ENHANCING MUSLIM COMMUNITY RESPONSE ON FAMILY PLANNING AND POPULATION ISSUES
Islam as a religion has well established guiding principles and teachings that ensure total submission to the will of Allah for all adherents. In effect, the religion recognizes the existence of people and those things that affect their survival as individuals of different ages, as families, as communities and as a nation. The quality of their lives invariably affects the overall existence of a nation like Malawi. It is therefore very important that issues of interventions and needs of the citizens must be recognized and upheld. This should include the various socio-cultural values and beliefs that sustain them. The values and teachings of Islam as they affect the health status and quality of lives of the Muslim communities in Malawi should be promoted and disseminated nationwide, and in particular, the areas with high Muslim population. Muslim communities, as other contemporary communities, are also faced with family planning, early marriages and pregnancies, environment and other development challenges.
It is against this background that MAM and QMAM jointly implemented programmes and activities related to family planning and population development issues in the country. The two organizations gained a better understanding of Islam’s stance on family planning (FP) and HIV and AIDS, under the Management Science for Health (MSH) project through Reproductive Health Department (RHD) of the Ministry of Health, and implemented in collaboration. Further, the organizations proceeded to work with other partners on issues of family planning, SRHR, population and development before they started working with HP+.
In addition, the two organizations have been receiving funds from the National Aids Commission (NAC) and Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) to mobilize Muslim communities on issues surrounding HIV and AIDS and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). These issues were mainstreamed within the Islamic texts.
- Awareness meeting with top religious leaders from MAM and QMAM on family planning (FP) and population issues:
National Muslim Leaders during the Family Planning and Sexual and Reproductive Health Consultative Meeting
The activity was conducted as an inception meeting with top leadership from MAM and QMAM so that it could act as a launch of the projects and also as a courtesy call, as they have been supportive of similar initiatives. This helped the mother bodies strengthen their structures at community level and gained their support during the implementation of the activities in the district.
- Panel discussions or community gatherings on SRH and FP :The activity involved young people, traditional, religious and initiation rites leaders and the general public.During the activity MAM and QMAM used combined approaches which included panel discussions which were recorded and aired on radio to cover the wider population with SRH and FP information. Furthermore, drama and plenary were also used to foster discussions on issues surrounding SRH and FP within the community. This was conducted with reference to the teachings of Islam where Muslim guides, QMAM SRH policy were used to provide concrete evidence on FP and SRH issues.
- Training sessions for Dawa women, Imams and Mualims (Madrassah teachers) on modern family planning methods: Muslim leaders play an important role in shaping the behaviours of their congregants. In view of this MAM and QMAM conducted training on modern FP methods targeting Dawah Womengroups, Imams(leaders of Mosques)and Mualims (teachers of Islamic schools especially Madrassah). This was conducted to equip participants with skills and knowledge on the importance of FPand link modern FP with the Islamic teachings to increase the uptake of the same within the Muslim communities. These meetings were facilitated by the health workers at the district who were able to respond to questions and cleared out misconceptions surrounding FP and SRH related issues.
- Interface meetings on family planning, population and development issues with duty bearers and rights holders: Interface meetings provide a platform where two or more groups meet up to clear out issues on how their working relationship can be improved. MAM and QMAM has been organizing interface meetings between the rights holders and duty bearers on FP, population and Development. Religious guides were used which helped the community members link the family size to development issues such as education, health, crime rate, land, etc. In addition, population and development champions were involved to further engage communities on issues of family planning in their respective areas. It was also envisaged that this activity helped rights holders to link challenges with their personal health and family benefits.
- Interpersonal communication (TFD) sessions with young Muslims (ages 10 – 24): Theatre for development (TfD) is an interactive drama where the audience is involved in discussing the issues that have been identified in an area. It involves doing research and using the findings to get the communities to take action in addressing the issues. TFD targeted in and out of school youths from youth clubs. The trained youth are able to engage with communities through TFD to bring about change as far as FP and SRHR issues are concerned.
- National conference on FP and SRH: The activity involved young people from youth clubs, Muslim leaders both women and men, traditional leaders, health service providers and other district stakeholders. The aim of the activity was to create an enabling environment that facilitate Muslims to practice family planning methods within an Islamic perspective; promote women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights in Malawi as well as creating a positive linkage between the scientific facts of FP, RH, SRH, HIV and AIDS and Islamic teachings.
At the end of the conference Muslim leaders made resolutions on issues surrounding family planning, SRHR, abortion and others to guide Muslim leaders in dealing with SRHR issues within the Muslim communities. The resolutions were as follows;
- Islamic faith accept the practice of family planning as a means of purpose of child spacing not fear of poverty as outlined in the Qur’an.
- Islam reaffirms that permanent methods such as Tubal legation and vasectomy are unlawful
- Unmarried young people should not access family planning methods at all cost as sex outside marriage is haram (forbidden).
- Temporary family planning methods are allowed within the marriage setup.
- Married couples can use condoms within the marriage setting up
- Unmarried young people should not use condoms as this is against Islam.
- Abortion is not allowed in Islam. However there is an exception if the pregnancy would result to the death of a mother then in accordance with the principal of sharia that of choosing the lesser of two evils, abortion may be performed.
- Abstinence should be encouraged among young people
- HIV testing, counselling and treatment should be encouraged to the Muslim communities this is in line with the Islamic teachings
- Population weekends: During the period 2013-2015 MAM and QMAM together with other religious organizations such as Evangelical Association of Malawi (EAM), Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM) through Catholic Health Commission (CHC), Adventist Health Services (AHS) and the Malawi Council of Churches (MCC) through an HPP led initiative on family planning and population development project aimed at advocating for managing population and understanding issues of family planning among faith communities in the country. QMAM and MAM implemented the activities using mosque structures in the country through strengthening mosque structures and conducting awareness campaigns using population weekends. These population weekends were conducted in Thyolo, Salima and Karonga. Indeed, the two organizations used Khutbah (sermons) in mosque and mainstreaming of FP and population issues in other Islamic settings such as Madrassah setup.
- Community dialogue session on modern family planning methods: Community dialogue was conducted with traditional, influential and religious leaders on modern family planning methods. The session incorporated messages on different FP methods and services available with reference to Muslim voices, revised National SRHR policy and SRHR guide for Muslim youth in Malawi. This helped community understand the advantages of accessing modern family planning methods and where to get the services in the district. It was also acted as forum where the modern FP methods challenges were cleared out.
Community Engagement on Family Planning
For more information about other Muslim interventions go to www.izfmalawi.org.