Kulhudhufushi school makes veil mandatory

A school in Kulhudhufushi has introduced the mandatory wearing of the veil for all girls grade five and above without prior approval from the ministry of education.

But, the Atoll Education Centre’s lack of consultation with stakeholders has caused disquiet among some parents as well as the ministry of education.

Parents were concerned about the imposition on two fronts, said independent MP for Kulhudhufushi South Mohamed Nasheed to Minivan News today.

Some argued the expense involved in buying new school uniforms at such short notice was too much to bear, he said. In addition to veils, the new uniform will include trousers for girls and long trousers for boys.

A second concern, said Nasheed, was the lack of consultation with parents. He said the decision was made by the school board on a “particular day when there was not much representation from the parents side.”

“They feel that if somebody wants their child to wear a veil that’s acceptable…but imposed on everybody alike, that’s objectionable,” he said.

A mother of a boy in grade one, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told Minivan News that the decision was put to a vote at a parent-teacher meeting two weeks ago and a majority of parents voted in favour of the new uniform.

She said parents were asked whether they supported the proposal to introduce long trousers for boys from grades one to four and the veil for girls from grade five to seven.

“They gave parents a piece of paper to tick if we supported it. I voted against it because I thought it would be difficult for boys that young to wear trousers,” she said.

The ministry of education has informed the school that if they wish to change the school uniform they must obtain permission from the ministry and a process of consultation must be undertaken.

“We have told the school that they should not go beyond the limitations set down by the ministry. There’s already guidelines regarding uniform with the possibility of wearing the buruga (veil),” said Shifa Mohamed, deputy minister for education.

Shifa said under the ministry’s guidelines girls could wear the buruga provided it was in a manner that clearly showed the school badge and tie.

“These children have a syllabus to cover and it’s important for them to have a uniform which they are comfortable in,” she said.

The school’s principal told Minivan News he did not wish to comment.

Sheikh Shaheem Ali Saeed, state minister for Islamic affairs, said the decision to make the veils a mandatory part of the school uniform was up to the education ministry and the school board.

“What we have always been saying is there should be a choice. In the past, there was no choice in the Maldives. The girls who wanted to wear burugas were not able to. In the past, you wouldn’t see girls with burugas in the MNDF or Television Maldives,” said Shaheem.

But, he added, if students and parents in a school agreed to introduce the veil as part of the uniform, the ministry would welcome the decision.

“We shouldn’t try and stop it as long as they want it. It is a good thing they want to do. Something that is called for in our religion,” he said.


Family of alleged concubine denies media reports

The family of the 17-year-old “concubine” has denied media reports that the girl was being kept as an under-age sex slave.

Speaking to Minivan News today, the girl’s brother said police checked the house on Wednesday with a court order, taking his sister in for questioning.

“When they took her statement, among their questions was when she got married, why did she go abroad for the marriage and whether she got married at such a young age because the family asked her to or why she had decided to get married at her age,” he said.

He added police told her she might be arrested if she refused to answer their questions truthfully.

“So my sister cried and gave them the statement,” he said.

Police took her to the hospital for a physical examination before taking her statement, he added.

When police arrived at the house at 1.30pm on Wednesday, he continued, they showed him a court order authorising them to check if the girl suspected of being a concubine lived at Ma. Saamiramanzil.

He added police confiscated religious literature, books, CDs and his hard drive.

After the girl was released, he said, police said they did not consider the girl to be a concubine.

“So we asked them not to give this information to the media until the case was finished and they said, no, it won’t go to media,” he said, but when they came home they heard the news on the radio.


The issue was brought to public attention by former Attorney General Azima Shukoor at a Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party rally in September.

Azima said she had read an article on freelance journalist Hilath Rasheed’s blog about an under-age girl taken to Indira Gandi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) who was being kept as a sex slave.

Both police and the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) have since been investigating the case.

Earlier this month, the HRCM said it had confirmed the reports and the doctor who examined the girl was told by her female guardian that she was a concubine.

“When the doctor at first did not understand what a ‘jaariya’ [concubine] was and he asked again differently, he was told that she was a jaariya kept by her husband,” said Ahmed Zahid, vice-president of the commission.

The girl’s brother said she was taken to Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) by her sister-in-law.

