Question # 355: Aslm, I wanted to know the Islamic perspective behind immunization and vaccination?

bismi-llahi r-raḥmani r-raḥīm,

Assalamu ‘laikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh,

All praise and thanks are due to Allah (سبحانه و تعالى), and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger (صلى الله عليه و سلم).

Dear questioner,

First of all, we implore Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) to help us serve His cause and render our work for His sake.

Shorter Answer: Immunization and Vaccination makes the body of the one who is immunized produce substances known as antibodies, the function of which is to fight disease. They do not, in principle, cause disease to the one who is immunized – the side-effects as a result of being immunized cannot be compared to the future benefits. Hence, in general, it is permissible to take precautions by taking the vaccination and medicine to protect oneself from the dangerous diseases. Furthermore, the ruling on immunization depends on the ruling on the substance used in it and the effects it has. They are of different types: 

  1. Substances that are basically permissible to use and have beneficial effects. Thus, vaccinations, the effects of which are known from experience to give protection against this disease by Allah’s leave, come under the same ruling as medical treatment because Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said: “Seek medical treatment.” With regard to the short-lived fever or other side-effects, these drawbacks may be overlooked when compared with the great harm that is warded off.
  2. Substances that are permissible to use, but it causes more harm than good to the body or it is of no benefit at all. So, if it is medically proven that a specific vaccine causes harm to the body or that its harmful effects outweigh its effects of warding off disease, then it is not permissible to use it.
  3. Substances that were originally haraam or impure (najis) but these have been chemically treated or other substances have been added to it, that changes their name as well as quality to permissible substances, and now these have beneficial effect. It is permissible to have such vaccinations.
  4. Substance that are harmful or haraam, or the effect of which is not certain or there is a difference of opinion among doctors and specialists as to whether it is beneficial. Such vaccinations are not permissible because of the possibility of exposing oneself to disease or death. 

Long Answer: Receiving medical treatment and longing for good health is encouraged in Islam. The Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said: “A strong believer is better and is more lovable to Allah than a weak believer, and there is good in everyone, (but) cherish that which gives you benefit (in the Hereafter) and seek help from Allah and do not lose heart.” (Sahih Muslim)

Allah did not send down a disease but he also sent its treatment; some people know it while others do not. 

Imam al-Tirmidhi reported from Usamah Bin Shareek (رضي الله عنه) that “The Bedouins said to the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم): ‘O Allah’s Messenger, should we treat ourselves?’ He replied: “O slaves of Allah, treat yourselves, for Allah has not made a disease without appointing a remedy for it with the exception of one disease, namely old age.” 

It is proved that the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم), his companions, and the good ancestors used to seek and receive treatment. Therefore, it is permissible to take precautions by checking and taking the vaccination and medicine to protect oneself from the dangerous disease or others. The Islamic Shari’ah also emphasizes on the affected person to receive the suitable medication to cure himself. 

Immunization – which is also called protection and vaccination – makes the body of the one who is immunized produce substances known as antibodies; their function is to fight disease. They do not, in principle, cause disease to the one who is immunized. What happens of side-effects as a result of being immunized cannot be compared to the future benefits, in sha Allah. 

In al-Mawsoo‘ah al-‘Arabiyyah al-‘Aalamiyyah it says: “Protection or active immunization is another word for vaccination. The vaccine contains a substance that can strengthen the immunity of the body and enable it to produce antibodies to a specific contagious disease. These antibodies protect the individual if he catches the live agent that causes the disease. The vaccine contains a strong substance that is enough to stimulate production of antibodies but it is not strong enough to cause the actual disease. Most vaccines contain the bacteria that causes the disease or dead viruses; some others contain living pathogens but they are in a weakened state that cannot cause the disease. These vaccines contain toxins that are secreted by the pathogens that cause the disease and these toxins are treated chemically so that they give immunity without causing disease.” 

Secondly, the ruling on immunization depends on the ruling on the substance used in it and the effects it has. They are of different types: 

  1. The first type is substances that are basically permissible to use and have beneficial effects: 

There is no doubt that these are permissible; in fact they are among the great blessings that Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) has bestowed upon His creation. This medical achievement has put an end to the spread of many epidemics. 

