By Tara O’Connor, local democracy reporter
A Croydon Imam is leading by example by getting his first dose of the coronavirus vaccination.
Imam Shaykh Suliman Gani from Purley Mosque has been a chaplain at St George’s Hospital in Tooting for 15 years.
On Wednesday (January 20) he received the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine and hopes it will encourage more of the 400-strong congregation in Purley to follow his lead.
This week vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said he is concerned that vaccine uptake may be lower in BAME communities.
And Shaykh Gani hopes that publicly promoting the vaccine will combat misinformation circulating online.
He said: “There has been a lot of scepticism and conspiracy theories. I think that for me to have the vaccine will give confidence to many people, I hope they will now take the vaccine.
“We have been encouraging people to take the vaccine as soon as it is offered as it will reduce pressure on the NHS.”
And he knows all too well how awful the virus can be, in the past few weeks he has supported families who have lost loved ones in their 50s and when we spoke he was going to visit a patient on ventilation to give end of life prayers.
“This virus does not discriminate, I think everybody should support the vaccination,” said the Imam.
“Whenever I visit the hospital now I see people on ventilators.
“I feel very privileged that I can serve the community and support families. At the moment a lot more people are dying, it is people of all ages.
“Some people are still not taking it seriously but it is very real and very serious. We have to follow guidelines and do what we can.
During this lockdown Purley Mosque is still able to stay open but numbers have been reduced and worshippers have to book a slot.
This means the mosque knows who is seated where so if somebody tests positive for the virus those around can be told to isolate and get a test.
Trustee Waqar Ahmed said being able to remain open this time for prayer has been a lifeline for people compared to the first lockdown where some members of the community were left feeling isolated.
And Mr Ahmed thinks that people coming into the mosque makes it easier to spread advice about having the coronavirus vaccine.
He said: “I think the Imam having it tells people there is nothing to fear.
“We are trying to encourage people to take the vaccine, it is a way out and it won’t work if people are waiting for other people to get it.
“Both my parents have had it now, my dad feels like Superman now, he wants to get out, but we’ve told him he still needs to stay in.
“He hasn’t been to the mosque since March and before he would come five times a day. ”
In July last year Purley Mosque was given the green light to build a new six storey home at its current site in Whytecliffe Rd South.
Mr Ahmed says the pandemic means it has been more difficult to raise the £1.5 million needed to get going with construction.
He hopes that restrictions will be lifted in time for the month of Ramadan which starts on April 12 so the mosque can bring people together and hopefully raise more money for the new building.
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