Indonesia’s peak Islamic body has issued a religious decree – or fatwa – declaring the Rubella-Measles vaccine to be “haram” or religiously forbidden.
The Indonesian Ulama Council (MUI) justified the ruling by claiming the vaccine contains traces of pork and human cells, which are banned in the Muslim religion.
The organisation is chaired by Ma’ruf Amin, who was recently controversially announced as Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s running mate in next year’s presidential election.
However, the fatwa also states that the use of the product will be allowed for the time being due to the lack of viable alternatives.
“We’ve found ourselves in a position where we have no choice … there has not been a vaccine found to be halal and sacred,” an MUI official told CNN Indonesia.
He said the religious organisation understood the dangers associated with not getting children immunised.
However, CNN Indonesia reported that a number of towns had already suspended the vaccine before the MUI even announced their decision.
Tim Lindsey, the director of the Centre for Indonesian Law in the University of Melbourne, told the ABC the fatwa would undoubtedly make accessing the vaccination more difficult in Indonesia.
Fatwas are not legally binding in Indonesia, however declarations from the MUI are highly influential.
“If there’s a MUI fatwa opposing it, that will be a real obstacle to public health efforts,” Professor Lindsey said.
What is the MUI and how is Widodo tied to it?
The MUI is a small non-government organisation which receives funding from the government of Indonesia.
It oversees all Muslim organisations in the country, and has powers to issue halal certifications and regulate Islamic banking.
Mr Amin, President Jokowo Widodo’s controversial new running mate, is the leader of the organisation and was previously the head of its fatwa committee.
One fatwa issued by Mr Amin was crucial in the trial of Jakarta’s former minority Christian-Chinese governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, commonly known as Ahok, who was subsequently jailed under blasphemy charges.
The fatwa sparked a mass movement which saw more than 150,000 Indonesians protests in the streets of Jakarta calling for Ahok’s arrest.
“There’s a pattern that’s emerged in Indonesia. In minority groups and cases of blasphemy, fatwas are relied on in court as evidence,” Professor Lindsey said.
“It’s almost always the case that if a MUI fatwa is issued against a person accused of blasphemy, they are convicted.”
Under Mr Amin, the organisation’s fatwa committee also declared fatwas against secularism, pluralism and liberalism.
Those decrees claimed that Indonesia’s liberal democratic order was un-Islamic and inappropriate.
Professor Lindsey said the MUI has high levels of government support, which legitimises them in the eyes of the public.
“The Indonesian democratic system is under threat from this conservative Islamist position and MUI is one of the organisations that’s leading that charge.”