A PANDEMIC OF CONSPIRACIES

Tackling Vaccine Misinformation Among Muslims

Is the COVID19 pandemic real or a conspiracy with a hidden agenda? Are the vaccines safe? How were they developed so quickly? Are vaccines part of a sinister plan to kill, monitor and control the world population? Is all what is happening being directed by a group of powerful, elite men who control the world?

Many concerns and rumors have been circulating around the world since the beginning of the pandemic. Some concerns are legitimate, but many are not.

In a series of articles, we will attempt to compile factual responses and Islam’s approach on such matters so readers can understand these issues based on knowledge.

Baseless rumors and conspiracies among some Muslims have not been any different from those found among other uneducated communities of the world. COVID-19 seems to have exposed a pandemic in some parts of the ummah – our love for ignorance! This is quite an unfortunate phenomenon to witness because Muslims are supposed to be an ‘Ummah of Iqra’ – a nation that relies on evidence and respects knowledge.

The downfall of the ummah is a well-trodden topic that attracts passionate inputs from all of us. The primary reason for our downfall that we all seem to agree on is that we, as Muslims, are not living the religion as we should be. Allah promises in the Qur’an, “You will surely be victorious if indeed you are true believers.” (Qur’an, 3:139)

Part of living the religion is understanding and implementing teachings like “ask the people of knowledge if you do not know,” “produce your proof if you are truthful,” and “if an evil person comes to you with news, verify it.”

Muslims Laid the Foundation for Vaccines

A little historical background at this point will be helpful to illustrate how scientific and advanced Muslims have always been. While the Chinese may have first attempted to use destroyed particles of an infection to build a cure, it is Muslims during the Ottoman caliphate that successfully built immunity against Smallpox in many cases by introducing weakened particles of the infection to the body. This method, called variolation, so impressed the British ambassador’s wife in Istanbul that she used it for her children and took it back to England, which led to the development of modern-day vaccines.

What are Vaccines and How Do They Work?

In simple words, vaccines simulate the virus so our immune systems can be trained to fight the actual disease. A common misconception among people is that taking a vaccine will prevent one from contracting the disease. This is only possible if the vaccine is 100% efficient or if the majority of the population has taken the vaccine and we have reached the level of herd immunity – none of which is the case at this time with our current pandemic.

If someone has taken the vaccine, he or she can still contract COVID-19. However, the efficacy of the vaccine you have taken (Pfizer’s is 95%, while AstraZenca’s is about 70%) will determine the degree of protection against the disease. Also, the efficacy rate is lower for the new variants because the vaccines were developed based on the first variant. But still, at the moment, vaccines are the best protection we have against COVID-19. Are there legitimate concerns about side effects? Sure. But many concerns have been responded to and it is an informed decision we must make. What risk are we willing to take? The risk of the vaccine or the risk of COVID-19.

Muslim Attitude to the Vaccine Controversy

The Islamic approach to the vaccine controversy is to ask experts in the subject. This in fact is a foundation of Islamic fiqh. When faced with worldly matters, Islamic scholars reach out to trustworthy experts to determine the truth and issue a fatwa or ruling based on Islamic laws. We can learn much from this approach. Instead of believing half-baked rumors on vaccines, we must reach out to trustworthy Muslim doctors and scientists, for example, and get clarity.

Who should we trust?

Believing in anti-vaccine conspiracies will eventually make us suspect and mistrust the entire Muslim world. Do you think Muslim scholars, leaders, doctors, and scientists have no idea about these issues? Do you think they will permit something designed against us? Which reputable doctor, scholar or leader has warned Muslims against vaccinations? Do you know Muslim scholars and experts around the world have been following, discussing, and getting to the roots of these issues?

Muslim Scholars and Doctors on the COVID-19 Vaccine

When the first vaccines against COVID-19 were being rolled out late last year, scholars around the world started having detailed discussions with Muslim doctors and scientists.

In India, Preston college arranged a panel discussion on January 28, 2021, with scholars like Shaikh Dr Abdullah Jholam, Shaikh Dr RK Noor Mohammad, Shaikh Dr Ilyas Azami, and Shaikh Abdul Hasib. Dr Masood, a medical doctor well-known to the community, explained and answered questions about COVID-19 vaccines.

In the UK, a similar panel held in December 2020 included Dr Muhammad Munir, a virologist whose COVID-19 vaccine is in one of the phases of the trials. Dr Munir also sits in WHO’s expert panel for vaccines. Islamic scholars have known him for a while and verified his character and trustworthiness from multiple sources. The panel also included, among others, Dr Aasim Padela, a US-based frontline doctor and professor/researcher who specializes in Islamic bioethics. Abu Eesa Niamatullah, a pharmacist by profession and who in the past was in the business of manufacturing medicines, attended an 8-hour session end of last year where an independent advisory board to the FDA gave their input on whether the vaccines can be approved.

Muslim institutions are taking their job seriously, alhamdulillah. By spreading rumors, we are questioning the integrity of Muslims as well.

