UK imams mobilize to counter COVID-19 vaccine disinformation

UK imams mobilize to counter COVID-19 vaccine disinformation
Imams across Britain are helping a drive to dispel coronavirus disinformation, using Friday sermons and their influential standing within Muslim communities. (@QariAsim)
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Updated 23 January 2021

UK imams mobilize to counter COVID-19 vaccine disinformation

UK imams mobilize to counter COVID-19 vaccine disinformation
  • A report from the scientific committee advising the government showed stronger mistrust of vaccines among ethnic minorities than the rest of the UK population
  • Imams are pushing back in particular at fears among Britain’s estimated 2.8 million Muslims that the vaccines contain pork gelatin or alcohol

LONDON: Imams across Britain are helping a drive to dispel coronavirus disinformation, using Friday sermons and their influential standing within Muslim communities to argue that Covid-19 vaccines are safe.
Qari Asim, chairman of the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board (MINAB) which is leading a campaign to reassure its faithful, is among those publically advocating that the inoculations are compatible with Islamic practices.
“We are confident that the two vaccines that have been used in the UK, Oxford AstraZeneca and Pfizer, are permissible from an Islamic perspective,” he told AFP.
“The hesitancy, the anxiety (and) concern is driven by misinformation, conspiracy theories, fake news and rumors.”
Britain, the hardest-hit country in Europe by the virus after registering nearly 95,000 deaths, is relying on its biggest-ever vaccination effort to end repeated cycles of lockdowns and restrictions.
However, a report from the scientific committee advising the government showed stronger mistrust of vaccines among ethnic minorities than the rest of the UK population.
It highlighted that 72 percent of Black survey respondents were unlikely or very unlikely to get the vaccine.
Among those from Pakistani or Bangladeshi backgrounds, the figure was 42 percent.
Imams are pushing back in particular at fears among Britain’s estimated 2.8 million Muslims that the vaccines contain pork gelatin or alcohol, which are banned by Islam.
Asim said it was “legitimate” to question whether things were permissible under Islam but without paying attention to unfounded claims.
Among the falsehoods spread about the vaccine are that it can modify DNA, make recipients sterile, or even involve inserting a microchip in the body.
Misinformation around the coronavirus is all the more dangerous given several studies have shown that it can impact minorities disproportionately.
“These are precisely the communities we should be trying to target,” said Nighat Arif, a general practitioner based in Chesham, near London.
When she received her vaccination, she posted a video in Urdu on social media aimed at the language’s speakers living in Britain.
“I’m hoping that because they see someone who looks like them, who is a practicing Muslim, wears a hijab, someone who is Asian who speaks their language, that’s more relatable than something that’s coming through from the government,” she added.
Arif is still surprised by the refusal of certain patients to be inoculated, noting they will often get vaccinated to undertake the Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabi, or to visit Pakistan or India.
She blames conspiracy theories spread online, which contribute to the science behind the process “being lost.”
Samara Afzal, 34, a general practitioner at Netherton Health Center in Dudley in the West Midlands, also shared a video in Urdu with her 35,000 Twitter followers to “debunk some myths.”
She said some people had asked her to send the video directly to them so they could forward it to skeptical loved ones via social tools like WhatsApp.
At her medical center, Afzal estimates that around 40 to 50 people out of 1,000 have refused to be vaccinated when she had expected only one or two.
“It’s still a fair amount of people that are saying no and obviously we haven’t even addressed the younger ones, so this is just the elderly,” she added.
“So I’m sure when it comes down to the younger ones, there’ll be a lot more that say no.”
Around five million people, almost entirely the elderly and caregivers, have already received a first dose of the vaccine in the UK, the highest rate in Europe.
In a sign of officials’ concerns about minority take-up of the jabs, the state-run health service is mobilizing “influencers” in communities to convince the skeptics.
“There’s a big piece of work happening where we’re translating information, we’re making sure the look and feel of it reaches the populations that matter,” Harpreet Sood, a doctor who is leading the anti-disinformation campaign, told the BBC.
A vaccination center has even been set up in a mosque in Birmingham, Britain’s second biggest city, which has a large south Asian population.
Imam Nuru Mohammed said the move sent “a big ‘no to fake news’” message to his 2,000-strong religious community and beyond.
He shared the video of his own vaccination on social media.
For Asim, the MINAB chairman whose mosque is in Leeds, in northern England, their efforts also help counter far-right claims.
“If there was a lower take-up of vaccines in Muslim communities in comparison to all other communities, then potentially, it could fan the flames of Islamophobia,” he noted.
“And in this pandemic, no one should be scapegoated.”