“We went because I was having a stomach pains, made an appointment and showed to the doctor,” said the girl. “They took a blood test and we got the report that night. It was not positive.”

“She definitely didn’t say this was a jaariya. She said this is the wife of my husband’s brother,” he said.

While the police told the family that they did not inform media, he said, the family believed it could not have come from any other source.

Media spotlight

On Wednesday, local media reported that unnamed sources have confirmed that police had discovered the underage concubine based on records from IGMH.

Three radio stations, SunFM, DhiFM and Radio Atoll, reported the news with the girl’s address, while daily newspapers Miadhu and Haveeru reported the story that night.

He further denied media reports that the girl became pregnant out of wedlock.

The girl’s brother said Haveeru claimed “obscenely” that the girl had been married for four months, but was six months pregnant.

He added Haveeru’s story included the house name making the family’s identity clear.

While the three radio stations retracted the story and apologised when contacted by family, he said, the two newspapers are yet to follow suit.

His sister was married in India and had been seeing her boyfriend for a year, he said.

He showed Minivan News documents of forms with witness fingerprints and the girl’s fathers’ authorisation as well as a letter to the family court sent four months before the marriage.

The marriage took place in July at a place where other Maldivians also marry, he said, adding that it had been validated by the family court.

He said the media reports had ruined the family’s reputation, directed the public’s anger towards them and caused the girl psychological distress.

He asked Minivan News to publish the address in this article to ensure they could clear their reputation.

“We don’t even believe in jaariyas,” he said. “Even if it was done in the past, we don’t believe that it can be done today.”

He added the family was considering suing for defamation to protect its name.


Comment & Analysis: And then I saw the bottle and am a non-believer

Surely a believer’s faith cannot be so easily put on the rocks that it’s shaken and stirred by the mere presence of alcohol within a few metres radius?  Millions of Muslims live in communities where alcohol is as easily available as water, yet do not feel tempted to become a regular at the local bar.

Millions of Muslims live in communities where pork products are on every other breakfast dish but do not feel the urge to binge on bacon at the crack of dawn. Their belief in Islam and its teachings removes, or at least provides the strength to resist, the temptation to commit any of these acts that Islam has forbidden.
Why is it that religious leaders in the Maldives cannot bear the thought of allowing Maldivians to inhabit an island where an open bottle of alcohol may breathe the same air as a native? Is it that these religious leaders have so little confidence in Maldivian Muslims’ faith that laws have to be brought in to ensure that believers believe? Are they saying the faith of Maldivian Muslims is so fragile it will flounder at the slightest of tests?

Surely whether a believer’s faith is strong enough to resist temptation is a matter between him and his Maker? What arrogance to appoint oneself God’s policeman and regulate a person’s thoughts and actions when it is clear from religious teachings that He knows everything His believers think and do. What insouciant interference in God’s business to be running around regulating people’s thoughts in His name! 

So preposterous is the idea that such learned men might be inclined to behave with such egotism in matters to do with God that, perhaps, they should be accorded the benefit of the doubt, and the enquiring mind should turn elsewhere for answers. Let us then, for argument’s sake, assume that the threats to go on strike if regulations were brought in to allow the sale of alcohol on inhabited islands were not meant to police believers’ faith.

Politically motivated?

Let us assume that our ‘religious leaders’ recognise in their most learned minds this basic fact – a true believer does not need man-made legislation to enforce their beliefs. What reason could our religious leaders have then, for threatening to hold demonstrations against the said regulations? 

Could it possibly have something to do with politics? Perhaps social and cultural control? The discourse of the said leaders certainly seems to suggest that if the new regulations demonstrate anything, it is that the government has no respect for Islam. In other words, the law is bad because the government is bad. The exact statement in which this allegation was made bears closer scrutiny: “Alcohol is forbidden in Islam. Allowing the sale of alcohol in inhabited islands shows that the government does not respect Islam”.

Which part of this particular Islamic tenet, one might ask, adds the caveat: “However, selling alcohol to Infidels on your islands, as long as you do not live there, or work behind the bar, is allowed/condoned/encouraged in Islam?” Such selective application and interpretation of Islamic teachings reveals not a concern for believers nor a respect for the religion that they purport to hold dear – it smacks of hypocrisy and cunning manipulation of both religion and the people for political control. 

