Muslims who die of the coronavirus in Sri Lanka could have their bodies flown to an island in the Maldives for burial, the Maldives’ foreign minister Abdullah Shahid announced on Twitter on Monday.
According to Shahid, Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa requested help from the Maldives’s President Ibrahim Solih for the burial of Muslim victims of the coronavirus.
Shahid wrote that the Maldives was ready to “assist Sri Lanka in facilitating Islamic funeral rites in the Maldives for Sri Lankan Muslims succumbing to COVID19 pandemic.” He added that the decision was based on “the close longstanding bilateral ties between Sri Lanka & [the] Maldives.”
On special request from Sri Lankan President @GotabayaR, President @ibusolih is consulting stakeholder authorities of the Government of Maldives to assist Sri Lanka in facilitating Islamic funeral rites in the Maldives for Sri Lankan Muslims succumbing to COVID19 pandemic. pic.twitter.com/EPj6TCCLLp— Abdulla Shahid (@abdulla_shahid) December 14, 2020
The Daily Mirror, a Sri Lankan national newspaper, reported that Sri Lanka’s Health Ministry was studying the proposal and developing appropriate guidelines for the procedure.
The proposed arrangement comes amid growing public outcry against Sri Lanka’s controversial policy of forcibly cremating victims of the coronavirus. Cremations are traditional for Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese-Buddhist majority, but the island’s Islamic and Christian communities require their dead to be buried.
Last week, the forced cremation of a 20-day-old Muslim baby prompted a protest campaign outside the crematorium in Colombo and on social media channels. On December 1, a case presented to the Supreme Court by 11 affected families from both Muslim and Christian communities was rejected.
Leaders and activists from Sri Lanka’s Muslim community thanked the Maldives for the offer, but rejected the proposed solution.
“We Muslims will instead demand that our Government reverse its unjustified cremation policy which is not based on epidemiological scientific evidence nor is ethically sanctioned based on WHO and UNESCO guidelines,” wrote Rauff Hakeem, leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress and a longstanding former Cabinet Minister, in an open letter addressed to the Maldivian High Commissioner in Colombo.
“We are certainly moved by this gesture and wish to convey our gratitude to President Solih and people of the Republic of the Maldives,” Hakeem added in the letter. But he accused “sinister forces [in Sri Lanka] which seek to polarize this nation” of “despicable attempts to marginalize and demonize” Muslims.
Dear Minister Shahid, I’m attaching my mail to your High Commissioner in Colombo on this issue for your attention.— Rauff Hakeem (@Rauff_Hakeem) December 14, 2020
Regards and best wishes,
“This is not good for the country. We have to find a local solution to the burials. Our ancestors were born on this island, and we have chosen to live in its multi-cultural society,” said rights activist Shreen Saroor, “What will happen to Sri Lanka’s Catholics who request to be buried. Will they send their bodies to the Vatican?”