Coronavirus Health Sri Lanka

ACJU refutes endorsing burying ashes after cremation of COVID19 deaths, makes fresh appeal for burial

The All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama (ACJU) has written to the Director General of Health Services Dr. Anil Jasinghe refuting claims that the organization endorsed burying of ashes after cremation of Muslim COVID-19 related deaths.

In a letter sent yesterday the organization made another appeal to reconsider the controversial decision taken to cremate dead bodies of confirmed and suspected cases of COVID-19 and the provide the option of the burial of bodies, while complying with all mandatory precautions and with the supervision of Police and PHIs.

The ACJU said they were making the appeal given the sensitive nature of the matter and emphasised that members of the community would comply with all the required standards such as preparing graves to a depth of eight feet, cementing graves with concrete if required, and abiding by any other related measures as required.

Reports surfaced on Thursday that a Muslim woman from Modara who died and was cremated on confirmation by health authorities that she had died of the new coronavirus. Later government lab technicians issued a statement that there were flaws in testing and the last may have died due to some other ailment.

The ACJU in its letter signed by President Mufti M.I.M. Rizwe refuted claims and ambiguity that had surfaced on burying the ashes of a Muslim who succumbed to COVID-19 was endorsed by the organization.

President Mufti M.I.M. Rizwe

“We wish to reiterate that the Muslim community stand on this matter has always been that a Muslim deceased due to COVID-19 should have the option of being buried, in line with the WHO guidelines and as implemented in more than 180 countries since it is an integral part of our faith and a religious obligation of the community towards the deceased. From the inception we have addressed this matter in a professional and ethical manner,” the ACJU said.

Previously ACJU had taken steps and efforts yo address this matter as early COVID-19 deaths in the country were of Muslims faith.

“On 24 March, a letter was sent to His Excellency the President requesting to amend the standard operating procedure issued by JMO, to include the option of burial for COVID-19 deaths. We appreciate the authorities for considering our request along with other civil organisations and making necessary changes and issuing a new ‘Provisional Clinical Practice Guidelines on COVID-19 Suspected and Confirmed Patients’ on 27 March with the provisions for burial. But unfortunately, on 31 March the above ‘Guidelines’ were revised suddenly and provision for the burial removed.”

The ACJU said that on 1 April, it had issued a statement expressing its disappointment on behalf of the Muslim community for reversing the decision and requesting the relevant authorities to revise the decision in line with the WHO guidelines with the provisions for burial, following which a team of doctors had been appointed to discuss related matters with the authorities and after these discussions, it was agreed to appoint a panel of experts to conduct a scientific study on this matter, but it did not materialise.

“We the ACJU, as a responsible organisation, have always guided our community to obey the law of the land at all times. In this context, responding to a query on what would be guidance in the given circumstances, that is only cremation being allowed, it was stated the ashes of the deceased must be buried, if given. It is our moral and ethical duty to abide by the law of the country and to guide people towards it. But it does not imply that we endorse nor consent to this ruling as it is against our religious principles. Nevertheless, we shall continue to make ethical endeavours to make representations to the authorities on this matter,” the ACJU said.

It added that in line with the World Health Organization guidelines and as adopted by as many as 180 countries, “…we re-appeal once again to your good self to reconsider the decision taken to dispose of the dead bodies of confirmed and suspected cases of COVID-19 and provide the option of the burial of bodies, while complying with all mandatory precautions and with the supervision of Police and PHIs”.

The ACJU extended its sincere appreciation to all the healthcare staff working on the frontlines and all others working tirelessly during these challenging times to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic in Sri Lanka. “Indeed, you and your team are responding with courage, resolve and exemplary professionalism,” the letter said.

Sri Lankan authorities have been accused of violating the Islamic burial rites of Muslims with forced cremations of two Muslim COVID-19 victims in April. It had sent shock waves through the minority community, with many high level pleas being made to reconsider the stance. Such discussions had not changed the local policy as two similar recent deaths in May were cremated promptly.

International appeals as well as local politicians have written appealing for reconsideration of the local policy but government has remained unmoved.

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