With vaccine hesitancy in the Muslim community a challenge, PROFESSOR ASLAM FATAAR addresses the question about the closure of mosques to the unvaccinated.
In this article, I address the question of mosque access in the context of an ongoing viral pandemic. The decision about limiting mosque access to the vaccinated must balance the need to secure the conditions to guarantee the right to life with showing compassion and mercy to those who may hold a different view, even in a context where views on vaccination are polarising.
The decision to close any premises applies to situations where there is a likelihood of spreading the virus in close contact situations such as schools, universities, sports venues, shopping malls and retail stores, restaurants, and religious and spiritual venues such as mosques, churches, synagogues and madrasahs.
Legal scholars have argued that compulsory vaccination would pass constitutional or legal muster. They suggested that requiring all (non-exempted) persons entering public congregational spaces to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination would neither be unprecedented nor exceptional. While such a vaccination requirement would limit the person’s right to freedom and security, it would almost certainly pass constitutional muster.
According to legal scholars, vaccine mandates would constitute a justifiable limitation on the right to bodily integrity. The legal case could thus be made for requiring persons to show proof of a vaccination mandate because such a position would protect others from being infected from those who might carry the virus. In other words, in a context of close physical proximity such as a mosque, university or school, where hundreds of people congregate, a mandatory vaccine mandate would be necessary to secure the greater good of protection against infection.
Compulsory vaccination for umrah
The overseers of the holy sites in Makkah have announced a compulsory vaccination requirement for umrah, and the Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs of Oman requires vaccination for Friday Jumu’ah attendance from September 24, 2021.
My personal view on vaccination and mosque attendance is that I support vaccination, and I support a campaign to persuade people to vaccinate.
I encourage everyone to get vaccinated before they enter public spaces like schools, mosques, and shops. This must be part of an overall campaign to save lives and securing overall health conditions and adequate living circumstances.
I encourage safety health measures such as sanitising, distancing, and washing hands. Such actions must be understood in the context of agitation for overall health and well-being improvement.
I believe that educational, media and other tactics of persuasion and education must be prioritised to spread the overall health and welfare measures in which the message of vaccination is key to my toolkit.
The instrument of not allowing unvaccinated persons into the mosque may be too blunt. It may also not be compassionate to those with different views, even if those views can be regarded as not in the interest of public health and safety.
While driven by the objective to protect life, preventing the unvaccinated from entering mosques does not allow us to stay in the arena of persuasion and the need to provide sound advice as prescribed by the Qur’anic injunction of ‘compelling and persuasive counselling debate’ (Q16: V125). Banning people from the mosques may prevent us from influencing, educating and persuading those who hesitate to take the vaccine.
Given the considerable number of people who refuse to take the vaccine in our community, we should keep a line of mercy and guidance open to everyone in our community. Mosques must, however, control access based on a strict application of safety, health, air circulation and sanitary protocols.
Given the many people in our community who have not been vaccinated, we must step up with a concerted vaccination educational campaign. Persuasion via education is critical. We should build solidarity alliances and influence our communities to advance our pro-vaccination educational campaigns and religious messaging.
We must insist on honouring the integrity of the science of vaccination and trained medical personnel’s expertise. Our campaigns must dispel myths and expose fake news. We must challenge those religious and other leaders who peddle fake news and vaccine hesitancy from their pulpits. These people must be provided information and educational resources to inform their positions.
The anti-vaxxers must not be allowed to circulate in an echo chamber of fake news and anti-scientific opinion. Our educational campaigns must aim to captivate and orientate public debate towards the appropriate behaviour for mitigating the spread of the virus and ending the pandemic.
One of the most important ways of overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic is to win the battle of the hearts and minds of ordinary folk. Banning unvaccinated people from the mosque does not help in this regard. It simply shuts the door to our attempts to extend the message of vaccination. It would get us into an us-and-them situation that breeds hostility and recalcitrance. We should avoid such a situation lest we cut ourselves off from a conversational pathway to persuade our friends, family, and colleagues who may harbour vaccine hesitancy attitudes.
- Aslam Fataar, a Professor in the Department of Education Policy Studies, Stellenbosch University, is currently attached as Research Professor to the university’s Transformation Division.