarnga-sutra,’ I, 8, 1-3-IV-8: http://www.mircea-eliade.com/from-primitives-to-zen/221.html

[3] The Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama), The Sermon at Benares: http://acc6.its.brooklyn.cuny.edu/~phalsall/texts/bud-ser.html

[4] Bulliet, The Earth and Its Peoples (Boston, 2011), p.185

[5] Brhadaranyaka Upaniad, 1:1-1:2: http://www.swami-krishnananda.org/brhad_00.html

[7] Bulliet, The Earth and Its Peoples (Boston, 2011), p.59

[8] Bulliet, The Earth and Its Peoples (Boston, 2011), p.61

[9] Confucius, Analects: (Xue Er: http://ctext.org/analects/xue-er) (Shu Er: http://ctext.org/analects/shu-er)

[10] Laozi (Lao Tzu), The Classic of the Way and Virtue (Daodejing or Tao te ching): (On the way: http://www.yellowbridge.com/onlinelit/daodejing01.php) (On governance: http://www.yellowbridge.com/onlinelit/daodejing03.php)

[11] Bulliet, The Earth and Its Peoples (Boston, 2011), p.64

[12] Bulliet, The Earth and Its Peoples (Boton, 2011), p.172

[13] Fa Xian, A Record of the Buddhistic Kingdoms: (chapter XII, XIII and XIV http://www.buddhanet.net/pdf_file/rbddh10.pdf)

[14] “The True Nature of the Buddha,” The Lotus Sutra: http://acc6.its.brooklyn.cuny.edu/~phalsall/texts/lotus0.html

[15] Bulliet, The Earth and Its Peoples (Boston, 2011), p.96-99

[17] “The Sermon on the Mount,” Matthew 5:1 to 7:29, the New Testament: http://bible.oremus.org/

[18] Bulliet, The Earth and Its Peoples (Boston, 2011), p.160

[19] Paul of Tarsus, “Life Through the Spirit,” Romans 7:22 to 8:17, the New Testament: http://bible.oremus.org/

[20] “Creed of the Council of Nicaea,”: http://www.fourthcentury.com/old/index.htm?http&&&www.fourthcentury.com/old/Urkunden/trans24.htm

[21] Augustine of Hippo, City of God: http://www.fordham.edu/Halsall/source/aug-city2.asp

[22] Charlemagne, Capitulary for Saxony: http://www.fordham.edu/Halsall/source/carol-saxony.asp

HIV/AIDS Prevalence in the Middle East and North Africa

This paper is slightly outdated. I wrote it two years ago! However, one thing hasn’t changed: HIV is on the rise in the Middle East and North Afria- so as everywhere else for that matter.

HIV Prevalence in the Middle East and North Africa 

When I used to hear the word AIDS, a slight shiver used to run through my body. Now that I learned a lot and gained valuable insights about the virus, how it is transmitted and ways in which it can be prevented from spreading, I feel more comfortable in discussing the topic. From sexual contact, to the use of dirty needles to HIV-borne-blood transfusions, HIV has found its way into our population and it is indiscriminately infecting people at staggering rates.

Middle Eastern and North African countries have not escaped the epidemic. Statistics indicate low prevalence of the virus in the region. In a 2007 survey, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) reported that 380,000 adults and children were living with HIV/AIDS across the

North African and Middle Eastern countries, in comparison with the Sub-Saharan African region that suffered from approximately 25 million cases of the disease[1]. South and Southeast Asia had approximately 6.5 million cases. Data collected from these countries outnumbered that of the Middle Eastern and African regions that represents roughly 1% of the world’s HIV/AIDS caseload[2].

However, new infections indicate a serious, saddening fact that the AIDS virus is spreading fast in the aforementioned countries. At the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) meeting held on March 29, 2007, it was reported that HIV/AIDS cases have increased 300% in the Arab world over the past three years[3]. “This is against an annual rate of increase of 20 percent in the United States, Japan, Europe, and Australia,” a UNDP analyst and HIV/AIDS program coordinator, stated at the meeting that had more than 40 Muslim and Christian leaders gathered to discuss faith-based strategies to combat the virus.