It was the economic ministry that was to implement the new regulations. This suggests the decision to make the change was governed by economic factors such as contributing towards bailing the country out of massive debts and a global recession. The economic sense behind the regulations is clear – the tourism market, without which the Maldivian economy would collapse faster than we can say ‘oink’, is largely a market of ‘Infidels’, like it or not. And these foreigners, they like to have a drink or two.

The simple equation of demand and supply says that we give it to them – if we want them to come visit us and give us their dollars (tainted or not) so that we keep our heads above water (or have enough money to hold our cabinet meetings under water, depending on which year we are talking about). Thus, the economic stupidity of reversing any regulation with the potential for improving our finances is obvious. Or should be.

Forbidden fruit

It is the political ignorance represented by the decision, however, that is far more nuanced and carries with it much more serious implications – rapidly withdrawing economically viable regulations in order to pacify what by all accounts would have been a ‘peaceful’ protest, is a breathtakingly weak action to take. Dressing it up and spinning it as ‘democracy’ is worse – it is as disrespectful of the political subject as the policing of an individual’s faith by self-proclaimed religious leaders is of believers. 

Democracy respects public opinion, but does not kow-tow to every ebb and flow of its turbulent tide – especially when it is vulnerable to such manipulation by those who so blatantly cherry-pick religious teachings for political gain. A democracy should be able to stand up to and face opposition – sometimes the protests would be loud, sometimes silent. Sometimes they would be peaceful, occasionally violent. Compromises are made, deals struck. And there will be winners and losers.

“Democratic”, however, is not a word that springs to mind when trying to think of a suitable word to describe a government that withdraws sound economic regulations when faced with the threat of a peaceful strike. Try the following words on for size, you might find they fit better – weak, cowardly, pusillanimous.

Neither religion nor democracy can be enforced – as is clear from the current state of the world. If the Maldivian government, and its newfound democracy fails to stand up now to the forces trying to steer the country into a sterilised world purified of all forbidden fruit; cleansed of all temptation; and purged of all independent thought, it should stop letting itself be played like a helpless pawn in this dangerous game the ultimate goal of which is social and cultural control of people through the politics of religion.

A year has passed in which to take stock and assess the players. It is now time to make the moves that would force these bogus ‘bishops’ (pun intended) to a checkmate. 
Munirah Moosa is a journalism and international relations graduate. She is currently engaged in research into the ‘radicalisation’ of Muslim communities and its impact on international security.
All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial news policy. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


First swine flu death in the Maldives

A 65-year-old Maldivian man with no recent history of travel abroad or contact with a known case of Influenza A died from H1N1 flu virus yesterday, said an official at the centre for community health and disease (CCHD).

Senior Medical Officer Dr Ahmed Jamsheed Mohamed said the man contracted the virus in the Maldives, adding, “It’s the first case of local transmission.”

The man went to Inguraidhoo Health Centre on 16 November after exhibiting flu-like symptoms but was sent back home after his condition improved, said Jamsheed.

The following day, his health deteriorated and he was taken to Ungoofaru Regional Hospital. Blood samples were then sent to Male’ yesterday to be tested for swine flu but the man died at around 2.35pm.

The CCHD is now in the process of identifying and locating all those who came into contact with the man, who travelled on a dhoni (traditional boat) from his home island Inguraidhoo to Innamaadhoo, both in Raa atoll, in the days preceding his death.

Jamsheed said the centre had contacted many of those the 65-year-old had come into contact and had tested eight for swine flu. So far, a four-year-old boy has tested positive for Influenza A. Doctors are awaiting his results for the H1N1 virus. 

He added the centre hoped to contact the remaining people by the end of the day.

Up until now, the previous six people detected with the virus, four Maldivians and two foreigners, had travelled from abroad and all had recovered after receiving treatment.

Earlier this year, the CCHD distributed materials about swine flu to raise awareness about the virus in the Maldives.

Jamsheed said the centre would now roll out the second phase of the campaign to ensure the public was aware of the symptoms and the precautionary measures to take.

