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Burial or cremation? Muslims remain in a Covid quandary

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By Dr M. HARIS DEEN

The second wave of the COVID 19 pandemic and the extent of its spread worldwide, has left the Muslims of Sri Lanka in a serious quandary. To bury or cremate? That is the question. As far as the Muslims are concerned, the Sri Lankan government does not seem to give in. At first, what appeared to be a genuine cause, now clearly appears to be motivated by discrimination. Despite the advice of the WHO, several local organisations, representation by eminent professors of medicine, several distinguished ulemas, who diminished the argument that the water table issue as a fallacy, the Sri Lankan government stays unmoved on the issue of cremation against burial.

Article 3 of the Sri Lankan constitution states that “In the Republic of Sri Lanka sovereignty is in the People and is inalienable. Sovereignty includes the powers of government, fundamental rights and the franchise.”

Relevant to my arguments are what is stated in Article 4 of the constitution, to wit:

Article 4 – The Sovereignty of the People shall be exercised and enjoyed in the following manner:

(c) the judicial power of the People shall be exercised by Parliament through courts, tribunals and institutions created and established by law, except in regards to matters relating to privileges, immunities and powers of Parliament and of its Members, wherein the judicial Power of the People may be exercised by Parliament according to law.

(d) the fundamental rights which are by the Constitution declared and recognised shall be respected, secured and advanced by all the organs of government and shall not be abridged, restricted or denied save, in the manner and to the extent provided,

Article 10 – Every person is entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including the freedom to adopt a religion or belief of his choice,

Article 11 – No person shall be subjected to torture or to cruel or degrading treatment or punishment.

One will see from the above cited Articles of the Sri Lankan constitution that the sovereignty is in the hands of the people, unlike in Britain and most other civil law countries, where the sovereignty is vested in the parliament and legislation passed by parliament cannot be challenged, although there is judicial review as to execution of the law but not the law itself.

Therefore, I submit that the Sri Lankan Parliament did not have the People’s mandate to present the “The Quarantine and Prevention of Diseases Ordinance” (Chapter 222) on 11th April 2020. The contents of the Bill had not been presented as a “White” paper for discussion by all communities. Hence, it is a “bolt from the blues” for those who seek a dignified end to them or their loved ones. It is further submitted that the fundamental rights of not only the Muslims, but also of every citizen of Sri Lanka who wish to be given dignity to their last rights, has been denied. Furthermore, the fundamental rights guaranteed by Article 10 have been infringed against the guarantees contained in Article 4 paragraph (d) of the constitution. In my opinion, this Bill could have been challenged in courts by invoking Article 4 (c) of the constitution, in which I believe there is adequate ground for a judicial review.

That is as far as the law is concerned. What about the position of the Muslims vis-a-vis what the Qur’an and the Ahadith say about the dignified treatment of dead persons.

“O ye who believe! Obey Allah, and obey the Messenger, and those charged with authority among you. If ye differ in anything among yourselves, refer it to Allah and His Messenger, if ye do believe in Allah and the Last Day: That is best, and most suitable for final determination”. (4:59)

I have researched and discussed with Islamic scholars on the issue. Allah in His absolute wisdom says in the Qur’an that death is inevitable and no matter how people try to escape death it will reach everyone (50:19), also “every soul shall taste death and only on the day of judgement you will be paid your full recompense on the day of your rising. Anyone who is distanced from the fire and admitted to the garden has triumphed . The life of this world is only enjoyment of delusion” (3:185). This is the only place where “death” and “fire” have been related as a punishment to be distanced from.

Allah’s book is for every situation rather than any situation, hence Allah in His absolute mercy refrained from committing His faithful from committing to any particular obligations as death can happen anywhere under any circumstance “No self knows what it will earn tomorrow and no self knows in what land it will die.” (31:33; 31:34). However, Allah showed the son of Adam, Cain what he should do when he killed his brother Abel, during a dispute between them. Allah sent a raven which dug the ground with its beak and feet and buried another dead raven and closed the “grave” “so that he might show him how he should cover his brother’s dead body,” (05: 31). Therefore, it is evident that Allah promoted burial as a dignified manner to respect the dead under all circumstances.

