An international huddle of Muslim scholars has called for rectifying misconceptions about the polio vaccine in order to protect Muslim children from this crippling virus, according to Pakistan Ulema Council chief Allama Tahir Ashrafi.
Muslim scholars from Islamic states, including Pakistan, met earlier this week in Cairo for a two-day conference to devise strategies to protect Muslim children against poliovirus. The participants, according to Allama Ashrafi, decided to hold a meeting with the Pakistani government next month.
“The killing of fieldworkers is completely against the teachings of Islam and is strongly condemned,” reads a declaration approved by the conference. A copy of the declaration is available with The Express Tribune.
It states that the protection of children against poliovirus is a collective responsibility of the Muslim Ummah, especially its religious and political leaders. The scholars also agreed that vaccination of children is a religious obligation of Muslim parents.
The conference recommended that polio-related information and religious decrees be disseminated to parents and communities in language that is simple and easy to understand.
It further recommended that religious leaders and institutions closely collaborate with the polio eradication programme in planning effective and appropriate strategies to reach children in the three countries where polio is still endemic, including Pakistan. “The scholars reached a consensus that the Muslim Ummah faces a serious problem of persistent polio that threatens all Muslim children,” the declaration reads.
Allama Ashrafi said Pakistani delegates also pushed for the inclusion of the Dr Shakil Afridi issue in the recommendations, so no one could use vaccination campaigns for their own interests. “The moot appreciated the clarification of the fact that Shakil Afridi never worked for WHO or Unicef and neither organisation had any involvement or any knowledge of his activities in Abbottabad,” says the declaration.
The scholars condemned the use of fieldworkers for intelligence gathering and requested the World Health Organisation (WHO) to ensure that no country misuse health programs.
The conference comes amidst growing attacks on polio vaccinators in Pakistan. The Taliban in North Waziristan have banned inoculation to protest against US drone strikes, fearing vaccination campaigns could be used for espionage.
Allama Ashrafi said the scholars urged religious institutions to actively participate in the implementation of the polio eradication campaigns in the three most affected countries: Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria, and that joint field missions be organised in collaboration with key Islamic institutions.
They expressed a commitment to achieve the objective of a polio-free Islamic world by the end of 2014.
The conference recommended that an Islamic Advisory Group be constituted to build ownership and solidarity for polio eradication across the Muslim Ummah under the leadership of Al-Azhar.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 10th, 2013.