Symptoms include a running nose, cough, fever, sneezing and shortness of breath. Health officials are advising people to wash their hands regularly and cover their mouths when coughing or sneezing.

Jamsheed said some members of the public believed the whole country should wear masks, but he stressed this was an unnecessary preventive measure and advised people not to panic.

He said the CCHD was satisfied with the level of preparedness in the Maldives to handle an outbreak and doctors would meet for a nationwide conference to discuss the matter tomorrow.

He added the government had requested a batch of the swine flu vaccination from the World Health Organisation (WHO).

According to latest statistics from the WHO, there have been over 6,250 deaths from swine flu. But, the organisation notes the actual statistic may be higher as many countries have stopped counting individual cases.

It adds that with the exception of Sri Lanka and Nepal, transmission in South Asia continues to decline. In July, the WHO claimed the H1N1 virus could infect two billion people over the next two years.
The swine flu hotline is 3304829.


Govt to allow sale of alcohol on inhabited islands

Liquor licences will be issued to all hotels on inhabited islands with more than 100 beds under the ministry of economic development’s new regulations on the use and import of alcohol and pork in the Maldives.

Under the new regulations, which will come into effect on 15 November, permits for selling alcohol and pork will also be given to yacht marinas, safari boats and picnic islands registered with the ministry of tourism.

Duty free businesses such as airport departure terminal bars will also be eligible for the licence. Permits will be given for six months at a time for hotels for sale of alcohol only in the bar area and will be banned from being minibars.

The regulations further stipulate that hotels will only be able to sell pork and alcohol for “immediate consumption” and taking either outside of the permitted areas is forbidden.
The issue of selling alcohol on inhabited islands first arose last month when Adhil Saleem, state minister for economic development, confirmed that the new Holiday Inn in the capital Male’ had applied for a liquor licence.

Following media reports of the application for a permit, the religious conservative Adhaalath Party, a member of the coalition government, and NGOs appealed to the government to forbid the sale of alcohol on inhabited islands.

Speaking to Minivan News, Mauroof Zakir, vice president of Tourism Employees’ Association Maldives, said the organisation would be supporting other NGOs in taking action against the decision.

“This is a 100 per cent Muslim country…If they start on the 15th of this month, we will definitely have to go for a nationwide peaceful protest,” he said.

“We already have a big problem with drugs so we can imagine that if we allow alcohol on inhabited islands we can say definitely it will become the same issue,” he added.

Zakir said resort employees already had access to alcohol and its sale in hotels on inhabited islands would make it even easier to obtain alcohol.

He further pointed to the problems caused by alcohol in other countries such as binge-drinking by youth in the UK.

“We don’t want to open the door for another drug. Definitely we will not be quiet,” he said, adding those concerned were considering filing a case at court as the regulations contravened article 10 of the constitution.

Article 10(b) stipulates that no law contrary to any tenet of Islam shall be enacted in the country.

Zakir added there was currently a bill in parliament and the government should have waited to see the outcome before implementing the regulations.

Fares-Maathoda MP Ibrahim Muttalib submitted a bill to parliament last month to ensure alcohol was not sold in hotels and guesthouses on inhabited islands.

The introduction of the bill states that it was proposed because the “plague of drugs” was worsening, the amount of alcohol seized in inhabited islands was increasing and there were an increasing number of reports about giving liquor permits to guest houses, hotels and airports.

“This bill is proposed to close off legal avenues as there is a chance that the government could change the legal framework in a change of policy to authorise sale of alcohol and as a measure to stop the easy availability of alcohol to Maldivians in places their frequent,” it reads.

If the bill is passed, the sale of alcohol in inhabited islands, airports and uninhabited islands leased for purposes other than tourism will be forbidden.

If passed, those in violation of the law will be either sentenced to one to three years in jail or fined between Rf12,000 (US$944) and Rf36,000 (US$2,800).

Further, permits issued prior to the ratification of the law be invalidated. The law will come into effect once it is passed and published in the government gazette.

An official from the ministry of economic development has said a press release will be issued shortly.


Fifth confirmed case of swine flu

A Maldivian man tested positive for swine flu today making him the fifth confirmed case in the country to date.

The 28-year-old returned to Male’ from Sri Lanka on Monday and will now be quarantined on Hulhule’ island for seven days.

