Islamic leaders battle misconception about vaccines, fasting

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Mosque member Asie Late's granddaughter Emma watches as a Northwell Health registered nurse inoculates her with the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine at a pop up vaccination site inside the Albanian Islamic Cultural Center, Thursday, April 8, 2021, in the Staten Island borough of New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

PORTLAND, Maine – Islamic leaders are using social media, virtual town halls and face-to-face discussions to spread the word that it’s acceptable to be vaccinated for the coronavirus during daily fasting that happens during Ramadan, the most sacred month of the year for Muslims.

During the holy month which begins next week, Muslims across the world abstain from all food and drink from sunrise to sunset before typically congregating for evening prayers and iftar meals. The vaccine discussion centers on whether an inoculation amounts to the prohibited act of ingesting something while fasting.

It doesn't, said Mohamud Mohamed, imam of the Maine Muslim Community Center, who is working to assure Muslims at his Portland mosque that getting the vaccine is perfectly fine but finds that some people are clinging to misperceptions.

“There is a lot of bad information going around,” said Mohamed, who devoted his address during recent Friday prayers to promoting the vaccine. A vaccine clinic is being held at the mosque on Saturday.

He and others seeking to reassure the faithful have the theological backing of top Islamic authorities. Saudi Arabia’s highest cleric, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al Sheikh, and Sunni Islam’s top religious leader in Lebanon, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul-Latif Derian, have both said that getting the coronavirus vaccine does not constitute breaking one's fast.

Still, Safiya Khalid, a city council member in Lewiston, about 30 miles north of Portland, sparked a lively conversation among fellow Muslims when she raised the issue on social media. Others questioned whether the vaccine violated fasting — until an imam weighed in.

“We need more communication,” said Khalid, who has already had her first vaccine dose and will get her second shot during Ramadan. “You can do this and protect your community and your family.”

On New York's Staten Island, imam and NYPD chaplain Tahir Kukaj, whose mosque was administering 1,000 vaccines on Thursday and Friday, said he has heard all sorts of misconceptions about vaccines, and some "people tend to believe nonsense rather than facts.”