The absence of humanity in the face of the pandemic

Bringing awareness to an issue across the globe

By Dina Usnaovic

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – The COVID-19 pandemic has forced people to make certain sacrifices in order to maintain a certain level of safety: people now have to wear masks in most public places, dine in eating at restaurants was suspended, schools switched to online learning, and many companies have told employees to work from home. Through all of this, however, most countries have maintained a certain level of respect for people’s religious beliefs and differences (at least to the extent we had prior to the pandemic). Until now.

The government of Sri Lanka has issued a mandate requiring all COVID patients who die to be cremated—with the addition of China, these are the only two countries requiring cremation. This mandate comes despite the announcement by the World Health Organization (WHO) stating that burying COVID patients posed no danger to public health. 

The government’s mandate violates the Muslim religious practice of burial. In the Islamic religion, cremation is a condemnation to Hell. Forcing the cremation of people who believe that they will spend eternity in Hell is outrageous. This is a humanitarian crisis. The UN has even reached out to the Sri Lankan government, pleading for COVID patients’ religious beliefs to be respected and upheld.

While some defenders of the mandate claim that it is a public safety measure and nothing more, many believe that this is an act of retaliation by the Sri Lankan President, Gotabaya Rajapaska, because of the Easter suicide bombings by Islamist extremists last April, mostly taking place in hotels and churches. As Rajapaska ran on an anti-Muslim campaign throughout his election, it is not a far jump to conclude that this mandate is an attack on Muslims. 

Many Sri Lankan Muslims are attempting to find their own ways out of the mandate by refusing to claim dead family members, protesting, and refusing to make the mandatory payment of 48,000 rupees to cover the costs of cremation. Eleven affected families attempted to take legal action on the grounds of a violation of their freedom of religion, however, the Supreme Court refused to hear the case. President Rajapaska is using an incredibly hard time to further his own agenda against Muslims by refusing to let them rest in peace.