By Latheef Farook –
The island’s Muslim community has appealed to the government to reconsider its decision to cremate Muslim corona virus dead but to allow burial according to their religious rites.Many pointed out that the living Muslims have their obligation towards the dead such as cleaning, clothing conducting special funeral prayer before the burial.
According to Daily Financial Times of March 26 the Muslim community along with all other communities fully supports the efforts made by the Government and public health professionals to combat this pandemic.
While acknowledging the much-needed steps taken by the Government, we are alarmed by the recent decision to cremate the bodies of the deceased due to COVID-19 mandatorily, fearing the spread of the virus and health hazard it may present.
The Islamic faith requires the deceased to be buried in accordance with religious guidelines and it is forbidden to cremate the deceased as long as there is no proven threat to the living.
In recent days we witnessed similar bill passed by British Parliament and after intense consultation and the demand by the Muslim and Jewish faith communities, the Government amended the bill to respect the religious beliefs and sensitivities by recognizing the importance of ensuring the faith communities are able to bury the deceased instead of cremating in the event of deaths due to COVID-19.
There is no scientific evidence of spread of disease after the body has been sealed in a body bag from respiratory or gastrointestinal fluids and therefore there is no difference in cremation or burial with regard to spreading of the virus. Countries like United Kingdom, Singapore, Australia, Malaysia, Iran and Italy too had permitted to bury the dead bodies of those infected with COVID-19.
Emphasizing the need for religious burial columnist Haaris Mhmud had this to state;
Sri Lanka has devised plans to cremate bodies so affected. It is a matter of regret that these plans have been taken without due consultation with the religious communities adversely affected by this ruling.
This largely affects and cause concern to the Muslim community which constitute 10% of the population. The basis of objection is religious and does not in any way reflect negatively on the preparedness of the Muslims to cooperate with the authorities by putting a cog in the wheel in the process of controlling the pandemic.
In fact, the Muslims have been cooperating with the government authorities fully. They even closed mosques, suspended Jumma weekly prayers and even the daily congregational prayers too. But, the subject of cremation is a very sensitive issue which cannot be considered as one which can be compromised or ignored as a first resort.
For Muslims cremation is forbidden. Funeral rites for followers of Islam are prescribed by divine law, and they must bury their dead as quickly as possible – preferably within a day of death. The body should be treated with equal respect in both life and death. Burning the dead is considered a form of mutilation, forbidden by Allah. The sanctity of the dead body and the importance of religious burial is therefore an integral component of religious practice for Muslims, as well as Jews as well.
Hence cremation is forbidden in Islam and Judaism. It is therefore insensitive for a government to impose a cremation upon the loved ones of these communities, thus adding further anguish and trauma to bereaved families, who themselves may be in self-isolation at the time of cremation. The body of a dead Muslim is as sacred as the body of a living Muslim. Handling should be gentle and respectful. To them, once the soul has gone and the body is dead, they still feel pained if it is not treated properly.
The Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) should respect the wishes of religious minorities in line with international and constitutional obligations that protects freedom of thought, belief and religion, and amend the proposed ruling to ensure no Muslim family is forced to undergo the trauma of seeing their loved one cremated.
There is a point of view emerging in Sri Lanka promoted by some hate groups, especially after the Easter Sunday that Muslims seems to enjoy special privileges in Sri Lanka, not afforded by the other communities. This is a warped view to say the least. It is a right of any community to defend their cultural identity and rights; so are the Muslims.
Muslim corona dead were given the same funeral in several parts of the world. For example in Philippines the government gave Muslim coronavirus victims religious exemptions from cremation.
Dimapuno Datu Ramos Jr., chief of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos, said the exemption was approved by the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Disease in Manila.
The IATF agreed to put in place strict procedures to prevent the virus from spreading. The burial must also be done within 12 hours or half the period normally allowed in Islamic rites.”They must be placed in an airtight sealed cadaver bag and must be buried in the nearest Muslim cemetery within 12 hours in the presence of an imam wearing personal protective equipment for the brief Muslim burial rites,” Department of the Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año told .