In the beginning of corona-virus outbreak, disinformation was disseminated by so called Islamic clerics in Bangladesh through waz mahfils (religious sermons) videos.
On March 4, 2020, a video by one Mufti Kazi Ibrahim was posted on a YouTube channel named Mahfil TV, in which the cleric claimed to have a remedy for the coronavirus infection in the form of an equation found in a dream by a person named Mamun Maruf who lived in Italy. According to Ibrahim, the Italy-resident Maruf “interviewed” the coronavirus in his dream. The virus told Mamun, “Allah sent the coronavirus soldiers to Earth to attack the Chinese for mistreating the Uighur Muslims,” said Kazi Ibrahim. In the dream, the coronavirus gave Mamun a formula for a remedy to survive its infection – an equation, 1.q7+6=13, which Mamun gave to Kazi Ibrahim.
In another waz, which took place at the Durgapur Fazil (Degree) Madrasa on March 13, 2020 – the video of which was posted on YouTube channel TM Social Media and also shared on Facebook – the cleric made a bizarre and outlandish claim that scientists in the West were awestruck by his equation and that they were working day and night to decode it. His gullible followers unquestionably accept his baseless claims.
Then he explained that the equation was a formula for a concoction of six ingredients – fig (dumur), olive, black cumin, Ajwa date, honey and water from the Jamjam well. He, however, said he would not reveal the technique of making the concoction which requires mixing and boiling the ingredients at a certain temperature.
In another video, he said the coronavirus had told Mamun that it would kill one-seventh of the world’s population before disappearing.
Photo: Screenshots of Mufti Kazi Ibahims videos on Youtube. The first video is about how microchip is inserted inside vaccines to gather personal information. The second video is about how people are turning into robots due to vaccines and females are acting like males due to vaccines.
Completely defying science, these clerics even go so far as to claim that reciting certain Surahs, then blowing on the palms and rubbing the palms on the face would protect one from being infected by the coronavirus. They say devoted Muslims will not be infected even after shaking hands if such rituals are performed.
Furthermore, A video was posted by the Facebook ID Juwel Sarker with the title, “Vaccine Discovery Bill Gates and Israel’s Conspiracy _ Mufti Kazi Ibrahim”. In the video, Mufti Kazi Ibrahim gave various information about the vaccine. Among these claims are that the vaccine will be implanted with a microchip, that the recipient of the vaccine in Oxford has become ill, that the person who first administered the vaccine in India is also ill, and that the recipient of the vaccine in another country cannot be found. Besides, the speaker quoted the president of Brazil and said that due to vaccination in Brazil, women are getting beards like men, men’s voices are changing to women. Screenshot of the video shared on Facebook-
Photo: A video was posted by the Facebook ID Juwel Sarker with the title, “Vaccine Discovery Bill Gates and Israel’s Conspiracy _ Mufti Kazi Ibrahim”. https://www.boombd.com/fake-news/false-claims-made-by-mufti-kazi-ibrahim-about-vaccine-shared-on-facebook-11485
BOOM Bangladesh checked the said statements and found that Mufti Kazi Ibrahim’s statement regarding vaccines contains several baseless and misleading information.
In September 2021, police arrested the controversial Islamic cleric Mufti Kazi Ibrahim on charges of giving “misleading and bizarre” information online.
|Prime Actor:An Islamic cleric named Mufti Kazi Ibrahim.|
Secondary actors:His waz-mahfil videos were posted and shared on YouTube and Facebook. Thousands of his followers shared his content.
|Transparency: The actor was not hiding or disguising his actions.|
Intent: Their act and behaviour suggest intention of misleading people.
Dependency: His followers were disseminating the content on his behalf.
|Mufti Kazi Ibrahim claimed to have found a remedy for the coronavirus infection in the form of an equation found in a dream.|
He stated that there are microchips in vaccine to collect personal information. He also stated that people are turning into robots and females are acting like males due to vaccines.
Harm: Does the content carry element of threat and possess harm since it will prevent people from taking the vaccines.
Language(s): He used his reputation as an Islamic scholar to mislead Muslims.
Truthfulness: The content shared was deceptive, misleading and untrue.
Narrative(s): The content is aligned with the disinformation narrative.
|Audience: His Muslim followers.|
Targeting: The content targeted Muslim Community to mislead them about corona-virus vaccine.
Platform: Social Media platforms: YouTube and Facebook.
|Public Health:threatens society and individuals’ health and medical safety.|
Human Rights:right to information, right to health, right to COVID-19 related health information.
ABCDE Framework Analysis:
It was an Islamic cleric named Mufti Kazi Ibrahim who was giving bizarre and misleading information online and creating confusion among people about the coronavirus vaccines. Youtube and Facebook were used to disseminate the content. He caught the attention of many netizens of Bangladesh through his controversial remarks on various issues, including the coronavirus vaccine.
The cleric was disseminating those information on social media through his waz–mahfil videos to mislead the Muslim community, especially his followers. He has thousand of followers on Facebook and YouTube who also share his content.
His contents about coronavirus had no scientific evidence. ‘Boom Bangladesh’ (a fact checking organization) has verified that Mufti Kazi Ibrahim’s statement on vaccines contains a number of baseless and misleading information. A significant aspect of these speeches is the way of delivery. The speakers often flash a smile that has an air of sarcasm – almost ridicule – towards the worldwide panic the outbreak has caused. It challenges the scared faithful against any inclination towards the scientific explanation for the outbreak. The clerics use clever psychological tricks to soften up and influence the minds of the listeners.
The target audience is the Muslim community and the cleric’s Muslim followers. The content was not based on any scientific evidence. Primarily, Youtube was used and later on, the contents were shared on Facebook and disseminated among followers.
The contents threaten society and individuals’ health and medical safety by disseminating misleading, untrue and deceptive information about coronavirus vaccines. It also violates right to information, right to health, right to COVID-19 related health information.
The Case has been identified as incident of disinformation because the content shows evidence of deliberately deceptive behaviour by the cleric to mislead people and prevent them from taking safety measures during coronavirus outbreak.
Since 1991, fatwa (religious edict) has become common features of Bangladesh society. Waz-mahfils are used to distort Islam and present in a way that promotes non-scientific and illogical ways of life.
Mufti Kazi Ibrahim also once said that men were developing feminine voices, while women were growing beards as side-effects of taking Covid-19 vaccine, referring to the drug manufacturers and administration.
Even though he was arrested, spread of disinformation through waz mahfils and its widespread share by the followers creates an environment of mistrust about vaccines and stands as an obstacle to tackling the pandemic.