The Prophet (Peace and Salutations upon him) encouraged haste in burial of the deceased. This includes the entire process from ghusl to burial, but in particular it refers to carrying the body of the deceased from the Janaaza to the burial. Abu Hurayrah narrates that the Prophet (Peace and Salutations be upon him) said: “Hasten with the Janaza. If it was a righteous person, then you are forwarding it to its bliss, and if it was other than that (not righteous), then you will remove this burden from your necks.” [Reported by al-Bukhari (volume 2, hadith 401) and Muslim (volume 2, hadith 2059)].

Death and human dignity – Humanitarian Forensics under Islamic Law

In many civilizations, traditions and religions—both ancient and modern—death is a mere transitional phase between one stage of life and another. Burying the dead is one way to ensure that the dead are accorded dignity and respect, and that the feelings of their living loved ones are considered. Throughout history, religions, traditions and cultural practices have influenced the ways in which the dead are managed, both in times of peace and conflict. Today, they continue to do so.

In Islam, human dignity is a right given by God to all humans—who are referred to in the Qur’ān as God’s vicegerents on earth. Islam grants certain rights to humans before they are even born, and others after their death. Whether dead or alive, the human body—created by God in the perfect shape—must be given dignity and respect. 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 into the ground to bury another raven, thus indirectly showing Cain how to bury his brother’s body.

Faced with the difficulties of ensuring the dignified burial of the dead in the context of armed conflicts and other situations of violence and natural disasters, classical Muslim jurists developed Islamic laws to deal with the challenge. These laws aim to respect the dignity of the dead and respect the feelings of their loved ones to the degree possible. The dignity of the dead surfaced in the discussions of the classical Muslim jurists on a number of issues. Some of the most significant of which, for our purposes here, are: searching for and collecting the dead, disposal of Muslim and non-Muslim mortal remains, quick burial, exhumation of human remains and burial at sea.

Before delving into these issues, it is worth noting that Islamic law at times combines purely legal rules with religious and/or ethical matters. This is the case as well with the management of the dead. For instance, burial and grave regulations are deliberated in the Islamic legal literature, along with the etiquette of visiting graves. Combining legal and ethical elements is an important characteristic of Islamic law that helps keep it alive. It helps ensure that Muslims voluntarily impose such rules upon themselves, and that they keep practicing even with regard to aspects that are not codified in Muslim States’ legal systems, and over which courts have no jurisdiction. This nature of Islamic law points to the impact Islamic law can have in influencing societal behaviour. Understanding these Islamic rules can help guide humanitarian forensic specialists to overcome challenges they face by respecting the religious needs of Muslim societies, when they work in Muslim contexts. It is a way to show that respecting the dead is the common overriding concern of both their forensic work and Islamic law. (Dawoodi, A. A – 2018 – Humanitarian Law and Policy).

In my capacity as a lay person, I have put my knowledge before Islamic lawyers and parliamentarians and the Ulema to take up the case of the illegality of imposing “The Quarantine and Prevention of Diseases Ordinance” (Chapter 222) not only on Muslims but those of any faith, who do not want themselves cremated and request a dignified burial. It is not as yet too late, I am sure the government will listen to reason, when approached in the proper way. There is evidence that the reason given by the authorities of groundwater contamination is not proven.

In a web article posted on 19.05.2020 The Fast Company newsletter (accessed 27/10/2020) states inter alia as follows:

“Microbial and chemical contamination can also occur in cemeteries as a result of unmanaged, untreated and incorrectly sited sanitation services, solid waste, and wastewater, which allows for the flow of microorganisms and contaminants into cemeteries.

In general, bodies that are treated and buried in correctly sited and constructed cemeteries do not pose a threat to public health and are not a source of pollution. The WHO guidelines clearly stipulate that to date, there has been no evidence to suggest that individuals have become infected from exposure to the bodies of persons who have died from Covid-19.

If conducted according to the usual recommended health and safety practices, choosing to bury or cremate a person who has passed away from Covid-19 should pose no additional risk to the environment or the people. However, in South Africa, based on the nation’s known religious and cultural practices around death as well as the lack of sufficient crematoriums, Covid-19 victims are highly likely to be buried in cemeteries. South Africa also has serious issues with access to land in metropolitan and rural areas. As a result, conservation and residential developments take precedence over cemeteries because they are not considered sustainable.

