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Cremation or Burial: Choice not by politics or religion

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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.)

 

 

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Opinion

Perish without western science and medicine

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The credit of elimination of many deadly diseases in the known history – smallpox, malaria and polio – goes to western science.

When the malaria epidemic raged in Sri Lanka, mainly in the Sabaragamuwa and northwestern provinces in the 1830s, nearly 80,000 people died out of a population of some six million. Sufferings of people were immense, and more than hunger, in some places there was no one to bury the dead. The leaders of the leftist movements at the time, took the lead in providing relief to the poor.

This is one of the first hand experiences of them, vividly explained in the book “Revolt in the Temple”, written in commemoration of the 2500 Buddha Jayanthi. The relief workers entered a village in Sabaragamuwa. No people could be seen, as most of them have either died and some had left the area. When they traced the village deeper, a cry of a child could be heard. It was a child sucking the breast of the dead mother. By the side of the mother was a dead elder child. In front of the house was a mound of soil, the grave of the father, who had died earlier.

Finally it was western science, quinine, not indigenous medicine, which rescued people.

I must hasten to add the following. When I returned after foreign training about 20 years ago, I was posted temporarily to a major hospital at Sabaragamuwa. After seeing quality healthcare abroad, it was shocking to see more than 25 newborn deaths per month. I, along with my senior female colleague (currently at Lady Ridgeway Colombo) got the JAICA Japanese project expedited and changed to the best standards. Finally, when we left, one year later, only one or two newborn deaths occurred per month. Very small babies were surviving and the quality of care was excellent. Now such care is available islandwide, thanks to western medicine (and free health service).

In both the above-mentioned examples, quality healthcare is due to the advancement of western science. The famous evolutionary biologist Professor Richard Dawkins, referring to the journal New Scientist, says, (available in YouTube,”try to understand science or you ….).

Even a bodhisathwa would suffer thirst or hunger depending on the place of birth, as per Buddhist teachings. The availability of western science and medicine for survival, is part of niyama dharma of Buddhism? (Anyone interested in niyama dhamma can browse the same).

 

Dr LAL RATNASIRI

Child Specialist/Matara

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Opinion

Admission of medical students at the age of 18

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I am writing this in response to the news item in your paper of 26 January 2021 under the caption, “GMOA seeks university admission for medical students at the age of 18”.

This communication from me is practically from the horse’s mouth; from someone who, so many eons ago in 1965, benefitted by being allowed the privilege of joining the Faculty of Medicine, University of Ceylon, as a novice Medical Student, at the tender age of 18 years and two months.

I sat the GCE (A/L) Examination in December 1964, at the age of 17 years and five months, offering the four subjects of Physics, Chemistry, Zoology and Botany. In or around March 1965 we had the Practical Examination in all those four subjects at the University of Ceylon in Reid Avenue. I think the results of the examination were released around July or August 1965. There were around 250 vacancies for medical students, 150 in the Faculty of Medicine Colombo and 100 in the Faculty of Medicine, Peradeniya. There were only two Faculties of Medicine at the time. I qualified to enter the Colombo Medical School with just four simple passes in the four subjects. In fact, although there were vacancies for 250, there were only around 220 students who had got through all four subjects. Even those with three passes with a credit or a distinction had managed to enrol for medical education.

I qualified with MBBS 2nd Class Honours at 23 years and one month of age and started working as an Intern Medical Officer at the Colombo General Hospital at the age of 23 years and two and a half months. From then onwards after many postgraduate examinations I became a fully qualified Specialist Consultant at the age of 30 years. I was in England for my postgraduate studies when I cleared the final hurdle of the MRCP in 1977. I returned to Sri Lanka in 1978 and was posted as a Specialist Consultant Paediatrician to the Badulla General Hospital at the age of 31 years. Thereafter, I was most fortunate to be allowed the dispensation to provide my services to the hospitals at Badulla, Ratnapura, Kurunegala, Kalubowila and the Lady Ridgeway Hospital, all for 29 years, till my retirement at the age of 60 years.