How can Muslims not trust those who are most deserving of it and instead believe unverified claims and suspicions spouted by people with agendas unknown to us.

Islam’s Stance on Medical Treatments

The Prophet ﷺ said, “O Worshipers of Allah! Seek medical treatment, for Allah has not made a disease without making a remedy for it, with the exception of one disease.” They asked, “O Messenger of Allah! What is it?” He ﷺ replied, “Old age.” [Abu Dawood, At-Tirmidhi, An-Nasaa’i, Ibn Maajah, and Al-Haakim; Adh-Dhahabi, Al-Albaani and Al-Arna’oot classified it as saheeh]

As scholars have pointed out from numerous texts, the proper Islamic approach is to utilize the treatments available and have tawakkul on Allah. We do not place our trust in medications, but we use them and trust Allah to cure and/or protect us. We must take the necessary steps that are required of us.

Scholars have also explained the much-misunderstood hadeeth of the 70,000 who will enter Jannah without account – that it does not mean they do not take medical treatments. It means they do not believe in evil omens and do not ask or depend on others for ruqyah.

In another hadeeth, a woman asks the Prophet ﷺ to make duʽaa for cure from epilepsy and the Prophet ﷺ gives her the choice of getting cured or bearing it with patience and getting paradise in return. The woman chose to bear the disease with patience.

Scholars have explained that the disease you can bear patiently cannot be:

  1. One that can cause death if not treated,
  2. One that can fail an organ or a body part like losing one’s eye or similar,
  3. One that can spread to others.

In ahadeeth, there are diseases mentioned that if a person dies due to them, he or she will attain the status of martyrdom. Scholars explain that one of the conditions required is that the person who died must have done his or her part in taking the necessary precautions and/or treatment.

Restricting Ourselves to Prophetic Medicine

Scholars have pointed out that the Prophet ﷺ was sent to teach us the religion, not medicine. It is grossly inappropriate if we restrict ourselves solely to the much-misunderstood “Prophetic Medicine” and show a lackadaisical attitude toward advancing in the field of medicine. This attitude goes completely against Prophetic teachings although his amazing guidance on all aspects of life adds proof to the divine source of information. Early Muslims who had a proper understanding of the religion advanced in all aspects of life while being guided by the teachings of Islam.

Legitimate Concerns About Vaccines

Of course, there are legitimate concerns about vaccines: from side effects to potential long-term implications. We are foretold that there may be one in a million chance of a potential long-term implication. However, in a pandemic, the benefit of protecting ourselves from COVID-19 outweighs the said risk. Moreover, such concerns are true about many allopathic medicines as well. In emergency situations, we take life-saving drugs or undergo procedures that have many side effects because there is a more important issue to deal with. We must know the pros and cons of the available treatments to make informed decisions.

Although we may not have long-term data for the current vaccines, vaccines themselves have been around for quite a long time. We know enough to make a calculated risk. Of course, all these issues have been questioned, studied, and carefully evaluated by experts. Independent experts are quite skeptical and critical before they give their nod of approval.

Mistrust Due to Past Side Effects

All human advancements have come by experimenting and building upon lessons learned. We have come a long way since vaccines were first in the late 19th and early 20th century. In the early years, vaccines had adverse side effects along with promising results. It took us decades of learning and improvising to come up with the level of sophistication, testing and risk reduction we have today.

Coincidences

Many times, an infection or illness that happens after taking a vaccine may lead one to think that the cause was the vaccine. This routinely happens with vaccinations administered on babies. We have seen this happening with the COVID-19 vaccine as well with many claiming they got the virus right after taking the vaccine. First, the vaccine itself requires at least two weeks for the body to start building antibodies. Second, the vaccine cannot lead to getting COVID-19.

Political Misuse of Vaccines

In the early 2010s, the CIA ran a fake vaccination program in Pakistan, offering free Hepatitis B vaccines to children in an attempt to collect DNA evidence and find Osama bin Laden. When news of this scheme broke, it added proof to existing conspiracy theories about vaccinations. Many local leaders began urging people not to vaccinate their kids, various districts banned vaccination teams, and the Taliban issued a fatwa against vaccination programs. Local leaders still suspect vaccination as a Western spying program.

In a recent case, a PR agency linked to Russia offered popular YouTubers high amounts of cash for spreading misinformation about Western vaccines along with the condition that the misinformation be presented as the YouTubers’ own opinion and not as advertised or sponsored content.

Mismanagement of Vaccine Production in India

In India, where scientific institutions are generally well-established and regulated, the dichotomy of an unruly, narcissistic leader and his government not only destroyed the country’s vaccine effectiveness but also led to the spread of serious misinformation regarding vaccines. The prime minister’s mad push to be among the first to roll out a vaccine – despite starting late after first denying the pandemic and making tall claims of natural therapies – all for a PR stunt meant that the ‘Made-in-India’ vaccine had to skip Phase 3 trials among other possibly safety compromises to roll out the vaccine.