However, when sited properly and according to sound scientific judgement, cemeteries should protect surface water and groundwater from contamination regardless of the cause of death. Provided that the capacity of the cemetery is not breached, the placement and design of the cemetery should have a built-in resilience to supply enough time for the attenuation of contaminants on-site. In some instances, poorly sited cemeteries may be at higher risk.

To date there have been no reported cases of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 (officially known as SARS-CoV-2 ) being detected in drinking water in either private boreholes or public drinking water systems coming from cemeteries. This can be related to the travel time that SARS-Cov-2 will need in order to remain infective.

So far, SARS-CoV-2 does not have a high level of persistence in the environment, due to it being an enveloped virus and can be eliminated effectively by water treatment, especially chlorination, and would pose a minimal risk to drinking water. As the outbreak continues, and in the unlikely event that more people succumb to Covid-19; particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, more water-quality and hydrogeological (laboratory and pilot scale) experiments are needed before major conclusions can be drawn on their fate and the way they are transported in cemetery environments.

Email: deenmohamed835@gmail.com



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Opinion

Territorial mindset, a recipe for disaster!

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By Chani Imbulgoda

I recall a documentary on animal life on a TV channel. Describing the behaviour of lions, a caretaker said, “These lions are from the Dehiwala zoo. They are vigilant of other lions entering their territory, if one crosses the boundary they fight to death. They won’t like other lions entering their territory.” The announcer remarked, “Just like humans!”

Exactly, just like us. In the animal kingdom the survival of the fittest is the norm and not crossing others’ territory is a rule of thumb. Since the beginning of human civilisation there have been tales of battles. The Trojan war, Alexander’s, Caesar’s, Napoleon’s wars degraded human values. Saddled with cynicism, hostility and jealousy, we humans, like beasts, are at war with ‘others’ who do not fit into our ideologies or our comfort zones. History is a storehouse of tales of human battles over territories in the guise of civilisation. So-called civilisation itself was won over battles. In the local context, the native ‘Yakkhas’ were massacred by Prince Vijaya to develop ‘Sinhale’. America, Canada, Australia inherit a dark history of looting territories of indigenous people in the name of civilisation. Portugal, Spain, Britain tasted the blood of their ‘colonial slaves’. Centuries later, we have not yet shed our primary animal instincts. We battle tooth and nail to protect our territories, our autonomy, values and interests all in the guise of civilised behaviour.

We rarely welcome outsiders into our territories. In the 40s and 50s, women were kept out of men’s territory. Late British Prime Minister aka Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher, had to struggle many years to break through another of man’s territories, the Parliament. In the movie ‘Margaret Thatcher: The Long Walk to Finchley’, she sobs to her husband that contrary to what she previously believed, despite hard work she cannot win on merit and that dedication and passion are irrelevant. One-time Prime Minister, Edward Heath condemns Thatcher’s outspoken nature to force her out of politics. Heath says that the Parliament is akin to an orchestra made up of many musicians and Thatcher is a French horn more loud than appropriate, that threatens the orchestra’s harmony.

This is how men and also women of the same flock air their resentment towards outsiders, in their own words ‘intruders’ who are colourful and loud in action. Insult, indifference, suspicion, suppression, oppression are not uncommon experiences of pioneers in anything in history or at present. I once heard a senior Professor advising a young colleague attempting to change the system for the better, “Lady, look, do not swim upstream, people would not like it.” Yes, despite good intentions any novel act breaks the harmony…That is why the Buddha had many foes. That is why the notorious thief Barabbas was chosen by the crowd over Jesus.

I tried to uproot a tiny cinnamon sapling that grew through my interlock pavement blocks, failing which I crushed it. It made me realise that this is what happens, no matter how valuable you are. If you crop up in a place where you would not be accepted, every effort is made to root out, failing which, crush you, to ensure that you would not resurface. I suppose many of us had faced similar circumstances at work places, in politics or within social circles. Why does this happen, because of ego, envy, distrust or insecurity? Or because someone deemed a threat by another individual, a leader or a group enters their territory?

A pack of wolves has a leader; the protection of lions’ territory is the responsibility of the leader; the leader is the first to announce danger. No outsider can cross the boundary. We see certain lions, wolves and foxes as alphas. The mentality ‘I am the boss, I know everything’ blinds them. They live on ego, with a superiority complex, under the assumption that no one can challenge their power. If the newcomer is meek and sucks up to the leader, he or she survives and can slowly squirm their way into the pack.

