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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

Support move to generate electricity from garbage

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There had been several letters in the press where the Minister for Power, Dallas Alahapperuma, has enthusiastically declared to achieve 70% of power from Renewable Sources by the year 2030, without knowing the capability and the resources available with the CEB, and the time taken to provide transmission lines to connect the national grid, if international tender procedure is adopted or even otherwise.

I recall a letter sent to the press earlier, wherein I have stated, the garbage problem in Colombo is talked of as an urgent matter, but no action taken for over four decades, and the situation is getting worse day-by-day. The Colombo Municipal Council had once initiated action to set up an incinerator and there had been proposals from interested parties willing to undertake it, but for some unknown reason, these have been shelved by CMC or any other authority concerned.

A report submitted by an internationally famous foreign firm of consultants, Lahmeyer International of Germany, which produced a Master Plan for the Ministry for Power and Energy, touched on the possibility of setting up of an incinerator plant to serve a dual purpose – to eradicate the garbage problem and generate electricity.

What action the Ministry for Power or the CEB has taken is not known. It may be that the CEB has taken action to implement other recommendations and but did not pursue this matter with the CMC. The plant could also produce compost manure and reduce the foreign exchange spent on importing fertilisers. In this well compiled, meaningful and workable report, it is stated: “The incinerator plants use garbage to produce electricity. They are similar to conventional coal fired steam plants, but require elaborate refuse feeder, grate, firing and air quality control system. Also, the required land area is greater.

“Some two million people live in the Greater Colombo area, and the amount of garbage collected annually could be about 600 tons. About 65% is made up of organic substances. The garbage is at present dumped on marshy lands in the vicinity of Colombo for the purpose of land reclamation, that practice caused environmental problems [i.e., smells and ground and surface water pollution.]

“The average heat content of the garbage is not exactly known, but based on the few tests done, it may be in the region of 8 Joule per ton, compared with 40 to 45 Joule per ton of oil. Hence, the fuel saving potentially achievable with an incinerator plant could be 100,000 tons of oil per year [under 1988 conditions] . This would be sufficient for generation of some 400Mw of power, and at the same time would contribute to the solution of Greater Colombo’s waste disposal problem. “

The aforesaid estimates were prepared in 1988 almost 33 years back, and the present amounts will be very much more, perhaps thrice, due to increase of population. The report also states that without exact analysis of the moisture content and composition of the collected garbage, it is difficult to make an exact estimate but the investment may be around USD160 to 240 million at 1988 estimates.

If at today’s estimation at thrice the increase, then the production every day may be around 1200 Mw, which is far more than the 300×3 = 900 Mw. produced by the Norochcholai coal-fired project.

It is therefore suggested that either the Minister for Energy or the Minister for Agriculture, as Fertiliser Corporation comes under him, take up this matter with the Urban Development Authority or the Colombo Municipal Council to expedite it.

It should also be said that undertaking this project will also satisfy those who object to filling marshy land.

The government should give top priority to this project of producing electricity and fertilizer from garbage.

G.A.D. SIRIMAL [SLAS]
Retd. Former Asst. Secretary
Ministry for Power & Energy

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Opinion

A ‘painless shot’ from Army

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When I was told that the Army was administering Sinopharm Covid vaccinations at Viharamaha Devi Park with special provisions for individuals with disabilities, I decided to take my wife, herself a Rehabilitation Medicine Physician, but now afflicted with Alzheimers disease, for her Covid shot, not knowing quite what to expect.

At the driveway into the park an Officer in smart uniform stopped me and inquired politely if there was anyone with a disability. When I answered in the affirmative, indicating my wife, I was asked to drive in and given instructions where to park my vehicle. In the parking area, another army officer kindly directed me to park under the shade of a “Nuga” tree for my wife’s comfort and asked me to proceed to the Registration desk and obtain my vaccination card.

Walking the short distance to the registration desk I observed those awaiting the vaccination seated comfortably in shaded and green surroundings. There was even a vending machine which was, I presume to provide refreshments for those waiting.

The several registration desks were manned by smart young male and female army personnel. The gentleman who attended to me took down my details and when my contact number was given information that the owner of this phone number had already had the vaccination appeared on the computer correctly, as I had been already vaccinated. Now, I expected a typical “public servant’ response that the “rule” is that a contact number could be registered only once. However, the officer used his brain, and after listening to my wife’s situation proceeded to complete the form. Then came the consent form that had to be signed. When I explained that my wife was unable to do so again I expected him to say, “Then get a letter from a doctor saying she cannot sign.” But this officer who did not behave like a robot used his judgement and allowed me to sign the form.

