In strong defence of Cardinal
By ROHANA R. WASALA
As evident in social media, His Eminence Archbishop Malcolm Cardinal Ranjit is taking heavy flak from certain quarters for urging the authorities to bring to justice the culprits behind the suicide bomb attacks on three churches and four hotels on Easter Sunday last year (April 21, 2019), on the findings of the presidential commission, which is about to close its proceedings. It is not clear whether the critics are supporters or opponents of the government or the Opposition; but they are definitely not lovers of the country/nation. The criticism of the Cardinal is no doubt politically motivated, though he himself is absolutely above partisan politics. He is an ideal Shepherd not only for his Flock, but also for all Sri Lankans, in both spiritual and secular (mundane) senses; he is performing this role most sincerely, with the greatest courage, and ascetic selflessness, without expecting any personal reward. It is with some reluctance and hesitation that I am broaching this subject, because I don’t want to even remotely link his name to mundane politics. Globally, the Cardinal is a great asset for our crisis-ridden country.
In response to Opposition queries regarding the progress of the presidential probe into the Easter Sunday (April 21, 2019) suicide bombings, the newly appointed Minister of Public Security, Rear Admiral (Retd) Dr Sarath Weerasekera, told Parliament (December 5) that 257 persons (suspected of involvement) have been remanded and that 86 are being held under detention orders, and that he would meet the Attorney General on Monday (December 7) to talk about expediting legal proceedings on the basis of the commission’s findings. The government has indicated that the presidential commission is about to finalise its work. The minister’s statement came amidst exchanges between Opposition and government benchers, centering on certain misgivings previously expressed by His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjit about the imminent winding up of the presidential commission of inquiry and the follow-up process. Asked about the same subject by the media the next day (December 6), Minister Weerasekera said he could understand the prelate’s concerns, and that although the Cardinal didn’t know about it, almost 90% of what should be done through the government has already been done by the police: 37 have been charged with manslaughter and others with aiding and abetting terrorism.
The 2019 April 21 Easter Sunday suicide bomb attacks were a bolt from the blue. The bombers targeted three Catholic/Christian churches situated in Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa and four hotels, three of them luxury class hotels in Colombo and another hotel at Dehiwala, near the zoo. An eighth bomber blew himself up in a residential part of Dematagoda. These near simultaneous coordinated attacks by Islamist terrorists left at least 277 dead, including the eight bombers, and more than 500 injured, according to different but generally compatible media accounts. The dead and injured men, women and children in the church attacks had been participating in Sunday mass. Among hotel attacks casualties, there were 38 foreigners. It has now been revealed that there had been a plan to attack the Kandy Esala Perahera as the next target, but that plan was not carried out. The attacks were absolutely unprovoked and pointless from the point of view of the normal civilized world.
Of course, the eight bombers and the individuals who sponsored them wouldn’t have looked at the bombings that negative way. The choice of targets, including the Kandy Esala Perahera that they were planning to attack but later spared, suggests that they were aiming to destabilise Sri Lanka both internally and externally. Isolating Catholic/Christian churches and tourist hotels for the attack was most probably meant to create as powerful an adverse impression as possible among nations across the world, about the country that justifies foreign intervention in its domestic affairs; had a few Buddhist temples been targeted instead, the international impact would not have been so much. Hollow expressions of solidarity trumpeted from an unexpected direction with what looked like a gush of indecent haste, even before the reverberations of the bombings had properly died down, did little to allay the public’s growing suspicions of a foreign conspiracy behind the attacks. (Incidentally, the Cardinal mentioned the apparent possibility of such a conspiracy, earlier than most speakers.) In fact, SLMC MP Rauff Hakeem revealed to the Presidential Commission of Inquiry on Easter Sunday attacks, in camera, what he knew about alleged foreign involvement in the heinous crime; former president and SLFP MP Sirisena, who appeared before the same commission, also said that a foreign power was involved, though he did not name it.
The bombers and their sponsors must have been quite clear about their respective aims. For the terror sponsors the whole operation must have been nothing but a political project for destabilizing Sri Lanka. For the eight suicide attackers, it was purely a pious religious mission with a direct heavenly reward, and the additional advantage of serving the cause they believed in by instilling fear into infidels (that is, all non-Muslims including atheists, agnostics and others like people of no religion), as an internet post by an ex-Muslim argued (an argument that the majority of ordinary Sri Lankans are sure to dismiss as false).
