Islamic ministry completes religious unity regulations

The Ministry of Islamic Affairs has unveiled sweeping new regulations governing religion in the Maldives, to be published in the government’s gazette and made law under the Religious Unity Act of 1994.

State Minister for Islamic Affairs Sheikh Shaheem Ali Saeed said the new regulations had been produced with the assistance of the Attorney General Husnu Suood and the Maldives Police Service, and would be instrumental in curbing extremist ideologies in the country.

“The Islamic Ministry and the Government of the Maldives strongly support international concern about terrorism,” Shaheem said. “This why at the Islamic Ministry we are doing our best to work together with groups like the MNDF to make sure our country is peaceful.”

Key to the new regulations is the creation of a board with representatives from the Islamic Ministry, the Education Ministry, the Maldives College of Higher Education, the Fiqh Academy, police, NGOs, Maldivian religious scholars and licensed lawyers.

“Their job is to give advice to the Islamic Ministry and the government about how to make religious policy in the Maldives, and how to control these ideas,” Shaheem explained.

“For example, if we want to cancel a scholar’s license, first we will submit the problem to the board and the board will investigate and determine if it should be cancelled. Previously if a minister or the President of the Supreme Islamic Council could just cancel it, and it’s not good to have all the powers in one hand. We need to share it with NGOs and especially the Maldives police, because they have a lot of intelligence about international problems.”

He said he wished to thank “the international community, the President’s Office, the Maldives Police Service and the Maldives National Defense Force for their assistance and input [with the new regulations].

Shaheem noted that the new rules would require private organisations or civil society associations to seek the ministry’s approval before organising sermons by foreign scholars, and added that it was particularly strict concerning the issuing of fatwas (religious edicts) by individuals.

“Individuals issuing fatwas can be very dangerous and increase the level of extremism and terrorism,” Shaheem said.

The new regulations would also restrict the content of public speeches, in that “when a scholar gives speech he must respect both men and women, and he has no right to encourage aggression.”

Such talks could no longer be broadcast or telecast, he said.

New regulations in depth

The stated purpose of the new rules and guidelines is to “protect and maintain the age-old religious unity among Maldivians, eliminate problems that arise in society because of differences of opinion among scholars on religious matters, ensure that information provided to the public on these issues of conflict does not lead to division and strife, provide the opportunity for religious scholars to raise awareness on religious issues among the public, institute an advisory board to the Ministry of Islamic affairs and designate its functions and responsibilities.”

Clause 4 states that the regulations shall be enforced by the Islamic Ministry and authorises the ministry to delegate enforcement of provisions to other parties, while remaining the country’s highest authority on issuing rulings on religious matters.

Moreover, the ministry shall be empowered to issue “official fatwas” concerning issues on which scholars disagree, based on the Qur’an, the Prophet’s Hadiths, consensus among scholars and after considering “the social traditions of the country.”

Under the regulations, the president shall institute an advisory board in consultation with the Islamic Ministry to offer counsel and assistance in enforcing the regulations, including advising the ministry on revoking or suspending licenses issued to religious scholars.

The board shall also advise the ministry on ordering the relevant government authority to take action against “threats to religious unity”, recommend changes to policy, laws and regulations.

The Islamic Ministry will determine the composition of the board and assume its secretariat post.

To be eligible for the board, members must have at least a bachelors degree in either Islamic studies or Shariah law from an institution or university accepted by the Maldives government, while one of the three Islamic Ministry representatives on the board shall be elected as the chair.

Once the regulations are enforced, the Islamic Ministry will issue licenses for religious scholars to preach and deliver sermons.

The criteria for issuing licenses requires that the scholar be a Sunni Muslim of 25 years of age with a degree in Islamic studies from an accredited University.

Moreover, scholars who have been convicted of either a crime with a punishment prescribed in the Quran or of corruption, bribery, sexual assault or a drug-related offence shall not be eligible.

For scholars without the requisite qualifications, the ministry can issue licenses based on the board’s recommendation and the scholars’ experience and contributions to religious knowledge.

Further, foreign scholars must be mindful of Maldivian culture and tradition in delivering sermons or providing counsel.

Meanwhile, the guidelines for issuing fatwas requires that it conform to the Sunni sect and should not be in conflict with the consensus of Islamic scholars. Fatwas can only be issued in line with the Fiqh academy of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC), the European Council for Fatwa and Research, the Egyptian Darul-Ifthaqil, Azhar University, the Maldives’ Islamic Fiqh academy, and the Rabiyathul Aaalamil Islamic Fiqh Academy.