It is estimated that more than 36,000 deaths occurred in 2006 in the Arab region alone because of HIV/AIDS. UNAIDS recorded 75,000 new infections in the region; an alarming message about the rising epidemic to the countries of the region2. Moreover, available data is not so reliable because not a single country in the Middle East or North Africa conducts a systematic survey of groups at high risk of infection. Consequently, UNAIDS ranges total number of HIV/AIDS cases in the region from 200,000 to 1.4 million people. This broad classification compromises the population and leaves it prone to the virus and higher rates of infections because no concrete data can justify, support the need of organized effort, funding, for instance, to provide antivirals and other care-related expenses.

The Middle East and North Africa regions roughly correspond to the Eastern Mediterranean Region (EMR) of the World Health Organization (WHO). The EMR includes North African countries of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Somalia, and Djibouti. Middle Eastern countries include Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, and the Arab Gulf countries of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Bahrain, and Qatar[4]. From statistical and data-report standpoint, other countries are designated as Middle Eastern by the WHO, but are not actually in the region: Afghanistan, Greece, Turkey, Iran, Chad, and Israel.

Arabic is the most widely spoken language in the Arab states of the region. Islam is the predominant religion among its inhabitants; Christianity and Judaism come next, respectively. EMR countries share common culture, traditions, and beliefs and are generally prone to conservatism across their nations and religions. Culture influences certain practices against HIV/AIDS patients because of lack of HIV education and other sexually transmitted diseases. As a result, those groups are hard to reach which consequently result in poor data and bad execution of intervention measures – should these be implemented.

HIV was introduced into the EMR countries during the mid-1980s mainly through imported blood products. Annual number of HIV/AIDS cases has increased steadily from 71 in 1987 to 974 in 1996; total number of reported cases was about 4,800[5]. Furthermore, it is believed that in case of collecting HIV data that true number of reported cases is usually three to four times higher. Among the AIDS community it is known as the tip of the iceberg and it reflects HIV occurrences that happened 5 to 20 years ago. Therefore, special care should be paid to those numbers as they indicate alarming data about the spread of HIV among EMR communities. It was recorded that most of the 4,800 AIDS cases were reported from Sudan (32.6%), Djibouti (25.9%), Morocco (7.8%), Tunisia (6.7%), Saudi Arabia (5.0%), and Iran and Egypt (3.0%) each5. Sudan and Djibouti represent the highest levels of AIDS cases, whereas Iran and Egypt the lowest. However, this data was collected 14 years ago. In 2008, UNAIDS and WHO released a report on the global AIDS epidemic which alarmingly indicated that number of HIV prevalence in the Middle East and North Africa region had almost doubled. At the end of 2007 there were 720,000 people living with HIV – adults and children[6].

In 2007 world report, so as in previous reports, low rates of infections – in comparison with other regions – have led EMR governments to dismiss AIDS cases as insignificant and to show complacency in taking actions. Crises such as housing, education and economy have taken governments’ attention and had HIV/AIDS labeled as a low priority. Some of EMA countries think conservatism will heal off the epidemic. It is true EMA countries are conservative, however, HIV infects people indiscriminately. Even though complex sets of religion and culture might influence the way HIV/AIDS epidemic is handled, one cannot dismiss it as simply irreligious or culturally taboo to talk about.

Credible and reliable data on HIV epidemiology and preventive measures are limited in Islamic countries. Islam prohibits non-martial sex, homosexuality and intravenous drug use. This, to some extent, explains the relatively low HIV cases – in comparison with international data. In 2004, BioMed Central (BMC) for Infectious Diseases published an eighteen-year surveillance study in Saudi Arabia (SA) focused on collecting data on HIV epidemiology, HIV prevention and care measures6. Sex and sexual practices are considered taboo in the conservative SA society. Those who are publicly chosen to be screened for sexually transmitted diseases are doomed to stigma. There are other detrimental penalties for those who are believed to have the virus. The study has been underway since 1984, conducted by healthcare facilities. Data was collected through screening of individuals who showed “clinical suspicion”6,[7]. It was conducted by various governmental and non-governmental institutions, to facilitate the access to those who already have the virus, and those who are most susceptible of receiving the virus, with maintaining complete confidentiality and autonomy from factors affecting the results.

