President’s Counsel Ali Sabry expressed his disappointment over the Ministry of Health decision to prohibit burials in COVID-19 cases in Sri Lanka, but asserted that all citizens must respect the law and abide by it.
“Until a decision was reached, we have not only made our representations but we have lobbied for it,” he said referring to a plea to permit the burial of Muslim COVID-19 cases in keeping with Islamic religious customs. “However once that decision is reached, all citizenry must respect and abide by it including Muslims. To go against it would be un-Islamic.”
PC Sabry pointed out that World Health Organisation which sets out guidelines and protocols in dealing with COVID-19 permits burials.
“Although a cremation is recommended, if the family requests and if health authorities find that such a request poses no risks, then burials under eight feet can be permitted,” he said. “It is the practice of countries like Singapore, United Kingdom, India and Malaysia to name a few that also permit burials.”
The death and ultimately cremation of a Muslim individual hailing from Negombo who died from COVID-19 was contested by many as it went against the norms and practices of the Islamic faith. Many sections of the society requested that the Health Ministry and Health sub-committee of the Task Force to combat COVID-19 consider the possibility of a burial.
A five page research document including the scientific and religious reasoning on the burial of a COVID-19 deceased victim was drafted by Justice Saleem Marsoof and supported by Prof. Rizwi Sheriff, Dr. Ruwaiz Haniffa, Ali Sabry PC, Nadvi Bahudeen Lawyer and several other intellectuals was presented to the Task Force.
Upon submission of that draft, the Government changed the SOP for disposal of body on 27th of March 2020. However these guidelines were not followed when considering the final rites of the second COVID-19 victim who happened to be a Muslim.
PC Sabry expressed his dismay over the reason to reach such a decision.
“If the decision makers, having considered all facts and aspects and have reached a decision based on scientific, medical or logical concerns, I have no issues with it and people must comply with it,” he said.
“But if the decision to disregard WHO standard guidelines followed by 182 countries have been taken on any other extraneous grounds, such as rhetoric, bad publicity and current public sentiments etc like many others I am disappointed.”
He said that it was unfortunate to find racism raising its ugly head every time Sri Lanka is faced with a problem or crisis.
“Unfortunately during the last few days there has been quite a lot of hate speech directed at Muslims and I myself have formed a Coordination team to counter this on the grassroots level,” he said. “I feel that there needs to be more awareness. Citizens regardless of their religion or ethnicity should hold themselves responsible. Adding to the racist remarks and fear psychosis will only be counterproductive.
He said that it was unfortunate that some of the villages which went into lockdown happened to be predominantly Muslim.
He added that due to the lack of resources not every individual who was returning from overseas was sent to quarantine facilities. “The individual who tested positive for coronavirus from Atalugama was advised to remain in doors instead he had loitered around in his entire village which resulted in 26 of his friends being sent to quarantine Centres. His father and sister have tested positive for the virus.
There are at least 3,000 families and over 16,000 individuals but because of the irresponsibility of one individual the entire town and village has been placed on lockdown due to the risk of exposure to the virus.”
PC Sabry called on Muslims who fear that they have contracted the virus to be truthful and responsible and to seek treatment as early as possible.