Touseeq, a resident of Rabwah, shares that when he heard the news about anti-vaccination protests in Europe and US, he was shocked how wide-spread skepticism of the vaccine was. He discussed this issue with the leaders of the Jamaat and was advised to vaccinate as it is the only protection against Covid-19 virus and all disinformation regarding Covid-19 vaccination is false.
Touseeq belongs to Ahmadiyya community in Pakistan which is officially declared non-Muslims by the constitution of Pakistan. Approximately 2 to 5million Ahmadis live in Pakistan, which has the largest population of Ahmadis in the world. Ahmadis in Pakistan are also barred by law from worshiping in non-Ahmadi mosques or public prayer rooms, performing the Muslim call to prayer, using the traditional Islamic greeting in public, publicly quoting from the Quran, preaching in public, seeking converts, or producing, publishing, and disseminating their religious materials. These acts are punishable by imprisonment of up to three years. These constitutional hurdles always create an obstacle to launch government services in Rabwa, a settlement of Ahmadi community established by Jammat Ahmadiyya in 1948. Now called Chenab Nagar, it used to be a global headquarter of Ahmadiyya community before moving to England.
Establishment of Vaccination Centers and Controversy of Rumors
The Punjab Health Department set up vaccination centers at Chiniot and Lalian, but left Rabwah, which is 90% populated with Ahmadiyya community, with no vaccination center. Although community members were advised to vaccinate immediately, distant vaccination centers (around ten kilometers away) were difficult to reach due to poor road conditions, making it especially challenging for women and the elderly to reach the vaccination centers.
‘’It was not comfortable to go to the vaccine center outside Rabwah and wait in queues to get vaccinated,’’ an elder said. Hence, the community leaders requested the Punjab Health Department to set up a vaccination center in Rabwah to ease the vaccination process and it was eventually set up inside the Government College. As a result,79,793 (approximately 95%) people have been vaccinated in Rabwah to date and 10,271 booster doses have also been given, says Ahmadiyya Jamaat spokesman.
According to Amir Mahmood, a member of Ahmadiyya community, there was a disinformation campaign and fake messages all around the social media including Facebook, WhatsApp and other digital platforms. Rumors like ‘’surveillance chip’’, ‘’ death after two years of getting vaccinated’’ were common. Additionally, there were rumors that pregnant women, blood pressure and diabetic and cardiac patients cannot get vaccination.
“But we were getting continuous information from the digital platforms of Ahmadiyya community aboutCovid-19 as well as vaccination,” Amir Mahmood explains and adds, “and we trust and follow the information we receive from our Jammat sources.”
However, there were some issues in getting access to specific vaccines like Pfizer for international travel, for that purpose people had to travel to a bigger city nearby, like Sargodha or Faisalabad, he adds.
How did the Ahmadi community in Rabwah cope with the Corona epidemic?
According to Saleem Ahmed, a spokesman for the Ahmadiyya community in Pakistan, when the first wave of Corona hit, the shadow of fear ran through the Rabwah settlement. Misinformation about Covid-19 also started going viral. To counter disinformation and fake news, a pamphlet was prepared to raise awareness about Corona among the members of the Ahmadi community across the country,which was sent to members of the Ahmadiyya Jamaat throughout Pakistan. According to Saleem Ahmed,places of worship, offices and educational institutions were shut-down as per government directives.
“Despite the fear and distress, a continuous engagement between Jammat and its followers helped us to fight against the virus as well as disinformation,” a community member elaborates.
Corona’s contest, rumors and messaging
According to Saleem Ahmed, organizations are formed at the level of the neighborhoods of the Ahmadi community. There are also organizations for the elderly, youth and women so that they have no difficulty in spreading their message and working in collaboration with the community. Technology is also used to convey the message. He explains that the market for rumors about Covid-19and vaccine was active and people were afraid that vaccines could kill them in two years or they might be injected with microchips to track movements.
Institutional shutdown and economic crisis
According to Rashid Ahmed, a resident of Rabwah and an Urdu teacher at Jamia Ahmadiyya Rabwah,the teaching process was suspended during the pandemic. The classes were shifted to online spaces. Places of worship were completely closed and all community offices were shuttered down.Online work was started from home.According to Rashid Ahmed, due to the lock-down, many people belonging to different sectors had become unemployed. The Jammat had set up three hotlines so that those in need could be contacted immediately. “Covid-19 vaccine came up with hell of rumors but we strictly followed the guidelines issued by the Jammat headquarter,” he says and adds, “I got my two vaccination jabs from Rabwah center which was accessible.”
Note: For security reasons some names were not indicated in the article.