The Imam of Port Talbot Mosque is encouraging people to get vaccinated after receiving his first dose of the Covid-19 jab.
Imam Ashraf was given the Oxford Astra Zeneca vaccine at Fairfield Surgery, Port Talbot, in February and hopes to encourage other members of the local Muslim community to follow suit.
He said there are “far more” benefits to the vaccine than “damages”.
“We don’t want to lose more of our loved ones," he added. "We have lost many of them. It’s better to protect ourselves and our loved ones.”
There has been a lower uptake of Covid-19 vaccines in Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities in Neath Port Talbot and Swansea, according to Public Health Wales.
In response to this, representatives of local BAME communities started a campaign to dispel fear, disprove myths and encourage people to get vaccinated.
Medical professionals, faith and community leaders, and other local people launched the Tell Me More Campaign in March and have been sharing information from trusted sources about Covid-19 vaccines.
“I would recommend everyone getting it done when offered,” said Imam Ashraf. “Due to the fact that last Ramadan we couldn’t pray together in the mosques as they were closed”.
Despite some restrictions easing, Muslims are undertaking their second Ramadan in a row without being allowed to meet indoors to break their fast together.
The holy month, which began this week, is marked by fasting, communal worship and meals.
Mosques had to remain closed during Ramadan in 2019 as it collided with the first lockdown, which meant community leaders had to hold virtual celebrations.
Although mosques are open this year, people still cannot go into each other’s homes for iftars - the ritual meal after sundown that marks the breaking of the daily fast.
Imam Ashraf said: “Due to the vaccine drive we are lucky enough that the government eased the restrictions so people could actually come and pray in the mosque.
“The misconceptions people had previously about halal and haram I think have all gone. I can see many people around the community having the vaccine.
“I think the only concern people have is about the side effects but honestly, I had Astra Zeneca myself and it’s been OK.
“When I had it I was advised to have paracetamol after two to four hours and besides swelling in my arm, there was nothing major."
The Imam said he would urge people to seek advice from medical professionals and local leaders about getting vaccinated. He also said people who do not want to have the vaccine should not try to discourage those who want it from getting it done.
He added many people have come to him for advice surrounding mental health issues during the pandemic as a result of restrictions and getting vaccinated will enable normal life to slowly resume again.
“Many scholars have said the vaccine doesn’t break the fast due to the vaccine needle not going in the stomach - it goes through the muscle.
“With people on the front line getting the vaccine, who have more knowledge about it than us, they are setting an example. Why not have it?”
The British Islamic Medical Association (BIMA) has confirmed none of the currently available Covid-19 vaccines contain pork or other animal ingredients.
They also revealed Oxford Astra Zeneca vaccine contains less ethanol (alcohol) than what is usually found in bread or natural foods.
Their website states: “Many scholars have deemed the Oxford AZ Vaccine to be permissible as the amount of ethanol is negligible.
“The religious permissibility of any product is for scholars to decide, so please refer to those you trust.”
Dr Amer Hamed, BIMA founding member and supporter of the Tell Me More Campaign, said he has been vaccinated and “there are no major side effects”.
Dr Hamed, who lives in Swansea, and works as a cardiology consultant for Stepping Hill Hospital in Stockport, added: “When there are side effects these are minor such as a high temperature and go away after a few days. The only way we can protect ourselves, our loved ones and the community at large from this deadly virus is to take the vaccine.
“Please do not listen to the misleading information that is circulating on social media. Take your information from reliable sources such as health authorities.”
More than 176,000 people now have been vaccinated in the Swansea Bay health board area and a vaccine reserve list for people as young as 18 is now available.
More than half of the population of Wales have received a first vaccine dose and the number of deaths from Covid-19 is continuing to fall.
There were 712 deaths involving coronavirus in England and Wales in the week ending 19 March, down from 8,945 in late January, according to the Office for National Statistics.