Testifying before the presidential commission of inquiry former Eastern Province Governor M. L. A. M. Hizbullah said, according to the media (November 27), that he hoped to open the Batticaloa University after talks with the government, when the corona spread crisis is over. He claimed that he built it to teach the poor children of the Eastern province and that, when completed, it will be the biggest university in Asia; it had been planned to be built on 100 acres of land. He had received, it was reported, some 3.6 billion rupees in funds from donors in Saudi Arabia. No doubt, after what transpired at the presidential inquiry that cast doubt on the sincerity of Hizbullah et al, his nonchalance shocked and dismayed most of us; because it gave rise to fears among the concerned public that the unlawfully established Sharia college project will go ahead, without related issues being settled beforehand.
Islamic instruction conducted by fundamentalists even in the Islamic ‘madrasas’ in the 95% Muslim Pakistan, has been found to be problematic. About a year and a half ago, the Pakistan government under PM Imran Khan, moved to take over some 30,000 madrasas across the country with a view to ‘mainstreaming’ them, in response to international pressure, following many complaints that they radicalised the youngsters. Islamic terror attacks carried out in India and Afghanistan, were blamed on young Pakistanis who had learned in these madrasas. If that is the situation in the religiously near homogeneous Pakistan (pop. 212 m), is it unnatural for the much smaller, multi-religious Sri Lanka (pop. hardly 22 m) to be concerned about a Sharia University on its territory, that too potentially the biggest one in Asia?
Hakeem falsely complained to an Indian newspaper that Muslims faced communally institigated retaliatory violence after the Easter attacks. He was basing himself on reports of a few incidents in some unrelated places far from where the bombings took place. Muslims and other religionists and their shops and houses were indiscriminately targeted in these instances, allegedly caused by paid agent provocateurs employed by supporters of the yahapalana regime of the time; these are described in the Wikipedia (obviously, as fed in by an anti-Buddhist editor) as “anti-Muslim riots in retaliation to the bombings that were organized by the Sri Lankan Buddhist Extremist Group on Vesak Day…” (Actually, the monks of the BBS, which is meant here, played a big role in the rescue operations after the blasts, including blood donations; some blood donors had to be turned away because enough blood had been collected. Buddhists, let alone Buddhist monks, never indulge in violence, except under extreme provocation; they are least likely to do that on the day of Vesak, the holiest day in the Buddhist calendar.)
It is inconceivable how the Sharia and the madrasas problem could be effectively addressed without the cooperation of mainstream Muslims, who form 9.7% of the population. But such cooperation cannot be expected from the likes of Hizbullah and Hakeem. Not long before the Easter Sunday attacks, Hizbullah was reported as warning that Muslim youth in the Eastern Province might take up arms unless their grievances were answered (by the then government). What these grievances were only he knew. But before the time he was thus falsely complaining, there were internecine clashes among Muslims in the area, between jihadists and traditionalists, which resulted in murderous violence and property destruction. The travails of the persecuted traditional Muslims did not seem to move Hizbullah to identify with them or speak up on their behalf. Some of these persecuted Muslims made secret contact with the monks of the BBS in Colombo to plead with them to intervene, and even provided them with documentary evidence of what they were undergoing in the east at the hands of extremists.
In the aftermath of the Easter attacks, the victim Catholics were wisely and ably restrained by the Cardinal from thoughts of committing any retaliatory violence against ordinary Muslims. He rose to the occasion, as a beacon of hope, a symbol of compassion, forgiveness, and forbearance, and a great provider of emotional comfort for all Sri Lankans at that moment of universal sorrow and shock. This resonated with the characteristic patience and resilience of the general Sri Lankan populace.
Returning to criticisms of the Cardinal over remarks he made about the progress of the Easter Sunday attacks probe, this is not the first time that the prelate has articulated such sentiments regarding the performance of politicians, whether they happen to be in the government or in the Opposition, without himself playing politics. He always expresses his opinions candidly, without any malice or bias towards anyone. He says that though the church has forgiven the attackers, their sponsors must still be brought to justice, as the BBC once reported. At an audience he gave to SJB MP Kavinda Jayawardane of the Opposition, who called on him on December 3, Cardinal Ranjit expressed his sincere hope and adamant demand that the findings of the presidential inquiry be not swept under the carpet under any circumstances or be subjected to any kind of political horse trading; he also wanted the real movers and shakers behind the Easter bombing savagery be firmly dealt with according to the law. To emphasize his point, he added that if the present government fails to mete out justice to the victims by punishing those responsible, then the job will have to be given to another group of people who can do it. The Cardinal implied, however, that he has not lost his trust in the assurances already given by the president that justice will be done under his watch.