Another man, a Japanese tourist, is also currently in the facility. The 26-year-old tested positive for swine flu at the ADK hospital after arriving in the country from a Sri Lankan airline flight earlier this week.

“Since swine flu is still spreading in countries that Maldivians usually travel to, the ministry urges all travellers to take precautionary measures and seek information about the countries,” a press release from the ministry of the health said today.

Symptoms of the disease include a running nose, cough, fever, sneezing and shortness of breath.

At a press conference in July, Ahmed Solih, permanent secretary at the tourism ministry, said it was likely that tourist arrivals would drop because of swine flu.

He said it was important to provide information to tourists to reassure them the Maldives was prepared for a pandemic.

“What is important is their trust,” he said. “The work in the resorts, airlines and airport is being done jointly with our ministry.”

According to the latest statistics from the World Health Organisation, there have been more than 375,000 laboratory confirmed cases of the influenza and more than 4,500 deaths.

The organisation notes that as many countries have stopped counting indiviual cases, particularly of milder illness, the case count is significantly lower than the actual number of cases that have occurred.

In July, the WHO said the H1N1 virus could infect two billion people over the next two years.

The health ministry asks all those with symptoms of flu and common cold to contact the national emergency operation centre at 3304829.


Friday afternoons at the market

On soporific Friday afternoons, when most Maldivians gather for a family meal, a street corner in Male’ starts filling up with people. The sun is high in the sky when the beggars start taking up their positions on flattened cardboard boxes and polystyrene containers. In the shade near the fruit and vegetable market, they sit patiently, leaning against a flaking blue wall.

Abdul Raheem, 54, comes by with a wad of five rufiyaa bills. Jovial and smiling, he chats with the beggars. He has handed out money for the last 15 years. “I do it as charity,” he says. Other benefactors, mostly men, follow in rapid succession, dishing out notes of varying denominations. Friday is the most rewarding day of the week for beggars when the usual daily income of Rf30 (US$2) jumps to Rf200 (US$16).


There seems to be an almost equal mix of women and men among the 23 beggars. Like Khadeeja Adam, 48, most look older than their age. “I was a dancer in the 70s, my stage name was Shiranee,” she tells me. She used to live in Villingili but a spot in the vegetable market has been her sleeping quarters for the past six months. A divorced daughter with six children who live in rented accommodation are her only kin. “She is too hard up to help me,” says Shiranee with a goofy toothless grin.

Aminath Nafeesa Adam, 34, gives boredom as her reason for attending the weekly gathering. “It’s a month since I moved to Male’ to be with my relatives and am alone at home mostly.” But as she speaks some of the other beggars interject, telling her to be honest and admit her motivation is money. One man even reminds her that she is “sinning by lying”.

A goofy-grinned Shiranee
A goofy-grinned Shiranee

Another of the beggars stands out among the rest. Aminath Abdul Rahman, 46, looks every inch the businesswoman she aspires to be in her dark blue velvet outfit, matching blue headscarf and dazzling gold and white handbag. “I only come here during Ramadan and the weekend,” she explains, adding she moved from Noonu atoll three months ago in search of employment. “On my second day here, I went to the municipality and applied for permission to have a coconut cart,” she says. Aminath insists she will stop begging as soon as she finds work.

Most of the men shy away from speaking, some of them getting up and walking away. Two men, Ali Musthafa, who is unsure of his age, and Ibrahim Yoosuf, 70, agree to talk. Both receive the monthly allowance of Rf2,000 (US$56) given to those over 65. Ali says he came from Addu atoll to Male’ during Ramadan to have a tooth extracted. He too does not have any close relatives. “My three children and three wives are dead,” he says. Ibrahim sits in a yellow wheelchair, a victim of leprosy at the age of 14. “I hope that this government will give poor people the chance to live a better life,” he says.

He describes how his house in Guraidhoo was destroyed during the tsunami and its reconstruction was not completed by the former government. “The allowance is insufficient,” he tells me. “A fish costs around Rf100.” But, Ibrahim says, he has spoken to the president who has assured him the matter will be looked into.

