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Dear Ibrahim ... I Will Kill Myself.

By Ibrahim

February 24, 2011

Sometimes I get this startling headline in my e-mails from friends who are still struggling with accepting that they became HIV positive. My initial reaction is usually to panic and keep e-mailing the person asking him to call 911, 311, 411 or any of the numbers that have 11 in the end, just to make sure that Big Brother gets involved, turns into the good mother for once and get him help. Or, I ask him to see a therapist immediately (a cheap and sane one).

After many e-mails, I get angry with this young man when I see his online profile status changing into something like "Girlz night tonight ... YAY!" Well, peeps will always be peeps. But away from this endless story of "Oh, my God, I am gay and Poz." In reality, this suicidal mentality raises a very important question: Why do HIV-positive Muslims (or even non-Muslims in some cases) want to kill themselves? Are they trying to get some attention, feeling so voiceless? Are they even serious about it?

In fact, you do not usually e-mail people telling them that you want to kill yourself if you really plan to do it! As someone who suffers from suicidal thoughts, most of the time, I can assure you that the times I was so serious about ending my life were the times that I did not tell anybody about it. I behaved in public quite the opposite of what was going inside me. I did not want anyone to ruin my plan.

My problem was, the only plan I could think of as an easy and painless way to do it was buying rat poison and eating it. And man ... the picture they have on the poison pack is of an ugly rat that made me feel humiliated. If they just had a picture of a nice little cute mouse it would have made my decision much easier ... but I did not want to think of myself as a rat! And an ugly one.

Anyway, these inner thoughts encouraged me recently to research about why we might come to want to commit suicide, as HIV-positive people or even more as HIV-positive Muslims. So I took a bunch of books with me on my trip to the Caribbean! It was such a nice trip generally -- me relaxing but at the same time reading all these books about suicide! The funny thing is while I still turn many heads towards me, once they see what I am reading, guys would run away. Can't blame them: Who wants to talk to someone educating himself about suicide?

To understand this issue, we have to look at it as a cohort behavior... and I have to clarify that even though I know -- as I said earlier -- that most of those who claim that they want to commit suicide are not serious about it, what scares me is that their desire to kill themselves reflects a deep anger and hate towards themselves, which could be more damaging than the issue of suicide itself. The anger they have that they became HIV positive ... anger that they are gays ... or even anger that they had sex -- all this anger is directed to the inside; and death seems to become the Morphine that sedates the pain that comes with this anger.

Interestingly, I found from my readings that suicide exists in all of us. Suicide is as old as homicide. The major difference is that the ethical and legal constraints associated with homicide are less when it comes to suicide in most societies. The consequences of a failed suicide are not similar to those of a failed homicide, as there is an understanding in civil society that you own your life to a certain extent.

Muslims are among the least to show suicidal intentions in general. I couldn't find data concerning HIV-positive Muslims or LGBT Muslims, yet, my observation has been that HIV-positive Muslims show the highest suicidal thoughts. Islamic view is that your life belongs to God, which indicates that suicide in Islam is connected with a feeling of atheism. People feel that they cannot be Muslims and HIV positive, especially if it is considered a synonym for homosexuality.

The other interesting fact about suicide is that it usually appears among non-conformists -- those who feel that they don't belong to the group. Therefore, Muslims who get infected with HIV may feel a disconnection to others in their social arena or even their own community, which could be the only place where they feel some conformity. When you are part of an immigrant group in any society, where things get more complicated, trust me: It is this terrible feeling of further inner isolation.

Social bonds usually hinder the growth of suicidal thoughts; with the absence of those bonds, suicide becomes less a stranger and the suicidal thought starts to grow and become visible. The fuel to this thought is similar to the fuel of any murder thought -- hate -- but this time, it's hating one's own self. So much anger is directed to the inside, which makes suicide an ultimate punishment. However, when this goal fails for any reason, the hate remains there and turns into destructive behavior. Destructive behaviors could include falling into drug abuse or even promiscuous sex (as if HIV is not enough, so you need to complete the whole collection with other STDs).

I am not trying to take this less seriously. Suicide continues to be one of the 10 leading causes of death in the United States. I do not doubt that some are serious about it. I am more concerned about those who do not really want to kill themselves, yet their wish to die outweighs their wish to live. They will eventually turn into walking bodies with no soul -- nothing will make them happy, and it will be normal for them to find conformity with drugs or other actions that involve absence and disconnection from this world which they don't want to belong to anymore.

