LONDON: Imams across Britain are helping a drive to dispel coronavirus disinformation, using Friday sermons and their influential standing within Muslim communities to argue that Covid-19 vaccines are safe.

Qari Asim, chairman of the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board (MINAB), which is leading a campaign to reassure its faithful, is among those publically advocating that the inoculations are compatible with Islamic practices.

“We are confident that the two vaccines that have been used in the UK, Oxford AstraZeneca and Pfizer, are permissible from an Islamic perspective,” he said.

“The hesitancy, the anxiety (and) concern is driven by misinformation, conspiracy theories, fake news and rumours.” However, a report from the scientific committee advising the government showed stronger mistrust of vaccines among ethnic minorities.

It highlighted that 72 per cent of Black survey respondents were unlikely or very unlikely to get the vaccine.

Among those from Pakistani or Bangladeshi backgrounds, the figure was 42pc.

Imams are pushing back in particular at fears among Britain’s estimated 2.8 million Muslims that the vaccines contain pork gelatin or alcohol, which are banned by Islam.

Asim said it was “legitimate” to question whether things were permissible under Islam but without paying attention to unfounded claims.

Among the falsehoods spread about the vaccine are that it can modify DNA, make recipients sterile, or even involve inserting a microchip in the body.

Misinformation around the coronavirus is all the more dangerous given several studies have shown that it can impact minorities disproportionately.

“These are precisely the communities we should be trying to target,” said Nighat Arif, a general practitioner based in Chesham, near London.

When she received her vaccination, she posted a video in Urdu on social media aimed at the language’s speakers living in Britain.

“I’m hoping that because they see someone who looks like them, who is a practising Muslim, wears a hijab, someone who is Asian who speaks their language, that’s more relatable than something that’s coming through from the government,” she added.

Published in Dawn, January 23rd, 2021

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