The Common Good
August 2009

An Interfaith Movement Against Malaria

by Eboo Patel | August 2009

In the Quran, it is written, “And anyone who saves a life, it shall be as if he saved the lives of all the people.”

In the Quran, it is written, “And anyone who saves a life, it shall be as if he saved the lives of all the people.”

As a Muslim, I believe that to save a life is to save all lives. This belief is echoed in the Talmud and in the New Testament. It is echoed by my colleagues and friends who are Jewish and Buddhist, by those who are Christian, and by those who don’t believe in religion at all.

If you bring up theology or politics to a group of Muslims, Christians, and Jews, they probably won’t agree on everything—some won’t agree on anything. But one thing that these diverse religious groups will agree on is that if we can do something to save a life, we should. If we can join forces to save even more lives, all the better.

Today, we need to do just that to address a disease that poses a threat to life in more than 100 countries around the world: malaria. Malaria kills a child in Africa every 30 seconds. Pregnant women and children under 5 are at special risk. More than 1 million people every year are killed by malaria; 90 percent of these deaths occur in Africa. In the U.S., we eradicated malaria more than 50 years ago, but today, more than 40 percent of the world’s population is at risk.

These deaths are entirely preventable—and as people of faith, joining with secular partners, it is our call to ensure that they end. Because malaria is not just spread by mosquitoes, but by apathy. In our globalized world, during this economic crisis, amid global warming and worldwide poverty, there are quite a few issues that have no simple solution. Malaria is not one of them. It takes a simple bed net to help protect a child in Africa.

With insecticide-treated bed nets and the effective delivery of anti-malarial medicines in integrated health care programs, we can halt the spread of malaria. Some promising news for the interfaith movement against malaria is that churches, mosques, and other places of worship, in Africa and other nations, are ideally situated to be centers for delivery of integrated health care and community-based health education initiatives.

This year, my organization, Interfaith Youth Core, has partnered with the Tony Blair Faith Foundation to coordinate the Faiths Act Fellowship. Thirty young people from Canada, the United Kingdom, and the U.S. will spend the next year raising moral awareness about the devastating impact of malaria and the opportunities faith communities have to work together to save millions of lives.

The Faiths Act Fellowship is just one example of the burgeoning interfaith movement to end malarial deaths. Other important actors are Malaria No More, the Center for Interfaith Action on Global Poverty, and Micah Challenge. Faith communities around America are joining together to raise funds for bed nets, because they recognize a simple fact: By coming together, they can effect greater change than they can alone.

Young people are at the heart of this movement. They are taking the lead in ensuring that someday soon, their peers who were born in Malawi don’t have to worry about their younger siblings, their families, or themselves—because they know how to prevent deaths due to malaria. Let us join, support, and nurture this growing interfaith youth movement.

Eboo Patel is founder and executive director of Interfaith Youth Core and author of Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation.

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