I am not writing this letter as a manifestation of ‘monkey praising his own tail’. Far from it. I am doing so to firstly be ever so grateful to the education systems of our motherland that provided a child from a very ordinary lower middle-class family, which barely managed to make ends meet, the opportunities that

were perhaps the birth right of every child. We were all equal and given the chance of a lifetime to excel in our respective fields. Some of us at least, managed to make good use of it. I do hope that I have, at least even partly, fulfilled my obligations to the people of this country in return for what was given to me on a platter by them.

The 1960s were well before the advent of computers. Dedicated men and women of the Ministry of Education would have toiled, even burning the midnight oil, to organise the GCE Advanced Level Examinations, correct answer scripts, arrange the practical examinations, tot up the marks and then finally release the results, all within just about six to seven months. Everything had to be done by hand and even the results had to be entered by hand. Yet for all that, they did it with such tremendous devotion and commitment that benefitted all of us. There would have been thousands of files with neatly entered details. There was only a Ministry of Education. There was no Ministry of Higher Education. For the government of the day, education was education; higher or otherwise. Funding was also for education. All those fine people who worked in that ministry saw to it that the youth got a break. We were all very much like their own children.

As was quite rightly pointed out by the GMOA, the current set of doctors are only able to qualify with the basic MBBS in their late twenties or even early thirties. Most of their potentially productive periods of youth are spent waiting for results or twiddling their thumbs and doing nothing at home before they could either enter a medical school or waiting to be posted as doctors even when they finally qualify. So much of very valuable time is lost in the entire process of Higher and University Education. In fact, in the late seventies when I was posted as the Specialist Consultant Paediatrician to the General Hospital Badulla, there were junior doctors such as House Officers and Senior House Officers in the hospital, who were older than I. An indirect effect of these delays is also the necessary postponement of marriage and the starting of their own families for many doctors, male and female. The lady doctors of rather advanced age could even have problems of reduced fertility and the real risk of congenital defects of the babies that are related to maternal age.

All of this is indeed a crime. None in any government in living memory has even seriously attempted to redress this appalling situation. With the facilities available today and with some decent leadership and proper organisation of the systems, it would not be a huge big deal to take things back to what it was during the halcyon sixties. All it would need would be an iron-willed commitment, embellished by unwavering enthusiasm. I am quite sure that there are capable people around who could make a real difference in such a context.

I have been ever so fortunate to have been afforded the opportunities that I was provided right throughout my childhood and youth. I have written many times before, extolling my gratitude and veneration to people such as Dr C. W. W. Kannangara and other persona, who were the designers, architects, facilitators and perpetuators of our free education system. I would love to see the very same opportunities, especially in university medical education, which I had, being made available to the youngsters of today. We owe it to our people and our youth to do so in a gesture of obligation to the future of this resplendent isle.

The GMOA has reportedly written to the President and the relevant Ministers of Government regarding the topic under discussion. I hope very much that some acolyte would be kind enough to show this letter to the very same legislators who wield such power which would be able to make a difference.

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Opinion

ECT: A toss between confrontation and compromise!

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People placing their signatures on postcards during a protest campaign held by the railway unions on Monday against what they called a move to sell the East Container Terminal of the Colombo Port (Pic by Thushara Atapattu )

 

By I. P.C. MENDIS

States and Governments exist and coexist internationally on the basis of mutual trust, understanding, good-will and cooperation. If any state or government chooses to work outside these norms, it is normally classified as a Banana Republic and generally finds itself isolated with none to care for it. If they choose to be so isolated, they should be confident of going it alone or have clandestine backing of some super-power. North Korea and Cuba for example are virtual dictatorships/authoritarian and their populations perfectly regimented to face any situation. Sri Lanka with its divisive forces and elements bred in democratic traditions, cannot afford to be North Korea or Cuba. Nevertheless, whether one likes it or not, its history is replete with treachery. One need not go so far, but the way some of our politicos behave and the frequency with which they switch political ideologies and affiliations could be ample testimony to prove the point.

