How Australia’s Muslim community is fighting COVID vaccine myths

Ella Zain celebrated her birthday this week, but it was a dark occasion – for the first time she couldn’t celebrate with her dad by her side.

Her father, Zain Tiba, a respected businessman from Melbourne’s Lebanese community, is in a coma due to COVID-19.

Although he was unable to speak, Ms Zain had a video call with him through the help of a nurse, just so his father could hear his voice.

“That’s the hardest part, because we tried to talk to him, but he can’t even respond…we don’t know if he can even sense our presence,” she said.

“We also tried to play [a recording of] the Quran in the background in case he can hear us.”

Ms Zain said her father had been in hospital for almost four weeks and had been on ECMO for more than 20 days, an advanced form of resuscitation that temporarily helps pump blood to an artificial lung.

Mr Tiba was not yet vaccinated and, like others in Muslim and wider communities, had been exposed to vaccine myths, Ms Zain said.

“There is so much misinformation on social media and Facebook videos…even people claiming to be doctors and they say vaccines are bad.”

Ms Zain says her father was undecided about the vaccine, but is now seriously ill.(Provided)

Ms Zain said her father was not an anti-vaxxer – he has voluntarily had other vaccinations in the past – but when it comes to COVID-19 shots he would “wait and see”.

She said some examples of misinformation being widely circulated on social media included the debunked idea that people vaccinated against COVID-19 can “wipe out” the vaccine and infect others, exaggerations about rare blood clotting due to the vaccine from AstraZeneca and accusations that doctors were ‘sold out’ who were ‘brainwashed by the government’.

Experts have previously said that anti-vax “farmers” spreading misinformation are targeting Australia’s diverse communities, including the Muslim community, and for months the topic of vaccination has divided families.

Ms Zain said her “tight” community relied so heavily on social media to connect and get informed.

“There should be more correct information about vaccines and COVID-19 and it should be more accessible.”

Vaccines are in line with Islamic teaching

A key question for Muslims was whether the vaccine is halal and what the Quran has to say about it.

A close up of Sheikh Alaa speaking into a microphone.
Sheikh Alaa says the community is not against vaccines and one of the aims of religion is to protect others.(Provided )

Alaa Elzokm, the imam of the Elsedeaq Heidelberg Mosque in Melbourne, told the ABC that the vaccine was halal and that taking action during the pandemic was completely in line with the teaching of Islam.

“And protecting people’s lives should come through the measures we take and the vaccine we take.”

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In the early Muslim civilizations, Islamic history records several deadly plagues in the Arabian Peninsula.

In the Hadith – a collection of prophetic sayings and traditions – the Prophet Muhammad urged people to avoid entering places where an epidemic had occurred, and those who were there not to leave or spread the sickness.

Sheikh Alaa said such practices, followed by Muslims for generations, were similar to physical distancing, isolation and quarantine and even lockdowns that we practice today.

Although there were no modern vaccines during the time of the Prophet Muhammad, Sheikh Alaa referred to one of the most famous hadiths, which says: “There is no disease that God created, except that he also created his treatment”.

“Trust in God is part of everyone’s religion, but in addition to that, we have to follow the available means, such as medicines and vaccines,” Sheikh Alaa said.

Exposing the terrible toll of COVID

Dr. Ahmad Aly, chief of upper gastrointestinal surgery at Austin Hospital, was asked by his colleague, Dr. Stephen Warrilow, to record a video of the intensive care unit to better understand the crisis of current public health.

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In the video recorded September 27 and uploaded this week, doctors said 13 COVID-19 patients in the hospital’s intensive care unit were unvaccinated.

Among them, 12 belonged to the Arabic-speaking and Turkish-speaking communities.

Dr Aly said across the state of Victoria more than 90 per cent of people in intensive care were currently unvaccinated.

He said one of the takeaways from the video was that vaccination clearly protects against serious diseases and that is why people need to get vaccinated.

“It’s not just a matter of whether you live or die, being seriously ill has long-term effects,” Dr Aly said.

He said vaccination was not new, but in fact had roots in the Arab world – in the 18th century, the Royal Society of London turned to Arabic manuscripts for answers in the face of a smallpox epidemic.

The inoculation process was described as “prosaic for those in the Islamic world”, although the technique was “rough” and involved the use of a thorn.

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“So the principle of vaccination, prevention and treatment to take care of each other is very strong,” he said.

Dr Aly added that the pandemic was having a heavier impact in some suburbs, where communities have large families and many were employed in essential work, increasing their risk of exposure.

While many community and religious leaders demonstrated that they themselves had been vaccinated, Dr Aly said it was important for them to continue to tell others to get vaccinated.

New female-only vaccination center

Eight women in different settings smiling at the camera
Sistahub is a new community initiative to help Muslim women get correct information about vaccines. (Provided)

Many Muslim organizations and Islamic centers have held information sessions and even set up pop-up vaccination centers.

A recent one is Sistahub, which focuses on Muslim women, said volunteer Nejla Muhammad.

“We can see that the uptake of vaccines in the Muslim community has been quite low compared to the rest of the community,” she said, adding that part of the problem was due to uneven distribution of the vaccine in some areas. regions.

“Unfortunately, we have been the target of a lot of misinformation.”

Sistahub will host a women-only mobile vaccination clinic in Wyndham and Hume Town Councils on October 29-30.

Ms Zain is now urging members of the Lebanese and Muslim communities to roll up their sleeves for the shot.

A photo of a Polaroid photograph with Ella posing next to her father with her hand on his shoulder.
Mrs. Zain wants her father to be vaccinated.(Provided)

“Everyone is entitled to their own… opinion, but not if you take your information from unreliable sources,” she said.

“So seek professional and medical advice from people who are actually qualified to give that advice.”

She said many were in the same position as her father – they weren’t anti-vaccination, but had doubts fueled by misinformation.

“It’s really too late for him now not to catch a disease he already has,” she said.

“The vaccine would have helped prevent it from getting as bad as it is now.”

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