Results will be reported to the Ministry of Health (MOH) using unique identifying codes. Those groups, who have undergone routine testing, included HIV-infected patients, blood and organ donors, prisoners, intravenous drug users (IDUs), and those who have sexually transmitted diseases – HSV, etc. HIV testing is a compulsory, pre-requisite for employment in the SA. As for expatriates, they are tested upon their arrival and once more after two years, as they file their residency applications. Saudi patients who test positive will be referred to tertiary care HIV-specialized governmental clinics where highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) medications, in addition to further important laboratory tests such as the CD+8/CD+4 counts.

As a result, more than 6000 HIV/AIDS cases were recorded. More than half of which were non-Saudis. The study showed increase in numbers as it progressed. Although data was collected in 2001, it sends alarming indications that HIV is spreading throughout the population. Factors that could be put into consideration, such as the world recession and moving from centrally planned economy to a more capitalist economy, have been driving HIV-infections high. Consequently, big influx of expatriates from various countries have come to work in Saudi Arabia, which some of them may be carrying the virus. Moreover, socio-economic status of Saudis and wealth distribution have changed dramatically. It is scientifically proven that whenever a nation interacts more with other nations, it will eventually result in increased levels of HIV prevalence.

Prevention, treatment and care interventions have failed internationally to control the epidemic. They might have worked effectively in developing countries, but the limitation of resources along with the described complacency made the HIV prevail in the Arab region. Moreover, even if the medications are readily available, good slice of the population will not be able to afford them. This is a huge issue that some are working on solving it by introducing free medications7 and/or subsidize them for those who are in need. This will, ultimately, reduce the HIV levels and help those who have AIDS to receive the meds required to prolong their life expectancy.

Furthermore, stigma plays major role in combating the virus. More than hundred Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) have been active in a number of prevention efforts in the EMR region to reach out for stigmatized patients and those of high risk5. These particular groups might be hesitant or reluctant to seek a conventional governmental help since their behavioral is not accepted in the society, and the virus is highly stigmatized in the region. These groups include prostitutes, IDUs, and homosexual males. All previously noted indications have funneled in the creation of a new policy that advocates for the universal access of treatment for HIV, malaria and other diseases[8]. The program is introduced by United Nations Developing Group (UNDG) to help introduce the HIV/AIDS topic and break the stigma associated with it – in addition to providing key medications needed – in the Arab region. The United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organizations (UNESCO) office in Beirut, Lebanon has mobilized several financial and human resources to work on the issue. These resources will also be working on the UN initiative Focusing Resources for Effective School Health (FRESH)9 to utilize the public and empower local NGOs to effectively addressing the key health issues afflicting their country. In addition to that, the initiative acknowledges the lack of awareness and education about HIV/AIDS and pledges that more openness should be applied to topics such as sex, sexual diseases, and blood-borne diseases.

Because NGOs are grassroots organizations that operate locally, they tend to understand their community and have a better understanding about its needs. They understand the sensitiveness of the cultural as well as speak the language of people. Those organizations have proven themselves reliable and instrumental in tackling the HIV epidemic.  Those organizations include the Arab Scouts Movement, the Somalian AIDS Protection Group, the Egyptian AIDS Society, the Syrian Women Union, the Health-Environment Club of Djibouti, and the National Society Facing AIDS – Egypt, among other Moroccan, Sudanese, and Lebanese and Iranian societies. Those societies were instrumental in organizing a World AIDS Day in the EMR, and organizing educational activities such as that of the Health-Environment Club – Djibouti – that incorporated HIV education in an environmental protection program. These programs, among numerous others, raised awareness and broke some of the chains that were locking HIV/AIDS patients.

As noted earlier, it may seem that EMR is not as important region as others are with a high HIV prevalence, nevertheless, I believe that a region with a steady increasing rate is far more important and risky that a regular region with steady HIV rates. In addition to that, I chose this region because it pertains to me personally since I was exposed to overwhelming HIV/AIDS data and research points, in the class, that made me think about my original region – the Middle East. Another reason why this region was chosen is that there is no reliable data that can prove what the HIV-prevalence rates are like there. That subsequently drives people off researching the region to solidify the data.

Apart from that, since the actions of high-risk groups are highly intolerant and unacceptable by the people of the EMR countries, it was hard to focus on one group and talk extensively about. In addition, because simply there was no credible data to draw conclusions from and to draw lines as to which group is mostly at risk. However, it is universally known that the members of high-groups are injection drug users, prostitutes, homosexuality and men who have sex with men10. Therefore, factors such as religion and conservatism sometimes have a say in this, and might determine the future of those individuals.

