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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

Amend Cabinet decision on new Rajagiriya – Nawala Canal bridge

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The Cabinet, at its meeting held on 09.11.2020 granted approval for the construction of a new bridge across the Rajagiriya-Nawala Canal (Kolonnawa Canal), connecting Angampitiya Road, at Ethul kotte, and School Lane, at Nawala.

As a resident of Nawala, I would like to make two proposals in this regard. One is to reconsider the suitability of the proposed link between School Lane and Angampitiya Road to connect Nawala with Ethul Kotte. The second is to make an additional link between Narahenpita and Nawala, by constructing a new bridge across the Kinda Canal, which flows past the Wall-Tile Showroom on the Nawala-Narahenpita Road and the McDonald’s outlet at Rajagiriya. This will provide a direct access from Narahenpita to Ethul Kotte, and at the same time avoiding congestion on Kirimandala Mawatha and Parliament Road, during peak hours.

The decision to construct a bridge, linking Nawala and Ethul Kotte, is commendable, but the selection of the site for the bridge needs reconsideration. Once Ethul Kotte is linked with Nawala, through Angampitiya Road, and School Lane, one would expect a substantial increase in the volume of traffic on these two roads. Located on School Lane is the Janadhipathi Balika Vidyalaya, a popular girls’ school in the area. Even at present, the area around School Lane has heavy traffic comprising mostly school vans and other vehicles bringing children to and from this school, in the mornings and afternoons. Linking School Lane with Ethul Kotte will make this traffic situation worse, causing congestion.

A better option is to connect Ethul Kotte with Nawala, by constructing a bridge, linking New Jayaweera Mawatha in Ethul Kotte, with Koswatta Road, in Nawala. A by-lane, branching off from the Koswatta Road leading up to the canal, at an appropriate location, could be used for this purpose. On this link, only a short distance of roadway about 250 m, needs to be developed, whereas the School Lane extension needs development of at least 700 m of roadway. Earlier, motorists used Koswatta Road as a shortcut to access Parliament Road. Now, turning right, at the Parliament Road junction, is not permitted, and hence, there isn’t much traffic on this road at present.

One advantage of extending the Koswatta Road, to Ethul Kotte is that it could be linked in the other direction, with Muhandiram Dabare Mawatha, on the Narahenpita side, providing a direct route for motorists coming along Thimbirigasyaya Road to go to Ethul Kotte. With this link, it will be possible for traffic to avoid both Parliament Road and Chandra de Silva Mawatha, Nugegoda, the only two access roads to Kotte, from Colombo, available at present.

To complete this access, it is necessary to construct a bridge across Kinda Canal, linking Galpotta Road with Muhandiram Dabare Mawatha, after extending both roadways up to the canal. This area is still not developed, except for a reservation made for a playground on the Nawala side. A new roadway, which is only about half a km distance, is necessary, and this could be built without any problem linking these two roadways. Galpotta Road could be linked with Koswatta Road via Ratanajothi Mawatha, which crosses the Rajagiriya–Nawala Road, at Koswatta Junction.

The construction of these two new bridges, one across Kolonnawa Canal and the other across Kinda Canal, will provide a direct route from Colombo to Ethul Kotte, via Muhandiram Dabare Mawatha, Galpotta Road, Koswatta Road and New Jayaweera Mawatha. This link will reduce congestion, at present experienced on Kirimandala Road and Parliament Road.

 

Dr JANAKA RATNASIRI

Nawala

 

 

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Opinion

A tribute to my mother-in-law

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Appreciation

My mother-in-law, Mandrani Gunasekera, nee Malwatta, passed away peacefully in our home a few weeks ago. The funeral arrangements were complicated by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic situation, and the resultant weekend curfew in Colombo.

It is a privilege for me to reflect on my mother-in-law and her role in our lives. Vocationally, she was a practitioner of one of the noblest professions on earth, that of being a teacher, with the responsibility of educating and molding young lives. First in the public-school system, then overseas, and finally in Colombo’s leading international schools. As someone who topped her batch at the Peradeniya University, teaching was an unusual and perhaps unglamourous choice, but it demonstrated her commitment to the service of others.

In private life, she, was a mother to two daughters, one of whom is my wife, and their strength of character are a tribute to her. Her four grandchildren, including my two sons, are, I am sure, left in no doubt, that their mothers were raised in the home of a teacher, with a strong commitment to both education and discipline. I saw first-hand, that my mum-in- law, was an enabler and facilitator, guiding and molding her family. Her eldest grand-daughter, Thisuni Welihinde’s wedding late last year, was a milestone for her and we were never sure who was more excited, the bride or her grandmother.

