‘Every disease has its cure’: faith and HIV therapies in Islamic northern Nigeria

  • Jack Ume Tocco


Northern Nigeria has one of the highest levels of HIV prevalence among societies that are predominantly Muslim. In the last decade the region has experienced marked expansion of religiously-oriented healing practices following the formal adoption of Islamic sharia law. Since 2005, international funding has also made antiretroviral therapy (ART) more widely available throughout Nigeria. This study uses ethnographic data collected in Kano, northern Nigeria’s largest city, to examine Muslims’ perspectives on HIV treatment in the context of popular health beliefs and expanding therapeutic options. The research found that passages from classical Islamic texts are regularly cited by both HIV/AIDS practitioners and patients, especially when talking about the supposition that Allah sends a cure to humankind for every disease. Some religious scholar-practitioners (malamai) working in the Islamic traditions of prophetic medicine insist that HIV can be completely cured given sufficient faith in the supernatural power of the Quran; others claim that the natural ingredients prescribed in Islamic texts can cure HIV. Such assertions contradict the mainstream biomedical position that, with the proper therapeutic regimen, infection with HIV can be managed as a chronic illness, although not cured. Thus, these assertions constitute a challenge to the increasing therapeutic hegemony of antiretroviralbased care in Nigeria. Without falsifying the proposition that a divine cure for HIV exists, many Muslim patients on ART, and the predominantly Muslim biomedical staff who treat them, express scepticism about whether the cure has yet to be revealed to humans. These findings suggest that despite recent efforts in Nigeria to assert a unified Islamic perspective on HIV and AIDS, substantive disagreements persist over the causes, treatments and curability of the disease. The healing systems in which practitioners and patients operate influence how they interpret Islamic texts concerning the divinely ordained relationships between Allah, humans, diseases and cures.

Keywords: Africa, antiretroviral therapy, hadith, Hausa medicine, health-seeking behaviour, medical pluralism, prophetic medicine, religion

African Journal of AIDS Research 2010, 9(4): 385–395

Author Biography

Jack Ume Tocco
University of Michigan, Department of Anthropology, 101 West Hall, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109, United States

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1608-5906
print ISSN: 1727-9445