In Dubai's COVID Vaccine Scramble, Sikhs Serve Doses To All

A man receives his Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine from a medical staff at Guru Nanak Darbar temple in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Monday, Feb. 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — In normal times, crowds of young Southeast Asian residents would gather outside the Sikh temple in Dubai to pray, or wait for a hot meal.

A core tenet of the world’s fifth-largest organized religion with over 50,000 adherents in the United Arab Emirates is the act of providing free, home-cooked vegetarian food to anyone in need, Sikh or otherwise. It's a deeply spiritual practice that can also be a lifeline in Dubai, where millions of low-paid workers from Asia, Africa, and elsewhere power the service-heavy economy.

But over the past few days, the Sikhs of Dubai have found another way to practice “seva,” or selfless service. Instead of communal prayer and vibrantly flavored basmati rice and dal, they're providing what has become a coveted prize: 5,000 shots of the Chinese-made vaccine offered to people of all ages and backgrounds. As the coronavirus pandemic surges to previously unseen heights in the UAE, residents are scrambling to get vaccines in the world’s second-fastest inoculation drive.

“We found a lot of people who wanted to take this vaccine and they’re having difficulty,” Surender Singh Kandhari, the temple’s chairman, said.

Kandhari said many front-line medical workers who failed to get vaccinated elsewhere due to shortages and new age restrictions were lining up for shots Monday in the temple’s parking garage. “This is the only way we can serve the community,” he said.

The UAE, with a vaccination campaign that trails only Israel, has administered 4.4 million shots in the country of some 10 million. The UAE didn’t set eligibility criteria when it approved the Sinopharm vaccine for anyone 16 and over, in contrast with many Western countries that have prioritized vaccine distribution based on employment, age or health conditions. Last December, the UAE declared the Chinese-made vaccine to be 86% effective at preventing infection, an announcement that lacked data and other details. Dubai is also offering the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, but has much less of it and has only made it available to older adults and those with health issues.

Dubai, which swung open its doors to travelers fleeing tough lockdowns back home, is banking on widespread COVID-19 immunity to salvage its stagnating economy. The worsening outbreak has infected more than 329,000 people and killed 930.

But like elsewhere in the world, logistical problems caught up with the nation’s campaign. Amid a shortage of Pfizer's vaccine and skyrocketing virus cases, the government announced Sunday that it would temporarily limit vaccinations to residents and citizens over the age of 60 or those with chronic health conditions. Scores of ex-pats across the country learned that their appointments had been abruptly canceled.

Before the restrictions took effect, the powerful trustees of Dubai’s Sikh house of worship had struck a deal with the Tamouh health care company to administer the Chinese vaccine to thousands — drivers, grocery store clerks, doctors — who may otherwise struggle to get vaccines. The temple started giving out the shots over the weekend.

On Monday, there was a palpable sense of relief as men and women streamed out of the golden temple into the bright winter sun.

“It's much better to think positive and get the vaccine, whichever one you can get," said Suleman Yakoob Gangad, a 51-year-old driver in Dubai, recalling the fear he felt when his roommate tested positive in his dormitory-style housing where four workers live packed to a room. “We need to think like that to keep ourselves as well as others safe.”

If you are looking for a way to become an interfaith leader, work for racial equity and build bridges, please check out our free curriculum "We Are Each Other's" and start your interfaith leadership today

more from IFYC

Political scientist Henry Brady explores how trust has broken down in the U.S. and what we can do about it.
"Intel, which ranked second on the REDI Index last year, overtook Google, last year's top company, by 10 points in 2021. Intel’s public conference on religious inclusion earned it the extra boost."
"The letter says its signers feel compelled to condemn such expressions, "just as many Muslim leaders have felt the need to denounce distorted, violent versions of their faith" in previous years."
During the coronavirus pandemic, Moncayo has led the food distribution program through Mosaic West Queens Church in the Sunnyside neighborhood.
Raja writes about the usefulness or appropriateness of the term "BIPOC" - Black, Indigenous, People of Color- in discourse about race and justice, and how it relates to and reflects the politics of race and racism in the United States.
The river has been important since the dawn of civilization and has served as a commercial hub and lifeline for countless peoples over many millennia. Yet there has always seemed to be a justice that was out of reach for some.
"Many synagogues are leaning into the Purim tradition of giving gifts to friends and the poor— a custom known as “mishloach manot.”
"We know through surveys that people are more likely to like Muslims if they know one personally. But because only about 1% of Americans practice the Islamic faith, many people just don’t come into contact with any Muslims."
Purim tells the tale of Esther, an orphaned girl-turned-queen, how she married King Achashverosh, then saved the entire Jewish community in the ancient Persian city of Shushan, through her bravery and wit.
Higher education remains highly unequal and racial divides persist. How can these realities be explained in a context defined by wokeness?
There are so many forces that pull people apart from one another. Institutions and systems and ways of thinking that want us to feel separated, broken, helpless, and quick to capitalize on moments of weakness. The very thing that brings out...
Others noted Rihanna chose to display Ganesh on Feb. 15, the day Hindus celebrate as Ganesh's birthday, or Ganesh Jayanti. The god of beginnings, Ganesh is honored before starting a business or major project.
Until this year, most schools, states and national high school athletic associations had typically forbidden religious headwear, citing safety concerns, unless a student or coach had applied for a waiver. No waiver, no play.
Do a quick Google or YouTube search for tarot, and you’ll find the two main things people tend to inquire about are love and money. Underlying these inquiries is a belief that a tarot reading can tell the future, which begs the question of whether...
The results are based on responses from some 1,800 Black American adults, including more than 800 who attend a Black church. The California research firm conducted the survey in the spring of 2020.
Asian Americans are suffering under the weight of these mounting incidents. Many, including those in our own circles, have expressed concern about leaving their homes to perform everyday tasks.
"Black residents make up a little under half of Washington’s population, but constitute nearly three-fourths of the city's COVID-19 deaths."
Can interfaith leadership foster greater equity for the health of communities of color? Four leaders in healthcare discuss racial health disparities in our nation and how interfaith leadership can be implemented in order to solve them.
“It's an invitation to be subversive by focusing on ourselves."
Across the state, nearly every major health care system has partnered with Black and Hispanic houses of worship to expand vaccine access, setting up mobile clinics in their parking lots and fellowship halls.
Gandhi organized a nonviolent protest on behalf of the farmers. That was when the word satyagraha was used for the first time in the context of a political protest.

The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.