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Maldives' Covid-19 burial plan 'marginalises Sri Lankan Muslims', UN expert says Open in fullscreen

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Maldives' Covid-19 burial plan 'marginalises Sri Lankan Muslims', UN expert says

Muslims believe cremation violates their religious rights [Getty]

Date of publication: 17 December, 2020

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Plans to help bury Sri Lankan Muslims who died of Covid-19 in the Maldives so they aren't cremated in Sri Lanka have been met with criticism.



The Maldives' offer to bury the bodies of Sri Lankan Muslims who die from Covid-19 has raised concerns that doing so "could end up enabling the further marginalisation of Muslim communities in Sri Lanka," a UN expert has said.

Buddhist-majority Sri Lanka has mandated that anyone who dies of Covid-19 must be cremated, posing a problem for Muslims who are required by their faith to bury their dead.
The controversial policy prompted the Maldives' foreign minister, Abdalla Shahid, to announce on Monday that his country was considering a "special request" from Sri Lanka to bury Sri Lankan Muslims who die from Covid-19.

In a Twitter post, Shahid said the assistance "will offer solace to our Sri Lankan Muslim brothers and sisters grieving over burial of loved ones."

The United Nation’s special rapporteur on freedom of belief, Ahmed Shaheed, has described the move as "concerning".

"It looks like the request did not come from the Muslim community or with their consent, and could end up enabling the further marginalisation of Muslim communities in Sri Lanka," Shaheed said in a statement to Al Jazeera.

Cremation

Sri Lanka introduced cremation in March following the growth of the covid-19 pandemic, arguing that the virus could contaminate underground water.

The move was criticised by the UN and human rights groups at the time.

Maldives deputy director-general of Public Health Services Hemantha Herath told the Daily Mirror that the Maldivian government "stepped in" to facilitate burials.

"Because they are broken up into islands, and do not face the same issue as us," he was quoted as saying.

"The Maldives government has offered to bury the dead bodies in one of their islands … We do not know how practical this is till the feasibility is conducted. The practical options have not been explored yet. Only then can we tell if this is going to happen or not."

Forced cremations in Sri Lanka has elicited local and international protests, with many calling it a deliberate act of discrimination.

The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) called for an end to the practise and to "respect to funeral rites in the Islamic faith". 

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