I have heard parents complain about how difficult it is to enrol their kids into various sports clubs in schools. I have worked in private as well as public sector organisations, local and overseas. I have experienced antagonistic behaviour in these organisations. Driven by their insecurity, superior or inferior complexes, they would go to any lengths to harass the outsider and go to any extreme to protect his or her territory. They are myopic to the point of rejecting ideas foreign to them no matter how good they are, as they see ‘danger’ in ideas alien to them. Some group ideologies are thicker than blood. Certain professional groups rarely welcome females. They believe that women cannot meet challenges as men do and can be fiercely territorial. Many qualified and capable individuals are ostracised from organisations or industries or expelled from positions because of this territorial mindset.

A person with a territorial mindset is often overcome by thoughts of safeguarding or enhancing his or her power, control, influence and self-proclaimed status. These are primitive emotions. Taking ownership and defending what people believe belongs to them is a positive trait. But it is this mentality that subjects newcomers to agony when they grow too smart for their own good. They are stifled when the power of those with a territorial mindset is threatened. Many novel ideas and skills go to waste while some newcomers or ‘misfits’ are forced to leave their workplaces, others would continue the fight or be forced to conform.

We talk of harmony, reconciliation, tolerance and unity in diversity. Why cannot we synergize each other’s differences? A French horn would add glamour and at least amuse the audience. A garden consisting of a variety of flowers is more awe-inspiring than a garden of roses alone. Poet Khalil Gibran said that when a river enters the sea, the river is no more, it is diluted in salt water and one cannot trace the river in the sea, but the river grows larger and so does the sea. When we come out of our confining shells we are exposed to greater opportunities as well as benefits for both the newcomer and those already in that society.

(The writer holds a senior position in a state university and has an MBA from the Postgraduate Institute of Management [PIM], Sri Lanka and is currently reading for her PhD in Quality Assurance in the Higher Education Sector at PIM. She can be reached at cv5imbulgoda@gmail.com)

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Faulty decisions

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Farmers protesting against the prevailing fertiliser shortage. (file photo)

The importation of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides was banned by a Cabinet Memorandum, dated April 27, 2021, to promote the use of organic fertilizers and natural pesticides. As a result, inorganic fertilisers such as urea, Triple superphosphate, Muriate of Potash and other agrochemicals (insecticides, fungicides etc.) became scarce. Agriculture Ministry in the meantime promoted manufacture of organic fertilisers (OF) but they were unable to get sufficient amounts of organic fertilisers manufactured. Most of what was available were of low quality with high C/N ratios. Agric. The Ministry is yet to produce natural insecticides, fungicides, etc. Thousands of farmers, all over the country, started to protest demanding that inorganic fertilisers and appropriate pesticides are made available, because they knew that these agrochemicals are necessary to get better yields from the crops they cultivate. The Soil Science Society of Sri Lanka, representing mostly the Soil Scientists and Agronomists of Sri Lanka, and the Sri Lanka Agricultural Economics Association, the professional body representing the agricultural economists of Sri Lanka predicted massive economic losses due to potential yield losses, with the implementation of the import ban on fertilisers and pesticides

In spite of all these protests, the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) continued to ban import of inorganic fertilisers and pesticides, This caused immense economic and social problems to the people in general and to the farmers in particular. Farmers who cultivated Paddy in the current Maha complain of a reduction in the yields, and those who cultivated vegetables and other crops had to bear up a substantial decrease in quantity and quality of their produce. Production of maize decreased, resulting in a drop in poultry feed.

Reduction in local rice production made the government importing large quantities of rice from China and Burma. Food prices have increased causing thousands of people mainly the poor, going hungry resulting, health and social problems. Incomes of nearly two million farmers got reduced which affected their buying capacity resulting in numerous undesirable effects such as increasing unemployment, poverty and related issues. Tea small holders complained of reduction in quantity and quality of tea affecting their income, and also a decline on foreign exchange earnings which those in the Finance Ministry, Central Bank and other relevant institutions are frantically searching. All these are the result of the ban of inorganic fertilizers and pesticides, a faulty decision.