People who believed that the Cardinal is universally admired for all that he is doing for the country and for the ideals that he is bravely standing up for, were in for a rude shock. Hizbullah’s oddly defiant, affected cool that smacked of calculated dissembling (at the presidential commission) went almost unnoticed and hardly commented on, whereas the sincere, well-meant remarks made by the Cardinal about the progress of the presidential inquiry caused a flurry of adverse reactions in the media. He has been described as guilty of ‘hate speech’ for saying what he said! He’s also been made guilty of treason, for he, as one critic pointed out, has threatened to ‘overthrow the government’ by talking about handing over the business of punishing the persons involved in organizing the terror attacks to another party, even though he leads only 7.4% of the population.
I find such attacks on the Cardinal simply outrageous, indecent, and unacceptable. We know Sri Lanka has a history of appointing commissions of inquiry as a strategy to consign vital problems to oblivion. It is not wrong to invoke that reality at the present time, when we have enough reason to believe that there’s going to be a change in that unhallowed tradition, particularly, under our new president. The Cardinal has been for years stressing the need to preserve the Buddhist cultural identity and heritage of Sri Lanka, and striving to unite people following different religions as children of Mother Lanka into a peaceful, harmonious and virtuous society. He is often seen participating in Buddhist events. It is not difficult to understand that his unconventional behaviour does not go down well with some conservative Catholics. Perhaps, his severest critics are Catholics who are upset at what they probably dislike as his too accommodating attitude towards Buddhism and Buddhist monks. Buddhists have no reason to attack him when he is seen to be giving just a timely fillip to boost the confidence of the authorities who are set to move in the right direction, under arguably the least realpolitik-driven executive we have got since independence.
I would like to wind up with this tentative proposal, respectfully offered, for the attention of the President: What about inviting representatives of the clergy of the three minority religions – they should be of the same stature as the Nayake monks within their respective hierarchies – to be participating guest members of the Buddhist Advisory Council that the president consults every month? The possible advantages of such a move are self-evident.
Farce in Galle
Kusal Mendis picked up a fourth consecutive duck in the first Test against England in Galle on Thursday
In these troubled times of COVID-19, many being house bound, it is no wonder that many watch any sport on TV. Hence the insults that come from diverse quarters for underperforming teams is more than the usual. This morning at our bridge club many have rubbed our noses for the mighty incompetence shown by the Lankan cricketers. I am not a cricket writer but I am an avid spectator and, moreover, as a non-resident Sri Lankan, who gets a momentary kick out of anything that makes Sri Lanka proud.
Why do we waste dollars on foreign coaches when all they deliver is what is currently on display? Our own past cricketers, who will be equal if not better, than the foreign instructors, can surely earn that money.
My second query is why we keep selecting those who fail consistently. Surely without propping up the losers there is no genuine reason to tolerate cavalier play without penalty because the catchment field for players is so great in the country. The lack of motivation to be competitive to perform may be their preoccupation with the lure of money and not the image of the country that you represent. Wonder whether some players have capped their motivation at the level of a Range Rover. If so they should be considerate enough to allow better talent to come in.
Third, if there is pressure as before by the corrupt and the powerful in the selection process then God help Sri Lankan cricket.
Finally, why are we nonchalantly set on this slippery road when Sri Lanka has earned the respect of cricket lovers all over the world? No wonder Mike Vaughan tweeted that, ‘those 46 overs were the most farcical and Nasser Hussein joined in to say, it was abysmal and pathetic. Why Sri Lanka is allowed to play such poorly, as an international test team, was debated at our bridge club. Australian cricket loving folk were suggesting penalties for poor play at the international level must be brought in. Surely it is reasonable, for spectators need to pocket out in rupee terms about 25000 per day, per couple if we go to the stadium.
Dr. D. Chandraratna,
Govt. selling political decision as scientific!
At time of a pandemic, the issue of creamation or burial is neither religious nor political, but scientific.
This is in response to the opinion expressed by Tharindu Dananjaya Weerasinghe in The Island of 13 January, on the burial issue.
