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HIV/AIDS Blog Central

In Arabic, "HIV" Is Misspelled "AL-AIDS"

By Ibrahim

September 30, 2010

Looking back at the early days of AIDS, almost everybody in the Middle East talked about the new Western disease that seemed to be the very logical and divine result of the decadence of the West, the punishment for adultery and homosexuality.

Theories of the "super nation" and moral superiority fueled the misconception that Muslims and especially Middle Easterners are immune when it comes to HIV. Governments that reacted hysterically to the pandemic, imposing a series of Middle Ages-like policies targeting HIV-positive people under the title of preventing HIV from entering our countries, helped in building more this wrong belief in our immunity as a society and as individuals towards HIV -- and it created such a strong stigma associated with HIV in most Muslim countries.

I can't feel anything but relief when I think of how, in spite of such a mentality, I was always determined to get tested regularly. I believed that it was my obligation to any human I was getting intimate with that I know my status! By now, one of the first things that I advocate for after fighting the stigma is to raise awareness of the importance of testing within our community. I do believe that stigma and lack of HIV-testing awareness are intertwined in most cases.

Terminologically speaking: In the Middle East, everyone eradicated the HIV virus from their daily life a long time ago. In the Middle East, people talk only about AIDS -- referred to as "AL-AIDS" -- and the word HIV is only known vaguely; sometimes I even joke to myself that if I tell people in my community that I'm HIV positive they wouldn't even know what that means.

But this linguistic phenomenon indicates a deeper problem of huge stigma which I find it difficult to compare to any other community in the world! And the mixing-up of HIV and AIDS is what made me terrified once I was given my positive results, as images of AIDS patients jumped from the 80s to my present-day memory.

The wrong perception about HIV and sexuality that is so apparent within some parts of the Middle Eastern and Muslim community in the US is actually rooted back at our first homeland in the Middle East.

HIV, or "AL-AIDS" as known in our community, is still the one-eyed monster that parents use to scare their children with, in order to prevent them from what they see as immoral behaviors. It's very common to hear the word " AL-AIDS" used by religious leaders when talking about the mother of all punishments, which as I shall prove -- in one of my coming blogs dedicated to discussing HIV from the Islamic perspective -- contradicts entirely how Islam views any illness, including HIV and AIDS!

For me, to exist in a family and a culture that stigmatizes -- unfairly -- HIV-positive people and AIDS patients is a long and slow torture, especially when I fondly want to keep my connection to my family and community.

The worst feeling is when you have to hide your suffering and suffer in pain; I always hated loneliness and I always enjoyed groups (by the way, I am talking about in social life and not sex! :).... Even when it comes to pain, I don't want to be alone; it's so hard when you suddenly feel that HIV can silence the loud noise of people around you, and say: You are alone in this.

I will live with this difficult situation every day -- worried that someone from my community might spot me coming out from the HIV clinic or see me at the pharmacy picking up my HIV meds, and report this merry sighting to the community in my little Middle Eastern neighborhood.

Are you wondering why would he do so? Because we function as one: In other words, if you live in Dearborn, expect Aunt Fatima who lives in San Diego to be discussing the problem of your becoming 35 without marriage with her dear neighbor Aisha; furthermore, expect Aisha to make long-distance calls to the Middle East to search for a beautiful polite wife from a known family for you, and before you know it, Aisha, whom you never met in your life, could be the star of your own version of How I Met Your Mum!

For Middle Easterners, the community and family is not only about eating Falafel and Humus: It's where they belong, it's a connection to their faith which is an important part of their identity, it's where they have the human connection with people who understand their language, faith, music, jokes, stories, and most important, where they learned they would be safe.

This same community, which was my entire courage, is becoming today my biggest fear; and my family, which gave me all the passion in the world, is the nightmare that hunts me -- fearing that they might know one day simply that I am sick.

I know that in the US it's illegal to discriminate against me because of my status. All the legal regulations related to the protection of HIV-positive individuals in the US function well in certain aspects such as the work environment, but they cannot protect me from being emotionally and psychologically rejected by my family or community.

The law doesn't intervene with my relation to my community, culture, faith or family. These aspects are regulated according to our cultural norms and traditions which are imported from the Middle East. These norms became stronger and more visible within the community recently as a reaction to the wave of rejection and alienation our community is facing after 9/11, which caused our frightened community to crawl into a cave to hear its own echo.

