[This is a reprint from UNICEF’s publication with a source:https://www.unicef.org/philippines/stories/muslim-religious-leaders-barmm-unite-covid-19-vaccination with slight editing] 

A Vaccination that complies with Shariáh and aligns with Islamic teachings
Arnold Cesar Romero

UNICEF Philippines/2022/Rosa May Maitem
16 August 2022

In the campaign to achieve population immunity against COVID-19 in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), Muslim religious leaders are stepping up to convert the vaccine-hesitant, using the most potent weapon in their arsenal – the words of the Prophet Mohammad.

UNICEF Philippines, through a grant from the United Kingdom Government, worked with the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society (CBCS) to strengthen the participation of the Moro religious leaders in COVID-19 prevention and protection.
With the support of Bangsamoro Darul Ifta (BDI), Hay-ato Ulama Al-Muslimin in the Philippines (a national association of religious leaders), and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, CBCS led the development of a compendium of 44 khutbah on child rights, routine immunization, health and hygiene, and COVID-19 vaccination – first written in Arabic, then translated to nine local languages in the Bangsamoro.

To date, some 1,520 ulama have undergone the consultation-training process and received copies of the khutbah. Most of the ulama who participated had given their affirmation to support child rights, promote the COVID-19 vaccination and other routine immunization, and use the khutbah as a reference during worship days and when conducting muhadarah (public lecture/consultation).

UNICEF Philippines/2022/Arnold Cesar Romero Sheikh Marhan M. Borhan, Committee on Da’wah and Masajid Affairs’ Focal Person, is proud of the contributions of the Muslim religious leaders in the campaign to increase COVID-19 vaccination uptake in the Bangsamoro Region.

“We have made a head start. But we must involve over 10,000 ulama in the Philippines into the program so we can grow stronger and show unity in our messaging,” added Sheik Borhan.

The COVID-19 vaccine uptake in BARMM remains low, mainly hindered by the misconception that it goes against Islamic beliefs. As of June 2022, only three out of ten members of eligible population have received the complete doses of the vaccine.
While the region recorded the least number of reported deaths (582) from COVID-19 complicat

ions and the lowest infections (25,961) among all regions across the country, the Bangsamoro Government remains steadfast in its drive to vaccinate 80 per cent of its population to prevent breakthrough infections in the future.

The BDI earlier handed down a decree that COVID-19 vaccines are halal (permissible) as they are a life-saving agent that provides immunity and protection against the coronavirus, totally dispelling the earlier notion that the vaccines contain animal components or swine derivatives.

CBCS/2021/ Mohamad S. Omar Sheikh Talal A. Sabpa, a religious worker, presenting the highlights of the Sermons on COVID-19 prevention and vaccination during the consultation with the Muslim religious leaders held at Mahad Pualas Al-Islamie, Maligo, Pualas, Lanao del Sur on 4 December 2021.

While vaccination complies with the Shariáh (Islamic law) and aligns with Islamic teachings, this fact does not spread as fast as the virus or the unfounded rumors and conspiracy theories around it.

The Bangsamoro region is one of the poorest regions in the country. With a population of 4.35 million and where the majority professes the Islamic faith, more than half of the residents haven’t had a single dose of the vaccine.
Internet penetration in the region is also very low, while traditional sources of news and information do not reach most households.

“Unfortunately, there are believers who fell victims to false information and conspiracy theories about the COVID-19 vaccine,” said Sheik Talal Sabpa, religious worker and focal person of the Bangsamoro Darul Ifta. “It is important that we correct the erroneous belief that vaccination goes against Islam.”

UNICEF Philippines/2022/Arnold Cesar Romero Sheikh Talal A. Sabpa, a religious worker, is the designated focal person of the Bangsamoro Darul Ifta’ to the program. He injects fresh ideas and brings his youthful enthusiasm as the BDI takes on a new role as a vaccination advocate.

Going stronger

The Muslim religious leaders are key in amplifying life-saving messages to the faithful believers. They have a presence in every masjid (place of worship) in even the remotest villages. Their influence may be the proverbial ‘a shot in the arm’ that the campaign needs to increase the vaccine uptake that BARMM desperately needs.

As for CBCS Project Officer Mohamad Omar, he believes in the power of this unique convergence in combatting vaccine hesitancy and urges the Bangsamoro Ministry of Health to make the best use of its strength.

“We have seen how the pandemic has affected our children, disrupted our lives, and shocked our delicate social protection system. There is an urgent need to recover quickly from the pandemic and the first step is to achieve population protection,” he said.