The forced cremation of two Covid-19 infected Muslims in Sri Lanka has sent shock waves among the minority community, which accused the authorities of violating Islamic burial rites.
Bishrul Hafi Mohammed Joonus, a 73-year- old man from the capital Colombo who died of COVID-19, was the second Muslim to have been cremated in Sri Lanka which has registered 151 cases so far, reports Al Jazeera.
Bishrul's son Fayaz Joonus, 46, said his father who had a kidney disorder tested positive for the virus about two weeks ago. He died on April 1 and was cremated the following day.
Fayaz said they could not perform the Janazah for his father due to fear of infections.
"My father was taken in a vehicle under the supervision of the police and was cremated. We said some prayers outside the morgue, but it was not a Janazah that us Muslim typically do," Fayaz told Al Jazeera.
"The government needs to make arrangements for us Muslims to be able to bury our loved ones in accordance with our Islamic burial rites. If there is an option of burial, our government should accommodate. Cremation is not the only option, we want to bury our loved ones as per the Islamic way," he told Al Jazeera.
Sri Lanka's Ministry of Health on Tuesday issued Covid-19 guidelines saying the standard procedure of disposing bodies should be cremation. Despite WHO's guideline supporting burial for the deaths occurring out of Covid-19.
The government also decreed the body to be placed in a sealed bag and a coffin, as against the Islamic practice of washing the body.
Prominent Sri Lankan lawyer Ali Sabry said in a Facebook post that he was disappointed with authorities' decision to cremate bodies of Muslims, as it was in disregard to the WHO guidelines, which say that a body can be either buried or cremated.
Out of the four people who died due to Covid-19, two were Muslims. The cremation of Muslims has caused anguish in the community.
"The Muslim community sees this as a racist agenda of extremist Buddhist forces that seem to hold the government to ransom," Hilmy Ahamed, vice president of Muslim Council of Sri Lanka, told Al Jazeera.
"The guidelines issued by the WHO is practised by Britain, most of the European countries, Singapore, Hong Kong and all the Muslim nations [except for Sri Lanka]," he told Al Jazeera.
Amnesty International has also called on authorities to "respect the right of religious minorities to carry out the final rites" according to their own traditions.
"At this difficult time, the authorities should be bringing communities together and not deepening divisions between them," Biraj Patnaik, South Asia director at Amnesty International, said in a statement.
Anti - Muslim sentiment
Muslims account for 10 percent of Sri Lanka's 21 million population. But their relationship with the majority Sinhala Buddhists has always been in tensed terms. It severely deteriorated after the church attack in 2019 on Christmas Day.
"This is just to hurt the feelings of the minority," Azath Salley, leader of the National Unity Alliance political party and the former governor of Western province, told Al Jazeera.
The government has been accused of stirring anti-Islamic sentiments among the majority.
Nalaka Gunawadenne, a media analyst said amid the Covid-19 pandemic, "It's very disturbing and disheartening to see anti-Islamic sentiments and anti-Muslim hate speech raise their ugly head again in Sri Lanka. This is national and global emergency shared by all humans, and not a time highlighting our cultural divisions. The coronavirus does not care about our ethnic or religious differences. We need to fear the virus - not each other - and unite in containing and battling the disease." he told Al Jazeera.