Moreover, religions and conservatism among EMR communities not only combat HIV/AIDS in their own classical ways – intolerance and stigma, but also they were proved instrumental as they can alter preconceived notions concerning HIV-related issues. Patients will suffer detrimental effects if they were to be neglected. Proper care and treatment interventions are yet to be provided. Basic medical needs hard to be provided if the international committee and HIV-organizations are not able to acknowledge the need  of this small number  of people. If those HIV-carriers could not get a proper education about their virus, or did not get their medicine, that will result in devastating events that have multilateral affects among the EMR region. My goal is to draw attention to the dangerous region in hoping for people to acknowledge its importance in terms of HIV-prevalence. And since various groups and regions were mentioned throughout the quarter, EMR was not one of them. Hopefully by writing this paper, I’m contributing to help the EMR countries by spreading the word about them. This is one of the lessons that I learned in the Discover Chicago AIDS class – speaking out and letting people know about HIV-related issues.

Those all noted reasons were driven from the fact that I gained so much knowledge, and learned a lot about HIV/AIDS throughout the Immersion Week and the Fall Quarter that made me think about my original region. This concern, empathy, and determination are important things that I believe I will walk out of the class with. I not only learned about the politics surrounding the epidemic and legality issues, but also learned about different levels of discrimination among homosexuals and other members of the high-risk group. In addition to that, the class drew to my attention the facts and statistics of the Chicago HIV/AIDS community in particular and the United States’ in general. I also learned about the various services and intervention measures applied by a number of community-based and not-for-profit or corporate setting organizations, which ultimately lead to the process of decision-making.

To conclude, I’m planning on doing several things in the course of near future. First thing is to speak out and let people know that HIV/AIDS is a serious epidemic and we should join efforts in combating it by simply being opened up to HIV/AIDS education. I believe that being open about the epidemic and accept those who have the virus is as crucial as administering medications that prolong life because if those individuals were not accepted and embraced by their loved ones, devastating psychological and epidemiological effects might happen. I remember visiting the Broadway Youth Center – a non-for-profit organization – and seeing a wall of sticky notes in which some of their clients wrote things. One of the notes that grabbed my attention was a one that said ‘I want to be loved and embraced’!

Second thing I want to do is that I will volunteer to an organization called Project VIDA – a non-for-profit community-based organization. Since they are community based, they know exactly what their community needs and what things have to be done to combat the virus. Their services range from food catering and free testing, to case management, free condoms, and others. Some of their services grabbed my attention – massaging and acupuncture. Among the things I learned there, I learned that providing services such as massaging and acupuncture are crucial to those who live with HIV/AIDS. I previously thought that services like that were not to be offered for the fear of contracting the disease.

The third thing, I will try to talk about the Needle Exchange Programs and write about them in the DePaulia newspaper. My story was previously rejected; however, I will keep on pushing the story on them and see what happens. The fourth thing I want to do is talk to my friends back home and explain to them what HIV really is. There is huge misconception about HIV/AIDS among my friends. This is definitely an area I have not tackled before, but thanks to discover class, now I am. In addition to that, the International Fund activity that Andrew conducted with the class has drawn a better picture of the logistics of the combating HIV/AIDS and that tied some loose ends I had. Therefore, I have recently made a contributed to the Chicago AIDS Foundation, and will send them an email asking about a monthly program, similar to Children International and Doctors Without Borders, that I can enroll in and make my monthly contributions for a great cause.

Finally yet importantly, I’m planning on distributing condoms to the Lincoln Park campus by dressing up as a big condom.  I have previously distributed condoms to my floor mates without their knowing. They woke up in the morning with a condom and a sticky note that says ‘be safe’! A big number of college students engage in sexual intercourses throughout their college life. Drawing from the Discover Class experiences, such as Chicago Women’s AIDS Project (CWAP), safer sex practices are highly recommended since college campuses have a mixture of students from virtually everywhere.


[1] The Joint United Nations Program (UNAIDS) “Insight into AIDS responses in Middle East and North Africa

[2] Sandy, Sufian. “HIV/AIDS in the Middle East and North Africa: A Primer.” Middle East Report.

[3] U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, . “HIV/AIDS in Arab World Up 300 Percent.”

