Imams across the UK are helping dispel misinformation about coronaviruses, using Friday sermons and their influential position within Muslim communities to claim COVID-19 vaccines are safe.
Qari Asim, president of the National Consultative Council of Mosques and Imams (MINAB) which is leading a campaign to reassure its faithful, is among those who publicly advocate that vaccinations are compatible with Islamic practices.
“We are convinced that the two vaccines which have been used in the United Kingdom, Oxford Astra-Zeneca and Pfizer, are authorized from an Islamic point of view,” he told AFP news agency.
“The hesitation, anxiety (and) worry is driven by misinformation, conspiracy theories, fake news and rumors.”
The UK, the country most affected in Europe by the virus after recording nearly 95,000 deaths, is counting on its biggest vaccination effort ever to end repeated cycles of lockdowns and restrictions.
However, a scientific committee report informing the government showed greater distrust of vaccines among ethnic minorities than the rest of the British population.
He pointed out that 72 percent of black respondents to the survey were unlikely or very unlikely to get the vaccine.
Among people of Pakistani or Bangladeshi descent, the figure was 42%.
Misinformation around the coronavirus is all the more dangerous as several studies have shown that it can disproportionately affect minorities.
Al Jazeera’s Neave Barker from the UK said it was a growing concern for the UK government, which wants to deliver a first dose to every adult in the country by September.
“So people who are disproportionately at risk of contracting and becoming seriously ill from COVID-19 are among the least likely to be vaccinated,” Barker said.
Imams in particular are pushing back unfounded fears among the UK’s 2.8 million Muslims, believing that the vaccines contain pork gelatin or alcohol, which is prohibited by Islam.
“And then there are other myths that are being peddled throughout society – like the claim that the coronavirus spreads through the 5G network or the vaccine can cause infertility or fundamentally alter your DNA,” said Imran Kauser of the British Islamic Medical Association at Al Jazeera.
“Of course I would like to point out that this is all wrong… there is no truth in any of them.
Nighat Arif, a general practitioner based in Chesham, near London, told AFP: “Ethnic minorities are precisely the communities we should be trying to target.”
When she received her vaccination, she posted a video in Urdu on social media aimed at speakers of the language living in the UK.
“I hope because they see someone who looks like them, who is a practicing Muslim, wears a hijab, someone who is Asian who speaks their language, it is easier to understand than something that comes government, ”she added.
Arif is still surprised by the refusal of some patients to be vaccinated, noting that they will often be vaccinated to undertake the Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia or to travel to Pakistan or India.
She blames conspiracy theories disseminated online, which contribute to the science behind the process of “getting lost”.
Samara Afzal, 34, a general practitioner at the Netherton Health Center in Dudley in the West Midlands, also shared a video in Urdu with her 35,000 Twitter followers to “debunk some myths.”
She said some people have asked her to send the video directly to them so that she can pass it on to skeptical loved ones through social tools like WhatsApp.
At her medical center, Afzal estimates that around 40 to 50 in 1,000 people refused to be vaccinated despite waiting for just one or two.
“There are still quite a few people saying no and obviously we haven’t even addressed the younger ones, so it’s just the old people,” she added.
“So I’m sure for the younger ones there will be a lot more who say no.”
Vaccinated at the mosque
Around five million people, almost all elderly and caregivers, have already received a first dose of the vaccine in the UK, the highest rate in Europe.
A sign of officials’ concerns about the adoption by minorities of the blows, the state-run health service is mobilizing “influencers” in communities to convince skeptics.
A vaccination center has even been set up in a mosque in Birmingham, the UK’s second largest city, which has a large South Asian population.
Imam Nuru Mohammed said the move sent a “no to fake news” message to his religious community of 2,000 and beyond.
He shared the video of his own vaccination on social media.
For Asim, the president of MINAB whose mosque is in Leeds, in the north of England, their efforts are also helping to counter far-right claims.
“If there was less use of vaccines in Muslim communities compared to all other communities, then potentially, it could fan the flames of Islamophobia,” he noted.
“And in this pandemic, no one should be a scapegoat.”