A coalition of human rights NGOs have issued a statement noting “with concern and regret” that certain preachers “have recently begun to portray Islam as a religion that demeans women and children.”
“Religious sermons that portray and speak of women as people who exist simply to gratify the sexual desires of men, on earth and in paradise, fail to take into consideration the respect and honour granted to women in Islam,” the NGOs claimed.
“We believe that the message perpetuated through sermons that the purpose of achieving paradise is to engage in sexual acts forbidden on earth, and to enjoy pleasures forbidden on earth, is the work of some people to impress upon the public that Islam is a backward religion.”
The NGOs’ statement, signed by the Maldivian Detainee Network, Transparency Maldives, Rights for All, Maldives Aid, Madulu, Democracy House and Strength of Society, claimed that “all Abrahamic religions uphold the dignity and respect of all human beings, and Islam in particular provided protection and safety for women and children who were being abused in Arab societies, [that were] entrenched in the ignorance of dark ages.
“Hence, to render commonplace the perverse thinking and ignorant practices of those days in the name of Islam would be to facilitate similar ignorance and malice.”
The NGOs criticised the Ministry of Islamic Affairs “for not working in their full capacity to regulate or halt the views and acts propagated by those who endorse extreme views,” and requested that government play its “important role” in countering these types of views “propagated in the name of Islam.”
The statement comes after President Mohamed Nasheed was heavily criticised by the religiously conservative Adhaalath Party for “trying to convey irreligious views to the beloved Muslim citizens of the Maldives” during his weekly radio address.
In his address, the President noted that “a large number of young women and young men are requesting that the government obstruct and stop these things from happening.”
“We have freedom of expression; if you are unhappy with views expressed by one group, in my mind the intelligent thing to do is for another group to express the contrary view, a second opinion, or alternative views,” he said. “People can then choose the path they believe.”
However a statement from the Adhaalath party said that the president’s remarks about giving public space to views opposed to the tenets and commandments of Islam were tantamount “to a call for allowing them.”
“In this 100 per cent Islamic country, for the president to call for views opposed to Islam is something that the Adhaalath party is extremely concerned about,” the party said.
“People should only talk about Islam with full religious knowledge. Talking about religious tenets and judgments without proper knowledge is prohibited in Islam.”
The Adhaalath party called on the president to “not be swayed by those who believe irreligious philosophies or the anti-Islamic rhetoric of those opposed to Islam, and not to give opportunity for any religion other than Islam in this country.”
In his opening address to the Maldives Donor Conference 2010, President Nasheed revealed he had “often been criticised by liberal Maldivians because I refuse to censor religious groups.”
“My point is this: the ends do not justify the means,” he told the donors. “People with broader viewpoints must become more active, to create a tolerant society.”
The president revealed that a group of 32 concerned young people had recently visited him, “furious about the rise in extremism.”
“To my mind, these are just the sort of people who need to reclaim civil society, if they want to foster a more open-minded society,” Nasheed said. “Liberally-minded Maldivians must organise and reclaim civil society if they want to win this battle of ideas.”
Sheikh Abdulla Jameel told Minivan News today that when giving a sermon, “we have to tell it as it is.”
”Whether people like it or not, we can’t add or remove anything,” he said. “Nobody can change something stated in the Qur’an, and in the Qur’an it says that no one can [challenge] the orders of God or the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH).”
The Ministry of Islamic Affairs declined to comment in the absence of Minister Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari, who is currently visiting Saudi Arabia, and State Minister Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed, who is in the United States.
Local Islamic NGO Jamiyathul Salaf also did not respond to Minivan News’ enquiries at time of press.
Politics and religion
The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) issued a statement yesterday in support of the President, condemning the Adhaalath party for “using religion as a [political] weapon”.
“For the Adhaalath party to falsely accuse the president after remaining silent when the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) obstructed and stopped a religious sermon organised by MDP last Thursday night, 25 March 2010, causing a disturbance and spilling the blood of many Maldivian citizens, casts doubt on their intentions,” the party said.
The MDP acknowledged that Article 1 of the Religious Unity Act, stating that Maldivian citizens are followers of Islam, belonging to the same sect and sharing one nationality, was “essential for protecting Maldivian independence and sovereignty and ensuring peace and security”, and that promoting religious unity among Maldivians “is obligatory upon both the government and the people.”
Regarding the President’s comments in his radio address and speech at the donor conference, “the party believes that [the president’s] intention was to share some people’s opinions with the public and give an opportunity for religious scholars to clarify the issue.”
Instead of addressing the opinions expressed by the young people who visited the President, the MDP said, “the Adhaalath party falsely accused the President of expressing views contrary to Islam and made political rivalry their main concern.”
The statement concluded by advising the Adhaalath party “to stop casting aspersions” on the president and “cease using religion as a tool to achieve political ends.”