The writer argues that the issue of cremation, or burial, should not be decided by politics or by religion. In other words, he says it should be decided by science. I do agree with him and add it should be decided by empirical research findings of experts and scientists. Muslims believe that a corpse of a Muslim should be buried, but at a time of a pandemic for them science prevails over their religious beliefs, and they abide by scientific decision. Justice Minister Ali Sabry very clearly and repeatedly said in Parliament. He said, if it was scientifically established that burial would harm the living, he could have never raised the burial issue.
Now the question is whether the decision of the government not to bury the COVID-19-infected bodies is scientific or non scientific. This is the crust of the issue here. The writer’s argument is that the Muslim community is refusing to abide by a scientific decision taken by the government. First of all, is the decision taken by the government scientific?
The writer is a senior don and is very familiar with research works. In research works, credibility of the authors cited counts a lot, and if you cite geologists in a study of virology it will not be accepted at all. For instance, on the burial issue, who will the writer listen to? Virology scientist Prof. Malik Peiris or Geology Prof. Meththika Vidanake? WHO or Health Ministry? A Committee of virologists, microbiologists and immunogists, or a committee of judicial medical officers, general physicians, geologists and one or two microbiologists?, Scientist Prof. Chandre Dharmawardana or Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi? College of Community Physicians of Sri Lanka or Minister Keheliya Rambukwella…?
Further, the writer, in his introduction, says, “…the honour of death does not depend on the manner in which the funeral is performed.” This is his personal view, not a universal truth. Yet, I would draw his attention to what William E. Gladstone said on funeral rites, “Show me the manner in which a nation or a community cares for its dead and I will measure with mathematical exactness the tender sympathies of its people, their respect for the laws of the land and their loyalty to high ideals.”
I think it is also appropriate to mention the rulings of Bombay High Court of India on burial of COVID-19-infected corpses. While rejecting the petition against burial, Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice SS. Shinde ruled that there was no scientific proof to support the apprehension of the petitioners that novel coronavirus could spread through cadavers, and the right to a decent burial was equal with the right to life guaranteed under the Indian constitution and the court also held the petitioners were rather insensitive to the feelings of others.
The statement of the writer “If the cremation is forbidden by God’s order, what needs to be done, at this moment, is not to change the common law of the country, but to ask for God’s permission,” is childish and makes no sense to me.
The writer considerably quote from the Holy Quran on the burial issue. They are insignificant and irrelevant. 1.8b Muslims living all over the world consider burial an important aspect of their funeral rites. A non Muslim trying to quote from the Holy Quran to convince 1.8b followers to the opposite is futile attempt. Therefore, I leave this part of his argument unanswered
Finally, I would like to say, at a time of pandemic, cremation or burial is not an issue of politics or beliefs but of science as the writer says. But the government is trying to sell a political decision as scientific decision, and it is a pity a senior university don is unable to understand it, let alone the laymen.
M. A. Kaleel
(The writer is a Retired Senior Class One Officer of a Sri Lanka Executive Service.)
Cremation of Muslim Covid-19 victims:
The path not taken
The rule that all Covid-19-infected patients, who succumb to the virus, must be cremated was introduced by the GOSL on the 11th of April 2020.
The Path Taken
The response of the Muslim community which was traumatized by this new rule had the following timeline:
Initially, pressure was brought to bear on the Authorities by way of protests, petitions and appeals for the revocation of this order. The Authorities remained unmoved.
Then, attempts were made to circumvent the law, by sick Muslims, not seeking medical assistance in the hope that should they expire, they could then be buried, in accordance with the usual practice. The Authorities responded by introducing a new condition that all deaths, at home, must undergo PCR tests and, if necessary, a post-mortem examination to determine the exact cause of death. This meant that the burial of non-Covid Muslim deaths was delayed by over 24 hours.
Next, the Muslims began advocating a civil disobedience campaign aimed at non-compliance with the stipulated law. The families of Muslims were encouraged not to participate in the process of cremation of their Covid-infected dead by formally identifying and ‘accepting’ such bodies or accepting the ashes. This was attributed to the high costs involved and resulted in the cadavers of dead Muslims rotting away in morgues and ice-rooms for weeks/months. By actively encouraging this act of civil disobedience, the Muslims had deliberately shown the middle finger at Hadith No 401, Vol 2, Book 23 (Sahih Al-Bukhari), which urges Muslims to “Hasten the funeral rites”. So much for the pseudo-piety of such Muslims!
