Vaccine conspiracy theories go against the tenets of Islam, according to leading scholar.
Special to Sky News
By Sadiya Chowdhury, news correspondent
A leading Islamic scholar is calling on Muslims to ignore disinformation campaigns aimed at discouraging them from taking the COVID-19 vaccine.
Shaykh-ul-Islam Dr Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri says a series of conspiracy theories circulating on social media is leading to vaccine hesitancy in Muslim populations, which goes against the tenets of Islam.
"Saving lives is an act of worship," he told Sky News in an exclusive interview. "At the start of the pandemic, Muslims around the world were among those in the forefront.
"They put their maximum efforts into saving lives, providing people with food and every kind of necessary support. In the same way, they should come forward now."
Canadian-based Shaykh Tahir seeks to reassure his three million followers on social media, in an effort to counter the spread of fake news about the COVID-19 vaccines.
"Some people are saying that there is alcohol in it, or pork or other things forbidden (in Islam). Some say these vaccines may affect certain parts of the brain. What can I say? These are totally baseless claims."
"This is a matter of medicinal development, of life, and it is just the same as when we take paracetamol, antibiotics, or aspirins despite their side effects.
"Believing in the medical process is one of the basic teachings of Islam. Islam and the teachings of the Koran the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, is focused on reason, intelligence, scientific research, and intellectual development."
Vaccine hesitancy is increasingly being seen as one of the reasons why groups described as BAME, many of who are Muslim, may not receive the COVID-19 vaccine at the same level as the rest of the population.
Dr Winston Morgan, a leading researcher in medical outcomes based on race and ethnicity, says this is yet another way COVID-19 is harming BAME communities.
"What is described as vaccine hesitancy is more a lack of enthusiasm or faith in the system that has failed certain groups in the past," he said.
"If you do not believe from past experiences that medical treatments will work well for people like you and in certain cases could actually harm you, not because of genetics linked to race, but because of structural disadvantages, you are unlikely to be enthusiastic when a new, and what could be described as a controversial, vaccine comes along."
Dr Morgan cites research which shows that BAME groups generally say they are less likely to take the vaccine. In one study 72% of black people said they are unlikely or very unlikely to be vaccinated. He warns against overstating the case about hesitancy.
"The temptation will be to blame hesitancy rather than the structural problems based on class and race which have always plagued healthcare delivery to BAME communities.
"Based on the government's past records, it is likely they will also fail to meet vaccination targets. Having a ready-made excuse like vaccine hesitancy amongst BAME groups would be a convenient excuse."
Much was made of the Muslim husband and wife scientists behind the German company BioNTech, which teamed up with Pfizer to produce one of the world's leading COVID-19 vaccines.
Doctors Ugur Sahin and Ozlem Tureci are children of Turkish migrants who moved to Germany in the late 1960s.
The British Islamic Medical Association (BIMA) has urged Muslims to take the vaccine on the advice of their medical practitioners and following informed consent.
"It is important to make sure they participate in the vaccine campaign. This is a health issue, not a faith issue." said Dr Sharif Kaf Al-Ghazal, president of BIMA.
Muslims who want to travel to Saudi Arabia for pilgrimage are being advised by the country's Hajj and Umrah Minister Mohammed Benten to take the coronavirus vaccine before traveling. Dr Al-Ghazal agrees this could help convince more Muslims.