Occasionally scuffles break out between newcomers and veteran beggars. 40-year-old Aminath Hassan, a stern-faced woman,

Bored: Nafeesa
Bored: Nafeesa

says that when she first turned up, she was punched and promptly informed there was no more room. Yet she says she will persist: “I will come here until I get a job; I have children to feed.”


As I interview, a crowd of onlookers gather around and sceptical exclamations can be heard. One spectator, 30-year-old Solih Shiyam refuses to believe the beggars are destitute. “This government takes care of the poor,” he says. He points to the allowance for those over 65 as well as the introduction of universal healthcare. “Even the previous government gave Rf500 (US$39),” he says. “There are people here who earn enough to live on.” Ahmed Adam, 52, who runs a nearby shop agrees. While he says the beggars are not an inconvenience, he has never given them a single laari as he too believes most are not impoverished.

Seated in their spots at beggars' corner
Seated in their spots at beggars' corner

Director General of Male’ Municipality Abdul Hameed Ali is of a similar opinion. He says some employees at the municipality have been known to beg. “People even take the ferry and come from nearby islands like Guraidhoo to beg on the weekends,” he says. Under the previous government the municipality was entrusted with the task of talking to and counselling beggars, which led to a reduction in numbers, he adds.

Their care has now been conferred to the National Social Protection Agency (NSPA). Mohamed Ismail Fulhu, director general of the NSPA, says the government provides Rf1,000 (US$78) to those who cannot meet their basic needs. Currently, the number of people receiving benefits is 686. Ismail thinks few are truly needy and alludes to Naasira, a well-known miser and beggar who purportedly has thousands stashed away in a bank. While the jury is out on whether Maldivians who beg do so out of necessity, in recent years, the consensus is that more and more people are gathering at the now well-established corner of the capital to hold out their hands.


Maldives through the eyes of the artist

If you have missed out on any exhibitions at the National Art Gallery (NAG), this is the time to catch up. To mark the occasion of World Tourism Day, the ministry of tourism in collaboration with NAG is holding a month-long exhibition titled “Maldives Art”.

A potpourri of work from different exhibitions held this year such as Maldives Contemporary 2009, Whimsical Poetry and Jaisalmer Yellow, is on display. This makes for an interesting display of Maldivian life in a variety of styles. Samah Ahmed’s oil painting from the Blue series transported me back to my childhood when I would float down to the bottom of a lagoon and look up at the shimmering blue waters above.

“We want to show that visual culture and tourism is very much related like the souvenir industry,” says Mamduh Waheed, deputy minister of tourism, arts and culture, explaining why the art exhibition has been included among the activities to mark World Tourism Day. “There is a huge potential for this. We also want to explore the idea of how identities are formed through images and craft.”

Mamduh believes that this is an “opaque” segment within the tourism industry at the moment. “We are not only talking about art, as in fine arts and painting, we would also like to encourage more Maldivians to take up other fields, like crafts and performing arts,” he says.

Browsing through the paintings and you realise that the picture perfect postcards scenes most commonly associated with the Maldives are depicted alongside others, which are not so visible to the average tourist.

Psycehedlic: Bandiya Dance
Psycehedlic: Bandiya Dance

In Ibrahim Rasheed’s watercolour, “Mending the net”, an old man is patching up his fish net, his brow furrowed in painstaking concentration while ‘Deep Mistic’, with its hues of green and yellow, lends a mystic quality to the kulhi (lake) and its surrounding mangroves.

Ali Ishaan’s (Raape) ‘Sun, Sea, Sand’ as the name suggests is the quintessential tourist brochure image that lures hundreds of thousands of tourists to the Maldives every year. The beach stretches out endlessly while a couple stands on the water’s edge, the different shades of blue capturing the colours of the sea. A sailboat on the horizon completes this languorous scene. Raape says tourists dislike abstract paintings. “The colours I have painted are the ones tourists want to see,” he says. Raape works in the souvenir trade, producing artwork for tourist consumption. “Tourists come here for the sun, sea and sand. They’re not interested in seeing weird artistic images that come from the mind of an artist,” he says. He relates an anecdote about an artist who had angered a group of tourists after drawing a scene of a girl with a rope around her neck.