This phase of the Muslim-action also saw the sudden awakening of International Organizations and Foreign Health Professionals to the cremation issue in Sri Lanka – more than six months after the introduction of this new rule. They added their voices to the anti-cremation agitation in Sri Lanka. What is puzzling is the relatively long duration of time (nearly eight months) it took for some of these ‘World-renowned’ qualified personalities to offer their expert opinion on this matter.
A ‘White-Ribbon’ campaign was started through social media which fizzled out after a brief moment in time, but not before providing an opportunity for some members of the Ulema to enjoy their five minutes of fame on social media.
This phase also saw a change of heart amongst a group of minority non-Muslim politicians. These persons who remained unmoved and indifferent to the plight of Muslims being unceremoniously ejected from Jaffna and to the slaughter of 140 Muslims at prayer in a Mosque in Kattankudy, suddenly experienced a major softening of their hearts at the thought of Muslims being cremated.
After the receipt of two reports by Committees appointed by the Ministry of Health, the Authorities decided in early January 2021 that all Covid-related deaths will continue to be cremated in the best interests of the Country.
Finally, after over nine months had elapsed since the issuance of the cremation order, realization began to sink into the ossified minds of the Muslims. This is best summed up by the recent words of a well-known Muslim activist cum social commentator: “There is no doubt in my mind now that this whole cremation denial is a ploy to radicalize our youth and get them to do something rash. The slightest provocation from Muslims will trigger a mass riot which will destroy the Muslim economy, livelihood, wealth and property. Please talk to your children, the youth around and peers not to fall for their ploy.”
So, it took around nine months for the Muslims to realize that they should avoid creating the “slightest provocation” (Fitna) in response to the cremation order from the Authorities. If only they had chosen instead to heed the advice of the Holy Prophet that Muslims should at all times settle their problems through Consultation (shura) and Consensus (ijma) rather than adopting an aggressive and confrontational stance.
The path that should have been taken
The secular leaders of the Muslim community and the Scholars (Ulema) failed their members miserably at a crucial moment in time when the situation called for clear, cool-headed, objective reasoning and analyses of ground facts rather than being influenced by emotion and religious sentiment. These leaders/scholars should have focussed all their energies towards calming and reassuring the shocked and traumatized members of their community.
Upon the issuance of the cremation order, the Muslim community should have immediately been advised that according to the Quran and Hadith, it is NOT A SIN for a Muslim to be cremated UNDER COMPULSION. ‘Al-Darurat Tubih Al-Mahzurat’ is a legal maxim in Islamic Jurisprudence that translates as ‘Necessities Overrule Prohibitions’ and that allows a Muslim in extreme circumstances to do something that would normally be haram (forbidden) to save his own or another’s life. This fact should have been extensively publicized through media and sermons and impressed upon the Muslim masses.
Permission should have been obtained from the Authorities for Muslim families to recite prayers as close as possible to the crematorium when a Muslim was being cremated. – even if it just outside the boundary walls of the crematorium. The cathartic effects of prayers would have contributed immensely towards providing solace and consolation to the family and thereby ameliorated their trauma.
Muslims should have been urged to direct their Zakath (obligatory charity) to a common fund to assist those families who are unable to meet the costs associated with the cremation process. This would have served to enhance the spirit of brotherhood amongst the Muslims with the ‘Haves’ assisting the ‘Have-nots’ at a moment of crisis within the community.
All Covid-infected Muslims who were cremated after death should have been conferred the status of ‘Shaheed’ or ‘Martyr’, based on the Hadith “He who dies of plague is a martyr” (Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, No. 5733). The elevation of their late family member to such a spiritual level would have served to lessen the trauma of cremation.
All the Muslim Cemeteries should have been ordered to allocate a special area for the burial of Muslim ashes. These burial plots should have had permanent markers and headstones (meezans), should not be re-used and be given the same social status as the Muslim War Graves at the Jawatte Muslim Cemetery. This would have served to remind Muslims now and in the future that at a time when our Motherland was facing a national crisis of immense proportions, there were Muslims who were compelled by circumstances to sacrifice their obligations to Islam.
These measures would have gone a long way towards easing the pain and trauma experienced by Muslim families who had a Member cremated due to Covid.
And in the meantime, the Muslim community should have conducted discussions with the relevant Authorities to have the cremation order revoked without any publicity by presenting the views and opinions of qualified Health Professionals on this subject. The Muslims failed to realize the fact that their confrontational approach to bring pressure to bear on the Authorities by getting various International organizations to issue statements decrying the decision to cremate may only serve to harden the stand of the Authorities.
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