The Covid pandemic, apart from causing much human misery all over the world, has had a deleterious effect on human values as well. It appears that mankind has regressed by many decades. Freedom of movement, free association and human interaction, which were promoted as ways of a peaceful world without conflict, have all been suspended as a mandatory way of controlling the pandemic. Promoting the younger generation to spend more time on physical activity, rather than sitting long hours in front of television and computer screens, has also been suspended. Online teaching has become the norm. Thus the so-called new normal is a regressive step for the society, which is considered essential at present but hopefully will not last for too long.
Unfortunately, some avoidable situations have arisen due to lack of foresight or scientific thinking on the part of the decision makers. Almost every illness is being considered as Covid, until proven otherwise. Many non-respiratory illnesses are categorized as Covid, thus causing much hardship and even delaying appropriate treatment. I know of at least one case of a 60-year-old lady dying of a curable respiratory illness, without any treatment in a suburban hospital. identified as a centre for treating Covid cases. She was isolated in an ICU with other Covid patients, without appropriate care. Treatment of many chest pains very suggestive of heart disease have been delayed, until the Covid test reports came as negative. Most disgusting is the way every death is considered to be due to Covid, until proved otherwise.
Many unexpected deaths of hitherto normal people are suspected purely because of a very few similar sudden deaths being reported to be due to Covid, elsewhere in the world.
I am personally aware of the deaths of two doctors in the past week. An elderly general practitioner suffering from repeated attacks of heart failure for several years, and not seeing any patients for a long time, died after a bout of breathlessness around 2am. For the next three hours the family had to report to the police, Grama Sevaka, and coroner. The police and the Grama Sevaka came home (the family had to provide transport) and took separate statements from the daughter and the wife of the dead doctor until around 6 am. With the attending doctor’s certificate, a post mortem examination and a Covid test were fortunately not carried out. The body could be cremated that evening because things were expedited as the popular doctor was known to many in the town. Otherwise, it would have taken at least 24 hrs to get the body released. The officers concerned were very apologetic saying that the latest circular on deaths at home requires this cumbersome procedure. No exception is given even when an attending doctor, with all the past medical records on hand, certifies the obvious cause of death.
An 88-year-old emeritus professor, died at home after a fall in the presence of her family members. The corpse was taken to the hospital in a body bag, PCR test done and a post mortem examination performed (may be justified because of the fall and possible head injury). It was more than 24 hrs before the body was released.
In both these instances things happened relatively quickly as they were known to officials concerned. One can imagine the plight of people not influential enough.
As someone has said in social media, loss of the sense of smell and the sense of taste are transient manifestations of Covid. However, loss of common sense appears to be the most serious manifestation of the pandemic. Those who issue circulars from time to time on various aspects, are so totally distant from the practical implications of their decisions.
Maybe there is a general suspicion that the public would be inclined to hide the deaths due to Covid, to avoid the harassment they undergo afterwards. Unfortunately such fear is created by the attitudes and policies of the authorities themselves, from the very onset of the epidemic. The armed forces coming to the forefront made it appear that getting the disease and dying of it was a criminal act. How households are labelled as isolated, the occupants are hounded up and transported in crowded buses with armed escort, how bodies are cremated in the absence of any kith and kin and handled by fully covered men with personal protection clothing, and how the entire area is disinfected afterwards is fully displayed on television. The social stigma thus created could prevent people from visiting such households or associating with family members for weeks on end.
How bodies of Muslims are cremated against their staunch religious beliefs, thus denying their basic human rights with no firm scientific evidence against burial, is a disgrace to all Sri Lankans. Our leaders requesting a country in the neighbourhood to accept bodies for burial adds insult to injury.
It has to be acknowledged that we were caught unawares by a hitherto unknown illness becoming a pandemic. Hence at the beginning draconian measures had to be taken to control an illness causing havoc everywhere. It is not reasonable to find fault with such retrospectively. However now that much is known about the nature of the illness one should constantly review the situation and modify the control measures accordingly. Much of the unnecessary hardship mentioned above could be avoided with new knowledge, genuine desire to minimize human suffering and of course, with common sense.
Dr. SARATH GAMINI De SILVA
Farce in Galle
Kusal Mendis picked up a fourth consecutive duck in the first Test against England in Galle on Thursday
In these troubled times of COVID-19, many being house bound, it is no wonder that many watch any sport on TV. Hence the insults that come from diverse quarters for underperforming teams is more than the usual. This morning at our bridge club many have rubbed our noses for the mighty incompetence shown by the Lankan cricketers. I am not a cricket writer but I am an avid spectator and, moreover, as a non-resident Sri Lankan, who gets a momentary kick out of anything that makes Sri Lanka proud.
