4 December, 2020

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Audi Alteram Partem: An Open Letter To Minister Of Health 

By A. M. Majeed Muzammil

A. M. Majeed Muzammil

Dear Hon Minister of Health, Mrs. Pavithra Wanniarachi.

In the name of Justice, I write this letter on behalf of the beleaguered population of our two million strong Sri Lankan Muslim community.

The Muslims of Sri Lanka – descendants of as far and wide as Morocco to Java, who now constitute nearly 10 percent of the island’s population, have been a peace-loving community since their advent in the 7th century and have always played a part at the forefront in safeguarding the interests of Mother Lanka.

The outstanding contributions made by visionary Muslim political leaders to the country in general and the community in particular, are worthy of emulation. In the pre-independent era, T.B. Jayah played a historical role in the struggle for Independence. Such a stance prompted the Hon. Leader of the House SWRD Bandaranaike to pay the highest tribute referring to Jayah, when he said: “Credit for the attainment of independence should undoubtedly go to T. B. Jayah for his historic speech in passing the Dominion Bill”.

The Late Mudaliar Sinne Lebbe, MP for Batticaloa tabled a motion in the State Council on January 16th, 1948 suggesting that the Lion Flag of Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe which was taken to Britain in 1815, should be adopted as the official flag of free Lanka.  Subsequently, Prime Minister D.S.Senanayake unfurled the Lion Flag at the Octagon (Pattirippuwa) during the Independence celebration held in Kandy on February 12th, 1948 – the same flag which is respected, honoured and held in high esteem by every citizen of Sri Lanka.

It is this same Muslim community that is now traumatized by the government’s mandatory rules, which expressly states that cremation is even obligatory upon communities that usually honour their dead by way of burying, in line with the upholding of basic human rights, and that of which is taking place globally in every other country except Sri Lanka.

As you are a lawyer with legal background, I appeal sincerely and humbly to draw your attention to Article 12 of the Constitution of Sri Lanka which states that all persons are equal before the law and are entitled to the equal protection of the law. The article further notes that no citizen shall be discriminated against on the grounds of race and religion.

I would also like to draw attention to Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) on the rights of minorities stressing those religious minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with the other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture as well as to profess and practice their own religion.

Ironically, Sri Lanka is one of the signatories of the said Covenant which commits to respect the civil and political rights of individuals, including the right to life, freedom of religion, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.

In Islam, human dignity is given pre-eminence and grants certain rights and privileges to humans before they are even born, and others after their death. We have a code of conduct for living, which includes very specific ways to dispose of our bodies upon death as we believe that our souls return to God once we depart from this earth.

Hence whether dead or alive, the human body must be given due respect and dignity. This importance of the human body is illustrated, for instance, in the Qur’ān 5:31. There, it is narrated that when Cain was unsure of how to deal with the body of his brother Abel—whom he had murdered—God sent a message in the form of a raven. God used the raven to dig the ground to bury another raven, thus indirectly showing Cain how to bury his brother’s body in a dignified way.

It is also established in Islamic beliefs that burying the dead is by way of honoring them due to the words of God when He enumerates His blessings upon man, “Did we not make the earth a home for the living and the dead” [77:25-26]

Muslims consider burial as sacrosanct and burying the dead is a communal obligation which if fulfilled, the sin (in the lack of not performing duties) and responsibility is lifted from the rest of the community. Hence, the cremation of our dead comes as a painful and unnecessary mental anguish for the families of the victims of this virus, and for the community as a whole.

As per the WHO Guidelines on COVID-19, over 185 countries around the world including many predominantly Buddhist countries, have been burying the remains of victims. Moreover, neither there are no scientific data to support the claim that COVID-19 can spread through dead bodies nor any credible evidence of microbiological contamination of groundwater from burial.

The Muslim community of Sri Lanka is not seeking unjustifiable demands from the government. All what we are asking for is a dignified way of disposing of our dead by way of burial in line with our religious beliefs and obligations. From Islamic perspective, mandatory cremation  is desecration of the deceased.

