Vaccines are medicines designed to protect you from a highly infectious disease, which can have fatal consequences. So vaccinating should be a no-brainer, right? Except it’s not.
Recently, I encountered an anti-vaccination argument, which baffled me as a Muslim and a doctor in training.
On a women-only Facebook group, a Muslim mother of an infant posed the question, “Should I vaccinate my child?”
She was concerned about the possible side effects including autism and learning disabilities. This didn’t really surprise me too much. The debate surrounding vaccines has raged on for decades due to the rapid spread of disinformation.
As medical students, we were all aware of disgraced Dr. Andrew Wakefield who was struck off the medical register after conducting an unethical study in 1998, which falsely claimed the MMR vaccine might cause autism and bowel disease. This study was widely reported by the media, and vaccination rates dropped, which led to an increase in the rate of measles.
Many people still believe the claims that vaccines cause disease, even though they’ve been debunked, so I wasn’t that surprised to see this concern raised. I was, however, surprised by the comments made by Muslim anti-vaxxers, who claimed that vaccines were haram.
Among the anti-vaccine minority was a Muslim woman who argued forcefully that vaccines were haram because they contain ingredients derived from pigs, and instead of relying on man-made haram medical inventions, we should only trust Allah to protect our child.
Despite being baffled, my friend and I politely advocated that she speak to the Imam of her local mosque and do some research.
Instead, she blasted we doctors had been indoctrinated by the government.
She also went on to ask how we could know the difference between halal and haram when we didn’t wear hijabs. Later, similar threads appeared and “vaccines are haram” was reiterated by different Muslim women.
I was even accused of advocating vaccines for monetary gains!
It was the first time I had come across such nonsensical religious reasoning.
In addition to the fact that there is absolutely no evidence to link the MMR vaccine and autism, there is quantitative evidence highlighting the benefits of immunization: polio cases have decreased by 99% since 1988, a highly infectious viral disease with no cure and only preventable by immunization. Most recently, New Zealand has eliminated measles and rubella due to high vaccination rates.
It never occurred to me that vaccines could be a dividing issue in the Muslim community because Islam clearly teaches that a person must look after their body and spirit and do whatever possible to keep themselves from harm. It is also parent’s duty to protect their children to the best of their ability.
In 2005, Al-Azhar University and UNICEF released a manual emphasizing how the care, protection, and development of children is central to Islam. Al-Azhar University also hosted a meeting in 2015 attended by Islamic scholars and the Islamic Advisory Group for Polio eradication.
They explained they consider vaccinating against polio a religious obligation to protect children’s health and save their lives. The Islamic Medical Association of South Africa declared that vaccination fulfills the 5 objectives of Islamic law: preservation of religion, life, progeny, intellect and wealth.
The Islamic Research Academy at Al-Azhar issued a statement strongly urging parents to ignore any rulings that ban the polio vaccine and included: “Allah, Exalted be Him, says Losers indeed are those who kill their children foolishly without knowledge.” (Qur’an 6:140).
Surely, vaccines are a simple cost-effective means of boosting your child’s immunity and safeguarding them from horrific diseases, which can cause major disability and even death.
Yes, we should trust Allah, but He gave us the ability to make sensible choices.
In the most authentic Hadith Sahih-Bukhari, it is stated that for every ailment that has been sent down, there is a cure. Therefore, it is simply not good enough to say “I leave everything in the hands of Allah,” without using your common sense. It is an indisputable fact that vaccines have prevented countless cases of infection and their associated complications.
He has only forbidden to you dead animals, blood, the flesh of swine, and that which has been dedicated to other than Allah. But whoever is forced [by necessity], neither desiring [it] nor transgressing [its limit], there is no sin upon him. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.’ (Quran 2:173)
In 1995, more than 100 Islamic legal scholars met at a seminar convened by the Islamic Organization for Medical Sciences. The scholars determined that the process of converting pork products into gelatin alters them sufficiently to make it permissible for Muslims to receive vaccines.
So, the argument that vaccines are haram because they contain pork derivatives isn’t correct either.
Islam has always advocated seeking knowledge.
The first word Allah commanded Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) to speak was, ‘Iqra’ (read). The golden age of Islam between 8-16th century was a revolutionary period when great advancements were made in most academic fields, through a culture of discovery and sharing new knowledge.
So doing your research on vaccines before deeming them haram is not only essential, it’s your religious duty!
Despite the consensus that vaccines are permissible, the Muslim community is not united in favor of vaccines. In fact, the only countries not to have eradicated polio are Pakistan, Nigeria, and Afghanistan. This can be attributed to a lack of education and the dissemination of false information.
For example, the Taliban released a religious ruling that polio vaccines cause infertility, a ploy by the West to prevent the Ummah from growing. This led to marked reduction in polio vaccination rates in Pakistan.
As a pediatrician in training, I cannot over-emphasize the vital importance of vaccinating your children, not only for their protection but also vulnerable people who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons, such as, children with cancer.
I respect parents’ right to choose.
However, I strongly believe parents must be armed with all the necessary facts and information, so they are able to make an informed decision, rather than a misinformed choice which can endanger the lives of their children.
For Muslim parents, concerned about vaccines, I implore you to do your own research and make an educated decision.