With the availability of vaccines for Covid-19 there has been much speculation on social media about the safety of vaccination – as well as whether or not they are lawful according to the Shari’ah.
The discussions have been skewed by ‘anti-vaxxers’ who have approached anything related to vaccination with hostility for many years.
People are understandably uncertain about new treatments, but the volume of messages on social media has confused people even further.
This short article lays out some of the thinking pertaining to vaccination from an Islamic perspective, as well as addressing some of the issues about ‘who to trust’.
The Individual level
Vaccination is a type of treatment to prevent disease. It takes the same Islamic ruling as for other treatments. At an individual level, seeking treatment is a rewardable act (mandoub), but not compulsory.
The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) when asked about seeking treatment encouraged it:
يَا عِبَادَ اللَّهِ تَدَاوَوْا فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ لَمْ يَضَعْ دَاءً إِلَّا وَضَعَ لَهُ شِفَاءً أَوْ قَالَ دَوَاءً إِلَّا دَاءً وَاحِدًا… الْهَرَمُ
“O servants of Allah, seek treatment. Verily, Allah did not place a disease but that he also placed its treatment or cure, except for one ailment. … “Old age.” (Sunan al-Tirmidhi 2038).
Also, it is not compulsory for an individual to seek treatment. A person can decline treatment in favour of bearing an illness patiently, seeking reward from Allah.
Ata’ ibn Abi Rabah reported: Ibn Abbas said to me, “Shall I not show you a woman of Paradise?” I said, “Of course.” Ibn Abbas said, “There was a dark-skinned woman who came to the Prophet (ﷺ) and she said: indeed, I suffer seizures and I become uncovered, so supplicate to Allah for me. The Prophet (ﷺ) said:
إِنْ شِئْتِ صَبَرْتِ وَلَكِ الْجَنَّةُ وَإِنْ شِئْتِ دَعَوْتُ اللَّهَ أَنْ يُعَافِيَكِ
If you wish you can be patient and have Paradise, or if you wish I will supplicate for Allah to heal you. She said: I will be patient, but supplicate to Allah that I will not become uncovered. Thus, the Prophet (ﷺ) supplicated for her.” (Sahih al-Bukhari 5328, Sahih Muslim 2576)
A form of vaccination was practiced in the Ottoman Khilafah to prevent the deadly viral disease smallpox, well before the famous ‘discovery’ of Edward Jenner in 1796 in the UK.
So, vaccination is not a treatment alien to Islam or the Shari’ah.
At a governmental level, the Khilafah has a mandatory duty to look after the affairs of people – which includes providing health care.
In a pandemic situation, such as the world currently faces with Covid-19, the role of Khalifah would include commissioning the development of vaccines – and facilitating their distribution, so that they are offered to people for the prevention of disease.
This would be in addition to applying the rules of Islam that are specific to dealing with pandemics, such as preventing travel to and from an area of disease outbreak, and separating the sick from the healthy.
In the case of Covid-19 there may be other policies needed to reduce the spread of the virus, which might include increased testing of asymptomatic individuals and contact tracing of people who may have come into contact with positive individuals, so requiring them to self-isolate.
Such an approach, however, would not involve a blanket lockdown on all citizens preventing their legitimate activities such as worship, business and caring for or visiting relatives.
The Geopolitical level
At a geopolitical level, the Khilafah would seek to engage in different ways in the context of this illness.
It would try to lead in terms of thought on demonstrating the Islamic way to manage such pandemics.
It would try to coordinate with other states to contain the spread of the disease, recognising that a pandemic is not confined by borders.
It would try to and seek to cooperate with other states in terms of developing cures, sharing any technical knowledge and breakthroughs without being constrained by haram concepts like patents (whilst of course not allowing control by other states or non-governmental bodies who may have ulterior motives).
If possible, it would try to help any weaker states in terms of medication and cure – just as throughout history the Khilafah helped other states in terms of famines.
Intellectual leadership, coordination and help for the weak has been visibly absent in a world beset by blame, rivalries, patents and ‘vaccine nationalism’.
In general, the evaluation of whether or not a vaccine is effective or safe is like that for any technology – it is done by those who have expertise in the matter.
