Cote d'Ivoire: The U.S. Embassy and a mosque - partners against HIV/AIDS (February 2006)

Beneath the minaret walls of Yamoussoukro's Grand Mosque, the faithful flowed from the evening's last prayer into a temporary outdoor theatre which had been erected in the mosque's courtyard. They took their places for the first-ever formal discussion on HIV/AIDS at the largest mosque in Cote d'Ivoire's capital.

With the endorsement of the nation's top Muslim leadership and the mosque's Imam, the U.S. Embassy's HIV/AIDS Video Road Show was welcomed for a presentation and discussion on a topic shrouded in misunderstanding and stigma. Over 400 people - old and young, male and female - gathered for an event that opened the doors of Ivoirian mosques to discussions about HIV/AIDS and risky traditional practices, such as polygamy. The initiative was warmly received by those who attended, though some questioned whether such a topic should be raised inside a mosque. In his opening remarks the Imam addressed this issue directly. He said that HIV/AIDS is a serious problem for Ivoirian Muslims, and must be addressed openly and directly, adding that nothing in the Quran or in Islam forbids discussing the issue. He said he had brought the show to the mosque as a resource for its members and encouraged his congregants to listen, learn, and ask questions.

The event brought open discussion of an increasingly dangerous disease for Muslims into the heart of their community. On his departure, the Imam profusely thanked the U.S. personnel and expressed interest in further events - reflecting the growing relationship between the Embassy and the Islamic community in Cote d'Ivoire. The Imam showed leadership and courage in breaking a barrier that has prevented Muslims from understanding the risks of HIV/AIDS and the prevention, treatment, and care resources available to their community - and thanks to the initiative of the Embassy staff, the Emergency Plan was there to support that leadership.

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