The new coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has presented unprecedented challenges and created a global crisis on all fronts, with many countries scrambling to contain or delay a potential COVID-19 tsunami.
What most countries have done thus far, including Sri Lanka, is to establish sweeping procedures and measures to deal with this crisis never experienced before, irrespective of the huge financial impact on the economies and livelihoods.
The Muslim community along with all other communities fully supports the efforts made by the Government and public health professionals to combat this pandemic.
While acknowledging the much-needed steps taken by the Government, we are alarmed by the recent decision to cremate the bodies of the deceased due to COVID-19 mandatorily, fearing the spread of the virus and health hazard it may present.
The Islamic faith requires the deceased to be buried in accordance with religious guidelines and it is forbidden to cremate the deceased as long as there is no proven threat to the living.
In recent days we witnessed similar bill passed by British Parliament and after intense consultation and the demand by the Muslim and Jewish faith communities, the Government amended the bill to respect the religious beliefs and sensitivities by recognising the importance of ensuring the faith communities are able to bury the deceased instead of cremating in the event of deaths due to COVID-19.
There is no scientific evidence of spread of disease after the body has been sealed in a body bag from respiratory or gastrointestinal fluids and therefore there is no difference in cremation or burial with regard to spreading of the virus. Countries like United Kingdom, Singapore, Australia, Israel, Malaysia, Iran and Italy too had permitted to bury the dead bodies of those infected with COVID-19.
A study of the past shows that when it came to the combat against Ebola or Marbug virus, the World Health Organisation (WHO) permitted burial of the dead bodies infected with the said virus.
A copy of the said Guidelines issued by the World Health Organisation (WHO) is attached herewith for your easy reference. https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/technical-guidance/infection-prevention-and-control
As there is no absolute indication to cremate the deceased due to COVID19, the Muslim community strongly urges the Government to officially amend the bill to allow Muslims to bury their deceased instead of force cremation, in the unfortunate event of deaths due to Coronavirus infection.
The current informal arrangement offered by the Government is insufficient, as this crisis would eventually create a toll on all our resources and people living in far corners of the country and different districts don’t have the same access to the people of influence as someone in Colombo and surrounding areas.
Even if limited influencers are allowed to interfere and make special exemption on case by case, they would only be able to assist limited numbers given the circumstances.
Furthermore, allowing individuals or influencers to deviate or bypass established procedures is an extremely high risk approach given the circumstances related to COVID-19.
In this light it’s absolutely paramount, considering potential outbreak throughout the country and large number of casualties and potentially operating under extended curfew and emergency, we need to be equipped to deal with such circumstances with legal framework, ensure everyone’s fundamental religious rights are protected and we could exercise rite of our loved ones.
Therefore, we as a community strongly urge the Government to immediately make amendments to the Health Ministry’s guidelines by recognising the religious requirement and sensitivities.
We believe constructive engagement will continue to yield positive results for the whole society.
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