The paper work having been duly completed, I was asked to bring my wife to get her shot. When I explained that it would be very difficult, but not impossible, I was directed to the doctor at the site. I walked up to the young yet professional looking doctor attired in scrubs. When I explained my position, he promptly directed a staff member to go along with me to the vehicle and administer the injection while my wife was still seated there.

I then inquired if the young man who was helping my wife could also get his vaccination, and “no problem” was the answer. And before I could say “Sinopharm” the whole procedure was done and dusted!

What first class service!

To be at the receiving end of empathy and kindness was indeed a satisfying experience.

My thanks and appreciation to the organisers of the vaccination programme at Viharmahdevi Park on Wednesday (21 July)

Those who are critical of the army playing a lead role in Covid pandemic control, please take note.

Dr. N.Jayasinghe

Physician.

Colombo 7

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Opinion

On ‘misinformation’ against Minister of Health

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Dr. Upul Wijayawardhana (UW) is a regular contributor to this newspaper. His articles are almost always interesting and sometimes they provide valuable perspectives.

I find his criticism/castigation of the Minister of Health (MOH) in an ‘epidemic of misinformation’ (Island 19.07.2021) unfair and baseless. UW singles the MOH out as ‘the leader of the pack, undoubtedly is the Minister of Health who conveys wrong health messages’. This is erroneous and unwarranted

The main issues that UW quotes in support of his argument is that ‘she recently went to a shrine to thank a goddess for protecting her’ and ‘that she dropped pots in rivers to prevent the spread of the pandemic’.

From the onset of this pandemic a multitude of rituals have been conducted and they are still in force; all night Pirith, Bodhi Pooja, continuous chanting of the Ratana Suthraya, etc. The MOH releasing pots to the rivers that would wash down the ‘pandemic’ to the sea was one such ritual. A salient point to be appreciated is that while there is the possibility that the MOH herself believed in the effects of releasing these pots; this ritual was done primarily for the country/public rather than herself- hence the coverage on TV and news.

In contrast to this, her fulfilling a vow that she and/or her family made on her behalf when she was at death’s door, is based on a personal belief, and unlike the previous public action was done as an extremely private affair. If not for the fact that she is the MOH and her actions got reported in the press, none of us would have been even aware of this act. One would be hard pressed to find anyone in this country who has not fulfilled a vow; be it for himself or herself / siblings/ parents /children with regard to examinations, illnesses, promotions, etc…

None of these actions has any bearing on how the MOH has advised the public based on the counsel that she has received from her health officials and as such she is certainly not guilty of conveying any ‘wrong health messages’.

The MOH contracted Covid -19 because she was at the forefront of this epidemic and was constantly in touch with frontline workers. Not because she abandoned good health practices in favour of a cultural ritual! She had to be admitted to the IDH, was in the intensive care unit and according to medical sources was quite sick. We now see her on TV, the effects of the Covid-19 are apparent, a person who has had a near brush with death, fully cognizant of the danger of her current position. Certainly this would not have been something she signed up for when she took on the job as the MOH! This being the case, for UW, a doctor of medicine, to refer to ‘There are other idiotic politicians around the world who paid with their lives for the folly of not accepting the reality of a viral pandemic’ is not worthy of a healer.

Having recovered from her illness the MOH at a press conference publicly thanked her medical team for the effort they put into saving her life. I am sure that she would have thanked them personally as well. UW concludes his diatribe against her saying ‘Her life was saved not by goddesses, but by the excellent doctors, nurses and other health professionals Sri Lanka is blessed with. A person who is unable to even grasp that reality surely does not deserve to be the Minister of Health’. Is UW seriously suggesting to this readership that the MOH is unaware of the difference between science and culture? Is it his contention that anyone who engages in a religious /cultural ritual has no grasp of reality?

As a side note I am amused by the use of the term ‘Sri Lanka is blessed with ’. Based on UW’s logic ‘who are highly trained in Sri Lanka’ ought to have been a more appropriate term as blessings have nothing to do with a scientific reality!

 

Dr. Sumedha S. Amarasekara

 

 

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