Open Letter to the President Nandasena Gotabaya Rajapaksa

President of Sri Lanka, Nandasena Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

H.E. Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, President of Sri Lanka

During the inauguration of the Fourth Session of the 8th Parliament of Sri Lanka held on 3 January 2020, Your Excellency made a strong statement to “always defend the unitary status of the nation, to protect and nurture the Buddha Sasana while safeguarding the right of all citizens to pursue a religion of choice”. Furthermore Your Excellency encouraged politicians to deal with the reality of the people, to call upon all to unite in the national undertaking of the development of the nation without the political “petty agenda” which in the past has divided our society. We, the international community, are proud of you and have strong hope that you will maintain this commitment throughout the administrational term.

As to your commitment to maintain the rights of all citizens to practice a religion of choice, today we are prompted to express our deepest concern in regards to the decision to apply cremation as the only option to be made available in Sri Lanka for COVID-19 victims. We believe that you are informed that the World Health Organization’s guidelines stipulate that victims are able to be “buried or cremated”. The regulation passed by the Sri Lanka government foresees that corpses of “all COVID-19 victims be cremated within 24 hours of death”. The WHO’s stipulated choice of “buried or cremated” serves intentionally as a reminder that believers of various religions have differing mechanisms and ways to take care of the corpses of their loved ones. Muslims have the strong belief that burial represents the natural return to earth hence, as being the only acceptable method.

Your Excellency,

Through removing the options to “Cremate or Bury” Covid 19 victims, your administration has indeed started to eradicate “the existing politics of this country in the attempt to place itself above religious law” against which you spoke out during your inauguration speech earlier this year. Revising the cremation policy to be inclusive for other religions shows your leadership attempts to achieve equalization of its people although it should include equal awareness toward those of the Muslim and Christian faiths which both view the policy as potentially threatening for the practice of their beliefs.

Your inclusive leadership will influence Sri Lanka’s foreign policy that is characterized by an outgoing engagement with the rest of the world. Ultimately Sri Lanka is ready to collaborate with many countries of diverse religious backgrounds. Providing your people the option “buried or cremated” for Covid 19 victims, your leadership will be positively recognized in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

Your Excellency,

We do believe that revising the obligatory cremation policy will undoubtedly succeed in supporting your vision to defend the unitary status of the nation. This is also a clear contribution to achieving long term and sustainable peace in Srilanka, by guaranteeing an environment for all citizens enjoying freedom of religion and faith in their daily lives. Subsequently you have been protecting and nurturing the Buddha Sasana teachings to provide safeguarding the rights and duties of all citizens to practice their respective religion and belief.

We, the Asian Muslim Action Network, vigorously appeal to your administration to amend the regulation soonest and to return to the spirit of Buddism respecting the right of all citizens to enjoy their religion.

Sincerely,

Prof. Dr. Azyumardi Azra, MA, CBE (President of AMAN International)

Ruby Kholifah (Secretary General)

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