Behind The Muslim Burial Issue By Ameer Ali

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In no country in the world except Sri Lanka and perhaps its “predator” ally China that Muslims are cremated when they die because of Covid-19; and no epidemiologist, virologist or medical expert in the world except the chief health officer in Sri Lanka believes that Corona virus would spread if the victims are buried. This officer spuriously justified his stand on the ground that the underground water level in the country is too high. His argument, backed by a so-called soil scientist, Meththika Vithanage from Jayawardenapura University, who wrote, “break the ground and infect us all”, has now been accepted as heavenly truth by sections of local Buddhist clergy, members of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s Viyathmaga and Rajapaksa’s government. Allowing burial for Muslims is to bury the regime itself, said one such monk. No amount of appeal or protest from any Muslim group either locally or internationally, and not even advice from WHO and other world experts could reverse the regime’s decision.  Yet, whether cremated or buried the virus is spreading in almost every part of the country, and the entire Muslim community is traumatized. 

Why is this intransigence? Is there something more sinister than just the water level argument and so called One-Country-One-Law (OCOL) mantra? Are there other advisors like for example, Chinese experts occupying the Shangri-La in Colombo? The close relation between the Rajapaksas and China is no secret, and with deteriorating economic conditions at home and desperate need for funds to invest in economic recovery, China has become a friend in need and lender of last resort. There is no use in hiding the fact that Sri Lanka under the current regime is virtually becoming China’s client state. With that type of economic nexus, China’s experience with her own Muslim communities like Uighurs may have some useful lessons for local supremacists behind Rajapaksa regime to learn from. 

To the local supremacists, Muslims are aliens and they should either be sent back to Arabia or be ‘molded’, as the obstreperous monk Gnanasara said in June last year. China was silent when the Rohingyas in Myanmar were massacred and expelled, and is now engaged in molding Uighur Muslims and in brainwashing them with Chinese thought and values. It is reported that the Uighurs in Xinjiang are put into three hundred internment camps, force fed with pig meat, prevented from praying, fasting and reciting the Quran. Hundreds of Uighur burial grounds are being destroyed and turned into parks and playgrounds in the name of development. Shockingly for world Muslims, it was reported that Saudi Prince Muhammad bin Salman, the supposed architect behind Jamal Khashoggi’s brutal murder, supported China’s cultural cleansing measures on grounds of “anti-terrorism” and “de-extremism”. Isn’t Islamic extremism and Islamic fundamentalism the rallying cries for Buddhist supremacists in Sri Lanka, especially after the Easter Sunday massacre? Isn’t also true that President Gotabaya looks for development as the solution to the Tamil problem and by extension to Muslim problem also? 

Sri Lanka does not have internment camps for Muslims yet. However, a series of incidents where Muslims are being forced to evacuate their lands and dwellings like in Devanagala in Mawanella, Thampala in Polonnaruwa and Sampur in Trincomalee bound to make them homeless and vagrants. Gotabaya’s Archaeology Task Force is also accused of being more interested in grabbing private lands for Sinhalese colonization than excavating ancient ruins. If this mode of forced evacuations increases in number, Muslim homelessness will become a national issue demanding speedy solution from government. It may not happen tomorrow but probably in near future. Won’t internment camps be an attractive solution when such situation arises?   

With economic difficulties mounting almost daily and sporadic street protests hidden from public view by government backing media, the regime is running out of options to control mass anger. It needs an issue badly to deflate anti-regime fury and divert mass attention elsewhere. Muslim burial issue is becoming handy for supremacists and their government to do just that. This appears to be the agenda behind the burial issue.

In the meantime, there is growing anger among Muslim youth specially over government’s intransigence on this issue. It goes to the very heart of Muslim religious rites and it torments the entire community. There are enough idiots within that community like in any other community to do something silly to spark widespread violence against Muslims. Are the supremacists waiting for such a spark for a return of July 1983, and this time against Muslims?

It is time for the Muslim community to give up any hope for a solution to this issue from the government, and dismiss completely the value of a Muslim minister in the cabinet let alone lame duck Muslim parliamentarians. The supremacists have more clout over Gotabaya than his Attorney- at-Call Muslim Minister. Allowing the state to cremate the Muslim dead at its own expense seems to be the best response to its intransigence however much the distress it may cause to Muslim families. It is sheer non-sense even to contemplate Maldives to provide a solution to Muslim burials. If burying under the sands of Maldives, which is fast sinking in to the sea because of global warming, won’t spread the virus why should it spread if buried in Sri Lanka, whose elevation from sea level is far higher than Maldives? Where is the water level argument? The burial issue has nothing to do with soil or water and every thing to do with politics.   

The community should think of the long term, and work towards the return of a democratic and “plurinational” Sri Lanka with more powers vested in the parliament than in the hands of an autocratic president. Shamefully, it was leaders from the Muslim community who were instrumental in creating the current situation. Let them agonize in silence for their treacherous behaviour. 

There is a committee of experts appointed by the government to draft a new constitution. The Muslim community should make use of this opportunity and join hands with such inter-religious and inter-communal groups that are striving to create a Sri Lanka with a constitution “that is modern, futuristic, and incorporates the rights stipulated in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as swell as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights”. Ball is in the community’s court.

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