Minister of Islamic Affairs Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari has consulted with President Mohamed Nasheed on allegations that the government has cooperated with Christian missionaries in an effort “to wipe out Islam”.
“The President is now considering the best way forward,” said Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair. “He will either form an independent commission to address the issue, or allow the Islamic Minister to consult with his colleagues. The Islamic Minister will advise the President in the matter.”
The consultation is in keeping with the government’s commitment to share decisions of religious matters with Islamic scholars.
Speaking to local media today, Dr Bari said “The President called very late yesterday and said he would request the Ministry to look into the allegations to understand the truth.” At the time, Bari had not received a formal letter stating the request but said he would cooperate with the request upon receiving such a document.
The Minister and officials at the Islamic Ministry could not be reached at time of press.
Over the past week, members of minority opposition Dhivehi Quamee Party (DQP) Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed and ‘Sandhaanu’ Ahmed Ibrahim Didi have accused the government of cooperating with “Christian missionaries” and “Jewish parties” against the state religion of Islam- Didi claimed the President was “a madman and a Christian”- and of spreading undue fear with the claim that the islands are sinking.
Both men have been repeatedly summoned for police interrogations, prompting protests outside police headquarters and the Presidential Palace.
Speaking today with Minivan News, Zuhair called the allegations “a big lie that has been repeated since 2003, when Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) began to work abroad.”
He added that the claims were also raised in the run-up to the 2008 presidential election, in which currently ruling MDP won the election over the 30-year administration of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
“At that time Dr Hassan Saeed had made these allegations and the government carried out a full-scale, professional investigation in the United Kingdom. The ‘Operation Druid’ found no substance to any of the allegations. There was no evidence of any contact with Christian missionaries or priests. So it is surprising that members of Saeed’s party are again repeating these allegations,” Zuhair observed.
In 2007, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s government contracted UK security and private investigation firm Sion Resources for a surveillance operation dubbed ‘Operation Druid’. According to the former Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed, Gayoom “had concerns” about the origins of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), exiles from which had fled to Salisbury where they had been sheltered by Nasheed’s high school alumni, David Hardingham.
Hardingham, founder of the Friends of Maldives NGO, and Sarah Mahir had previously ambushed Gayoom in the UN building in Geneva in May 2005, accusing him of complicity in human rights abuses.
“I think Gayoom was quite shaken by that, and afterwards he was not as complacent over the security given to him by his hosts, be that by the UK or UN,” Dr Shaheed told Minivan News, in an interview in June 2011.
Subsequently, “The government may have wanted to see what was going on [in Salisbury],” Dr Shaheed said.
“What these operations did was try to see who was who. And a lot of the operations the government felt were against it came from Salisbury, and I think the government of the day felt justified in engaging a firm to look into what was going on,” he said. “They felt they needed to check on that, and what came out was a clean bill of health. Nothing untoward was happening, and these people were by and large bone-fide.”
Back in the Maldives, Gayoom’s government released a leaflet accusing Hardingham and Salisbury Cathedral of conspiring to blow up the Islamic Centre and build a church.
“It was just a mischievous suggestion, a very mischievous suggestion,” Dr Shaheed acknowledged. “At the time everyone was accusing each other of being non-Muslim, and this accusation that the MDP was non-Muslim was getting very loud.
“There is this very, very deep reaction to anything un-Islamic in this country, and you can use Islam as a political tool quite easily. Therefore these allegations become political charges.”
Former Conservative Party MP for Salisbury, Robert Key, who had been instrumental in getting Nasheed an audience in British parliament, told Minivan News in February 2011 that Salisbury Cathedral had taken the accusation “at face value” .
“It was not true, and therefore we had to say ‘It is not true,'” he said. “The Dean of Salisbury Cathedral understood the issue, she took it at face value, and we sought security advice as necessary. But it was never a serious threat. It was a juvenile political ploy.”
For his part, Hardingham has dismissed the allegations that he is a Christian missionary as “absolute nonsense – I have never been a priest or anything associated with any church, and I challenge the people making the allegations to provide a shred of evidence to support their case.
“I was refused entry into the Maldives in April 2005. Government spokesperson at the time, Mohamed Hussein ‘Mundhu’ Shareef, told Associated Press that this was due to my involvement with an Islamic extremist group. So I have been accused of being an Islamic extremist and a Christian missionary – probably the fastest and most radical conversion in history.”
Government respects religion
Citing the Maldives’ commitment to be an Islamic state, Zuhair today pointed out that it was the government’s public responsibility to clarify that the allegations against it were baseless.
“Not only do these statements refer to the government, they also refer to our members and supporters and their respect for our religion”, he said, adding that the allegations involving Jewish parties came close to anti-Semitism – “and we don’t want to spread that image.”
In its efforts to staunch DQP’s “hate speech”, the government has drawn criticism from main opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) and Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) for “suppression of the constitutional right to free expression”.
Speaking previously at a press conference held in response to the allegations, which were broadcast on DhiTV news on January 8, Zuhair called “spreading baseless and demonstrably false claims” about the government a “criminal offence”, and the coverage of demonstrably false allegations of foreign religious influence a “violation of journalism ethics”–statements which drew prompt criticism from media associations and opposition parties.
“The government will not allow anybody to be influenced by the crime of incitement,” Zuhair clarified today, explaining that the opposition had put the media in a position of defending the general freedom of expression in order to promote their own agenda.
“It is very easy for any Maldivian or journalist to find out about the Druid operation or to see if we have been accepting payments from a Christian priest. Ask us. What is surprising is that this story has been going on for a week and yet none of the media have found out or reported what the grounds for the allegations are,” Zuhair said. “It’s part of journalistic integrity to at least get the five W’s right: who, what, where, when and why. Why are they being fooled?”
According to Zuhair, the findings of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs and the court will be necessary to resolve the matter.
The matter continues to be investigated by the police, who have now summoned Didi and Jameel for four consecutive nights. Meanwhile, a protest supporting the freedom of expression has been scheduled for the Artificial Beach this evening.