US says Russian-backed outlets spread COVID-19 vaccine ‘disinformation’

US says Russian-backed outlets spread COVID-19 vaccine ‘disinformation’
Updated 08 March 2021

US says Russian-backed outlets spread COVID-19 vaccine ‘disinformation’

US says Russian-backed outlets spread COVID-19 vaccine ‘disinformation’

WASHINGTON: The United States has identified three online publications directed by Russia’s intelligence services that it says are seeking to undermine COVID-19 vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna , a State Department spokeswoman said on Sunday.
The outlets “spread many types of disinformation, including about both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, as well as international organizations, military conflicts, protests, and any divisive issue that they can exploit,” the spokeswoman said.
The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) first reported on the identification of the alleged campaign on Sunday. A Kremlin spokesman denied the US claim Russia was spreading false information about vaccines to the WSJ.
Russia’s embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A sample article from the OrientalReview.org talking about a plot by Bill Gates and Microsoft to dominate the world using vaccines and microchips, with a patent ominously carrying the numbers 666. 

Russia approved its Sputnik V vaccine in August, before a large-scale trial had begun, saying it was the first country to do so for a COVID-19 shot. Peer-reviewed trials months later proved it was almost 92% effective in fighting the virus.
Pfizer, headquartered in New York, and Germany’s BioNTech, produced the first vaccine that was authorized in the US, which regulators approved in December. The second, made by Moderna, headquartered in Massachusetts, was authorized later that month.
The State Department’s Global Engagement Center, set up to counter propaganda and disinformation campaigns, identified the three outlets, the spokeswoman said.
News Front is controlled by Russia’s federal security service, the center found. New Eastern Outlook and Oriental Review are directed and controlled by the Russian foreign intelligence service.
A fourth outlet, Rebel Inside, controlled by the Russian army, was also named by the center but is largely dormant, the spokeswoman said.
“The Department will continue to expose Russia’s nefarious activities online,” she added. “We will also continue to work closely with our allies and partners to provide a global response to countering disinformation.”

 


Australia ends defense cooperation with Myanmar over coup

Australia ends defense cooperation with Myanmar over coup
Updated 08 March 2021

Australia ends defense cooperation with Myanmar over coup

Australia ends defense cooperation with Myanmar over coup
  • Myanmar's junta has also detained since February Australian citizen Sean Turnell, an economic policy adviser of Aung San suu Kyi

CANBERRA: Australia has suspended its defense cooperation with Myanmar and is redirecting humanitarian aid because of the military takeover of the government and ongoing detention of an Australian citizen.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne said on Monday that Australian diplomats and relatives had only been able to contact economic policy adviser Sean Turnell twice by phone since he was detained in early February. She described the access as “very limited consular support.”
“We believe Professor Turnell has been arbitrarily detained along with senior members of the Myanmar government including State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, including the President” Win Myint, Payne told reporters.
“We do not accept the conditions of his detention and the reasons for his detention. We seek a return to democracy. We seek absolutely the cessation of any armed violence against unarmed peaceful protesting civilians. And in everything we are doing we are seeking Professor Turnell’s release,” she added.
Australia announced late Sunday it had suspended a defense training program with Myanmar worth about 1.5 million Australian dollars ($1.2 million) over five years. The program had been restricted to non-combat areas such as English-language training.
Australian humanitarian aid will be directed away from Myanmar government and government-related entities. Instead it will focus on the immediate humanitarian needs of the most vulnerable and poor in Myanmar including the Rohingyas and other ethnic minorities, Payne said.
“One of the things that I do not want to do, and that Australia does not want to do, is to penalize the people of Myanmar,” Payne said.
Australia had previously imposed sanctions including an arms embargo and sanctions targeting five members of Myanmar’s armed forces. These sanctions would continue to be reviewed, Payne said.
Turnell was detained within weeks of arriving in Myanmar’s biggest city, Yangon, from Australia to take up a job as adviser to Suu Kyi’s government.
Turnell’s Australian friend and fellow Myanmar expert Monique Skidmore described Australia’s response to the Feb. 1 military coup as late and “very soft.”
“The reality is that they have enough money, they have enough weapons, they have enough trade partners with China on their doorstep. They don’t need the West,” Skidmore said.
“I assume that we are going more softly than otherwise at the moment until Sean is returned to Australia,” she added.


UAE breaks ground for Sheikh Zayed Mosque replica in Indonesia

UAE breaks ground for Sheikh Zayed Mosque replica in Indonesia
Updated 08 March 2021

UAE breaks ground for Sheikh Zayed Mosque replica in Indonesia

UAE breaks ground for Sheikh Zayed Mosque replica in Indonesia
  • $20m replica of UAE’s largest mosque was gifted by Abu Dhabi crown prince

JAKARTA: Top Emirati officials have broken ground for a replica of Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Indonesia.

The mosque will be constructed in Solo in Central Java province, the hometown of Indonesian President Joko Widodo.

The replica of the UAE’s largest mosque was gifted to Widodo during the visit of Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan to Jakarta in July 2019. 

The crown prince’s visit to Indonesia was the first by a UAE leader since that of his father Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan in 1990.

On the Emirati side, the ground-breaking ceremony was attended by Energy and Infrastructure Minister Suhail Al-Mazroui, and General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments Chairman Dr. Mohammed Al-Kaabi. 

