PH gives Muslim coronavirus victims religious exemption from cremation

DAVAO CITY, Philippines (UPDATED)– The Philippine government gave Muslim coronavirus victims religious exemptions from cremation.

Dimapuno Datu Ramos Jr., chief of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF), said the exemption was approved by the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Disease (IATF-EID) in Manila.

NCMF Secretary Saidamen Pangarungan sought the exemption in a letter dated March 16, after consulting with ulama and imam groups. The task force respected that cremation is forbidden in Islam and death from contagion is not an exemption, Ramos said. 

The IATF agreed to put in place strict procedures to prevent the virus from spreading. The burial must also be done within 12 hours or half the period normally allowed in Islamic rites. 

"They must be placed in an airtight sealed cadaver bag and must be buried in the nearest Muslim cemetery within 12 hours in the presence of an imam wearing PPE (personal protective equipment) for the brief Muslim burial rites," Department of the Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año told Rappler.

At least 3 Filipino Muslims have died from the novel coronavirus  disease. Mindanao's two deaths were Muslims buried in Iligan City and Marawi City. 

A Muslim in Metro Manila also died from the disease. He was buried on Sunday, March 22.

Zia Alonto Adiong, spokesperson for the Lanao del Sur Province Covid-19 response, said they sought Department of Health approval when they buried last week a coronavirus victim in Marawi City. 

Volunteers who performed the Muslim burial wore hazmat suits. The burial ceremony was also modified to make sure the health workers were not unnecessarily exposed to danger, skipping the full washing and ablution of the cadaver as normally required in Islamic rites. 

Adiong said the procedures were since adjusted further, he said.

“Muslims neither allow embalming of cadavers, thereby necessitating the immediate burial within 24 hours to prevent decomposition,” said Ramos, adding that the IATF also allowed the transport of the cadavers for burial.  – Rappler.com