A fight for religious rights

2014-11-20 00:00

A MAN is fighting for his mother’s religious rights against a prominent Pietermaritzburg hospital, which has refused to release an amputated limb to the family for burial.

Asim Kara said his elderly mother was hospitalised for surgery at Grey’s Hospital where her right leg was amputated because of a gangrene infection and the procedure went well, but he feels that their religious rights have been violated.

According to Muslim Sharia law, any tissue from a Muslim body must be given to the immediate family to be buried as quickly as possible.

“The hospital told me that they cannot release the limb to me because of the Human Tissue Act of 2004. I was told to go to court and get an affidavit for them to release it, but the court had no idea about these laws,” Kara said.

The head of the Islamic Burial Society, Ahmed Paruk, said the organisation dealt with such cases often. “Some hospitals comply, but some give us a hard time. We want to take it up with the minister of Health because we are not happy with this law in terms of our constitutional right to religious freedom,” Paruk said.

“We are familiar with the Human Tissue Act and we understand that the hospitals are not allowed to give tissue back to the public. I think the government’s issue is that they think people will use it for muthi.”

Kara said he has to say “no” when elders in their family and in the Muslim community ask if he has abided by the religious practices in burying the limb.

“They are perturbed by the fact that we couldn’t fulfil our religious duty. I have to confront them with egg on my face and admit that I could not do what my religion says. My mother is in recovery now and is distraught,” Kara said.

The head of the Darul Ihsan Islamic Centre, Mufti Zubair Bayat, said they would take the matter up with the authorities in the hope of resolving the issue. “If it is accepted that the entire human body is buried after death, it follows logically then that any organ or limb, which is but a part of the body, should also be buried,” Bayat said.

“We urge the authorities to look into the matter and give it due consideration as it could possibly be an infringement of the right to freedom of religion, which is entrenched in the Bill of Rights section of our Constitution.”

A Pietermaritzburg Muslim resident, who would not be named, expressed surprise at the hospital’s refusal to hand the limb over. Both her children were born at private hospitals, and she had had no problem in getting the placentas for burial.

“In fact, the nurses were aware of the custom and asked ahead of the births if I would require the placentas,” she said.

The Department of Health, along with Grey’s Hospital, were unable to comment before the print deadline.

• amil.umraw@witness.co.za

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