Apart from the ubiquitous blue, Raape says tourists are fond of the various colours of a sunset. “Those are the colours and shades I stick to when I do paintings for tourists,” he says. He says he feels his paintings must correlate with a visitor’s blissful state of mind when holidaying in the Maldives.

Mixed in with the feel-good paintings are others that provoke thought. Hassan Ziyad’s Tsunami is one such painting. It shows a house, partially

Wrecked: Tsunami
Wrecked: Tsunami

destroyed, its outer wall lying in pieces. A window still intact shows a vista beyond the destruction.

All of the paintings on display apart from ‘Sun, Sea and Sand’ are from the national gallery’s permanent collection. Curator Ahmed Naeem says the gallery has a budget to buy paintings every year. “We take certain things into consideration, like how long the artist has worked and what type of work it is when we choose paintings,” he says.

Some of the pieces have been commissioned, like Eagan M Badeeu’s triptych – an artwork that consists of three adjacent paintings. Reminiscent of island life some time ago, it is aptly titled, ‘Goathi’ (courtyard). Two women sit near the outdoor kitchen cutting fruit. Chicken roam freely in the courtyard and children play nearby. The low outer wall of the house is visible in the background with several crows perched delicately atop and a man walking by behind. Complete with the libaas (traditional dress), the scene has been captured by Eagan’s brushstrokes to perfection.

Despite the beauty of the paintings, artists like Raape say Maldivian artists face limitations in their creativity. “For example, in the Maldives it would be impossible to create a six-feet art piece with lacquer work as we wouldn’t have the necessary items available,” he says. He believes the workshops held by foreign artists at the national gallery do not amount to much as it is impossible to find the necessary materials to put into practice what was learnt. “We have to import what we need for art work,” he says. Knowing the constraints faced by Maldivian artists, the artwork on display seems like even more of an achievement.

Maldives Art will be held at the National Art Gallery from 10am to 4pm, Sunday to Thursday until 30 October.


Police investigating reports of illegal under-age marriage

Police raided a house on Laamu atoll Fonadhoo today following reports of an illegal marriage involving a girl around nine years of age.

Sergeant Ahmed Shiyam confirmed the police raid but said he was unable to provide further details at this stage of the investigation.

Speaking to Minivan News today, Fathimath Yumna, director of the department of gender, said the ministry of health and family had also been unable to confirm reports about the illegal marriage.

While the national age of marriage is 18 in the Maldives, as a Muslim country, girls under this age can marry with the permission of their parents and state consent.

Yumna said if a minor wished to marry, the ministry would undertake an assessment to ensure the physical and mental well-being of the child. But, she added most applications were from girls aged 16 to 18.

“It’s a minority of religious groups but they are coming up presently,” she said. “We do have such issues and we are trying to raise awareness.”

She said the alleged marriage had not been registered with the courts and if reports were true, the girl may have married in a private ceremony.

Fonadhoo Island Chief Ahmed Yousuf said the office had not received an official report about the marriage, but he had heard rumours about a man on the island with “extremist” views wedded to a young girl.

“The man was a former magistrate who quit the government saying its revenue was haram because of alcohol and pork. He was also involved in the Himandhoo incident,” he said.

Himandhoo became notorious as a hotbed of extremism after video footage shot in an illegal mosque on the island was found on an al-Qaeda internet forum in 2007.

The  same year, the island was in the media spotlight after locals armed with home-made weapons clashed with over 200 riot police searching for two suspects in the Sultan Park bombing.

Yousuf added the man did not send his children to school or allow them to pray at any of the island’s mosques.

Last week, President Mohamed Nasheed called for an investigation into reports about under-age concubines being kept by religious extremists in the Maldives.

While police, the Human Rights Commission Maldives and the ministry of health had all received several reports of under-age girls being used for sex, none have been able to confirm the identities of those involved.

According to the reports received by these institutions, a young girl taken to Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital by an older woman in July was discovered to have been sexually abused. When questioned, the woman said her husband had sex with the girl when she was menstruating.

Yumna said if the reports are confirmed, the ministry would strive to counter the religious beliefs behind concubinage in collaboration with the ministry of Islamic affairs.

Speaking to Minivan News last week, Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed said Islam prohibited the abuse of women. He added keeping concubines was part of Arab culture which was eradicated with the advent of Islam.