Shaykh Sa‘d ibn Naasir al-Shathri (may Allah preserve him) said: “Among issues having to do with epidemics and contagious diseases is the ruling on vaccinations that are given in order to protect against these diseases…Vaccinations the effects of which are known from experience to give protection against this disease by Allah’s leave. The ruling on these is that they come under the same ruling as medical treatment, as they are a type of medical treatment. That is because they are included in the words of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم): “Seek medical treatment.” So they come under the same rulings as medical treatment. Some fuqaha’ had a problem with the idea of vaccinations and said: The vaccination is a reduced level of sickness that is transferred to the body so that the body will be able to fight the real sickness (so that the body gets used to resisting sickness). They said: How can we allow introducing sickness into the body? But the more correct view is that there is nothing wrong with doing that; rather it is a righteous act because the introduction of harm in this case does not result in further harm; rather it serves a purpose which is to protect the one who receives this vaccination from severe illness. This indicates that there is nothing wrong with receiving this vaccination. (Lecture entitled Ahkaam Fiqhiyyah tata‘allaq bil Awbi’ah) 

Shaykh ‘Abd al-‘Azeez ibn Baaz (may Allah have mercy on him) said: “There is nothing wrong with giving treatment if there is the fear that the disease may occur because of the presence of an epidemic or other factors which may cause disease. There is nothing wrong with giving medicine to ward off the feared disease, because the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said, according to the sahih hadith, “Whoever eats seven dates of Madinah in the morning will not be harmed by witchcraft or poison.” This is a kind of warding off a problem before it happens. So if there is the fear of sickness and a person is vaccinated against an infection that is present in the land or elsewhere, there is nothing wrong with that, because it is a kind of protection. But it is not permissible to wear or hang up amulets etc. against sickness, the jinn or the evil eye, because the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) forbade that, and explained that this is a kind of minor shirk [associating others in worship with Allah], so it must be avoided.” (Fataawa al-Shaykh Ibn Baaz) 

Whether this permissible substance is a virus or bacteria or some other substance, they all come under the heading of that which it is permissible to consume if it will have a beneficial effect… With regard to the harm suffered by those who are given some vaccinations, namely a short-lived fever or other side-effects, these drawbacks may be overlooked when compared with the great harm that is warded off, namely the diseases that may kill or cause great harm to a person’s health. 

This is similar to the case of circumcising boys by cutting off a piece of skin and the intense pain that is caused to the infant; this is outweighed by the great benefits that are served by this action, serving the religious interest of purity (taharah) and numerous worldly benefits. 

The general shar’i principle with regard to this matter is that the lesser of two evils may be done in order to ward off the greater evil, if it is necessary to do one of them. (Al-Ashbaah wa’l-Nazaa’ir by al-Subki) 

  1. The second type is that, which is a substance that it is permissible to use, but it causes more harm than good to the body or it is of no benefit at all. 

With regard to these vaccinations, there is no doubt that it is not permissible to use them because we have been forbidden to harm ourselves by consuming harmful food, drink, medicine and so on… [Hence,] if it is medically proven that a specific vaccine causes harm to the body or that its harmful effects outweigh its effects of warding off disease, then it is not permissible to use it in that case, because the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said, “There should be neither harm nor reciprocating harm.”  (Ahmad and Ibn Maajah) 

  1. The third type is that which is made from a substance that was originally haraam or impure (najis) but it has been chemically treated or other substances have been added to it that changed it in name and quality to a permissible substance, which is what is called istihaalah or transformation, and it has a beneficial effect. 

In al-Mawsoo‘ah al-‘Arabiyyah al-‘Aalamiyyah it says: “Some vaccines are made from parts or secretions of the live agents that cause the disease and other types of vaccinations are made from live agents that are similar to those that cause the disease. These agents give immunity but they do not cause disease.” 

It is permissible to have these vaccinations because the transformation that changed the name and quality of the substance also changed the ruling, so they became permissible to use. 

Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah (may Allah have mercy on him) said: “With regard to smoke from an impure substance or matter, (the ruling) is based on a principle which is that the impure substance, if it is transformed and becomes good like other good substances, it is pure, like what falls into the saltworks of blood, animals that die naturally (without being slaughtered properly) and pigs becomes pure salt like the rest of the salt. 