Thankfully, criticism of the government’s approach was awash in the media with hundreds of Indian scientists and experts publicly expressing their opposition to what was being planned. The mismanagement not only killed the success of a cheaper, globally competitive vaccine, but also spread mistrust about vaccines among the populace.

Countries with the Most Vaccinations

Not surprisingly, countries in the high-income group have the highest rates of vaccination. The data exposes the economic divide in the world. Surprising perhaps is that Israel, of all countries, was the quickest to have 60% of its population vaccinated.

Being Balanced About Vaccines

As Muslims, we must make informed decisions. It is important that we actually understand the underlying pros and cons. We cannot afford to be blind in an age where information is available. The least we can do is follow trustworthy experts on the subject.

Yes, there have been questionable incidents and yes, conspiracies, greed, and inappropriate profiteering at the expense of people’s health have been exposed in the past. But is this the case for the current vaccines? We must deal with issues on a case-by-case basis.

In the current scenario, we are witnessing a global pandemic being tackled by all countries. The world’s eyes are on the vaccines. Any attempt to sneak in questionable ingredients or impose a sinister agenda will be exposed very quickly. Health agencies are closely monitoring the impact of the vaccines. Incidents of possible side effects are being reported instantaneously.

As millions of doses have been administered around the world, we now have many months of follow up data that all point to the general safety of the vaccines. Experts have mentioned that any side effect will most likely show up within the first month of taking the vaccine and long-term side-effects are rare – about one in a million.

References

Agrawal, R., Batista, C., Boczkowski, P., Fleming, M., Riles, A., & Thomson, D. A. (2021, May 25). FP Virtual Dialogue: How to Stop Vaccine Misinformation. Retrieved from Foreign Policy: https://foreignpolicy.com/events/fp-vaccine-misinformation-covid-19-coronavirus/

Flemming, A. (2020, September 28). The origins of vaccination. Retrieved from Nature: https://www.nature.com/articles/d42859-020-00006-7

Henley, J. (2021, May 25). Influencers say Russia-linked PR agency asked them to disparage Pfizer vaccine. Retrieved from The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/media/2021/may/25/influencers-say-russia-linked-pr-agency-asked-them-to-disparage-pfizer-vaccine

Herd immunity and COVID-19 (coronavirus): What you need to know. (2021, June 09). Retrieved from Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/in-depth/herd-immunity-and-coronavirus/art-20486808

Holder, J. (2021, June 21). Tracking Coronavirus Vaccinations Around the World. Retrieved from The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/world/covid-vaccinations-tracker.html

Iqbal, H. (2021, February 01). How the CIA’s fake Hepatitis B vaccine program in Pakistan helped fuel vaccine distrust. Retrieved from Vox: https://www.vox.com/first-person/22256595/vaccine-covid-pakistan-cia-program

Islamic Solutions to Contemporary Issues. (2021, January 26). Retrieved from Preston College: https://www.facebook.com/prestonintlcollege/photos/a.770469989646510/4365459230147550/

Madani, S. A. (2021, June 01). History of Tibb e Nabawi. Retrieved from Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/aalimofficial/posts/d41d8cd9/1576839099153492/

Madani, S. A. (2021, June 07). Tawakkul aur Ilaaj – Ghalat Fahmiyan aur unka jawab (Tawakkul and Treatment: Responses to Misconceptions). Retrieved from Studio Islam: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FarIgCOhEEw&t=1s

Madani, S. A. (2021, June 7). Woh amraz jin ko Shahadat se jod kar bataya gaya (Those diseases which have been given the status of martyrdom). Retrieved from Studio Islam: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fCZaUaB34kM

Maragakis, M.D., M.P.H., L. L., & Kelen, M.D., G. D. (2021, May 25). Is the COVID-19 Vaccine Safe? Retrieved from Johns Hopkins Medicine: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/coronavirus/is-the-covid19-vaccine-safe

Niamatullah, S. A. (2020, November 29). Covid-19 (Coronavirus) Vaccine – An Islamic Perspective by Abu Eesa. Retrieved from Prophetic Guidance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Md4Azg7wYaU

Niamatullah, S. A. (2020, December 23). To Vax or not to Vax | Sh Abu Eesa on Unscripted #70. Retrieved from Islam21c: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kiYcn5ky6LU&t=1s

Panel Discussion on COVID-19 Vaccine Controversy. (2020, December 29). Retrieved from Al Balagh Academy: https://www.youtube.com/c/ALBALAGHACADEMY/videos

Pulla, P. (2021, May 27). How Covaxin became a victim of vaccine triumphalism. Retrieved from Mint: https://www.livemint.com/science/news/how-covaxin-became-a-victim-of-vaccine-triumphalism-11622022760541.html

Seeking medical treatment is prescribed in Islam. (2017, July 07). Retrieved from Islamweb: https://www.islamweb.org/en/fatwa/355789/seeking-medical-treatment-is-prescribed-in-islam

Vaccine Side Effects and Adverse Events. (2018, January 17). Retrieved from The History of Vaccines: https://www.historyofvaccines.org/content/articles/vaccine-side-effects-and-adverse-events


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