In August, the Cabinet removed the ban probably realising the utter foolishness of the decision to ban import of inorganic fertilisers and pesticides. However, it is too late as it takes time to import fertilisers and other agrochemical which were in short supply due to the ban.

The main reason given for banning importation of inorganic fertilisers was that it caused chronic kidney disease with unknown aetiology (CKDU). Several research studies have been conducted since the year 2000, when it was reported to occur in some parts of the country. The findings of these studies do not indicate that there is any relationship between CKDU and fertilisers. CKDU has not been reported in many countries such as China (393 kg/ha) India (175 kg/ha) and United Kingdom (245 kg/ha) where the amount of fertilisers used per hectare is much larger than that of Sri Lanka (138 kg/ha). Note- the fertiliser consumption data given are for 2018 and are based on values given by Food and Agriculture Organization.

The growth rate of Sri Lanka has declined after 2015 . It dwindled to 4.5% in 2016 and 3.1% in 2017 and in 2020 it was -3.6 %. The Trade Deficit ( the difference between exports and imports- TD) shows a decrease but at present it stands at 6.1 US$ billion. Exchange rate continued to increase from Rs. 111 to a US $ in 2010 to Rs, 186 in 2020. Currently it is around Rs. 200. According to Central Bank, External Debt in Sri Lanka increased to 51117.43 USD Million in the third quarter of 2021. These figures indicate that Sri Lanka is heading towards an unprecedented economic crisis. Hence, the government need to implement appropriate strategies to increase exports and reduce imports.

Sri Lanka annually imports food worth Rs. 300 billion. Most of the food imported such as sugar, milk food, lentils, onion, maize, etc., involving around Rs. 200 billion can be locally produced, thereby reducing expenditure on food imports. In view of the current shortage of foreign exchange, it has become extremely important to promote the production of food locally which hitherto have been imported. The plantation sector, which includes tea, rubber, coconut, cashew, sugarcane and minor exports crops such as cinnamon, cardamom, cocoa ,plays a very important role in the economy of the country earning a substantial amount of foreign exchange, Hence, it is important to implement strategies to increase the productivity of the food crop and plantation crops sectors. Inorganic fertilisers, synthetic pesticides and herbicides play a very important role in this regard.

However, the Government is emphasizing that organic fertilisers (OF) are used in the coming yala season as well . Those in the government who made this faulty decision need to realise that OF can never replace inorganic fertilisers and that it can only be supplementary. They need to give serious consideration to the bitter experience of the farmers who applied OF to their crops during the current Maha. The Government needs to understand this fact and reconsider this faulty decision if they want to increase local food and export crop production.

In the year 2022, there will be a severe shortage of food negatively affecting food security, unless the government implements a realistic and effective programme from the beginning of 2022 to solve this issue. Implementation of foolish decisions such as to replace inorganic fertilisers with organic fertilisers, as done in 2021 is not going to solve this problem. Among the 17, he Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations in 2015, several are related to increase crop production. The Sustainable Development Council of Sri Lanka has a responsibility for coordination, facilitation, monitoring, evaluation and reporting on the implementation of strategies related to development of the agriculture sector in Sri Lanka.

As indicated by Edgar Perera, a former Director of the Dept. of Agricultural Development (Ref. The Island of 17 Jan, 2022) the most appropriate thing to be done is to use OF as a soil re-conditioner along with chemical fertilisers, which will give the much-needed plant nutrients in adequate quantities, to achieve the required yield levels which will be sufficient to meet the national targets.

Dr. C. S. Weeraratna

csweera@sltnet.lk

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Opinion

Have pity on Afghans

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A camp sheltering displaced Afghans.

Is there no end to the torment inflicted on the ordinary people of Afghanistan, by the United States?

Having being defeated militarily, and decamping ingloriously within 24 hours, like thieves in the night, the USA now inflicts starvation and destruction on Afghanistan from a “safe distance”.! Money that rightly belonging to the Afghan State is being withheld by the American dominant Financial system. Let this be a lesson to us.

A report in The Island of 17 January revealed that Afghan families were selling children and their organs in order to survive.

After all, what crime did the Afghans commit in resisting an invading foreign power? Sri Lanka should seek ways of offering direct Aid at least in small ways, to Afghanistan, whether the Americans approve or not.

JAYMAN

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