There are two scholarly views concerning this type of transformation. One view is that it does not become pure, as is the view of al-Shafi‘i and is also one of the two views of the madhhab of Maalik; it is also the well-known view of the companions of Ahmad and is one of the two opinions narrated from him. The other view is that it does become pure. This is the view of Abu Haneefah and of Maalik according to one of the two opinions, and it is one of the two opinions narrated from Ahmad. 

The view of the literalists and others is that it becomes pure, and this is the definitive correct view, because these transformed substances are not referred to in any text of prohibition, whether explicitly or implicitly. So they are not haraam and there is no reason for them to be haraam, and there is no justification to suggest that they are haraam. Rather the texts indicate that they are halaal because they are pure. They also come under the category that all are agreed is halaal. (Majmoo‘ al-Fataawa) 

[However, if this ingredient is not transformed and there is another permissible alternative, then it is not permissible to use this vaccine. Nonetheless, if there is no other permissible alternative, then there are some details about the issue. If there is a preponderant probability for the children who are not vaccinated to become sick and that the disease is very serious, in a way that it is feared to cause death or a permanent handicap, then it appears that this case is like a dire necessity that would permit using such impermissible vaccine; Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) says in the Qur’an: “…while He has explained in detail to you what He has forbidden you, excepting that to which you are compelled.” (Soorah An-Anam, 6:119) (Islamweb.net, a web site belonging to the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs in the State of Qatar)] 

  1. The fourth category includes every substance that is harmful or haraam, or the effect of which is not certain or there is a difference of opinion among doctors and specialists as to whether it is beneficial. 

It is not permissible to take these vaccinations because of the possibility of exposing oneself to death and disease. 

Shaykh Sa‘d ibn Naasir al-Shathri (may Allah preserve him) said: “One of the issues having to do with epidemics and contagious diseases is the ruling on taking vaccinations that are given to protect against these diseases… Vaccination against contagious diseases, where there is no certainty of its effect and it is not yet known from experience, or the doctors differ concerning it and there is nothing to base one’s judgment on and there was no medical opinion that seems to be more correct than others. In that case, the basic principle is that it should not be taken and it is not permissible, because there is no certainty that it will have the effect of protecting against disease, but we are certain that it is harmful and that it is damaging to physical well-being, and we cannot be certain that its benefits outweigh its harms. Therefore we disallow it because we do not allow doing anything unless its benefits outweigh its harms. If we are not sure about that then the basic principle is that it is disallowed, i.e., if we are certain that a particular action is harmful and that the benefit that may result from this action is not proven, then in this case it is disallowed.” (Lecture entitled Ahkaam Fiqhiyyah tata‘allaq bil Awbi’ah) 

[Last but not the least,] In fact the Islamic Fiqh Assembly of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) considered vaccines important enough for public safety, that they didn’t consider the permission of the patient needed (certainly in cases of epidemics and the such) Under Decision Number ‎67 (7/5) ‎, they said: “A guardian is entitled to oblige the patient to have medical treatment in some cases, if he has an infectious disease or in the case of a preventive vaccination.” As for the impurities, when they exist, they are in trivial amounts, which would make them exempt. Also, they are often transformed, without any similarity to the original substance. The ruling supported by the majority of the contemporary scholars, as indicated by a resolution issued by the Fiqh Assembly belonging to the OIC, is the avoidance of impurities, such as gelatin in medicine unless there is no alternative to a particular medicine, then it may be consumed. (That doesn’t include non-consumed wine specifically.) With regard to the harm suffered from some vaccinations, the general legal principle is that “the lesser of two evils may be done to ward off the greater.” (al-Ashbaah wa’n-Nazaa’ir by as-Suyouti) It remains to be the duty of the credible physicians to decide on that balance between the harm and benefit of the individual vaccines. (Fatwa of Dr. Hatem al-Haj, Member of the Fatwa Committee of Assembly of Muslim Jurists in America) 

(The above reply is based on various answers provided by Shaykh Muhammad Saalih al-Munajjid on the topic, unless stated otherwise)

Allahu A’lam (Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) knows best) and all Perfections belong to Allah, and all mistakes belong to me alone. May Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) forgive me, Ameen.

Wassalaam