Thirteen years ago Faghmeda Miller became the first Muslim woman in South Africa to publicly declare her HIV-status. She founded the organisation Positive Muslims in 2000, after her husband died of the disease.
At IR’s ‘Islam and HIV/AIDS’ conference in November 2007, Miller gave an impassioned talk about the stigma and discrimination that she has faced from within her own community. In this interview she describes the problems faced by HIV-positive Muslims and how she hopes to offer support to others living with the disease.
How did your community react when you disclosed your HIV-status?
At the beginning when I first disclosed my status] of course I was rejected by people. But maybe because I didn’t stop but continued talking about HIV, I can say that now 13 years later Muslim religious leaders are talking about HIV and AIDS.
Why did you decide to go public with your positive status?
When people ask why I decided to disclose my status, I always say that I did not have a choice. I knew of other Muslim people who had already died of HIV and it made me realise it was up to me to educate the community. I can proudly say, that has started to happen.
Why have more HIV-positive Muslim women in South Africa not gone public?
I always say that it is not HIV that is killing us, it is the stigma attached to it. People are still being judged for the way they contracted HIV.
In my case when the religious leaders heard that I was married when I contracted it, the feeling was, ‘It is OK to support her.’ Had I contracted it in a ‘bad’ way they may not have supported me at all.
I had a difficult journey, but I am trying to make it easier for others who will come after me.
Why did you start Positive Muslims?
When I first discovered my status I had a lot of Muslim people coming to me for support and help. Eventually two other male Muslims approached me and when they heard about all these people coming to me, we started the organisation together.
The organisation is now eight years old. We provide emotional and psychological support, and we also give people food parcels and conduct home visits. We counsel the whole family if someone is HIV positive and we offer bereavement counselling. We also carry out workshops and will train people in skills so they can provide for themselves instead of relying on handouts.