The forced cremation of two COVID-19 infected Muslims in Sri Lanka has sent shock waves among the minority community, which accused the authorities of violating Islamic burial rites.
Bishrul Hafi Mohammed Joonus, a 73-year- old man from the capital Colombo who died of COVID-19, was the second Muslim to have been cremated in the Indian Ocean island nation, which has registered 151 cases so far.
Bishrul’s son Fayaz Joonus, 46, said his father who had a kidney disorder tested positive for the virus about two weeks ago. He died on April 1 and was cremated the following day.
Fayaz said they could not perform congregational funeral prayers, called the Janazah, for his father due to fear of infections.
“My father was taken in a vehicle under the supervision of the police force and was cremated. We did some prayers outside the morgue, but it was not a Janazah that us Muslim typically do,” Fayaz told Al Jazeera.
“The government needs to make arrangements for us Muslims to be able to bury our loved ones in accordance with our Islamic burial rites.”
“If there is an option of burial, our government should accommodate. Cremation is not the only option, we want to bury our loved ones as per the Islamic way,” he told Al Jazeera.
Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Health on Tuesday issued COVID-19 guidelines saying the standard procedure of disposing bodies should be cremation. It reversed an earlier guideline that allowed traditional Muslim burial.
It also said the body should not be washed and placed in a sealed bag and a coffin, as against the Islamic practice of washing the body.
Amnesty calls on authorities to stop forced cremation
Muslim leaders and activists have pointed out that the World Health Organization (WHO) allows both burial or cremation for people dying due to the pandemic.
Prominent lawyer Ali Sabry said in a Facebook post that he was disappointed with authorities’ decision to cremate bodies of Muslims, as it was in disregard to the WHO guidelines, which say that a body can be either buried or cremated.
Out of the four people who died due to COVID-19, two were Muslims. The cremation of Muslims has caused anguish in the community.