Why do we waste dollars on foreign coaches when all they deliver is what is currently on display? Our own past cricketers, who will be equal if not better, than the foreign instructors, can surely earn that money.
My second query is why we keep selecting those who fail consistently. Surely without propping up the losers there is no genuine reason to tolerate cavalier play without penalty because the catchment field for players is so great in the country. The lack of motivation to be competitive to perform may be their preoccupation with the lure of money and not the image of the country that you represent. Wonder whether some players have capped their motivation at the level of a Range Rover. If so they should be considerate enough to allow better talent to come in.
Third, if there is pressure as before by the corrupt and the powerful in the selection process then God help Sri Lankan cricket.
Finally, why are we nonchalantly set on this slippery road when Sri Lanka has earned the respect of cricket lovers all over the world? No wonder Mike Vaughan tweeted that, ‘those 46 overs were the most farcical and Nasser Hussein joined in to say, it was abysmal and pathetic. Why Sri Lanka is allowed to play such poorly, as an international test team, was debated at our bridge club. Australian cricket loving folk were suggesting penalties for poor play at the international level must be brought in. Surely it is reasonable, for spectators need to pocket out in rupee terms about 25000 per day, per couple if we go to the stadium.
Dr. D. Chandraratna,
Govt. selling political decision as scientific!
At time of a pandemic, the issue of creamation or burial is neither religious nor political, but scientific.
This is in response to the opinion expressed by Tharindu Dananjaya Weerasinghe in The Island of 13 January, on the burial issue.
The writer argues that the issue of cremation, or burial, should not be decided by politics or by religion. In other words, he says it should be decided by science. I do agree with him and add it should be decided by empirical research findings of experts and scientists. Muslims believe that a corpse of a Muslim should be buried, but at a time of a pandemic for them science prevails over their religious beliefs, and they abide by scientific decision. Justice Minister Ali Sabry very clearly and repeatedly said in Parliament. He said, if it was scientifically established that burial would harm the living, he could have never raised the burial issue.
Now the question is whether the decision of the government not to bury the COVID-19-infected bodies is scientific or non scientific. This is the crust of the issue here. The writer’s argument is that the Muslim community is refusing to abide by a scientific decision taken by the government. First of all, is the decision taken by the government scientific?
The writer is a senior don and is very familiar with research works. In research works, credibility of the authors cited counts a lot, and if you cite geologists in a study of virology it will not be accepted at all. For instance, on the burial issue, who will the writer listen to? Virology scientist Prof. Malik Peiris or Geology Prof. Meththika Vidanake? WHO or Health Ministry? A Committee of virologists, microbiologists and immunogists, or a committee of judicial medical officers, general physicians, geologists and one or two microbiologists?, Scientist Prof. Chandre Dharmawardana or Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi? College of Community Physicians of Sri Lanka or Minister Keheliya Rambukwella…?
Further, the writer, in his introduction, says, “…the honour of death does not depend on the manner in which the funeral is performed.” This is his personal view, not a universal truth. Yet, I would draw his attention to what William E. Gladstone said on funeral rites, “Show me the manner in which a nation or a community cares for its dead and I will measure with mathematical exactness the tender sympathies of its people, their respect for the laws of the land and their loyalty to high ideals.”
I think it is also appropriate to mention the rulings of Bombay High Court of India on burial of COVID-19-infected corpses. While rejecting the petition against burial, Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice SS. Shinde ruled that there was no scientific proof to support the apprehension of the petitioners that novel coronavirus could spread through cadavers, and the right to a decent burial was equal with the right to life guaranteed under the Indian constitution and the court also held the petitioners were rather insensitive to the feelings of others.
The statement of the writer “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,” is childish and makes no sense to me.
The writer considerably quote from the Holy Quran on the burial issue. They are insignificant and irrelevant. 1.8b Muslims living all over the world consider burial an important aspect of their funeral rites. A non Muslim trying to quote from the Holy Quran to convince 1.8b followers to the opposite is futile attempt. Therefore, I leave this part of his argument unanswered
Finally, I would like to say, at a time of pandemic, cremation or burial is not an issue of politics or beliefs but of science as the writer says. But the government is trying to sell a political decision as scientific decision, and it is a pity a senior university don is unable to understand it, let alone the laymen.
M. A. Kaleel
(The writer is a Retired Senior Class One Officer of a Sri Lanka Executive Service.)
Cremation of Muslim Covid-19 victims:
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.
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