Enforcing a sense of discipline among 170 million people, sharply divided on sectarian and linguistic lines, is never an easy task as it requires voluntary compliance.
By Naghma Sahar and Rasheed Kidwai
The Islamic month of fasting — Ramzan or Ramadan, began in India on Wednesday, 14 April 2021, fuelling apprehension that that the holy month meant for prayers and spirituality, may lead to vaccine hesitancy. This calls for instant action from the Muslim religious clergy so that the ongoing vaccination roll-out is not impeded.
Taking a lead of sorts, the president for the affairs of the Grand Mosque of Makkah and the Prophet’s Mosque at Medina, Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Dr. Abdul-Rahman Ibn Abdulaziz al-Sudais has given the ruling that coronavirus vaccine jab would not invalidate fasting.
Lucknow-based imam of Idgah Maulana Khalid Rasheed Firangi Mahali says he is stepping up a campaign through the mosques and madrasa network to propagate that COVID-19 vaccine is permissible during Ramadan, without invalidating the fast. Maulana Mehmood Madani who heads the influential Jamiat–e–Ulema [Hind] says Deoband seminary will be issuing a fatwa (religious decree) on the same. Bhopal city Qazi Maulana Mushtaq Ali Nadwi said he has been making this point during Friday sermons and held a vaccination programme at city’s ‘Taj-ul-Masajid’ mosque.
Maulana Naeem ur Rahman Siddiqui says that they are also exploring a possibility to request Uttar Pradesh government to extend vaccination timing and hold camps during special Ramadan nightly prayers, Taraweeh. Some Muslim scholars feel mosques and madrasas should be used as vaccination camp sites. It would allow the vaccination programme to take place during Ramadan, including in non-fasting hours.
A noted virologist, Shahid Jameel, Director, Trivedi School of Biosciences, Ashoka University says that it is worth remembering an important hadith ascribed to the Prophet Mohammad. It says, “When you hear that [a plague] is in a land, do not go to it and if it occurs in a land that you are already in, then do not leave it, fleeing from it.” This saying exactly refers to the principle of modern quarantine.
The Muslim scholar of Medicine, Ibn Sina (Avicenna) (980-1037), according to Dr Jameel, gave the idea of quarantine to prevent spread of diseases. He propagated the idea that diseases are spread by microorganisms and isolating people for 40 days — al-Arba’iniya (“the forty”) — would prevent human-to-human transmission. Traders from Venice took this knowledge to Italy and called it “Quarantena” (forty in Italian).
“Islam considers human life as the most precious gift of Allah, which should be protected in all circumstances. Protection from disease is a part of that guidance. And vaccines are modern tools to protect against disease. They protect people from disease and also prevent them from becoming carriers of the disease within their communities and countries. By that logic, it is a duty of Muslims to take vaccines,” argues Dr Jameel.
India is fighting a grim battle against COVID-19 amid a brutal second wave of the pandemic that has forced many states to declare short spells of weekend lockdowns. The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases are going up alarmingly, with reports of shortage of oxygen cylinders, hospital beds, and medicines. In Indore and Bhopal towns of Madhya Pradesh, long queues were formed over shortage of the anti-viral life-saving Remdesivir injection.
Last year too, Muslim community leaders had faced many challenges during the month-long period of Ramadan that had begun in the last week of April — in terms of enforcing social distancing and avoiding guests at the breaking of fast (iftar) and at community prayers (tarahweeh), etc. But enforcing a sense of discipline among 170 million people, sharply divided on sectarian and linguistic lines, is never an easy task as it requires voluntary compliance.
In 2020, suspension of the customary Eid prayer had seen a broad consensus against holding special Eid prayers at Eidgahs (where special Eid prayers are held) and at mosques, etc. Islamic seminaries, such as the Darul Uloom, Nadwa and Deoband, issued fatwas asking the faithful to offer Eid prayers at home. The results were so good that Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath called up Maulana Firangi Mahali in Lucknow and congratulated him on his efforts.
According to Sarah N Ali et al., so far, there is little global information surrounding vaccination hesitancy during this Islamic month of fasting. Writing in The Lancet, they point out that historically, vaccination programmes have not been rolled out with such urgency. However, during the west African Ebola epidemic, a study in Guinea showed a high overall acceptability of vaccination during Ramadan by Muslim scholars (80 percent), but a significantly lower acceptance in the general Muslim population (40 percent).
Maulana Naeem Ur Rahman Siddiqui, general secretary of Islamic Centre of India, Lucknow and member of Uttar Pradesh Waqf Council concurs with the finding on anecdotal basis pointing that in matters of public health, clergy tends to act with greater responsibility and concern than the general masses.
Vaccine hesitancy relating to Ramadan amongst Muslims was evident during the vaccination camps organised in Delhi, Lucknow, Bhopal, and many other towns. Even when Ramadan was a month away, many Muslims, particularly elderly women, were concerned how the second dose would be given during Ramadan. Many Islamic seminaries have issued Ramadan guidelines asking the faithful to avoid large gathering during the breaking of fast or community prayers.
Dr Aslam Parvaiz, director, Islamic Foundation for Science & Environment, commentator and author of several books on Islam, has a simple message for the community, “Be beneficial to others. Don’t be a disease carrier. Get vaccinated.”
The Ramadan guidelines issued by Islamic Centre of India are as follows —
1. Ramadan protocol should be followed in letter and spirit.
2. Ramadan fasting is mandatory for the faithful; therefore, Rozas should be observed.
3. Taraweeh (recitation of Quran in mosques) should be done in the manner so that lockdown timings are not violated.
4. There should be no crowding in mosques.
5. Mask and social distancing should be maintained during the prayers.
6. Please do not use loudspeaker during Sahri (pre-dawn/ the early hours of day).
7. No gathering of itfar [breaking of fast] should exceed 100 persons.
8. Pay charity, pray for those suffering from COVID-related illness, and distribute money to the needy instead of spending on iftar parties.