To me, she was always “Ammi” and having lost my own mother when I was very young, I was determined to treat my wife’s mother, as I would my own. After my father- in- law’s death, a decade ago, it was a joy to care for my mother-in- law, in our home. Ammi was retired and lived a life of leisure. Which was a good counter balance to our own lives, which always seemed to be so hectic and rushed. I also learned from my mother -in-law, that being effective did not come from being prominent.

Ammi was also regular at Church, every Sunday, and was also an active member of a mid-week ladies Bible study, and prayer group, who were also her group of friends. They always ended their meetings, with brunch if not lunch. It was special joy that we were able to celebrate her 80th birthday with a “surprise party” at home, with her friends, about six weeks before her passing.

Ammi enjoyed the simple joys of life, and of our home, whether it was meal times, the constant chatter and boisterous behaviour of her two teenage grandsons, our weekend activities or family vacations to most of which she accompanied us. She was also an avid rugby fan, especially of Royal College rugby, since her brother had captained Royal and now her grandson was playing. In fact, she used to attend many matches and the 75th Bradby encounter last year, held in the shadow of the Easter Sunday bomb attacks, was her last, to witness her brother honoured on the field with other past captains and her grandson take the field, as a junior player.

This strange Covid-19 pandemic year, and its unprecedented lockdown ,enabled us to spend lots of time together, as family. Our lockdown daily routine, which included lots of sleep and rest, was centered on the daily family lunch, either preceded, or followed by family prayer. Ammi became the most committed and enthusiastic participant in our family mid-day gatherings. It was a great blessing, in disguise, that enabled us to spend the last few months, with noting much else to do, but enjoy each other’s company. While we miss her, we have the hope that she is with our Lord Jesus Christ. Her favourite Bible scripture in Psalm 91, states “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High abides under the shadow of the Almighty …. and with long life I will satisfy him and show him, My salvation”.

 

By Harim Peiris

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Opinion

The Benefits of Homeschooling

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COVID-19 has changed our normal activities. What we were used to doing in 2019, is no longer a routine in 2020. In the midst of this pandemic the schools were closed down, and the decision to reopen schools by the Sri Lankan government and the trade unions speaking against it, made me ponder on an alternative.

Education in developing countries have often been a sensitive topic, Parents would leave no stone unturned to put their child to a ‘Big School’. How many of the classrooms in ‘Big Schools’ are capable of making seating arrangements by keeping a distance of one meter in accordance with the COVID-19 regulations?

Online Teaching has been introduced as an alternative, but isn’t there something better than that?

This would be the best time to introduce Homeschooling.

Homeschooling is where parents and guardians teach and groom their children. There are many parents capable of handling children and providing a comfortable atmosphere at home for a child to grow up and learn; there are parents who are skilled in particular trades and crafts, and teaching these to their children at a younger age gives the child an opportunity to be a skilled individual.

Several decades back the role of a Governess played an important role in upbringing children in Sri Lankan households. Many would have read about Helen Keller, a deaf and blind student who went on to be a graduate; she was groomed and taught by her governess Anne Sullivan, who taught her at home, this is a successful example of Homeschooling.

It is an arrogant attitude to scoff that parents groom their children into good citizens without sending them to school. Inferior Schooling and Teaching Methods have been a bane to a child’s psychology and mentally handicapping the confidence of a child. The truth is, schools no longer groom students, they have become Examination Centres, that judge the performance of their students through results.

It will be interesting to look into some of the criticisms made by sceptics on homeschooling. One is the subject knowledge of the parents; let’s be honest, how many of us use Titration in Chemistry in our daily lives, do we even want to try it? How many of us want to know the Chronology of the Kings that ruled the Country, has it ever disturbed us?

On the other hand, Homeschooling does not mean that teachers would no longer be needed, the teacher can play a broader role as a governess or a trainer to fill in the subject gaps that the parents are unable to provide for their child.

Another criticism is that children will not learn to socialise without schools. Isn’t Covid-19 regulations discouraging socialising by asking us to avoid public gatherings and maintaining a distance of 1 meter, isn’t socialising with a bad friend as disastrous as a deadly disease?

It will be interesting to see how the trade unions are going to respond to this if homeschooling becomes successful, as they will be the worst affected. But they could always become good Governesses or Subject Experts and play a guiding role in the homeschooling venture. This country now needs more Florence Nightingales to treat the sick and more Anne Sullivans to groom the kids.

 

HASALA PERERA

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