A slow uptake of the Covid-19 vaccine within Muslim communities could “fan the flames of Islamophobia”, a religious leader has said.

Leeds-based Imam Qari Asim, who is chair of Mosque and Imams National Advisory Board, is running a campaign to encourage Muslim communities to take the coronavirus vaccine and dispel some of the myths around the procedure.

He told the PA news agency: “We saw that happen in the first lockdown when the mosques were closed, but actually an extreme far-right was spreading rumours and misinformation using historic footage to say that mosques are open.

“We don’t want any community to be scapegoated during this pandemic.

“I think it’s extremely concerning that even during this pandemic there are people that are exploiting opportunities and also spreading misinformation online and scapegoating communities.”

Misinformation spread withing ethnic minority communities often plays on religious concerns — that the vaccine might contain gelatine, or other animal products and is not halal, or that it can result in modification of DNA.

An undated document released by Sage on Friday found “marked difference existed by ethnicity, with black ethnic groups the most likely to be Covid-19 hesitant, followed by Pakistani/Bangladeshi groups”.

Adults in minority ethnic groups were less likely to receive the vaccine than those in white groups, by between 10-20%.

Among the barriers to the vaccine, uptake is the perception of risk, low confidence in the vaccine, and lack of endorsement from trusted providers and community leaders.

Around 100 mosques are using Friday prayers to raise coronavirus awareness and dispel myths around vaccinations, and Imams have agreed to be filmed being vaccinated in a bid to “inspire confidence” in their communities and show that jabs are permissible and halal.

Imam Asim said: “Some of the campaigns that have been run — we are seeing that because of the webinars, people are changing their views on these vaccines and there is a greater uptake of these vaccines in the Muslim communities.

“Misinformation can result in someone losing their life and it is one of the core principles of Islam that protection of life is extremely important. My message to Muslim communities is that it is our ethical obligation, moral duty to take the vaccine whenever the opportunity arises.

“Don’t miss the opportunity to take the vaccine and save lives.”

He said Muslim scholars, as well as medical experts, have looked into concerns from their communities but are “confident” the vaccine is permissible under Islamic law.

Imam Asim has written a special sermon which tackles some of the “fake news” about the vaccine which is circulating on social media.

“A young person or someone who is physically fit may not feel they need to take the vaccine, but this is not just about preventing harm to ourselves but also we have a duty of care towards others,” he said.

“It is our moral obligation to prevent harm to ourselves as well as others within our society.”

Imam Qari Asim gives a sermon encouraging Muslims to get the covid vaccine at the Makka Mosque in Leeds. (Qari Asim)

He encouraged those with concerns about the vaccine to “verify before you amplify”.

Salman Waqar, from the British Islamic Medical Association (BIMA), said there was a need for “contemporaneous real-time data to know what’s working and what isn’t working”.

He added: “Data on faith isn’t really collected, so you have to infer it from ethnicity.

“And the signals that we are getting from within the NHS and public health suggests that South Asian communities in particular are struggling – the message isn’t getting through.”

Dr Waqar, who works as a GP in Berkshire and academic researcher at Oxford University, is helping set up one of the local vaccination hubs.

“Some of my colleagues have said that they struggled to book in minority community patients, particularly the elderly,” he said.

“If you look at data from influenza. that’s also showed a lower uptake amongst minority communities, so it’s not surprising in that sense.

“There is a lot of misinformation, a lot of fog. And people really need help seeing through that fog.

“When you do actually sit them down and explain to them ‘these are the myths’ a lot people turn around and they do change their minds.”