Hon Minister of Justice, we solicit your kind cooperation to offer redress to our community’s grievances and recommend the technical committee of your Ministry to rescind the mandatory cremation against the burial rights of Muslims on humanitarian grounds.

We sincerely hope the spirit of “Audi alteram partem” (Listen to the other side / Let the voice of the other side be heard as well) will prevail, and benevolence will supersede over intransigence.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere – Martin Luther King Jr.

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Latest comments

  • 5
    4

    “Article 12 of the Constitution of Sri Lanka states that all persons are equal before the law and are entitled to the equal protection of the law. The article further notes that no citizen shall be discriminated against on the grounds of race and religion.”

    “Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) on the rights of minorities stresses those religious minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with the other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture as well as to profess and practice their own religion.”

    Now that the Tinpot Dictator is in the saddle, all these laws and ratifications along with most of the other laws of the land, are no longer in force and effect!

    • 5
      3

      The constitution says all citizens are equal before the law?. But seldom it is followed even when they are living. How can it be followed when they are dead.? Please do not take anything said in the constitution as gospel truth. There are liable to change in respect of the Tamils. Muslims and, Christians.

    • 5
      7

      But Article 9 (which ranks above both 12 and 27) says Buddhism takes the foremost place!

      But Buddhists are not stupid to demand dead bodies to perform their “panshu”. Hindus and Christians also don’t make such demands. That is 90% of Sri Lankans. You cannot make everyone happy.

      I agree the regime failed but for scientific reasons. Not hilarious superstitions about burial.

  • 6
    13

    Dear A. M. Majeed Muzammil,

    I agree with you that every citizen os this island have the right to respect their believes which are not harmful to any other citizens. However, I don’t agree that all Muslims in Sri Lanka have always played a part at the forefront in safeguarding the interests of Mother Lanka. safeguarding the interests of Mother does not mean safeguarding Muslims politicians interests in order to oppress one community by the powerful another community. Safeguarding mother Lanka do not include safeguarding one family dictatorship.

    • 10
      2

      If you grew-up in Sri Lanka you should know a sizable portion are snitches’ and the rest will do anything for money.

      • 7
        1

        Although not a Sri Lankan this in a way proves my point. It not a sin or crime to whitewash cold-blooded crime provided they can benefit from it .
        How many Muslim were part of the white van operations. How many innocent people they abducted for ransom. Victim’s were not just Tamils .

        • 4
          1

          “Federal prosecutors filing in the US District Court this week have asked a judge to sentence American fixer and venture capitalist Imaad Zuberi to between 10 and 13 years in prison for an array of crimes, including pocketing US$ 5.6mn that Sri Lanka paid him in 2014 to improve the country’s image after its victory against the LTTE.”

  • 6
    6

    All countries which are Members of the United Nations may become members of WHO by accepting its Constitution.

    The World Health Organization says burials are safe for Covid-19 victims.
    This is a very critical situation where Sri Lankan prominent doctors and scientists have come to a different conclusion on catching the virus from death bodies.

    This is a very good opportunity for our Sri Lankan scientists in this field to show the world especially the 189 countries including WHO who allowed burial has not identified the reality and its danger of the virus.
    We need to unleash the full power of science.
    If they say the virus can only survive for 24 to 48 hours in a dead body for their argument for allowing burial. Our Srilankan doctors moral duty from saving the world by giving evidence to prove the wrong decision of WHO and the countries allowed burial.
    Immediate special attention should be focused on this issue definitely help fight against viruses.
    WHO should immediately form a committee to verify this matter with Srilankan experts to identify the virus will help improve the quality of antivirus

    • 6
      6

      No. WHO only issues guidelines (not instructions). It is up to individual countries to follow them as they please.

      SL must move to total cremation only for all dead.