Now you might wonder: If my people are so ready to hurt me if they find out that I am HIV positive, why should I care about them? The hell with such a brutal community and such a cruel family! The answer is simple -- for me at least: Because we were raised to believe that the family, the tribe and the community matter more than anything else. I can't change now how I learned to feel all these years. It's like trying to be left-handed when you are right-handed all your life!

I always wonder if my community and family are capable of forgiving me one day for becoming HIV positive. I wish I could be less terrified that they might find out that I have THE DISEASE, THE CURSE, THE AL- AIDS, because in fact I don't have that. All I have is a tiny virus that is unfortunately becoming stronger than my whole Middle Eastern community.

Well I can start by forgiving myself at least, through writing this blog.

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See Also
AIDS in the Arab-American Community

Reader Comments:

Comment by: Ibrahim (USA) Fri., Dec. 3, 2010 at 10:31 pm UTC
I understand your feelings, I wish things can change ... it will take some time ... lets keep writing and speaking up maybe one day things will change, or let us have our own tribe the poz tribe :))
Salam to you sister
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Comment by: Khalijiya (London) Wed., Dec. 1, 2010 at 8:51 pm UTC
Dear Brother Ibrahim,
I always like reading your blogs , it make me feel like I am reading something about my self. I totally agree with you about our community ( the Middle East Community ) lacks to the knowledge and awareness. The lack of awareness is not only among uneducated people like my parents who doesn’t know reading and writing, it is also among very well educated people, professionals working with HIV people. ( a simple example one day I was talking to a professional who used to work with HIV people said the today she hugged an HIV lady and she was so scared of doing that). She was definite that she will not get this virus because of that simple huge, but still that over reaction was there.
I wonder till when we will have this stigma, till when I have to suffer that pain, cant tell any one about my situation and live lonely, scared maybe one day my family will find out , my close friend will know ,or my work colleagues will find out. Till when I have to lie and hid my medication in a Multivitamin bottle so no one can find out what medication I am taking.
I totally agree with you we are raised to respect family , tribe and whom we belong to, and it is not that they might harm us physically or anything like that. But sometime I feel disclosing my situation will harm them also, it will hurt their feelings also, it can make them depressed and worried , thinking about my situation all the time
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Comment by: BlogVF (Paris) Tue., Nov. 30, 2010 at 11:49 am UTC

See also a post on the new study AIDS/HIV in MENA region
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Comment by: Ibrahim (USA) Fri., Nov. 12, 2010 at 7:47 pm UTC
I am sorry to hear that ignorance made this person judge you based on a wrong idea.
I am sure you will find someone who is more understanding....

Thank you for sharing
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Comment by: John (Allentown, PA) Tue., Nov. 9, 2010 at 5:58 pm UTC
As someone who is HIV positive I too struggled and still struggle with who to tell. I am lucky enough to have a great support group of close friends with whom I've shared and have found I now share when the timing is right. I still shared with my family, mostly to keep them from worry, though my health is excellent, I didn't want them nervous every time I got a cold. Sadly, someone I was dating for two years, an Arabic man, decided not to continue the relationship because of my HIV status. He did not want to be in a relationship full of risk or a loveless one. Thank God for friends!
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Comment by: Ibrahim (New York,NY) Fri., Oct. 15, 2010 at 4:10 pm UTC
are you a Saudi citizen or a resident in Saudi, please let me know more details but for now you can contact the Saudi association to fight AIDS to get support and help: 02-6581666 & mobile 0534455371 & 0534455372.
In addition please call their FREE ANNONYMOUS TEST CENTER TODAY...TODAY...02-6473343
if you get the result, they will provide you with all the support you need,
Unfortunately if you are not a Saudi citizen you will face some problems that might lead to your deportation from the Kingdom, but still they will try to provide you with support while you are in Saudi and will never report you to the authorities. please e-mail me in any case ASAP to discuss .
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Comment by: Saudi (Riyadh) Wed., Oct. 13, 2010 at 11:58 am UTC
I feel your pain man.
I suffer from what you are haveing now the last four years iv been having developing symptoms of hiv and there no symptom in the book that didnt pass by me
and now i can feel the change the pain even the way my brain is functioning has changed and I didnt even get tested im just afraid of what will happen to me what will the clinic do to me will they tell authorities on me so that i can be isolated and if not how will I survive with no support not even one helpful discreet clinic that offers hiv guidance and treatment.
and now i applied for a job and about 30 min ago I went to get the pre employment test and after they drew my blood i found out that I will be tested for HIV and im in full panic and fear and waiting for the almost know with the glimpse of hope that its just in my head.
If there is anyone in saudi that can help me please post a comment here.
I feel tortured from whats happening to me
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Comment by: Ibrahim (USA) Sun., Oct. 10, 2010 at 1:21 am UTC
Thank you Maria, I am touched by your words...
Salam to you my friend
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Comment by: Maria (New York, NY) Sat., Oct. 9, 2010 at 2:21 pm UTC
My heart goes out to you - shame is such a powerful and negative force. I really want to applaud your courage just for writing this blog. Only you can decide when and if to assert your truth and who to do it with. Even if you just do it as an anonymous blogger in the online community, it will help you chip away at the shame that has been imposed on you. I wish you much strength, health, and happiness.
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Comment by: Ibrahim (USA) Fri., Oct. 8, 2010 at 3:04 pm UTC
Robert and Brenden,
Thanks for your valuable comments, I am happy that you understand the culture, I know that I need to think in a situation that might not include my family by the end, I wonder if I need to explore this from now!
And Yes Allah loves everyone including me and my virus :))
loved both your comments
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Comment by: Brendan (Londonderry, Northern Ireland.) Fri., Oct. 8, 2010 at 6:10 am UTC
Ibrahim, I lived and worked for many years in several Middle Eastern countries and entirely among Muslims. They were my colleagues and my friends. Therefore I know exactly what you are talking of and I know only too well the extraordinary pain of the average gay or lesbian Muslim in the Middle East, never mind the anguish of one who is HIV.

