The bill of amendments to the Religious Unity Act has been sent back to the Social Affairs Committee on Monday for further revision after a mere 16 out of 66 MPs in attendance voted for it to be passed.
Late MP Dr Afrasheem Ali, who was brutally murdered at the beginning of this month, had submitted the bill proposing a total of 11 amendments to the Religious Unity Act on June 7, 2010. The Social Affairs committee had completed its research into the bill on June 20, 2012.
The bill had been presented to the parliament floor for discussion on October 9, 2012. Members had submitted an additional 11 recommended amendments to the bill at that time, some of which were passed during Monday’s voting session.
The passed amendments include submissions by Adhaalath Party member and Fares-Mathoda MP Ibrahim Mutthalib. One of these amendments stated that only those who have been educated in a university approved by the qualification board or educated to a level deemed acceptable by the government could teach Islam in local schools. It also states that if a foreigner is to teach Islam, he has to be a Sunni Muslim.
Amendments prohibiting the establishment of prayer houses for any religion besides Islam; creating, selling or using anything depicting other religions, and seeking external assistance for spreading other religions were also passed.
Additionally, the amendment by Mavashu MP Abdul Azeez Jamaal AbuBakr of Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) stating that there should be no attempts to instill love for a religion other than Islam in the hearts of school children and that no lessons involving other religions should be included in the school curriculum, was also passed.
Among the amendments which were rejected were a proposition to replace the existing Fiqh Academy with a ‘Fatwa Centre (Lecture Centre) and a proposition to appoint imams for all mosques and place them under the direct authority of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs.
At Monday’s parliament session, 45 of the 63 members in attendance voted against passing the proposed Bill of Amendments to the Religious Unity Act, with two members abstaining from the vote.
Meanwhile, Kaashidhoo MP Abdulla Jabir expressed concerns regarding the act in Monday’s parliament session. He said that enforcing such “strict religious penalties’ were not suited to a country as small as the Maldives.
Jabir went on to say that “all ministries in this 100 percent Muslim country are Islamic Ministries”, adding that the ministry being controlled by Adhaalath Party was leading to religious issues getting politicised.
He added that although the Adhaalath Party was based on religious values, it was nonetheless a political party with political aspirations.
Speaking to Minivan News today, Jabir said “What I am repeatedly saying is that the Maldives is too small a country for the implementation of these issues highlighted in this bill.”
The Religious Unity Act has been in effect since 1994 and has been previously criticised as being against the spirit of the 2008 Constitution.
The Islamic Foundation of the Maldives had also filed a case in the High Court in February 2011, claiming that the Religious Unity Act of 1994 was inconsistent with the constitution of the Maldives and should be invalidated.
In September 2011, the then-government had brought into force Religious Unity Regulations, enforcing the existing Religious Unity Act, with a penalty of 2 to 5 years’ imprisonment for violation.