I don’t mind admitting it. I thought I had read just about every religion-angle COVID-19 vaccine story that there was to read (and I say that just before heading out the door to drive deep into the Cumberland Mountains to get shot No. 1 at a small-county health clinic).
The Detroit Free Press published a long, long story the other day that certainly proved me wrong on that. The headline: “Vaccine-mobile brings COVID-19 shots to Dearborn mosque, helping to convince the hesitant.”
The key to the story was mentioned in an email from the GetReligion reader who (thank you readers who take the time to do this kind of thing) sent us the URL for this story. Here is part of her note:
What I really liked about this article was the way it presented vaccine concerns of the Metro Detroit Muslim community in the context of how the mosque met those concerns. Some of the concerns are unique to the Muslim community (such as the relationship of vaccination to the Ramadan fast) and others are more broad, but the article shows how this religious community is addressing them. The article quotes a variety of actual community members, which I always appreciate.
The Ramadan angle?
That’s the connection that I admit had not occurred to me. The key is explaining the specific link between the strict rules of the Ramadan fast and the simple act of getting a shot of vaccine. We are not talking, at this point, about conspiracy theory talk about the vaccine formulas containing traces of pork.
Here is the crucial part of the story, quoting Mirvat Kadouh, vice chair of the Islamic Center of America’s Board of Trustees.
“We are trying to vaccinate as many people as we can before Ramadan,” Kadouh said early Monday morning, spreading a plastic tablecloth over a folding table in a large conference room, where the Islamic Center’s first COVID-19 vaccine clinic was about to begin.
She helped to organize the clinic in partnership with Henry Ford Health System’s Global Health Initiative, arranging for 300 Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines to be delivered in a van to the doorstep of the mosque, along with trained medical personnel from Henry Ford to give the shots and answer questions.
“During Ramadan, nothing should enter your body” from dawn to sunset, Kadouh explained. “It’s supposed to be a total fast, and some people feel that if you take an injection, something is entering your body.”
Imams and other religious authorities have addressed this issue, working hard to let the faithful know that getting shots during Ramadan is both acceptable and important to the health of the community.
Then there are other unique issues linked to language, culture, immigration and, let’s face it, a radical distrust of government officials in the United States. For example: Very few FAQs about the new vaccines have been translated into Arabic. Most COVID-19 websites are in English or Spanish.
Then there are the usual conspiracy theories — that the vaccines contain tracing chips, for example — that are spreading everywhere via social media.
Here is another angle that is logical, once you step inside this faith culture.
Fatima Hammoud stepped behind a privacy screen before getting her immunization. Many Muslim women dress modestly and cover their arms, so providing a screen for them to have their shots privately was an important consideration when Henry Ford planned the clinic with the mosque.
“For the Middle Eastern population in particular, this is the place that they trust, this is (one of) the largest and one of the oldest mosques in North America,” said John Zervos, executive director of the Global Health Initiative. “It’s got that trust in the community. So we had the easy part. What we had to do is just bring clinical staff to where people wanted to go for the vaccine, so it was a no-brainer for us.”
Let me stress: There is nothing that is truly unique about this story. That’s a compliment!
This is a fine example of taking a giant national story and then thinking through the logical connections to faith groups in the communities served by a particular newsroom. This requires some basic knowledge of world religions and specific denominations and traditions.
But as our reader said, the main thing that is required here is talking to people and then letting readers hear their voices and their concerns.
Which brings me back to a book I have recommended many times — especially for journalists who are interested in preparing for religion-beat work. The book, by religion-beat veteran Mark I. Pinsky, is called, “A Jew among the Evangelicals: A Guide for the Perplexed.” It’s a must read, now and forever, amen.
FIRST IMAGE: From website of the Henry Ford Health System.