Your pain and fears will not be lessened as long as a major error remains in your thinking. You ended your piece by saying: "we were raised to believe that the family, the tribe and the community matter more than anything else. I can't change now how I learned to feel all these years. It's like trying to be left-handed when you are right-handed all your life!"

Wrong. Very very wrong. Human beings CAN change. You CAN slowly, and with great determination, change the beliefs that were imposed upon you as you grew up. This process is not exactly the same as forcing a right-handed person to be left-handed. In the world of ideas ALL change is absolutely possible. It is difficult sometimes, very difficult. But it is always possible. Just look at the history of the world. Just look at the extraordinary changes that have occurred in the last 100 hundred years alone.

I speak with the experience of one who has been through such a process, as one who was part of an intensely close family environment and which was dominated by religion. But I now have friends, REAL friends, and NO family connections. And I have sought to eradicate from my mind as much of the nonsense and mumbo-jumbo of religion as it is possible to do. I am thus a great deal happier.

Changed behaviour and changed thinking ARE possible. The question is whether WE are up to the challenge and the demands of such changes?

Good luck.
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Comment by: Robert (Groningen Holland) Fri., Oct. 8, 2010 at 5:51 am UTC
Ibrahim, I think I understand your dilemma. I have been to the Middle East often enough to know how people think there in terms of family, sex, disease etc etc. One thing I think is universal: your parents and other members of your family should love you unconditionally. Oh, of course they would be horrified at first, but don't you think that they know and love you well enough to accept you being stuck with Al Aids once they have gotten over the initial shock? I also think you should try to create another "family" around you that does accept and support you in this difficult time. And I believe that such an intelligent man like yourself has absolutely no problem to be surrounded by understanding and loving people! In any case: I wish you all the strenght you need and know that like in every religion: God or Allah loves you!
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Comment by: Ibrahim (USA) Sun., Oct. 3, 2010 at 1:09 am UTC
Hussein,reg. your comment, I wish there is an easy answer but for now I hope you try to keep holding to both, your self and to your family, community and identity, I know many respected people in the communities you mentioned who are well respected yet not married: the Pope for example :)) hope this smile lights your day
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Comment by: Hussein (Toronto) Sat., Oct. 2, 2010 at 4:56 pm UTC
I think the family unit and sense of community is very important in some cultures. Off the top my head I can think of: Middle Easterners, Italians, Jews. Now as a HIV+ Muslim man and also as a gay man, one has to make a decision: Whether to stay in this community and live a lie(pretend to be HIV negative, a heterosexual man, etc), or whether to leave and find acceptance somewhere else. Of course this is very tough decision, but one that must be made. Because sooner or later, people will start asking questions and making inferences about your/ my life.
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I'm Ibrahim, a 35-year-old professional Muslim man from the Middle East, living in the US. I want to fulfill my big dreams while holding strongly to my culture. My new identity as HIV positive changed my life in a strong way that I am still trying to understand and deal with. By sharing my experience, I'm trying to help myself and others in similar situations to find some peace -- and working on bringing the good change I believe every human must bring to this world. In my attempt to introduce's readers to my part of the world, I won't be taking you far -- I'll start right here, in the US.

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