Misinformed Muslims allege that vaccination is against the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), claiming that if it was allowable, the Prophet (pbuh) would have done it during his time.
We forget that Islam is a pragmatic religion that teaches followers to learn, observe, think and analyse, thus making the religion relevant and valid till eternity. This had driven Islam to success, with discoveries and inventions during a time when Europe was enshrouded in the dark ages that prevented new thinking.
The Prophet (pbuh) and his companions encouraged the consumption of honey, olive oil, dates and black seed (habattussauda’) which has since been shown to strengthen the immune system. The protection conferred by these healthy foods is generic and not specific against infectious diseases.
One of the most common misconceptions among Muslims is that tahnik is a universal and true immunisation. IbnHajar al-Asqalani (rahimahullah) explained tahnik as the process of chewing some sweet food and rubbing it into the ceiling of the baby’s mouth.
It is preferable to perform the tahnik with a tamr (dates) or alternatively ruthab (wet dates). If neither is available, it can be done with anything sweet such as honey.
Scholars emphasised that the benefit of tahnik is to introduce something sweet into the mouth of the baby to stimulate sucking and eating. Syaikh Muhammad Salih al-Munajjid Hafizahullah and Imam Nawawi (al-Nawawi, SharhSahih Muslim 1/462) both explained the hikmah of using the tamr (dates) so that the first food entering the baby’s stomach is something sweet.
There is not a single hadith by the Prophet (pbuh) suggesting that tahnik is for the purpose of immunisation.
“Scholars emphasised that the benefit of tahnik is to introduce something sweet into the mouth of the baby to stimulate sucking and eating.”
Another common misconception is that exclusive breastfeeding is good enough to strengthen the baby’s immunity without vaccination. Breast milk has secretory IgA, lactoferrin, lysozyme, anti-oxidants and other anti-infective factors that confer early protection against diarrheal diseases and acute respiratory infections, the main causes of deaths in infants.
However, the levels of these antibodies start decreasing and eventually disappear after the first few weeks after the baby is born. The anti-infective protection in breast milk is transient and short-lived due to declining levels over time.
Breast milk also does not contain antibodies specifically targeted at infectious diseases like tuberculosis, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio,measles, Hib and rubella.
For instance, in the absence of immunisation, breastfed infants in pertussis-endemic countries had similar hospitalisation rates for pertussis-like illness as bottle-fed babies. Pertussis is associated with many lung and brain complications and can be lethal in young infants.
It is human nature to find something to blame, when they fail to understand a misgiving. Vaccination is universal and very successful, therefore it is an easy target, for instance, for the rise in autism.
Money and greed also play a role in fueling the misconceptions. The controversy feeds interest in alternative or food products that falsely claim to be the panacea to alleviate symptoms, cure side effects or ailments seemingly attributed to vaccination. The deeper the controversy, the greater the interest in the remedy, and therefore the more business it can generate for those with vested interests.
“When you received it with your tongues and said with your mouths that of which you had no knowledge and thought it was insignificant while it was, in the sight of Allah , tremendous.” AnNuur 15
Forty thousand children die each day in developing countries; approximately 28 every minute. In many of these countries, 25% of children do not even live long enough to celebrate their fifth birthday. These mortality statistics represent a human tragedy affecting the very young and most vulnerable amongst us.
“For instance, in the absence of immunisation, breastfed infants in pertussis-endemic countries had similar hospitalisation rates for pertussis-like illness as bottle-fed babies.”
It is imperative for Muslims to base our understanding on sound facts derived from well-designed scientific studies. Failure to do so will cause injustice to the people that we serve or communicate the knowledge to. It is unbecoming of Muslims to be entirely convinced on arguments founded on hearsay or pseudoscience.