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Hostility to Polio Vaccine

Some people in our country are campaigning against polio vaccination on the basis of apparently religious reasons. It is important, therefore, that the reasons they are presenting are analysed on religious grounds to see if they are valid.

Two reasons are often presented: the campaign is a conspiracy of the non-Muslim world against Muslims to check their population growth by making their future generations impotent and infertile. It is said that Dr Shakeel Afridi’s fake hepatitis campaign has lent further credence to this theory.

The other religious argument presented is that the disability of polio-stricken children is ordained by God as a test for a Muslim, one that he should face with patience.

Both arguments have apparent merits for gullible followers of religious leaders who the former rely on completely for spiritual guidance. Both should therefore receive a proper response if the anti-polio campaign is to succeed in our country.

As far as the conspiracy theory goes, the Holy Quran has suggested a clear solution to it which all believing Muslims must follow.

While talking about rumours spread by mischief-mongers during the time of the Prophet (PBUH), the Quran suggested this strategy: “Whenever these people receive information regarding peace or threat, they spread it across. Had they presented it before the Messenger and the ones in authority among them, those who have the ability to get to the truth of the matter would have verified it. …” (4:83).

In other words, the Quran is suggesting that if there is disturbing information circulating in society relevant to collective matters, it must be verified by the rulers through experts in the field.

That is exactly what should be done in response to the apprehensions that are being expressed regarding the polio vaccination.

A team of experts in the field of medicine should be appointed by the government to look into the question of fake vaccination campaigns. To make the exercise credible, the government should have at least one member in the inquiry committee who enjoys the confidence of the clergy.

And it should be made known to everyone that the task is being done exactly in accordance with Quranic guidance. Once the report of the commission is made public, every Pakistani shall be bound to follow the decision of the government which will decide on the matter in light of the report.

As for the reason that this life is a trial and therefore we must face its difficulties as such, the truth is that the trial does not require us to be casual about our well-being and security. God expects us to do our bit as best as we can to protect ourselves from the dangers to our life and health and then trust Him. The Prophet said to a person who did not tie his camel, leaving it in God’s care: “Tie it and then trust God.”

The Quran mentions the fact that God has arranged for certain elements to cure diseases in nature. If polio is a threat to the healthy body, God desires that we should benefit from all scientific discoveries human beings have made to counter it. Doing so will very much be consistent with the will of God.

It also needs to be emphasised that the Quran makes it binding on the believer to obey the rulers. “Believers, obey God, obey the Messenger, and those in authority among you. …” (4:59).

Religious leaders should not be allowed any authority to block a campaign which is approved by parliament and implemented by the executive. Parliament legislates on the basis of the Islamic principle of consultation (42:38). The executive implements the decisions on the basis of the authority they enjoy from God mentioned in 4:59.

God-fearing Muslims are under obligation to obey both divine rulings. If they have to say anything against the decision of parliament and the executive, they can influence parliament by presenting their arguments or have recourse to the judiciary which would satisfy the condition of the second part of 4:59, which says “…If you dispute in any matter, then refer it back to God and His Messenger. …”

The result of the phenomenon of blind following of scholars in religious matters is that numerous mini-states within the state have emerged. The common man follows his religious leaders instead of the state authority whenever he is convinced that the matter under consideration is religious in nature and the state authority should have no say in deciding about what God and His Messenger have already decided.

The real solution to the problems like the one we are facing in the form of challenge to the polio vaccination drive lies in establishing the state’s authority over all its citizens.

Published in Dawn News, December 20th, 2013.