Anas reported that Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) happened to pass by the people who had been busy in grafting the trees. Thereupon he (ﷺ) said: ” لَوْ لَمْ تَفْعَلُوا لَصَلُحَ ” ‘If you were not to do that, it might be good for you.’ So they abandoned this practise and there was a decline in the yield. He (ﷺ) happened to pass by them (and said): “ مَا لِنَخْلِكُمْ ” ‘What has gone wrong with your trees’? They said: you said so and so. Thereupon he (ﷺ) said: أَنْتُمْ أَعْلَمُ بِأَمْرِ دُنْيَاكُمْ ” “ – ‘You have better knowledge (of a technical skill) in the affairs of the world’. (Muslim)
The Khilafah state would ensure that any new medicine such as a vaccine would be tested for safety before it was offered to its citizens.
Abu Sa’id al-Khudri reported: the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said,
‘لَا ضَرَرَ وَلَا ضِرَارَ مَنْ ضَارَّ ضَرَّهُ اللَّهُ وَمَنْ شَاقَّ شَقَّ اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ’
“Do not cause harm or return harm. Whoever harms others, Allah will harm him. Whoever is harsh with others, Allah will be harsh with him.”
This would be a legal requirement overseen by experts in a branch of the judiciary called the Muhtasib, which monitors any violation of the general rights of the citizens.
The judiciary being independent of the of executive branch of the khilafah would reduce the potential for political pressure to fast-track unproven or unsafe medical technologies, this would reduce the chances of what took place with President Trump and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Who to trust?
In today’s capitalist world it is hard to know who to trust. Hence the abundance of conspiracy theories, alongside legitimate doubt and scepticism.
Allah (ﷻ) says
يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوٓا۟ إِن جَآءَكُمْ فَاسِقٌۢ بِنَبَإٍۢ فَتَبَيَّنُوٓا۟ أَن تُصِيبُوا۟ قَوْمًۢا بِجَهَـٰلَةٍۢ فَتُصْبِحُوا۟ عَلَىٰ مَا فَعَلْتُمْ نَـٰدِمِينَ
“O believers, if a fasiq brings you any news, verify it so that you do not harm people unknowingly, becoming regretful for what you have done”. [Surah al Hujurat – 49:6]
Politicians in capitalist societies are compromised by their prioritising the interests of big business over that of ordinary people. ‘Big Pharma’ – i.e. the corporations that dominate healthcare across the world – have a track record of putting their own profits before public health.
Even non-government organisations are not trusted in many parts of the world. In Pakistan and Afghanistan, the polio disease continues to proliferate and do harm because vaccination programmes have become associated with outside agencies and a fear of foreign interference. Populations need to be able to trust their governments to look after their affairs without wondering if they are more interested in the profits of corporates or the interests of colonial powers.
Blindly trusting any of these sources of information would be a mistake. Yet this does not mean a blind rejection of everything they say. Rather, their policies and advice need scrutiny and verification according to the best assessments we can make – consulting those with expertise where necessary.
To ask questions and express caution is critical thinking and a healthy scepticism. However, to spread incorrect or absurd ideas without any evidence helps no-one. It scares people unnecessarily – perhaps preventing them from seeking legitimate or necessary treatment.
Abu Huraira reported: the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ),
كَفَى بِالْمَرْءِ كَذِبًا أَنْ يُحَدِّثَ بِكُلِّ مَا سَمِعَ
“It is enough falsehood for someone to speak of everything he hears.” (Sahih Muslim)
Also, to spread pseudo-medical advice without a sound understanding is a very grave matter that may similarly prevent people seeking legitimate treatment.
Abdullah ibn Amr reported: the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said,
مَنْ تَطَبَّبَ وَلَمْ يُعْلَمْ مِنْهُ طِبٌّ قَبْلَ ذَلِكَ فَهُوَ ضَامِنٌ
“Whoever practices medicine without any prior knowledge of medicine will be held liable.” (Sunan Ibn Majah).
So we similarly urge people not to listen uncritically to hearsay, or to people who seem to think it their mission to go beyond questioning and scrutiny by offering their own pseudo-medical advice. Instead, people should seek medical advice independent of political and commercial interests, which will take into account an individual’s health status and specific circumstances.
Although we live in a world dominated by capitalism, there are independent medical professionals and scientists who are not part of the government, ‘Big Pharma’ and special interest groups, who have studied and continue to study the issues. They are not part of some sort of massive conspiracy.
Ultimately, Allah is the one who cures and we take the means and put our trust in Him (ﷻ) after making our best efforts.
Are there not legitimate concerns about the speed at which this vaccine has been given authorisation for use to the public?
