BY THARINDU DANANJAYA WEERASINGHE
The world recognizes that we deserve an honorable death. But, the honor of death does not depend on the manner in which the funeral is performed. Whether death is honorable or not depends on what we did and said during our lifetime. Of course, the dignity of death is determined not by how we die or by the moment of our death, but by how we lived.
Therefore, there are many religious, social and cultural rituals and customs associated with death. We know that they are unique to each society, to each religion, and to each culture. Sociological and anthropological research studies show that whatever the rituals and customs, they are established for the benefit and restraint of the living.
Religion prevents us from corruption; it establishes the good. Religion does not restrict human freedom; it awakens human thoughts. Therefore, we must make decisions based on the fact that ‘religion is for man; not man is for religion’.
Not all the decisions in a country should be made by politicians. There are decisions to be made by the officers. Artists have some decisions to make. There are decisions to be made by religious leaders. Also, some decisions have to be made by the people. When all the decisions in a country are made by politicians, everything in that country becomes chaotic. The government should not negotiate with politicians to resolve the issue of cremation of corona deaths in Sri Lanka. For that, the government should negotiate with relevant religious leaders.
Not everything in a country or a society is governed by law. Religion, culture, morality, tradition, etc., also play a role in governing a country. If the issue of the cremation of those who die of Covid-19 is a religious one, the solution must be found within the religion itself. If it is a cultural problem, solutions must be found in the culture concerned. 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.
Verse 23:100 of the Holy Quran states that when a person dies, he has no connection with this world, and behind him is placed a vast screen invisible to the senses. Putting a screen between the dead and the world means that the dead will never know what the world is doing. So, the dead can do nothing for the living. “… the dead do not listen. The dead know nothing. The dead never answer. The dead do not know that they will be prayed to” (Verse 7:194 and 46:5 of the Holy Quran). The implication is that while religious healing of the dead and peace for the dead should be done, more attention should be given to the living.
According to Islamic tradition, the last rites of a dead person must be performed within 24 hours of the time of death. However, those religious leaders and devotees in Sri Lanka seem to have succeeded in obtaining the necessary divine permission to keep corona corpses in freezers for days and weeks, without violating that religious tradition and God’s wish. Therefore, it would be an easy task for religious leaders, communicating with God, to obtain God’s permission to cremate corona deaths.
If not, religious leaders will find solutions according to the teachings contained in the Holy Quran on what to do in such a confusing situation. Accordingly, we now face a strange kind of a test that tests the scientificity or ignorance of religious and philosophical teachings. The following are some of the religious teachings that can be considered in such a confusing situation, as stated in the Holy Quran, the purest religious textbook in Islam.
Verse 4:59 of the Holy Quran asks followers of Islam to obey Allah and His Messenger and obey those in authority. This verse says to obey Allah, to obey the Messenger and also to obey ‘Ulul Amru’. ‘Ulul’ means owners. ‘Amru’ means power or authority. Accordingly, ‘Ulul Amru’ means those who have power. In the rules of religion, one must obey Allah and His Messenger. But those in power must also be obedient in matters of administration that are not related to the teachings. Accordingly, it seems that it is not against Islam to accept and implement the provisions imposed by the ruler of a country, the authorities in various fields, judges and experts.
When one obeys God Allah and His Messenger, there can be no two positions as regards obedience and disobedience. However, at the end of this verse, it is said that when one obeys those in authority, one should obey only those things which do not contradict the Holy Quran. The verse further states that if there is any confusion in the obedience of those in authority, bring it to Allah and His Messenger. Moreover, the Holy Quran states that God Allah has approved the resolution of disputes between human beings when they arise, with the intervention of other human beings.
At a time when some politicians are misleading the people, this phrase is very helpful in protecting and awakening the people from such politicians. That is why we say that the situation regarding corona cremation or burial should be communicated to God, and the relevant religious parties in Sri Lanka should be empowered to resolve it religiously.
