Currently, the talk of the town is largely about the Maldives offering to assist its neighbor Sri Lanka in facilitating Islamic Funeral Rites in the Maldives for Sri Lankan Muslims who die from COVID-19.

The Island nation has been enforcing forced cremation on Muslims who perish due to COVID-19 and is one of the few countries in the world which has made cremations mandatory for people who have died or are suspected of having died from COVID-19.

Muslims in Sri Lanka have been decrying the unjust enforcement that robs their dead of a dignified burial as per the religious beliefs of Islam.

Back in November, the UN had even urged Sri Lanka to revise their decision that is not supported by any current scientific evidence.

Where does the Maldives come into this?

The Maldives’s intervention into the matter was highlighted yesterday when the Maldivian Foreign Minister Abdullah Shahid tweeted saying that on special request from Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih is consulting stakeholder authorities of the Government of Maldives to assist Sri Lanka in facilitating Islamic funeral rites in the Maldives for Sri Lankan Muslims succumbing to COVID19 pandemic.

Minister Shahid went onto say that President Solih's decision is based on the close long-standing bilateral ties between Sri Lanka & Maldives, & to ensure help to face the challenges of the pandemic. He said that this assistance will also offer solace to our Sri Lankan Muslim brothers & sisters grieving over the burial of loved ones.

What is the verdict from the religious scholars?

Most of the social media savvy religious scholars in the Maldives have supported the government’s decision to assist the Sri Lankan authorities in the delicate matter with most emphasizing the need to help a Muslim community in their time of need as an important pillar of the Islamic values.

Religious Scholars Dr. Mohamed Iyaz (right) and Ali Zaid have spoken in support of the government's move

Who is supporting the cause?

Most of the reaction to the government’s announcement on its assistance has been positive. The Islamic Ministry welcomed the decision while members of the coalition government Adaalath party and the Jumhooree party backed the government’s decision. Meanwhile, Speaker of the Parliament Mohamed Nasheed tweeted yesterday that it is good that the Maldives and Sri Lanka are trying to address the issue. He reminded us that Sri Lanka is our most valued friend and cousin and that the two countries should stick together in sickness and in health.

The Speaker went on to say that Sri Lankan Muslims can be buried in the Maldives and that there are burial grounds for Maldivians in Sri Lanka with the Jawatha Mosque having 4 generations of Maldivian leaders buried there.

So, who is opposing the idea?

One of the most vocal opposing voices has been that of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. He tweeted on Monday saying that the Maldives warmly welcomes all foreign visitors irrespective of their nationality and faith and wish them a happy and peaceful stay here.

But he said that bringing the bodies of foreign Covid-19 victims to be buried in the Maldives is something that he cannot support.

In a series of tweets, ex-President Maumoon said that the Maldives is not religiously obliged to cater to the request by the Sri Lankan government and that if the Maldives assist in this manner, the country is condoning how the Sri Lankan authorities are marginalizing its Muslim minority.

Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom | Photo: The Press

He questioned whether or not it would make more sense to urge the Sri Lankan government not to enforce forced cremation on its Muslim Community. Maumoon also tweeted saying that the Holy Quran described Muslims as being sensible and as Muslims, the country must rely on its sensibility in such matters.

The ex-leader is not alone in his views. Many on Twitter had voiced their concern over the issue with some questioning the integrity, sincerity, and honesty of politicians who have come out to support the idea.

Maybe it’s a non-issue?

Although the Maldivian government had confirmed on-going consultations between the two countries, the Sri Lankan government had indicated yesterday that the government was not informed of the move to seek assistance from its smaller neighbor in this internal matter.

Sri Lankan Cabinet spokesperson Keheliya Rambukwella had told reporters yesterday that the matter had not been discussed with the cabinet.

Sri Lankan media also reported that Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa had recently instructed the authorities to find suitable land to bury coronavirus victims.

He gave the instructions following talks held with the Health Ministry, officials, and a group of Muslim Parliamentarians.

At the meeting, the Prime Minister instructed the authorities to find dry land to bury the victims in line with the advice of health experts.