Yes – there are, particularly as the safety standards for vaccines must always be higher than for regular medicines since they are given to healthy people as opposed to regular medicines which are only given to patients with a specific disease.
There are several reasons that might explain the rapid development.
Firstly, the SARS-Cov-2 virus that causes Covid-19 is of the same family as the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) virus identified in 2003 – and vaccines to protect against SARS have been in development for many years already, which has helped in developing the vaccines for Covid-19.
Secondly, in normal circumstances vaccine development can be slow due to the bureaucracy surrounding clinical trials, the associated regulatory oversight and the process of regulatory authorisation for use once the trials are completed. Much of this has been accelerated and some overlooked due to the extraordinary circumstances.
Finally, the active response of governments in funding vaccine development has been motivated in large part by the need to resume ‘business as usual’ for their economies.
One could legitimately ask that if dozens of vaccines are available for Covid-19 in months, why is there no equivalent urgency in dealing with a host of infectious diseases affecting the developing world? Where are the cures for malaria, dengue fever and Ebola, that happen not to affect the economies of the US, UK and Europe? The contrast in the approach reveals the sad reality about national interests being more important than human life.
All of that being said, the lack of longer term data and limited size of the clinical trials are significant factors in determining how to roll out a vaccination programme.
Would the Khilafah ‘force’ people to have it, as some have claimed?
This is a spurious argument for several reasons.
Whilst the Khilafah – like any government – could make a vaccine obligatory if it felt there was an overwhelming public health need to protect the society, to think of compelling a matter that is in origin mandboub (a recommended matter), shows a mindset of someone who thinks very simplistically.
Governments generally – and the Khilafah is no exception – would do well to win people’s confidence rather than obligating such things, except in the most necessary circumstances.
Moreover, as things stand the lack of long term data on these vaccines – balanced against the fact that Covid-19 is a severe disease in only ~5% of those affected, and not significant in ~80% of people -and that it is not known to what extent the vaccine reduces the virus being transferred from one individual to another – all of this means that it would be very hard to justify making it compulsory.
What about the permissibility of ingredients of the vaccine?
The permissibility of the contents of treatments such as vaccines is not a new matter in the Shari’ah. It has been seen in the use of blood transfusion or the development of various medications, such as insulin in the past.
There will be legitimate differences of opinion on the conclusion – based on a variety of matters.
However, many have understood that the Shari’ah permits the use of things that in other circumstances are haram as exceptions to the general rule when used for treatment for disease.
Arfajah ibn As’ad narrated that:
«أُصِيبَ أَنْفِي يَوْمَ الْكُلَابِ فِي الْجَاهِلِيَّةِ فَاتَّخَذْتُ أَنْفًا مِنْ وَرِقٍ فَأَنْتَنَ عَلَيَّ فَأَمَرَنِي رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم أَنْ أَتَّخِذَ أَنْفًا مِنْ ذَهَبٍ» “
‘My nose was severed on the Day of Al-Kulab during Jahiliyyah. So I got a nose of Wariq (silver) which developed a stench, so the Messenger of Allah ﷺ ordered me to get a nose made of gold.” ‘ (Tirmidhi)
Whilst Anas ibn Malik, may Allah be pleased with him, reported:
النَّبِيُّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ لِلزُّبَيْرِ وَعَبْدِ الرَّحْمَنِ فِي لُبْسِ الْحَرِيرِ لِحِكَّةٍ بِهِمَا
The Prophet (ﷺ) granted a concession to Al-Zubayr and Abdur Rahman – may Allah be pleased with them – to wear silk when they were suffering from a rash. (Bukhari and Muslim)
We respect that there will be legitimate differences – and even if some people believe it is permissible, they might prefer to abstain for themselves to avoid things that in other circumstances are haram.
However, it is wrong for people to go on a campaign or crusade to either give false information about ingredients – or to impose their own views about this on others who accept the widely held Shari’i opinion that the use of such treatments is not forbidden.
Allah Almighty Knows Best – He (ﷻ) is the one who cures and prevents disease. Treatments are merely a means through which His (ﷻ) cure may come, which search for and utilise seeking His (ﷻ) pleasure.
All Praise is for Him, Lord of all the Worlds.
For details about the Islamic approach to dealing with the pandemic please see here
Abdul Wahid, Chairman, Executive Committee of Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain
Dr Salman Rehman, Cell Biologist and Member of Hizb ut-Tahrir