2 Sandy, Sufian. “HIV/AIDS in the Middle East and North Africa: A Primer.” Middle East Report.

[4] “Middle East.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica 2009 Student and Home Edition.  Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2009

[5] A., Raymond. Encyclopedia of AIDS: a social, political, cultural, and scientific record of the HIV epidemic. Ill. Routledge, 1998. p355-58

[6] BioMed Central . “Epidemiology of the human immunodeficiency virus in Saudi Arabia; 18-year surveillance results and prevention from an Islamic perspective.

[7] Draper, Robert Franklin. “Antiretroviral drugs help HIV patients, specialists say.” Yemen Times

6 BioMed Central . “Epidemiology of the human immunodeficiency virus in Saudi Arabia; 18-year surveillance results and prevention from an Islamic perspective.

 

[8] UNDG, “MDG-6: Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria and Other Diseases.” UNDG/Middle East 1-2.

7 Draper, Robert Franklin. “Antiretroviral drugs help HIV patients, specialists say.” Yemen Times

5 A., Raymond. Encyclopedia of AIDS: a social, political, cultural, and scientific record of the HIV epidemic. Ill. Routledge, 1998. p355-58

 

Who Should I Worship!

I grew up and I knew one religion, my parents raised me as a Muslim, they taught me what Islam is, what it means to be a Muslim and what we believe in. I acknowledge that in my life, I’ve seen a lot of people from different backgrounds, I’ve known Buddhists, Jews, Christians and Hindus. One day I had a class with my teacher and this class was about new people who made a creed for themselves. In fact, They called themselves Rastafarian.

I sat in front of my computer; I couldn’t stop my fingers from figuring out what Rasta is on the internet! I’ve found some unbelievable facts and information about these people. First, only a few people know the true story of this religion.

Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jr., National Hero of Jamaica, he was founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League

Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jr., National Hero of Jamaica. He was founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League

Rastafari has its roots by the philosophy of Marcus Garvey, he believed that all black people should be proud of their race. He became an inspiration to black people especially after organizing the Black Nationalist movement in America in 1920. The next year, he had almost a million followers. More people believed and supported him after his speech in 1920, “look to Africa, when a black king shall be crowned, for the day of deliverance is at hand.” That speech came true when Ras Tafari Makonnen was crowned as Ethiopia’s king, who became known as Emperor Haile Selassi, the one who everybody considers as the Rastafarian movement’s founder. After his crowning, the movement officially began. Rastafarians settled in the small southern Ethiopian towns of Shashamene. Haile Selassi, who considered the God incarnate, gave them 500 hectors of land on which to settle; they started migrating to Ethiopia 38 years ago.

Rastafarianism is a mixture of politics and religion for many reasons. One of them is that they believed that Haile is their king because he is black and he will put them on the freedom ship and free them from slavery.

Selassi I, was Ethiopias regent from 1916 to 1930 and Emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974. The heir to a dynasty that traced its origins to the 13th century, and from there by tradition back to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, Haile Selassie is a defining figure in both Ethiopian and African history.

Selassi I, was Ethiopia's regent from 1916 to 1930 and Emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974. The heir to a dynasty that traced its origins to the 13th century, and from there by tradition back to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, Haile Selassie is a defining figure in both Ethiopian and African history.

Rastafarians support and empower the black race and they consider Haile as an incarnation of God, and he is seen as part of the holy trinity, and as the returned Messiah that was promised in the bible. Furthermore, they believe in Christian doctrine that says God came onto earth in the form of Jesus Christ, to give instructions to humanity. That is true but they do not agree on this version of story. They believe that these instructions were corrupted by western societies, for instance, white people (called “Babylon.”). Moreover, they believed that God appeared again as the Ethiopian Emperor to adjust and fix the instructions to black people.

You can recognize Rastas by their colors, they wear red, yellow and green that came from the Ethiopian flag, their dreadlocks, and the reggae music, particularly they listen to Bob Marley. The reason they listen to that kind of music is that there is no bad language that outs women down or violent language or even gun talk like most Rap music. Also, they smoke Ganja.