On the Indonesian side, it was attended by Religious Affairs Minister Yaqut Cholil Qoumas, State-Owned Enterprises Minister Erick Thohir and Solo Mayor Gibran Rakabuming Raka, who is Widodo’s eldest son.

“The mosque will be almost 100 percent similar to the one in Abu Dhabi, but it will also incorporate some Indonesian ornaments and will maximize the use of local materials,” Husin Bagis, Indonesia’s ambassador to the UAE, told Arab News on Sunday.

The mosque, which will be built on a 3-hectare plot, will feature four minarets, with the main dome surrounded by smaller domes. It will be able to accommodate about 10,000 worshippers.

The ambassador said it could become a major religious tourism destination in the Muslim-majority Southeast Asian country. “Now worshippers can go to Solo to marvel at Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque’s splendor,” he added.

The $20 million mosque project is expected to be ready to welcome worshippers in September 2022. 

Construction is being fully financed by the UAE, Qoumas said during the ground-breaking ceremony.

“The mosque, which has a contemporary historical value, will be dedicated to all Muslims and will be managed by the Indonesian government,” he added.

The mosque compound will include an Islamic center to provide UAE-sponsored training for clerics to promote religious moderation.

The ground-breaking ceremony capped a series of events as part of Indonesia-Emirati Amazing Week in Jakarta, Solo, Bandung and Surabaya, which started on March 1 and witnessed the signing of a number of agreements.

The visit by Al-Mazroui and his delegation is a follow-up to $22.9 billion worth of UAE investment deals signed by Widodo during his visit to Abu Dhabi in January 2019.

The agreements, which cover energy, infrastructure, defense and mining, are seen as the biggest foreign investment in Indonesia’s history, and a major advancement of its ties with the Gulf state.

In October 2020, one of the roads in Abu Dhabi’s diplomatic quarters was renamed President Joko Widodo Street.

The Indonesian ambassador said: “Following the grand mosque construction in Solo, the UAE will also construct a mosque named after President Widodo on a location near President Joko Widodo Street.”


Swiss agree to outlaw facial coverings in ‘burqa ban’ vote

Swiss agree to outlaw facial coverings in ‘burqa ban’ vote
Updated 07 March 2021

Swiss agree to outlaw facial coverings in ‘burqa ban’ vote

Swiss agree to outlaw facial coverings in ‘burqa ban’ vote
  • The measure to amend the Swiss constitution passed by a 51.2-48.8% margin, provisional official results showed
  • The Central Council of Muslims in Switzerland called the vote a dark day for the community

ZURICH: A far-right proposal to ban facial coverings in Switzerland won a narrow victory in a binding referendum on Sunday instigated by the same group that organised a 2009 ban on new minarets.
The measure to amend the Swiss constitution passed by a 51.2-48.8% margin, provisional official results showed.
The proposal under the Swiss system of direct democracy does not mention Islam directly and also aims to stop violent street protesters from wearing masks, yet local politicians, media and campaigners have dubbed it the burqa ban.
"In Switzerland, our tradition is that you show your face. That is a sign of our basic freedoms," Walter Wobmann, chairman of the referendum committee and a member of parliament for the Swiss People's Party, had said before the vote.
He called facial covering "a symbol for this extreme, political Islam which has become increasingly prominent in Europe and which has no place in Switzerland".
The Central Council of Muslims in Switzerland called the vote a dark day for the community.
"Today's decision opens old wounds, further expands the principle of legal inequality, and sends a clear signal of exclusion to the Muslim minority," it said.
It promised legal challenges to laws implementing the ban and a fundraising drive to help women who are fined.
The proposal predated the COVID-19 pandemic, which has required adults to wear masks in many settings to prevent the spread of infection.
Two cantons already have local bans on face coverings.
France banned wearing a full face veil in public in 2011 and Denmark, Austria, the Netherlands and Bulgaria have full or partial bans on wearing face coverings in public.
Practically no one in Switzerland wears a burqa and only around 30 women wear the niqab, the University of Lucerne estimates. Muslims make up 5% of the Swiss population of 8.6 million people, most with roots in Turkey, Bosnia and Kosovo.
The government had urged people to vote against a ban.
"After the ban on minarets, a majority of Swiss voters has once again backed an initiative that discriminates against a single religious community and needlessly stirs up fears and division," Amnesty International said.
"The veiling ban is not a measure for women's liberation, but a dangerous symbolic policy that violates freedom of expression and religion."


Russia reports 10,595 new COVID-19 cases, 368 deaths

Russia reports 10,595 new COVID-19 cases, 368 deaths
Updated 07 March 2021

Russia reports 10,595 new COVID-19 cases, 368 deaths

Russia reports 10,595 new COVID-19 cases, 368 deaths
  • The government’s coronavirus taskforce said that 368 people had died in the last 24 hours

MOSCOW: Russia on Sunday reported 10,595 new COVID-19 cases, including 1,534 in Moscow, taking the national case tally to 4,322,776 since the pandemic began.
The government’s coronavirus taskforce said that 368 people had died in the last 24 hours, bringing the Russian death toll to 89,094.