A Bahá’í Comment on AIDS and HIV
What are AIDS and HIV?
In 1981 a new syndrome was described among homosexual men in the USA. Labelled the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) it was characterised by the weakness of the body's ability to protect itself against infections and disorders so that otherwise minor infections became chronic and life-threatening, and certain rare tumours became commoner.
Within two years the causal agent had been identified, a hitherto unknown virus which was labelled the Human Immuno-Deficiency Virus or HIV. It did its harm by attacking key elements in the victim's immune system.
The virus is transmitted through body fluids and especially blood. In addition to homosexual men it was found that intravenous drug abusers were particularly at risk. Recipients of blood transfusions were also found to be affected, especially those such as haemophiliacs who needed frequent blood or blood products. Tests for the virus in blood and products became available and a regular part of the transfusion process, but not before many people were infected.
Haitians were identified early on as a high risk group and as the disease was investigated further it was realised that it was established and increasing in parts of Africa. Indeed the scale of AIDS in East Africa is far greater than that in Western Europe and the U.S.A. There it is most commonly transmitted heterosexually, and reasons for its prevalence include a number of factors, including dislocation of society by war and famine, and certain social customs.
In the West AIDS and HIV have entered the general population although not to the extent that was forecast a few years ago. Women with bisexual partners and those who have had many sexual encounters with different partners have become infected and can provide a reservoir for the disease. There is an increasing number of children born to HIV-positive mothers who are themselves carrying the virus and will presumably develop AIDS in due course.
At present there is no cure for the disease or vaccine against it. It seems that when a person catches the HIV it remains in the system, sometimes for many years, but will eventually go on to AIDS itself, with fatal outcome.
Attitude of Society
The way our society has reacted to the threat of AIDS and HIV tells us something about it. The disease has caused a great deal of suffering (and will cause more) but this is less than that from many other diseases which have not received the same media attention or research resources.
For most of its history mankind has lived with epidemics that killed thousands or millions and for which there was no cure. Our generation, however, has come to see health not just as a right but as a normal state of being. AIDS presents us with a disease for which there is no known cure, and which eventually kills. Not only that but it strikes the young, and turns them old before their time. And in people's minds it is linked with sexual practices and behaviour which were for generations seen as unacceptable or abnormal. To a generation which grew up with the idea that sex was always good and should be free, and that the only law governing behaviour was people's own personal wishes, a disease like AIDS strikes at the base of their view of the world. No wonder that social forces, pressure, and politics have all become involved in the "fight against AIDS".
Bahá'ís regard healing as both an art and a science, and one with a spiritual basis. Their approach applies equally to all people whatever their background or position in society, or what they are suffering from. Bahá'u'lláh (1817-1892), Founder of the Bahá'í Faith, states
"Know ye not why We created you all from the same dust? That no one should exalt himself over the other. Ponder at all times in your hearts how ye were created. Since We have created you all from one same substance it is incumbent on you to be even as one soul, to walk with the same feet, eat with the same mouth and dwell in the same land, that from your inmost being, by your deeds and actions, the signs of oneness and the essence of detachment may be made manifest."*
and ''Abdu'l-Bahá (1844-1921), His son and successor enjoined
"Consort with all the peoples, kindreds and religions of the world, with the utmost truthfulness, uprightness, faithfulness, ... that ignorance, enmity, hate and rancour may vanish from the world and the darkness of estrangement amidst the peoples and kindreds of the world may give way to the Light of Unity." "Do not be satisfied until each one with whom you are concerned is to you as a member of your family. Regard each one either as a father, or as a brother, or a sister, or as a mother, or as a child. If you can attain to this, your difficulties will vanish; you will know what to do. ... The only difference between members of the human family is that of degree. Some are like children who are ignorant and must be educated until they arrive at maturity. Some are like the sick and must be treated with tenderness and care. None are bad or evil! We must not be repelled by these poor children. We must treat them with great kindness, teaching the ignorant and tenderly nursing the sick."
In all cases of illness Bahá'u'lláh exhorts His followers to "refer to competent physicians", and a subsequent commentary stated:
As you know Bahá'u'lláh has ordained that in case of illness we should always consult the most competent physicians. ... For the prayer alone is not sufficient. To render it more effective we have to make use of the physical and material advantages which God has given us. Healing through purely spiritual forces is undoubtedly as inadequate as that which materialist physicians and thinkers vainly seek to obtain by resorting entirely to mechanical devices and methods. The best result can be obtained by combining the two processes, spiritual and physical.
'Abdu'l-Bahá is even more specific:
"There are two ways of healing sickness, material means and spiritual means. The first is by the treatment of physicians; the second consisteth in prayers offered by the spiritual ones to God and in turning to Him. Both means should be used and practised. Illness which occurs by reason of physical causes should be treated by doctors with medical remedies; those which are due to spiritual causes disappear through spiritual means. Thus an illness caused by affliction, fear, nervous impressions, will be helped more effectively by spiritual rather than by physical treatment. Hence, both kinds of treatment should be followed; they are not contradictory. Therefore thou shouldst also accept physical remedies inasmuch as these too have come from the mercy and favour of God, Who hath revealed and made manifest medical science so that His servants may profit from this kind of treatment also."
From this it is obvious that without any discrimination whatsoever, the best available medical attention should be given and at the same time prayers for healing should be said by, and for, the person suffering.
Attitude of the affected person
Bearing in mind his/her oneness with all other members of the human race, every effort must be made:
The Transmission of AIDS
It is not possible to think about the control of AIDS and ignore the factors that contribute to its spread. Health authorities in the West have tended to encourage "safe sex" and the use of condoms. Explicit health education materials have been widely distributed. However little attention is paid to real change - the need to avoid the sort of behaviour that contributes to the spread of HIV and therefore of AIDS. In spite of everything, those who call for it are often derided as old-fashioned, out of touch, unrealistic or killjoys. The free expression of the sexual impulse is still seen as normal, provided certain precautions are taken.
The Bahá'í teaching is quite definite on this matter - no sexual relationships outside of marriage; complete chastity before, absolute loyalty after, marriage. This applies to all people whatever may be their sexual make-up. Control of the sexual urge is demanded from all Bahá'ís whether or not a deep loving relationship exists between couples of the same or of different sexes Such a discipline can only come from within a person, responding to his or her relationship with the Creator.
In many parts of the world there is obviously the need to rebuild society, to bring about social justice, and to gradually remove by education and guidance those factors which encourage the spread of HIV. U.N. and other aid workers are active in this field.
If a person is convinced that God has spoken to mankind today through Bahá'u'lláh (and therefore becomes a Bahá'í), then the Word of Bahá'u'lláh is the Word of God and will be lovingly and joyously obeyed. It is through this willing obedience that strength is given to maintain self discipline, and it is this discipline that forms happy, united, caring and stable families . These in their turn form the foundation of loving, caring and progressive societies.
This in its turn is the environment that, together with advancing scientific knowledge, will control the spread of and eventually eliminate this epidemic.
National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United Kingdom,
Telephone 0171-584-2566 [International +44 171 584 2566]
* All quotations are from the Bahá'í Writings.
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