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Cremation of Muslim Covid-19 victims: 

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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. 

 

Bisthan Batcha

 

 



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Opinion

How many people can the Earth sustain?

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=On Nov 15 November 2022, we became a world of 8 billion people. 

It’s a milestone we can celebrate, and an occasion to reflect: How can we create a world in which all 8 billion of us can thrive? The growth of our population is a testament to humanity’s achievements, including reductions in poverty and gender inequality, advancements in health care, and expanded access to education. These have resulted in more women surviving childbirth, more children surviving their early years, and longer, healthier lifespans, decade after decade.

Looking beyond the averages, at the populations of countries and regions, the picture is much more nuanced – and quickly takes us beyond the numbers themselves. Stark disparities in life expectancy point to unequal access to health care, opportunities and resources, and unequal burdens of violence, conflict, poverty and ill health.

Birth rates vary from country to country, with some populations still growing fast, others beginning to shrink. But underlying these trends, whichever way they point, is a widespread lack of choice. Discrimination, poverty and crisis – as well as coercive policies that violate the reproductive rights of women and girls – put sexual and reproductive health care and information, including contraception and sex education, out of reach for far too many people.

We face serious challenges as a global community, including the mounting impacts of climate change, ongoing conflicts and forced displacement. To meet them, we need resilient countries and communities. And that means investing in people and making our societies inclusive, so that everyone is afforded a quality of life that allows them to thrive in our changing world.

To build demographic resilience, we need to invest in better infrastructure, education and health care, and ensure access to sexual and reproductive health and rights. We need to systematically remove the barriers – based on gender, race, disability, sexual orientation or migration status – that prevent people from accessing the services and opportunities they need to thrive.

We need to rethink models of economic growth and development that have led to overconsumption and fuelled violence, exploitation, environmental degradation and climate change, and we need to ensure that the poorest countries – which did not create these problems, yet bear the brunt of their impacts – have the resources to build the resilience and well-being of their growing populations.

We need to understand and anticipate demographic trends, so that governments can make informed policies and resource allocations to equip their populations with the right skills, tools and opportunities.

But while demographic trends can help guide the policy choices we make as societies, there are other choices – including if and when to have children – that policy cannot dictate, because they belong to each individual. This right to bodily autonomy underlies the full range of our human rights, forming a foundation for resilient, inclusive and thriving societies that can meet the challenges of our world. When our bodies and futures are our own, we are #8BillionStrong.

(UNFPA)

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Opinion

Sri Lanka Now Famous For Bribery And Corruption

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Bribery and corruption are two words that Sri Lanka has become “famous” for during the last few decades. This was something rare about half a century ago. We very rarely heard of Cabinet Ministers resorting to bribery, except in two cases.

If I remember right one was indicted in courts and had to serve a period in Her Majesty’s free hostel. The other was one of the members of the multi-Member Kadugannawa constituency, but it was not a very serious one as it involved the granting of appointments like sub-Post Mistress. There was also a businessman nabbed for giving bribes and held in a house in Paget Road. However, then it was rare and only a few cases such as that mentioned were known. In addition, these instances did not in any way effect the economy of the country or the people.

Gradually, the art of bribery and corruption became so well-known that most investors and contractors from abroad and locally were not willing to tender for essential supplies and construction of buildings and roads as they had to oil the palms right down the line. At one time a Cabinet Minister was nicknamed Mr. Ten Percent indicating his ‘cut’ on any tender or contract!

This country became famous for bribery and corruption in a big way after the tsunami in 2004 with the Helping Hambantota project, where funds from abroad to assist the victims went into a wrong pocket.

It was also very recently that a Cabinet Minister was reported to the President regarding a bribe he had solicited from a foreign tenderer. The then President asked him to step down till an inquiry was held. But with the change in the top position, a retired judge was appointed to inquire into this allegation. As in the bond scam the inquiry found him not guilty, and he was reinstated in the Cabinet. It is only in Sri Lanka that this type of thing could happen.

The Sri Lankan diaspora would have helped the country to recover from the economic mess the leaders plunged it into by sending money from abroad. But they did not want to do so as they knew what would happen to such funds. Even people here requested them not to send assistance till the corrupt leaders have been got rid of.This resplendent island may have been the pearl of the Indian Ocean at one time but now it has become notorious for bribery and corruption! When will we get honest leaders to run this country as was done about a century ago?

HM NISSANKA WARAKAULLE

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Opinion

The Rehabilitation Bill

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The high priests of our temple of justice has reaffirmed our faith in our legal system and the rule of law. A country without the rule of law will disintegrate into worse chaos than we are plunged in today.

It was heartening to see the determination by the Supreme Court on the Rehabilitation Bill. The legal preamble is a bit hard for an average lay person to follow. To my understanding, they have thrown some strong road blocks on the passage of this Bill. Well and good. I don’t think it will be that easy for the govt to surmount them. The legal fraternity, civil society and ordinary citizens, must fight hard to see that there is no transgression of the determination of the Supreme Court.

We need not and don’t need to incarcerate anybody. Those addicted to drugs should be handled by the health dept. or better still their families. These are our misguided sons and daughters who have taken a wrong path due to a failure in their families and the society around them. They need to be handled with care and consideration. Institutionalizing them would make the problem a costly failure.

Our lawmakers should hang their heads in shame if they vote for this draconian Bill as they may be viewed as persons who serve the wishes of the rulers and not those of the people.

Padmini Nanayakkara
Colombo-3

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