Polio, or poliomyelitis, is a highly contagious viral infection that can lead to paralysis, breathing problems, or even death. It is in some ways similar to religious fundamentalism, which if not countered effectively, paralyses a society’s movement towards enlightenment or progress of any kind, suffocates free ideas within, leaving it stagnant or dead. In Pakistan, both these diseases seem to have become allies. The latter is often found facilitating the former in bringing endless pain and suffering to innocent children and their families. A simple Polio vaccine is made to appear as a scheme of the ‘enemies of Muslims’, completely ineffective for immunisation, and the Polio workers carrying out these vaccinations are shot and killed. At least 25 medical workers and security personnel have lost their lives since June 2012 prohibition on inoculation, imposed by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), due to the fake CIA vaccination programme meant to help track Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.
While the rest of the world has completely eradicated Polio, or is close to achieving it in the remaining areas, the year 2013 has seen a rise in Polio cases in the country. Since religious extremism is the biggest hurdle in the campaign against Polio, the fatwa issued by Maulana Sami-ul-Haq in favour of Polio vaccinations is expected to improve the current situation. Being the head of the hardline Dar-ul-Uloom Haqqania seminary, Mr Sami-ul-Haq’s fatwa will be seen by the extremists as an edict issued by one of their own. However, it would have been even better if the edict also contained specific instructions to his disciples to not shoot at Polio workers, perhaps. If this fatwa enables even a single child to be immunised, we will take it. But that, in no way, should be mistaken for agreeing with this exercise of seeking a stamp of approval by religious clerics for scientific medical procedures they know absolutely nothing about it.
Polio was not identified as a deadly disease in a campus of Dar-ul-Uloom Haqqania, nor was its vaccine developed there. They couldn’t have done it even if their own life depended on it. It was the scientists, although lacking in their ability to recite religious texts, who found the solution after years of research and hard work. How unfortunate the way people put their faith and lives in the hands of those who are either ignorant, or simply don’t care. Science and the solutions it offers require no authorization, or even an endorsement from a mullah. They are simply unqualified to even so much as comment on such matters. Especially, as long as people take them seriously. Hopefully, our society will progress to a point where individuals make decisions independently and rationally. Till then, we might have to settle for a kind touch from the ungentle.