Opinion regarding disposal of COVID-19 affected human remains
In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious the Most Merciful
Our opinion (fatwa) has been sought with regard to the permissible mode of disposal of the remains of persons who have succumbed to COVID-19.
The fatwa committee has submitted an exhaustive report on this issue. We have taken note of the opinions of established Islamic scholars and the Qur’anic injunctions referred to in the report.
We note that all four schools of Islamic jurisprudence are unanimous that the only permissible method of the disposal of the remains of a deceased is by burial. A departure from this rule is recognized only in exceptional and unavoidable circumstances. A recognized exception is that of a person dying whilst on a sea journey, and access to land within a reasonable time is not feasible. Upon a consideration of all the available text and Qur’anic injunctions in the light of available scientific material, we are of the opinion that a departure from this general rule to justify cremation in the disposal of COVID-19 affected human remains is not permissible for the reasons set out below.
We note that it has been almost universally recognized that the burial of deceased COVID-19 patients is an accepted method of disposal. This is subject to the adoption of recognized measures, if need be, in certain circumstances to prevent the transmission of the disease by the pollution of water or by rodents. To the best of our knowledge Sri Lanka and perhaps China appear to be the only countries to have confined the disposal of human remains affected by the COVID-19 virus to cremation.
The World Health Organization (WHO) in its Guidelines issued on 24.03.2020, for the disposal of COVID-19 infected human remains observed as follows.
“People who have died from COVID-19 can be buried or cremated (WHO, 2020).”
We have also taken note of Chapter 2.7 of the General Guidance for the management of the dead related to COVID-19 issued by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) which also mentions that
“Cremation of unidentified human remains should be avoided, and burial in single graves is the preferred method of disposal. (Finegan, et al., 2020)”
Hence, we are satisfied that the recognized international public health organizations are of the opinion that the available scientific material does not warrant a departure from the Islamic requirement that the remains of a deceased COVID-19 patient should be buried and not cremated. In any event, the availability of recognized precautionary measures to counter the possibility of the transmission of the disease, in case of burials, has not been properly appreciated by the public health authorities in Sri Lanka.
We wish to emphasize that Islam enjoins us to obey the law. Therefore, this opinion should not be understood as a justification to disobey the law.
We have made representations to the authorities to reconsider their decision to prohibit burials of deceased COVID-19 patients. We reiterate our position that there should be a free choice and that we Muslims, should be granted the option to conform to the religious requirements of our faith that such deceased persons should be buried. We are saddened by the fact that our representations and that of medical personnel and activists did not find favour with our public health authorities.
We appeal to all citizens to co-operate with the government to eradicate the virus from our motherland. May Almighty Allah bless us and keep us all safe.
- Finegan, O., Fonseca, S., Guyomarch, P., Mendez, M. M., Gonzalez, J. R., Tidball-Binz, M., ICRC Advisory Group on the Management of COVID-19. (2020). International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC): General guidance for the management of the dead related to COVID-19. Forensic Science International: Synergy, 2, 129-137.
- (2020). Infection Prevention and Control for the safe management of a dead body in the context of COVID-19. World Health Organization.
- ACJU Fatwa. (2020). All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama. Religious Clarification with regard to cremating the body of Muslim COVID 19 victims. (2020.04.11)
Mufthi M.I.M. Rizwe
All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama