Islamic Leaders in Johor, Malaysia, Issue Decree Requiring All Muslim Couples Seeking Marriage to be Tested for HIV
The Johor Islamic Council has issued a fatwa, or religious decree, stating that all Muslims in the Malaysian state of Johor who want to get married must first undergo HIV testing, Agence France-Presse reports. Johor Chief Minister Abdul Ghani Othman said that couples who wish to marry will be tested for HIV in state hospitals. The couples will give the test results to religious authorities. If the couple tests HIV-negative, the authorities would issue a certificate and the couple could proceed with the marriage. If a test indicated that a man or woman had HIV, it "would be up to them if they wanted to go on with their wedding" because religious authorities cannot prevent them from getting married, Abdul Ghani said (Agence France-Presse, 10/29). However, the Malaysian AIDS Council opposes the plan, saying that it is not "scientifically sound," untrained staff "could cause unnecessary distress" for those who have false-positive test results and the window period between infection and a positive antibody test would "defeat the purpose" of the tests. "We find that many practical issues in the implementation of the fatwa have not been thought through by the Johor Health Department and this will cause the plan to fail," Council President Marina Mahathir said (Agence France-Presse, 10/31). Johor is the first of Malaysia's 13 states to issue such a ruling, and Abdul Ghani said that the decree is necessary because the state recorded 8,000 HIV infections last year, the highest number in Malaysia. He added that the majority of HIV infections occur among Muslims and the decree was issued to prevent Muslim couples from transmitting HIV to their children. Abdul Ghani said that there were initial concerns that the fatwa violated individual rights and that some couples would be "denied their right to get married," but added that "[a]fter much explanation," opponents of the decree "have understood the ruling and started to support it." The decree will take effect on Nov. 13 (Agence France-Presse, 10/29).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.