According to the Holy Quran, people are given the power to legislate in matters other than worship. There is nothing morally wrong in obeying the laws that man has made, using that power. But, if there is a conflict with that doctrine, then it must be communicated to God and get it resolved.
In countries where Muslims are a minority, a regime that enforces the rules of Islam cannot be established. Muslims living in countries where there are no Islamic rules in position, they should obey the rules imposed by the governing system of those countries. Also, when a Muslim is appointed as an employee or an official under such system, he/she should act in accordance with the law of the country, and not according to Islamic tradition. For example, if a Muslim who is a judge is found guilty of a crime, it should be judged and punished according to the law of that country. Verses 12:74 and 12:76 of the Holy Quran state that it is not a religious offense to do so. Accordingly, it is neither a religious offense for the fellow Muslims living in Sri Lanka to obey the laws of Sri Lanka, nor an opposition to Islamic tradition.
Allah only questions Islamic law in Islamic states. In countries without Islamic rule, it is not morally wrong to obey or enforce the law in that country. Therefore, in countries ruled by non-Muslims, it appears that it is not wrong to obey the rule and enforce it, other than those relating to worship. That is why complying with the regulations of the health authorities of Sri Lanka regarding corona cremation is not contrary to the will of God, or a disregard for religious teachings.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is of the view that this is a decision that should be specific and made by the corresponding country. This is the time for us to think more about environmental protection. It is a time when man himself experiences the consequences of overuse of the environment and environmental resources. We now have to choose between the two. Either death must be chosen, or life must be chosen. Either way, it depends on the extent of environmental protection. Thus, many countries around the world seem to have environmental protection at the top of their national agenda. Whether we die or live, we must think about the environment. Our lives have become a nuisance to the environment. Our death should not harm the environment either.
Below-mentioned is a part of the historic speech made by the Vedda leader of Sri Lanka; Uruwarigaye Vanniyalathoo, addressing the World Climate Change Conference in 2014.
“…The customs and traditions were forgotten by later generations. They began to embrace what they received from animals, the jungle, the sun, the rain, and the wind. The earth was fenced-off. The trees were cut down relentlessly. In one day, a countless number of visible and invisible animals were killed. People call that nonsense ‘development’…
…It rained just in time before these things made people’s heads go crazy. It felt like the wind was blowing at the right time on the right day. We looked at the environment and made predictions. We adjusted our lives accordingly. But today? It doesn’t rain when it needs to rain. The wind is not blowing at the right time. The mountains are falling down. The sea is rising. Rivers are overflowing. Getting sick without even knowing it. These are not surprising things. These are the reactions to the destruction that people have done to the environment so far…”
Environmental protection should also be at the top of the agenda to be implemented in the face of corona deaths. It should be in the opinion of the experts who have studied scientifically what is happening to the groundwater layer of Sri Lanka by burying the corona bodies. It cannot be determined by political or religious ideology or by what other countries are doing. If the burial of those who die of Covid-19 contaminates groundwater, then it will amount to the sacrifice of God for God, for Nature is also considered God.
Appropriately, the easiest solution for religious leaders is to pray to their God and seek God’s permission to cremate the dead. The permission will surely come from God, the embodiment of love and kindness.
(The writer is a senior university lecturer. Views are personal.)
Building trust, a better investment
The government has allowed private companies to import chemical fertilisers. The farmers had been holding many a street protest against the government’s blatantly unwise policy of shifting to organic farming overnight, but to no avail. The Minister concerned and others repeatedly said that they would not change the government’s decision as it had been made for the good of all the people. The farmers had no problem with organic farming but insisted that the transition had to be phased out to avoid serious adverse effects. But no! The government never relented and tried to show that the street protests were instigated by interested parties including chemical fertiliser companies, to make the government unpopular. The government insisted that chemical fertilisers have caused many ailments including the dreaded kidney disease and turned a deaf ear to the farmers’ grievances.
