On Friday 01/08, the Sri Lankan government insisted on continuing to implement a binding decision to burn the bodies of all the dead with COVID-19, rejecting international calls and recommendations to allow Muslims to bury their dead according to their religious rites. </p><div> <p>Since April, the government has banned the burial of the deceased with Covid-19, in light of fears fueled by influential Buddhist monks loyal to President Gotabaya Rajapakse that burying the bodies of the deceased in the epidemic could contaminate groundwater and contribute to the spread of the virus. The World Health Organization considers that the risk of this occurrence does not exist, but the Sri Lankan government refuses to rely on this opinion. Officials in the Ministry of Health quoted Minister Pavithra Waniaracchi as saying that "this decision will not be amended for social, religious, political or personal reasons."
A committee of experts set up by the government concluded this week that cremation is the safest solution, but it is possible to authorize the burial of the dead according to strict conditions. Muslims form a minority in the predominantly Buddhist Sri Lanka. In general, the bodies of Buddhists, who are fiercely loyal to the current government, are cremated, as well as Hindus. And local and foreign Muslim organizations, including the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, have repeatedly expressed their concern about this decision. The “Islamic Conference of Sri Lanka” party accused the government of seeking to lure Muslim youths into “reckless acts”, which was also warned against by the Muslim Minister of Justice, Ali Sabri.
According to the party, more than half of the total 222 people who died from COVID-19 are Muslims, who make up 10 percent of Sri Lanka’s population of 21 million. Party spokesman Hilmi Ahmed confirmed to AFP that the death rate from Covid-19 among Muslims is higher compared to other Sri Lankans “because Muslims refuse to receive treatment for fear (that they will end up) burning their bodies.”
The Maldives, the Muslim archipelago, announced last month that neighboring Sri Lanka had requested permission to send the bodies of Muslims who died with Covid-19 for burial according to their rituals, which Colombo denied. Subsequently, the Speaker of the Maldivian Parliament, Muhammad Nasheed, suggested that the Sri Lankan authorities allow Muslims to be buried in a Maldivian cemetery in Colombo, but this suggestion remained unanswered.
Sri Lanka is witnessing an acceleration in the spread of the epidemic, and the death toll has increased from 3,300 in October to 46,800 now, and the death toll has increased from 13 then to 222 now. The country has witnessed tensions between Muslims and the majority of Buddhist Sinhalese, since a local jihadist group was accused of carrying out the bloody attacks that the country witnessed during the Easter holiday in 2019.