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30 November 2007

Indonesia: Anti-AIDS condom campaign splits Muslims

Jakarta, 29 Nov. (AKI) - Breaking a long-held taboo, the Indonesian government has decided to promote safe sex by launching its first ever National Condom Week in an effort to curb the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, especially HIV/AIDS

However, the condomn campaign, which will start on 1 December - World AIDS Day - has split Islamic religious leaders, who have differing views on how to fight the killer virus.

Fauzan al-Anshori, spokesperson for the hardline Indonesia Mujahiddin Council (MMI) slammed the initiative and called the strict implementation of strict Islamic (sharia) law as the way to fight the disease

“We strongly feel that condoms can't prevent people from getting AIDS. The pores of the latex are bigger than the virus itself,”he told Adnkronos International (AKI), adding that in his view the campaign was harmful and morally wrong.

“AIDS prevention should start by implementing Islamic laws and punishing rule breakers, infidels and those who engage in pre-marital sex.

"In Islam we normally throw stones at them,” said al-Anshori. The MMI is a Muslim umbrella organisation whose member groups promotes sharia law in Indonesia.

Executive Head of another hardline Muslim organisation, the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), Habib Hasan al-Jufri, on the other hand, told AKI that he is not totally opposed to the initiative.

 “I think the idea of the campaign is good, but without any additional religious programmes, it is nothing more than a promotion for condom manufacturers,” he said.

The FPI is notorious for conducting morality drives against bars, nightclubs, and other ‘sinful’ places in Jakarta during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

 “I am neither against this campaign, nor do I support it,” he added.

Islamic studies lecturer at Indonesia's Muhammadiyah University in Surabaya, East Java, Chairul Mahfud, backs the campaign, however.

 ”I'm not against the campaign. I am not against anything that can preserve the life of human beings. There are verses in the Koran that says humans should take good care of their health,” he told AKI.

“It is like a Jihad (holy war) on HIV/AIDS,” he added.

Some other 400 religious leaders gathered in the Jakarta Islamic Center on Wednesday, where they promised to incorporate in their sermons topics such as the advantages and disadvantages of condoms.

Muhammadiyah and the Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia’s two largest moderate Islamic groups, had already pledged their support to a major anti-AIDS campaign, during the National Interfaith War Against AIDS meeting held in Jakarta, in May.

The Indonesian Hindu Religious Council, the Indonesian Bishops Conference, the Council of Buddhist Communities , and the Indonesian Supreme Council for Confucian Religion were the other organisations attending the meeting, which pledged to work together to take an active role in the prevention and fight against HIV/AIDS.

Only 90 million condoms are sold each year in Indonesia, which has a population of 240 million people, according to DKT International, a non-governmental organisation that makes and sells condoms.

DKT director Chris Purdey said that many Indonesians are still embarrassed by the mere mention of condoms.

The Indonesian government estimates that 150,000 -250,000 of the nation’s people are living with HIV. But several independent organisations believe this number is only the tip of the iceberg.

It is also thought that some 170 people are infected ever day in the archipelago, which has the world’s largest Muslim population. Half of all new HIV cases are injecting drug users aged between 15 and 24.

Particularly worrying are the conditions in Papua, the nation’s easternmost province, where levels of awareness are low, condoms are difficult to access, and more than two percent of the 2.5 million people are thought to be HIV-infected.
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