A healthy population is one of any nation’s most important assets. Good health supports positive social and economic outcomes – both for the individual and the society as a whole.
We know that BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) communities have been disproportionately affected throughout the pandemic. Some most ethnically diverse areas have suffered up to four times more infections than mostly white neighbourhoods only a few miles away. Studies also showed BAME people accounted for 11% of those hospitalised with COVID-19 but over 36% of those admitted to critical care. But there is light at the end of the tunnel with the roll out of new vaccines.
At the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board (MINAB), of which I am Chair, we have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic to ensure people feel safe and comforted and that BAME and Muslim communities are reassured that they are a priority in the national agenda. Most recently with the vaccine becoming increasingly spoken about, we are hosting a variety of webinars to highlight the critical nature of this vaccine, and answering any questions that people may have about the vaccine. We have partnered up with British Islamic Medical Association for their expert opinion. There is broad consensus amongst experts and Islamic scholars, across the world, that because vaccines generally help to prevent the spread of a potentially deadly virus, the vaccine should be taken to save lives.
Every new medicine or medical procedure might have long-term effect. It is an established principle in Islamic law that a person can choose a lesser harm to ward off a greater harm. The concern regarding possible side-effects is therefore not of sufficient strength to avoid taking the vaccine or render taking the vaccine impermissible.
The MINAB has launched a nationwide campaign with Imams to raise awareness about the vaccine and debunk myths surrounding the vaccine. On Friday 15 January, mosques across the country will deliver a sermon about the COVID-19 vaccine in a drive to improve awareness and communication about the vaccine.
During this pandemic, it has become apparent that some communities are wary of the vaccine, generally, because of misinformation. Being vaccinated is not going to result in anyone being ‘tagged’. There is already an unprecedented amount of scrutiny and intrusion into our private lives with our phones, CCTV, GPS, and other technological advancements. Vaccination is not linked to increase the instruction of our privacy. The online space is spammed with information overload by those who are neither experts in the field nor have tried to verify the source of the information received. This is dangerous and we all have a responsibility to take care of one another, which is something Islam places an enormous emphasis on. Our focus should be on protecting and saving lives rather than dividing amongst ourselves.
The COVID-19 vaccine does not modify DNA the vaccine uses mRNA approach, which teaches cells in the body to make a protein that triggers a protective immune response inside bodies. That immune response, which produces antibodies, protects bodies from getting infected. This type of vaccine does not lead to change in DNA or future genetic changes in the vaccinated person.
Those wary of the vaccine, your individual choice and feelings are respected but we must all stop the spread of disinformation and conspiracy theories. A belief in these conspiracy theories can risk someone’s life. In addition to saving one’s own life, Islam emphasises the need to save others’ lives too: “anyone who saves a single life, it is as though he has saved the whole of humanity.” (Qur’an 5: 32). The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) has explained this as protecting oneself and others from harm. Additionally, we do not want to fan the flames of Islamophobia and give rise to scapegoating communities as we continuously saw during last year.
As an Imam, I am urging that misinformation is not spread and that content is challenged. The MINAB have always encouraged ‘verify before you amplify’. While individual choice is respected, this is not a time to divide but to unite as one society to defeat the virus.
Imam Qari Asim MBE – Chair of MINAB, Senior Editor of Imams Online Senior Imam at Makkah Mosque Leeds and the Independent Adviser to the Government on the definition of Islamophobia. MINAB are continually updating guidance and advice on the pandemic and even with the vaccine, are still encouraging social distancing and appropriate sanitation at all places of worship across the UK.