The Rastafarian religion has interesting and unique beliefs. For instance, they cherish certain herbs that are mentioned in the holy Bible. Ganja is a primary element of their religion and they smoke it to reach the highest levels of spirituality. Another interesting belief, Rastafarians are too into any sharp implements to be used on man. For example, no trimming or shaving no tattooing on the skin or cutting in the flesh, as was said in Leviticus 21:5: “They shall not make baldness upon their heads, neither shall they shave off the corner of their beard, nor make any cuttings in their flesh.” Rastas are more likely to be vegetarians. They eat as little animal flesh as possible; they do not like the idea of eating pig flesh, shellfish, etc. Rastafarians worship Haile Selassi and consider him a model and they recognize no other God than him. They reject pagan beliefs, without disrespecting the believers. Rastas agree to live in a world of one brotherhood and a sign of that is they condemn jealousy, hate, deceit and humiliation. They believe in love to all mankind. An interesting fact is that they do not accept the aid, possessions or any help given by the enemy that may impart upon them, in fear. For that, their main purpose is to uphold Rastafari. Furthermore, they are opposed to the luxury and pleasure of modern city society.

I had the chance to meet a wonderful Rastafarian Jamaican man, Jason Janis, 45 year old. The meeting was as simple as you can imagine, firstly I asked him about their beliefs, “The basic beliefs of Rastas is to uphold the truth and defend good over evil, to do will of god here on earth to keep the 10 commandments.” He said. Actually, I was a bit curious about their religion, Muslims pray and fast to God, but as for the Rastas they fast in remembrance of past prophets and saints and holy men of times passed by, “we fast for our men who suffered a lot during the past 100 years.” Dreadlocks are something that identifying Rastas from non-Rastas. I considered it something to put onto your hair, but I was shocked when I knew it’s for religion purposes. “The origin of dreadlock comes from the times of Moses when there was a tribe called the Nazarenes (Bible, Ch.6) who wore dreadlocks, as did Samson as a sign of their covenant to the almighty God.” He explains this matter. Another thing I wanted to ask in order to satisfy my curiosity, Ganja, the holy herb, what is good in it and why Rastas smoke it to reach the highest levels of spirituality, “Ganja goes with the territory, it opens the mind, It’s good for meditation.” I had to ask him about its history “It was found on Selamon’s grave and the Bible says (all herbs are for the healing of the nation).” The meeting was great. I loved it; it was full of good information. Now, I know what Rasta really is. I asked him to talk to me about their social life and he said “We go to Rastafarian church dance, we listen to reggae music, I listen to it because of it has uplifting lyrics, not bringing down woman, the race and no gun talk.” He adds, “We don’t believe in homosexuality and abortion.”

During my usual morning walk. People were coming across me, I thought about talking to someone about Rastafarian to see if he has any idea. John T, a 22-year-old British man, was the one I ran into during my walk. He was polite and he accepted to do this interview. I asked him about Rastafarian, what he thinks of them and what their beliefs are, “I think Rastafarianism is a movement more than a religion, in other words it is a way of life, they do not have church or a central worship place, they just gather in a place and do whatever they do.” I asked him about their stereotype “Well, I’m not sure but most Rastas I’d known they’re Black Caribbean with dreadlocks in their hair and multicolor hats and most of the time a laid back attitude.” He said.

Sarah Shourd, an English teacher, welcomed the idea of Rastafarians. She had been to Ethiopia in the core of Rastafarianism. She thinks it’s a religion, it’s a way to direct people to the right path, “It’s a Bible based religion, it gives guides and clues to ‘reach the God’s rope’ to people who do not know the way. I’ve been in Ethiopia it’s amazing. The people there were just kind and simple. I saw no signs of an aggressive attitude.” She said. About their stereotype “well… smoking marijuana, the dreadlocks (their hair must be natural), they’re close to nature – away from modern society’s needs, they reject western traditions, and listen reggae music especially Bob Marley – one love,” she said. Sarah showed acceptance of to be a Rastafarianism and welcomed this idea, “yes, I would like to be Rasta, I agree with some of their beliefs, like they love each other (as obvious in Bob Marley song – one love), the rejection of and resistance against of western policy and imperialism. Also, I believe in black power and they should be freed from racial discrimination,” she adds.

Today there are an increasing number of White people. For Rastafarians, this period will mark the beginning of a new world, in which Blacks are respected. Many Rastafarians believe this is how the world would have been, but for the behaviour of corrupt whites, they will fix themselves by themselves.