SINGAPORE - The move on Sunday (Dec 13) to permit Covid-19 vaccines for Muslims here, regardless of their ingredients, was an executive decision made by Singapore's Mufti, the highest Islamic authority here, due to the urgency of the situation.
While religious guidance is typically given by the Fatwa Committee, the guidance over the Covid-19 vaccine released on Sunday was made directly from the Office of the Mufti.
"When the vaccines are available in Singapore for safe use, I would strongly urge the Muslim community to take up the vaccine, as part of our contribution (to society), and not to worry about whether you are allowed to do so, because the religious guidance is very clear on this matter," said Mufti Nazirudin Mohd Nasir on Monday.
Speaking to the media at the Singapore Islamic Hub in Braddell Road, Dr Nazirudin said the immediate priority is to protect lives and keep everyone safe, so that religious and social activities can resume in a safe and responsible way.
"And we know the difference that the vaccine will make to help us achieve these objectives," he said.
He noted that there are concerns in some parts of the Muslim world over the ingredients of the vaccines, as Muslims have strict dietary requirements and cannot consume food or ingredients derived from pigs.
"So when Muslims look at this, they might be concerned as to whether we can take such medicines or drugs. It is a general concern. And the fatwa was issued to provide assurance to Muslims that they can consume," said Dr Nazirudin.
He said that in the context of a global pandemic, taking a vaccine helps to save lives and protect livelihoods, and "these are objectives that are clearly part of the teachings of Islam".
He noted the religious guidance was issued preemptively and was not merely a response to brewing concerns on the ground, saying that Muslims in Singapore are not "preoccupied with this because there have been precedents".
For example, a fatwa was issue in 2013 when there was a rotavirus outbreak, ruling that vaccines are a form of preventive treatment from diseases and encouraged in Islam.
In 2015, there was also a ruling on the drug Heparin, a blood thinner that contains pig enzymes, said Dr Nazirudin.
Dr Nazirudin pointed to the Islamic concept of Istihalah, which recognises that certain substances may go through processes that change the form of the substances, particularly in the development of medicines.
"The change of that substance may have rendered that particular substance negligible and almost undetectable in the final product," he explained.
"When the vaccine or medicine in the end does not contain any more substances or animal cells, these medicines or vaccines are considered permissible in Islam because they have gone through this process of Istihalah, which changes the nature of the substance."
He added that there are also Covid-19 vaccines which are completely synthetic and do not contain any animal substances.
Dr Nazirudin stressed the importance of establishing the safety and efficacy of the vaccines.
There is trust that Singapore's regulatory and ethical bodies responsible for ensuring the safety of vaccines "have done their due diligence and job, and subjected the vaccines to very rigorous and stringent standards of safety", he said.
On Sunday, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) had issued an irsyad, or religious guidance, urging Muslims to be vaccinated once a Covid-19 vaccine is available, and medically authorised as safe and effective.
Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Masagos Zulkifli also said in a Facebook post that he welcomed Muis' religious guidance and strongly encouraged Muslims to be vaccinated once the vaccines are available in Singapore.