 

The EasternTerminal

There is no question that covenants and agreements which we have entered into with other countries have to be scrupulously honoured, if Sri Lanka is not to be considered “a pariah state”. If we vitiate or digress, we lose faith, face and confidence with the entire international community, adversely affecting, inter alia, trade and commerce. This is not to say that the door is shut for any re-negotiation of any provision on expressly good compelling grounds. A complete abrogation of the Eastern Terminal MOU ex parte, as some do agitate, is not only out of the question but out of our reach, without adverse consequences. Perhaps that privilege is exclusive to powers which can boast of nuclear strength. They can even withdraw their contribution to the UN, withdraw from membership of its Agencies, and even compare some of them with cesspools and still trot about unscathed! Sri Lanka is not that fortunate — those who strain their muscles need to realise.

As for the Eastern Terninanal,, what is baffling is that although there were a few whimpers, here and there, it was only a few days ago, after permitting opposing sections to gather momentum and work themselves to a crescendo — that the government through the President, clearly explained fully at Walallawita, the government’s position that it is now carrying the Yahapalana baby, re-negotiated by him with the Indian Prime Minister.

It is indeed most fortunate that the latter did not refuse to budge or choose to ask for a “quid pro quo” as it happened in the case of the Hambantota Port and the Port City, where we had to concede a second 99-year lease and an additional block respectively. Mattala Airport was saved by the skin of its teeth !

President’s Dilemma

Apparently the re-negotiated formula (Jt. Stock Co.) had either been initiated by President Gotabhaya or agreed to mutually at the summit, and it is definitely not within the norms of international decorum and decency to go back and haggle on that issue, however strong the opposition to it is locally..The country’s image is at stake. He would not certainly expect his people here to make him look ridiculous in the eyes of the Big Brother across the Palk Straits, and more-so the international community. .Sri Lanka’s honour and pride are at stake, and his people need to stand by him and strive to understand and compare the re-negotiated formula with the Yahapalana Agreement, as to which is more beneficial or less dangerous. Many of those who shout hoarse now had maintained a stoic silence when the MOU was signed, and hence ought to share the responsibility. The opposition seems to be of a mostly political nature than a patriotic one.

India has unequivocally made its presence felt when it had no second thoughts of invading Sri Lanka through its armed forces, euphemistically called the IPKF,.preceded by the infamous “parippu “drop! President JRJ had his arm twisted into the 13th Amendment, with which we are now stuck – a white elephant- despite India failing to perform its part of the deal.. Former East Pakistan is now Bangladesh, “courtesy” India ! The “sandos” ought to realise. Sri Lanka has by necessity to be tactful and diplomatic without confrontation and bogus rhetoric.

Prime Minister Modi seems a different kettle of fish to Indira and Rajiv Gandhi, and we have to capitalise on his current goodwill. He could mean business if he wants to with the US on his side. In re-negotiating it would be beneficial if we were to point out the trade balance in its favour, and the fact of having already released our oil tank farm in Trincomalee, and a section of the retail oil business, as also the pronounced Indian business interests already here.

 

Compromise Solution

Without disturbing the already mutually agreed arrangement for a Joint Stock Company,some of the fears expressed by the opposing forces here could possibly be allayed, with the proposed company being registered as an unlisted company, with a strict embargo on the sale of any minority shares to any other party other than the Port Authority, the Chairman to be from the majority shareholding,(Port Authority), the Managing Director (CEO) to be nominated by he Investor(s) with the nod from the Board of Directors, the majority on the Board to be from the major shareholding, one of whom should be the nominee of the Minister of Finance. If there are to be more than one shareholder among the minority group, they could form a consortium and provide a written agreement enshrining these and other conditions. ( The President had hinted on the possibility of there being more than one minority shareholder). Such a solution would possibly take the wind off the sails and satisfactorily end the impasse.

 

 

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