The European world learns about vaccination through Muslims

Russia’s Muslim Religious Directorate is checking Russian vaccines against COVID-19 for compliance with Islam canons. The directorate says that separate statements on each vaccine will appear shortly. Vice Chairman of the Russian Council of Muftis Rushan Abbyasov has claimed that decisions of the Russian Muslim Religious Directorate on vaccination are recognised abroad too. In an article for our newspaper, Realnoe Vremya’s columnist Karim Gaynullin writes about the opinion of the Muslim community about vaccines against COVID-19, what questions believers have and what answers specialists are ready to give them.

Coronavirus and the population’s vaccination programme have caused big polemic in different parts of the population. The religious community have also joined it with its specifics.

Can for instance “morally perfect” vaccines with cell materials of aborted foetuses be used? The Vatican claimed that they can if alternative methods aren’t available. We already talked about how Muslims treated quarantine measures against COVID-19. Now we will see what Muslims think about the vaccination programme.

Vaccine: from infection with a small dose to the modern time

The European world learnt about vaccination through Muslims. The Arab world has faced smallpox epidemics since ancient times. Arm-to-arm vaccination was spread in the East to fight it, that’s to say, a small dose of smallpox pus from a mature pustule on the body is administered into a human organism.

The wife of a British ambassador in Istanbul Mary Wortley Montagu brought this method of treatment for smallpox to England in the early 18th century. It provided a stable result of a lower death rate during the epidemic but itself could cause infection and death because a vaccine was in fact a small dose of the pathogen. Later, the English started to make vaccines with doses of cowpox, not smallpox, which though infected a person but demonstrated better tolerance.

Today vaccines are much different. It is not “infection with a small dose of the virus” — successes of genetics and microbiology allowed changing the structure of the virus so that it does not become dangerous for a human organism.

Halal vaccines

In accordance with the religious law of Islam — Sharia — human acts, including consumption of something, are divided into permitted (halal), prohibited (haram), desirable, undesirable, mandatory and so on.

In the context of vaccines, this is considered firstly in the possible presence of prohibited substances in it: human parts (for instance, the same aborted materials), alcohol, pork among them.

Alcohol is an impurity in the Shafii school of law (popular in North Caucasus), while in the Hanafi school (popular among Tatars), it may be used if it doesn’t lead to intoxication.

Sharia permits using prohibited substances if needed, if human life is under a threat. There are also disagreements as to the boundaries of this necessity.

The prohibition of conscious self-harm is another problem. The prohibition of conscious self-harm comes from there. However, do modern vaccines work this way?

As it has already been said, genetics and microbiology considerably changed the appearance of modern vaccines. In case they are used, an aggravation of the disease is excluded because the pathogenic potential (almost all basic features) a virus has is eliminated artificially. The adenovirus (a flu virus) that is used for delivery also loses the capability of launching an infectious process.

Another question is if vaccination when a still healthy person is “treated” is the “treatment.” When can some materials that aren’t halal in a normal situation be used? In fact, this matter relates not only to coronavirus because there are much deadlier diseases, and vaccination is their only treatment, including measles, smallpox, rubella, tetanus, diphtheria, mumps, some types of hepatitis. And will there be a negative reaction if a vaccine against HIV appears?

The attitude of the Religious Directorate to vaccination

As early as early February, the Tatarstan Muslim Religious Directorate announced its stance on vaccination: it is halal as a method of fighting infectious diseases.

During fasting, Vice Mufti of the Tatarstan Muslim Religious Directorate Hazrat Bulat Mubarakov indicated that it was recommended to be vaccinated after the sunset, though some scientists of the Hanafi school consider a vaccine doesn’t break the fast (because the injection isn’t administered into the stomach).

In turn, the muftiate sent official requests earlier this year to disclose the list of ingredients of the vaccine to check if it was halal. After that, there hasn’t been made a legal statement on each vaccine.

At the same time, the Hanafi school’s Mufti Abu al-Ashari who is famous in CIS countries also received a vaccine. He announced this on his Telegram channel.

The following situation unfolded: the Religious Directorate doesn’t see anything bad in the vaccination itself, but the issue about specific vaccines remains open because ingredients in every case are unknown. Also, even the presence of not halal components in a vaccine will probably not mean its canonical ban — this will be possible only if the situation is assessed by Islamic scientists.

In general scientists of the Hanafi school don’t see any prohibition in the practice of vaccination itself. So Hanafi Mufti from the RSASuhail Tarmahomed expressed his opinion about it.

He says that vaccines without ingredients that are prohibited by Islam are considered permitted by default. If we are talking about their benefit, doctors have different opinions about them: some consider them harmful for health, others recognise them as beneficial and helpful in avoiding serious diseases. When it comes to medical issues, one should consult a doctor one trusts and make a decision on the vaccine according to the doctor’s advice.

Muslim Internet on vaccines

However, Muslims’ opinions about the vaccine split. So some clerics were against vaccination on the Internet. Besides the presence of not halal substances in it (we will remind you that alcohol in the Shafii law school is not considered halal), Muslims also fear the “real” components of the vaccines as well as its “forced imposition.”

Other clerics, in contrast, are in favour of a vaccine against coronavirus. So a YouTube channel of a doctor with a degree in theology Mukhammad Kurbanov posted a video with the translation of scientists from all over the world supporting vaccination.

He said the following on his Telegram channel:

“Let’s analyse the ingredients of precisely Sputnik V and the alleged presence of an impurity in it (najis). The vaccine is based on an adenovirus vector with a built-in fragment of a genetic material of SARS-CoV-2 coding information about the structure of the S protein of the virus spike (photo below). In other words, a vector is a virus that is devoid of a gene of proliferation, it doesn’t pose a threat to the organism. Also, we see the protein of the virus spike in the list of ingredients, while protein is an organic compound consisting of amino acids in a peptide chain. The virus itself cannot be najis (an impurity). Also, it contains NaCl, polysorbate and 95% ethanol, 2,5 mcl (1 microlitre = 1.001 millilitres, you won’t get drunk from it). Modern scientists such as Laythist Al-Layth ibn Sa'd, al-Muzani and others say that alcohol isn’t an impurity, while in modern times its use for medical purposes in drugs is a forced measure and a tiny amount is used in the vaccine.”

Secondly, vaccination is an extreme necessity.

So at this moment, it is up to every Muslim to make a decision on vaccination because there is no single decision on certain vaccines. At the same time, Muslims see nothing good in the very fact of vaccination. Everything depends on the components of a vaccine and the necessity determined by a situation.

Karim Gaynullin

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The author’s opinion doesn’t necessarily coincide with the position of Realnoe Vremya’s editorial.