UK Muslim body launches legal challenge to Sri Lanka's 'forced cremation' policy

UK Muslim body launches legal challenge to Sri Lanka's 'forced cremation' policy
The Muslim Council of Britain has urged the international community to pressure Sri Lanka to lift its mandatory cremation policy.
2 min read
31 December, 2020
Cremation violates Islamic religious beliefs [Getty]
The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) is taking legal action against Sri Lanka's government over a coronavirus policy requiring all patients who die of Covid to be cremated, the group said in a statement on Wednesday.

The cremation policy violates Islamic religious beliefs, and has already seen a 20-day old baby and over 100 Muslims cremated, MCB – the UK's largest umbrella body of mosques and Muslim organisations – said, citing an unnamed source.

Cremation is strictly forbidden in Islamic law, which stipulates that the dead must be buried after the body is honoured with four rituals.

MCB said it has set up a taskforce charged with handling the legal challenge, which also includes UK-based Sri Lankan representative bodies, lawyers and medical experts among others.

The taskforce has written to Sri Lanka's foreign secretary and the Sri Lankan High Commissioner to request an immediate reversal, arguing that the policy has distressed both Muslim and Christian communities.

World Health Organization guidelines permit the burial, as well as cremation, of deceased persons with confirmed Covid infection, but the Sri Lankan government has adopted a policy of mandatory cremations since March.

"The forced cremations of Muslim bodies in Sri Lanka are a serious violation of the religious freedom of a minority group," the statement quoted Tayab Ali, Partner at London law firm Bindmans LLP, as saying.

"It is a violation of international law to delay returning a family member's body for burial in a timely way unless there is good reason to do so," Ali added.

Read also: Coronavirus misinformation fuels hatred, attacks against India's Muslims

MCB called the policy "unconstitutional in its very nature" and said it "continues to devastate the families of the deceased".

The umbrella body additionally called on the international community to urge the Sri Lankan Government to reverse this policy immediately.

The majority of Sri Lanka's population is Buddhist, while Muslims making up about 9.7 percent, and Christians around 7 percent, of its total population.

The South Asian island country has recorded over 42,000 coronavirus infections leaving 195 dead, according to official data.

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