    • 6
      2

      Asgar,
      WHO says “The common assumption that people who died of a communicable disease should be cremated to prevent spread is not supported by evidence. ..”
      WHO does not say “The common assumption that people who died of COVID-19 should be cremated to prevent spread is not supported by evidence.”
      COVID19 is a new virus. There is limited knowledge even regarding the virus. The ‘common assumption of people’ should be accepted or rejected based on scientific research. I doubt whether adequate research have been conducted on the impact of burying COVID19 infected dead bodies. Anyway, the time frame is too short to make definitive conclusions.
      WHO give guidelines. The final decision rests with local experts considering local conditions. Based on local conditions, the experts in Sri Lanka decided cremation is the best option. If any negative impact occurs due to burying COVID19 infected dead bodies that will not be limited to Muslims. Therefore, the Government should not act based on the whims and fancies of some people.

  • 4
    3

    Although I do not profess the religion of the author, I am deeply moved by the nature of presentation he has made. It is true that especially during pre-independence times, various communities acted for the good of then Ceylonese. To put a long story short, I suggest that ways and means be found for a safe burial or cremation of COVID dead in keeping with or suitably modified religious rites. Take the case of majority Buddhists. Even for them there is no “pansukula” rites. Some have felt bad to see the protective clothing of others being shoved into the crematorium. Say in the case of Buddhists or for that matter others who use the crematorium why can’t some religious service be conducted at a distance within sight of the coffin. It is utterly indecorous to shove the coffin into the crematorium as if it is a grenade with the pin taken out. I am no scientist to offer a workable solution towards the burial of COVID dead but I am sure if persons rack their brains a workable solution can be found although it could be painstaking.

  • 4
    1

    If you grew-up in Sri Lanka you should know a sizable portion are snitches’ and the rest will do anything for money.

  • 5
    1

    Sea burial should be considered as a compromise. Osama was also given a sea burial which was accepted by the world.

  • 4
    5

    The writer is telling all the nice things done by Muslims in order to get sympathy from the Minister of Health. If he wants we can tell how Muslim refugees from Hindustan who were saved by Sinhala Buddhists when they faced persecution by Portuguese, allowed them to settle down amongst Sinhalayo, allowed them to marry Sinhala women and convert them to Islam betrayed Sinhalayo.

  • 7
    1

    The Author solicits the kind cooperation to get redress to his community’s grievances from the Minister of Justice only. Those six Muslims who voted for the govt recently should have made the settlement of this list of grievances a sine qua non for their voting, if they felt for their cause. Even at that time the question of burial or cremation was there.
    Now too late.

  • 0
    0

    Ajith

    “However, I don’t agree that all Muslims in Sri Lanka have always played a part at the forefront in safeguarding the interests of Mother Lanka.”

    What about the very vital contribution the Muslims made in thwarting the Ealam Project for which they paid a very high price in lives and property which has been totally ignored by the Media and vested interests?

    The fervent opposition of the Muslims of the East to the division of the country meant the LTTE could NOT take control of the East, the way they controlled the North.

    In the Battle front, Muslims in the Forces played a crucial role in fighting and intelligence gathering because of their proficiency in Tamil language.

    A turning point in the war, the defection of Eastern LTTE Commander, Karuna, in July 2004 was facilitated by a Muslim, Ali Zahir Mowlana, who was forced to leave the country with his family due to LTTE threats. returning only after the war ended in 2009 .

    Remember how the Muslims of the North were brutally expelled from their homes 30 years ago, in October 1990? They are Still Languishing in other parts of the country, unable to go back to their homes.

  • 1
    1

    I support the view that the religious sentiments of every community must be respected.

    It is unecessary to be carping to establish that basic proposition. Why rake up how Muslims had crawled at the feet of others when it suited them? Stand up for your rights instead of turning your thopis each time it suits you. You will get respect then. Ask your eight MPs who voted with the government and their two leaders who voted against.: Who are they trying to fool? Get some gumption. Be straight and not be devious. Fight straight for your rights.

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