Once the regulations are published in the government gazette, it will be illegal to promote personal views on matters where there is a difference of opinion among scholars.

Sermons should not contain language that “encourages violence” or could lead to “conflict, quarreling and antagonism among the people”.

Moreover, it will be illegal to either telecast or broadcast sermons that “encroaches on the rights of a person based on gender” in opposition to Islamic principles.

It will also be illegal to preach other religions, and disseminate information on “culture and traditions” of another religion in a way that could “engender admiration for it” or build places of worship for religions other than Islam.

Clause 30(d) states it will be illegal to preach a religion other than Islam “through any medium” or disseminate information on another religion in a way that could “draw people’s interest and attention”. Publication and distribution of religious literature translated into Dhivehi will be illegal.

The ministry will also be empowered to order the deportation foreigners “suspected with sufficient evidence” of preaching or proselytizing other religions.

However clause 22 of the regulation states that providing information about other religions for academic purposes, official research or lectures for the purpose of comparison with Islam will now not be illegal. Moreover, the protection and preservation of ancient relics would be exempt from the regulations.

It will remain illegal for licensed broadcasters to air programmes, advertisements or music that either “insult or denigrate Islam”, in line with article 27 of the constitution, which allows for free expression except where that expression contradicts the tenets of Islam. Clause 35(b) of the new regulations explicitly states that internet websites and blogs shall not be exempt from this.

“There are two sides to extremism,” Shaheem explained, “including the extreme irreligious side. Some people are saying their own opinions about the Qur’an and and our beloved Prophet’s (PBUH) sunnah; it is not allowed for anyone to say whatever he wants to.”

It will furthermore be illegal for local businesses or companies to make announcements or publish advertisements with content that is “contrary to Islamic codes of conduct or behaviour.”

Religious subjects may only be taught in the country with authorisation from the relevant government authority, which has to approve the curriculum and syllabus.

The regulations will also make independent or breakaway prayer congregations illegal and subject to police action.


55 thoughts on “Islamic ministry completes religious unity regulations”

  1. Ah, Shiru. You owe me an explanation why Shaheem is "pissed". But enough talk! I will cut up your arguments like I always do.

    Mr Adam Smith was probably referring to the golden age of Arabian Empire; which most people did not want to admit was a secularist empire. And the current "empire" the extremists wish to build here - by these regulations, we see that they want oppression, injustice and cruelty; and call it Islamic law.

    That ridiculous copypasta again?. Heh.

    Those numbers you gave pale into insignificance when compared to the massacre that extremist Christians carried out the world over. Genocide was, and will always be a monopoly of religion.

  2. Hameed, Understanding the five pillars of Islam isn't quite the daunting task as you have implied. The so called "experts" on religion are the one's who are the root of the problem.

    Now that's what i would call an IRONY!

  3. hameed,

    the relationship between doctors is that doctors can give advice. Same for lawyers. Or counsellors, electrician, architect , engineer or anyone. they give professional advice. BUT none of them has the right to force me to act on their advice. They cannot stop me from seeking alternative opinion. It is the equivalent of making doctors dictate what food we eat, what n how much exercise we do, whether we can smoke etc. Even if the food are harmful to me doctors also do not have the right to force me to follow their advice.

  4. Well said, Meekaku! (the comparison with a doctor's advice). Right to the point - give advice, but don't force!

  5. shiru,
    the regime of the communists countries caused so much damage is precisely because they abolished private property n destroyed the economic freedom of the people. Their leaders were intolerant n brutal towards people who wanted to live their lives as they saw fit. The result would be the same whether such policies were pursued by in the name of religion or not.

    U mention adam smith who was a champion of economic freedom n liberty in general. It is no surprise that he spoke in favour of the muslim rulers since they at the time were tolerant and people had large measure of economic n intellectual freedom. Muslim writers such as ibn rushd did influence a lot on the western liberal movements such as the enlightenment, which brought to the west religious n other essential freedoms that muslim already had centuries ago. It is precisely the large measure of intellectual n economic freedom that made every society in human history to progress. It is what made muslim far ahead of the west then. It is what makes the west far ahead of the current generation of muslims now.


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