No scientist has thought yet that polygamy can be a tool against Aids. In fact, an argument of this sort would go on and on. But in a world that so desperately needs a solution to the Aids scourge, anything can be possible.
“By the time a man tells his wife of his intentions to marry, I believe he has already spotted a woman. Refusing him to fulfil his intentions would be encouraging him to go for concubines thereby exposing him to HIV infection.
Besides, in Islamic teachings, concubines are not recognised,” says Dr Hafswa Kasule Kyambadde, chairperson women’s desk, Uganda Muslim Tabliq Community.
This was a general opinion held at a recent Muslim women conference in Kampala. At least 250 Muslim women across the Great Lakes region came together in a bid to discuss aids control in polygamous families typical of Islam.
Islamic scriptures encourage polygamy in their teachings contrary to approved international aids control measures. Amidst cheers from Muslim men, the perfect beneficiaries, the deliberations left any audience with no benefit of doubt.
The major objective of the conference was to provide space to share knowledge and ideas on how to integrate medical practice and the Qur’an teachings in the fight against AIDs.
“If well managed, polygamy is a good practice. It is easy to fight aids spread as long as the man married to his four wives practices zero grazing,” Kyambadde observes. The delegates confirm that once men who can’t control their sexual urge are denied chance to marry more women, they opt for sex outside wedlock.”
Dr. Hanifa Namala, the general secretary of the same community, said the conference had been long over due. She stressed that the voice of the Muslim woman had missed out in the fight against Aids for such a long time.
Namala, also a doctor at Mulago Paediatric Department added that, theirs was purely awareness raising among the Muslim women to act now on their roles and responsibilities in the fight against AIDS. Most Muslim women, she pointed out, have peculiar challenges that make them more vulnerable to HIV infection compared to non- Muslim counterparts.
Initially, Muslim men intending to marry other wives were expected to discuss their decisions with their first wives. In fact, the first wives took it upon themselves to identify and recommend the ‘right’ women for their husbands.
ZamZam Nagujja, the Legal advisor to President Yoweri Museveni, cautions that there may be a danger in having multiple sex partners because AIDs is mainly spread through sexual relationships.
She says advancing the theory of polygamy is based on the assumptions that a man would be satisfied with only four women and he satisfies all his wives.
“In the circumstances that he is not satisfied with them, the effects of spread of AIDS within polygamous marriages would be more fatal than in monogamous relationships. A man who decides to marry more than one wife is capable of marrying even more than five of them,” Nagujja argues, adding that those in polygamous marriages should work harder and remain faithful to each other.
She says the Qur’an does not condone suicide. It does not stop women from questioning the risky behaviour of their husbands. She says in Islam, a woman is free to initiate divorce. “It doesn’t please God that you are divorced but it is not prohibited.” Nagujja says the challenge facing most Muslim women is ignorance of their rights.
A study by ActionAid Uganda in six districts does not clear polygamy among predisposing socio-cultural practices to aids. Different tribes have norms intrinsic to their cultures and society that may dispose individuals to aids infection.
The study, political leadership and commitment in the fight against HIV/aids in Uganda, finds polygamy, promiscuity, child-marriages, unprotected sex and premarital sex as major predisposing social-cultural practices to AIDS.
Flavia Anguko Naima, from Yumbe says AIDs may have penetrated Muslim families because of disobedience to the Qur’an. She advises Muslim leaders, particularly the women to move out of Kampala and educate rural women about AIDs irrespective of whether they are Muslim or not.
The Mufti of Uganda, Sheikh Ramathan Mubajje, emphasised that polygamy could be one way of fighting the spread of HIV/AIDS. Mubajje opposed promotion of condom use saying that it promoted immorality. He said that the disease is spreading because of loose morals in society.
According to the 2004 United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, existing HIV prevention and protection efforts are failing to stem infection among women and girls because they do not take into account such issues as gender relations and sexual behaviour.
“Women and girls are often powerless to abstain from sex or to insist on condom use. They may be coerced into unprotected sex or run the risk of being infected by husbands in societies where it is common or accepted for men to have more than one partner.”
A study in Zambia found that 11% of women interviewed believed that a woman had no right to ask her husband to use a condom even if he had proven himself unfaithful and was HIV positive.
Museveni said Ugandans should find ways of integrating theological beliefs and culture. He said AIDS could only be fought by behavioural change.
He advised the Muslim women to educate themselves and their children on the ways to avoid contracting HIV.