The Muslim Council of Britain Responds to forced cremations of Muslims who have died of COVID-19 in Sri Lanka
News of the Sri Lankan government mandating the cremation of all those who have died of COVID-19 is deeply concerning. The policy contravenes upon the rights and religious beliefs of Muslims in Sri Lanka and is contrary to prevailing scientific opinion on the matter. Robust protocols, allowing for the safe, swift and Shari’ah compliant burial of Muslims have been developed and implemented by Muslim communities burying their dead the world over.
The World Health Organization (WHO) itself has made clear that burials of the bodies of those that have passed away due to COVID-19 did not pose health and safety risks, stating: ‘It is a common myth that persons who have died of a communicable disease should be cremated, but this is not true. Cremation is a matter of cultural choice and available resources,’ within its official guidance on COVID-19 burials released this year.
It is also concerning that Sri Lankan authorities have resorted to propagating Islamophobic tropes as a means of justifying a policy for which there is no plausible scientific basis. Speaking to BBC World Service, Dr Channa Perera, a consultant Forensic Pathologist ‘attached to Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Health,’ stated: “the government has nothing against Muslims but they have a small fear about whether the virus can be used for unauthorised activities. Maybe an unwanted person could get access to a body and it could be used as a biological weapon.” The statement is entirely conspiratorial in nature. Moreover, the assertion that by burying their dead in accordance with the tenets of their faith, Muslim citizens may facilitate biological warfare, is deeply divisive and serves only to stigmatise and marginalise Sri Lankan Muslims.
As such, in the absence of any reasoned justification for the policy, the Sri Lankan government’s insistence to enforce cremations seems a prime example of state-sponsored Islamophobia. Given the circumstance, in turn, it is understandable that a coaliton of lawyers are exploring their options, looking to raise this issue at the International Court of Justice.
We call upon the Sri Lankan government to reconsider their stance on forced cremations, and work alongside Muslim communities in Sri Lanka to reach an amicable solution that both upholds internationally recognised health and safety protocol, and honors the rights and religious beliefs of Sri Lankan Muslim citizenry.
For more information, please visit the MCB Campaign Against Forced Cremations in Sri Lanka webpage.