Most fun loving Sri Lankans defied health guidelines and welcomed 2021 last Friday, but the Muslim minority viewed the dawn of the new year while being in a pensive mood.
The reasons behind their moods being sober are many; chief among them is the banning of burying dead bodies due to the present pandemic.
In this background the Muslims are at a loss due to the lack of a leader from their community who can push the government or create a dialogue in the community at large about whether they should continue having the rights to bury their dead or not.
One person who could have been of immense help to the Muslims would have been Human Rights lawyer Hijaaz Hisbullah who is at present in custody; arrested using the controversial Prevention of Terrorism Act.
Hizbullah is a prominent Human Rights lawyer and has worked for the cause of the Muslims. According to media reports he was arrested after it was alleged that he had had contacts with those involved in the Easter Sunday Bomb attacks, carried out in 2019.
The teachings in the Quran state that remains of a deceased person who practised the Muslim faith should be buried, but the present law prevents that. Even clause 29 of the Human Rights Constitution states that rights would be suppressed at times when the law specifies that practising such rights would be a detriment to the freedom and rights of others. Burial of dead bodies at present certainly exposes the living to danger, experts on the subject say.
A leading professor from a state university in Sri Lanka had pointed out the other day that ‘dead bodies can contain viruses that could stay alive for hundreds of years if remains of deceased are buried’.
The purpose of this article is not to look with scorn on the Muslims who demand burial rites or bash the government for denying a minority group a rite they’ve enjoyed for hundreds of years, but to ensure that there be a level playing field when such a debate is carried out between two parties. As a representative of the mainstream media this writer wishes to see a minority community also being allowed to present its case in a court of law without being subject to fear or prejudice.
For the record the Supreme Court on December 1 dismissed a petition forwarded by Muslims and Christians citing the right to bury the dead in keeping with religious rituals. The grieved parties maintained that it’s a Fundamental Right of theirs to be able to burry the dead. The Human Rights Constitution has made it clear that any of the clauses in the Human Rights Constitution don’t become a country’s law unless they are passed in parliament and included in the country’s constitution.
Some fearless Muslims have carried out protests in some parts of Sri Lanka condemning the government’s stand to deny burials of the dead. One Muslim father was quoted in a newspaper saying that he couldn’t gather the courage to witness his child being cremated. This could be justified to some extent because we’ve seen how some extremely sensitive family members react at the time a coffin is put in the fire at a crematorium. Given all that, the burial of the remains of a deceased could be viewed with a much calmer mind and with less drama; giving a reminder of the fact that Muslims don’t spend lavishly on funerals and keep the performing of such rites to a minimum. During the last rites performed at a Muslim funeral it is said that the people who perform the funeral say many prayers and ‘ask for forgiveness of the deceased and remind the dead of their profession of faith’; hence it seems logical for Muslims to demand they are allowed to bury the dead. But there are times when logic can win an argument for you, but makes you blind to a reality that science presents; at times when a matter concerns life or death of others. The Muslim community is frowned upon by the majority since the Easter attacks were carried out in 2019. This pandemic doesn’t spare anybody and doesn’t differentiate one person’s religion from the other when picking its victims. But when ever a few Muslims contracted this virus the majority of the people was quick to bash them saying they would have acted irresponsibly. There has been sympathy for those of the none Islam faith when contracting COVID-19 and a showering of curses for Muslims who contracted the virus.
With the most powerful Muslim Minister in the Cabinet siding with the government the Muslims are a helpless lot. The protests carried out in ‘pockets’ in the island never jolted the government. Close by India might have raised concerns if the issue concerned Tamils and the Hindu faith. Sadly this is an issue concerning the Muslims and Islam. Former Governor of the Western Province Azath Salley has been quoted in Aljazeera saying “It’s a communal decision that they (government) took. The Government wants to hurt the feelings of the minorities”.
The World Health Organization has specified that the remains of the dead can be either cremated or buried and how people dispose of the remains of those deceased (burial) would not have impacts on the spreading of the present pandemic.
For the record Sri Lankans abroad are also protesting, with the most recent rally held in Washington on Saturday (January 2) by Sri Lankans United (SLU), a diaspora group in the US, according to www.arabnews.com
If the government is guilty of one thing it undermined the warnings and guidelines of health experts and empowered the military to carry out the major part of the battle in combating the coronavirus. Sometimes when ruthless decision making becomes the trend the human touch can be thrown into oblivion. This is what has happened regarding the Muslim burial issue.