However, hot on the heels of Mr. Modi’s U-turn last week, the Minister has changed track and tells us that the government, being one which is always ‘sensitive to people’s concerns’, has decided to make chemical fertilizers available through private imports, but would not import them on its own or change its policy of going fully organic. Questioned by journalists, another ruling party spokesperson quipped that the government’s decision came about neither due to the Indian PM’s ‘example’ nor in response to the loud protests. It is a result of the discussions held within the party, he assured.
However, it is unfortunate that the government had to wait for more than seven months to be ‘sensitive to peoples’ concerns’. If the ruling party members had only taken a few minutes to watch TV news headlines, they would have proved their ‘sensitivity’ months earlier, not waiting for Mr. Modi to steal a march on them, so to speak. To any reasonable person, the government obviously has responded to the rampant protests that were actually the climax of a prolonged process, which began with pleading, explaining their predicament, reasoning, chest thumping, expressing disbelief, which gradually culminated in loud protests, burning of effigies and threatening to come to Colombo in numbers. Surely, Mr. Modi didn’t make it any easier for the government to justify its ‘sensitivity’ to farmers’ grievances!
Thus, to any reasonable person, the government had actually responded to the unbridled anger of the helpless farmers, not to their grievances. What’s more, looking at how the government had handled the previous issues of a controversial nature, it is hard to recall any instance where it promptly responded to people’s concerns; it was always a case of responding to people vehemently protesting as a last resort- be it the Port City issue, Eastern Terminal, Teachers’ salary or Yugadanavi Power Plant issue, not to mention the pathetic state of innocent villagers being perpetually traumatized by wild elephant attacks often taking their lives wantonly. In each of these cases, the government, wittingly or unwittingly, seemed to regard the voices of concern, not as appeals worthy of serious attention, but as attempts at disruption or politically motivated interventions. This, surely, does not augur well for the government or support its claim to ‘sensitivity’ as regards people’s concerns.
The government’s decision to compromise on its strict chemical fertiliser ban, which has come soon after Mr. Modi’s reversal of sorts, allows room for the discerning public to make obvious inferences, despite the government’s claim about its decision not being influenced by that of the Indian PM. In fact, the government reps have nothing to gain by pretending to blush when journalists suggest that they perhaps took a leaf from their neighbour. Even at this juncture, people’s representatives seem reluctant to prefer sincerity to affectation; hence the government’s growing aloofness, which is causing a “severe trust deficit”- to borrow a pithy phrase from The Island editorial of November 19.
As the representatives of the public, what any government needs to foster are sincerity and empathy. It is this tacit bond between the people and the government, which will consolidate trust in the long term. Being the party that holds power, the onus is on the rulers to secure people’s faith. Instead, every party that has come to power since Independence has always helped the Opposition to make a five yearly ‘ritual cleansing’ in the eyes of the people. So, the wheel turns.
Don’t harass whistle-blower
Thushan Gunawardena, who alerted the authorities and the media to a serious fraud taking at Sathosa should not be harassed by the Police as it is clear that he has no political motives and has acted in the public interest.
The Cabinet minister concerned is attempting to show a conspiracy against him when he has failed to prevent such frauds at Sathosa and let it continue as there were benefits flowing to him in addition to his being able to employ family members and manipulate the system for personal profit.
It is patently clear that he is trying to take the investigation in a different direction and prevent changes that would clean up the mess that is contributing to the massive losses at Sathosa.
Stanley (Sam) Samarasinghe
A TRIBUTE TO A PATRIOT
Even with the prior knowledge that the end was near, when the news of the passing away of Sam on the 23rd of November 2021 was conveyed to me, it was difficult to bear. Though living the better part of his adult life in the United States, to those with whom he had regular contact and dialogue, he was ever present. He succumbed to an illness that he bore with courage and fortitude for several years. In that time his enthusiasm to live his life to the full did not diminish. Except family and close friends none had even the slightest inkling that he was battling an invasive enemy within.