The point is, there is suicide and there is suicidal behavior. The latter needs attention and must be addressed. As I see more Poz people falling into the margins of life, I wonder if I will be there one day. Finally, what to tell someone who is suicidal? Well, first, let's start by telling him to e-mail me :).

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See Also
Suicide & HIV/AIDS

Reader Comments:

Comment by: Keith (Canada) Tue., Oct. 18, 2011 at 10:14 pm UTC
A most unique way to make heads turn on a Caribbean vacation... You have big kahunas maestro Ibrahim.
An interesting reflection on suicide. I know the black days well and have the ones where I just don't want the sun to rise anymore. I long ago realized that being depressed was not bad but denying it made it worse. Addressing it in therapy and taking away tools to walk through life on those dark days helps me get through. Like your rat poison box... I too think past the darkness and think of those I love and would I want to leave them to clean up my mess - are those the last images I want people to remember me by? And then I suddenly wake up and see something better than what I was thinking. Thoughts are powerful - some need to be checked at the door and some we need to share with others and not feel ashamed.
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Comment by: Anonymous Sat., Jul. 23, 2011 at 12:41 pm UTC
I personally think even if someone is 99.9 per cent sure about wanting to kill themselves there's a very small part of everyone who wants to live. And they want help. They want someone to say, "I care"
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Comment by: Dhafirah (Houston, Texas) Sat., Jun. 25, 2011 at 5:15 pm UTC
Your article was interesting. I am a Muslim sister who is HIV positive. Many in the Muslim community believe that HIV is associated with committing a sin. This may or may not have happened but HIV is a disease that can happen to any group. We must ask Allah to forgive us for our sins but this does not mean that HIV isolates us from the community. This isolation may encourage Muslims who are HIV positive to believe that life is too difficult to live and this can lead to harmful reactions. In the beginning I was in denial and scared to embrace the virus. But now I know that its important for me and my health to face the truth. I tell very few people that I am HIV positive because of the stigma but I have learned to accept the disease and plan to live life in the most productive way possible, according to Allah's Will. Those who know about my health status remained my friends. As you stated in your article suicidal behavior can be detrimental to ones quality of life. I do not want to live like that and am taking the necessary steps to be more proactive instead of reactive to my circumstances. I credit my HIV status to some of the improvements I see in myself. Thanks for your article.
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Comment by: Shoeb (Dallas) Mon., Jan. 30, 2012 at 5:46 pm UTC
Salam alaikum Dharifah,
Nice to meet u. I am muslim brother. I recently went for blood test and u mus already know how I am feeling. However I was looking for any HIV positive muslim brother in Dallas or USA whom I can talk to. Please let me know if you know any.

Comment by: Larry (New York , NY) Thu., Mar. 3, 2011 at 6:24 pm UTC
I have thought about suicide since 1990. The thought gets more prevalent when things are not going well. I ask myself "Why aren't more people with HIV killing themselves?" "Why isn't there an easy foolproof way w/o pain?" People talk about releiving physical pain but my mental pain is just as bad. The crazy thing is, I could be fine all day and just privately flip out. Health issues have afflicted me since my late 20's. I have HPV, Herpes, renal impariment (including 8 years of dialysis). I never was promiscious but was infected by a loser liar in 1983. He died in 1987. I do have the self hate issues and certain friends that are unaware of my status see me as secure and confident. It's what is in my head that no therapy will everhelp.
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Comment by: Ibrahim (NY) Fri., Mar. 4, 2011 at 9:22 pm UTC
I pray for your health, and I try to understand how difficult it is, I will not lie to you , it will never be as if I am you, I have one request to make: Can you forgive the one who died? I know you label him as a loser, trust me I met many losers, but they were losers because they couldn't change me.... I still forgive so easily!

Comment by: christopher (New York, NY) Thu., Mar. 3, 2011 at 5:46 pm UTC
I have always enjoyed reading your blogs, and thank you for writing this one.

I found the 'meat' of this blog of extreme interest: as a white gay Poz man living in a large city, I never truly considered that I have scores of cohorts in my situation, yet there are so many others who flat out don't, due to demographics.

I appreciate your having brought this to my attention in a very real way, and I look forward to reading your continued blogs.

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Comment by: Ibrahim (NY) Fri., Mar. 4, 2011 at 9:23 pm UTC
Maybe you are a lonely wolf :))

Thanks for your nice words

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A Poz Salam



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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