I have described Sam as a Patriot, if its definition is “one that loves his country and zealously maintains its interests”, then it fits him well, as he did that in full measure.
Having schooled in Kandy at Dharmarajah College, Sam completed a special degree in economics at the Peradeniya University where his father worked. Having being accepted by both Oxford and Cambridge Universities, he turned to his mentor, Professor H. A. de S. Gunasekera, who had advised him to take Cambridge. He went there with his wife Vidyamali, whom he had met at Peradeniya and obtained his Ph.D. in Economics. They both returned to Peradeniya and Sam became a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Economics. He taught there until 1989, when he left for the United States with his wife and two sons, Mevan and Ranmal. He was appointed Professor of the Development Studies Programme at the USAID, a position he held for many years in Washington. But what is remarkable, is that he continued his abiding interest in the many facets of Sri Lankan life, especially in education and politics and of course, Kandy. He returned to Sri Lanka at least twice a year. While others would spend such breaks as a let up from work, Sam vigorously involved himself in many spheres of activity.
Along with Prof. Kingsley de Silva, he created the only intellectual hub outside of the Peradeniya University in Kandy at the International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES). As Director, he secured funding for many academic projects that the Centre did. Sam was instrumental in the ICES buying its own place and then constructing a tarred road leading to the Center. The way he set about it will give the reader an idea of the man Sam was. The road served at least 12 houses. He arranged a meeting of all the householders and sold them a deal that none could refuse. Each household was asked to pay proportionately to the distance from the main Peradeniya Road to their house. At the end of the exercise. Sam refunded the excess in that same proportion!!
Sam was an academic, researching and writing extensively, sometimes collaborating with other academics such as Prof. Kingsley de Silva and Prof. G.H. (Gerry) Peiris. On several occasions, he brought out his post graduate students from the Tulane University, New Orleans (where he was Visiting Professor of Economics) to Sri Lanka and to Kandy, arranged field trips and had them interact with academics and professionals.
His particular interest in Kandy made him do a study of its traffic congestion and organised a public seminar with other experts on the subject. As the President of the Senkadagala Lions Club, Sam obtained funding for many of its projects. In fact, Sam had a penchant for writing up project proposals, an expertise he ungrudgingly shared with anyone who asked for it. He started a monthly local newspaper in 1994, the “Kandy News”, becoming its Chief Editor and its main sponsor. The last issue was a special supplement done in the run-up to the Kandy Municipal Council election in 2018.
When the tsunami stuck the country in 2004, Sam was the lead Consultant of a World Vision programme designed to make a qualitative assessment of tsunami and non-tsunami villages from Kalutara in the Western Province to Kilinochchi in the Northern Province. A task he successfully completed with his team under the aegis of the ICES.
He was an advocate for cooperation and harmony among the races. His involvement in the post tsunami work in Jaffna and Trincomalee with the Lions Club is proof of that, as much as it was when he asked the guests to the nuptial reception of his son Mevan, not to give presents but to contribute towards the project initiated by Mevan and himself in giving school books and equipment to the Tamil Primary School at the Gomorra Estate in Panwila.
My own association with Sam goes back to the time I ran for office as Mayor in 1997. He threw his weight behind me helping out in ways too numerous to mention. That friendship grew and grew and it embraced my family as well. He would ask me to criticise his writing especially on politics. He was a stickler for accuracy and uncompromising on facts. His opinions were rational, practical and unbiased. A bubbly personality, he was always a believer that there are better times ahead. His enthusiasm was infectious. His criticism of events and people were never personal. There is much to take from the life and times of Sam Samarasinghe.
We share his loss with his wife, the two boys of whom he was justly very proud of and his siblings whose welfare he always had. The country is poorer for his passing.
May he find peace in Nibbana!
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