Maldivians should have the self-belief and resolve not to have “our faith shaken by listening to statements or opinions expressed by others”, President Mohamed Nasheed said at a function to confer national awards of honour and recognition on Sunday night.
Nasheed’s remarks followed controversy in the wake of statements made by visiting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, who called for a moratorium and public debate on flogging as a punishment for fornication. Pillay’s statements were widely condemned as an unconstitutional challenge to a Quranic injunction and prompted protests outside the UN building.
“To build a nation, we should all have the courage, the patience and the willingness to exercise our minds to its deepest and broadest extent,” Nasheed said.
Sunday night’s winners of the national awards for honour and recognition were “perfect examples of the strength of one’s faith,” he added.
Recipients of the national award for recognition included Professor Hassan Ugail, a mathematician and computer scientist at the School of Informatics, University of Bradford.
“We should have the courage to be able to listen to and digest what people tell us, what we hear and what we see,” said Nasheed, adding that Maldivians should not be “so easily swayed and conned”.
“For that not to happen, we have to foster in our hearts a particular kind of national spirit and passion,” he continued. “This national spirit is not going to come into being by not listening, not talking and hiding things, [but] by clearly and transparently saying what we think in our hearts, discussing its merits among us and making decisions based on [those debates].”
To achieve nationhood and progress, said Nasheed, a country needs more than development of its infrastructure.
“It is the individual who has to be developed -development is something that happens to a person, a change that happens with the individual,” he said.
Recognising outstanding achievements by individuals and holding them up as role models to the public was a duty of the state, Nasheed said.
He expressed particular gratitude to former Attorney General and human rights lawyer Husnu Suood for legal representation and advocacy on behalf of a number of citizens “during a very dark time” and made note of Professor Ugail’s academic achievements.
Meanwhile in parliament yesterday, MP Dr Afrashim Ali, a religious scholar and member of the Progressive Party of Maldives’ (PPM) interim council, proposed a motion without notice to debate Pillay’s address on Thursday as “sufficient measures have not been taken by any state institution regarding this case” and if debate was allowed on any tenet of Islam “tomorrow it is likely that people will question worshiping Almighty God and open the space for discussion on it”.
The floor was opened for a debate on the motion with 41 MPs voting in favour. Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Ibrahim Rasheed cast the only dissenting vote.
Afrashim noted that under article 27 of the constitution the right to free expression must be exercised “in a manner that is not contrary to any tenet of Islam.”
It was therefore “an indisputable truth that neither Pillay nor anyone else should be given permission to speak or express views contrary to the tenets of Islam within the territory of the Maldives,” he said.
Afrashim argued that Pillay’s remarks constituted a crime under the Religious Unity Act of 1994 and carried a prison term of between two to five years.
Addressing criticism for his role in Thursday’s event, Shahid informed MPs that he did not know of the contents of Pillay’s address in advance and that Dhivehi translations distributed to MPs after the speech were prepared by the UN.
Several MPs however called on the Speaker to issue a public apology.
Afrashim insisted that parliament should have made a public statement condemning the remarks and advised MPs that it was “in the best interest of the nation at this point” to formulate laws banning irreligious speech.
MDP MP ‘Colonel’ Mohamed Nasheed reproached Afrashim for “calling other MPs kafirs (unbelievers)” and “sowing discord for political purposes.”
MPs of the ruling party met the Speaker to express concern after Pillay’s speech, Colonel said, contending that MPs in attendance should not be blamed for her words.
MDP has condemned the remarks and “would not allow a religion other than Islam on this soil,” he said.
Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali meanwhile joined the chorus of condemnation and concurred that her statements were “unacceptable” and “in violation of the constitution.”
“Yesterday they put up idols, today they talked about religious punishments, tomorrow we’ll be talking about homosexuality and gay marriage the next day. These are things that could happen in a series,” warned Fares-Maathoda MP Ibrahim Muttalib, who recently signed with the Adhaalath Party.
MP Gasim Ibrahim, leader of the Jumhooree Party, claimed Pillay’s remarks were part of the government’s serial efforts to introduce other religions, “build idol temples and weaken our Islamic faith.”
Gasim added that he would have put a stop to Pillay’s address if he had attended Thursday’s function in parliament.
PPM Spokesperson MP Ahmed Mahlouf said the MDP government’s anti-Islamic agenda was evident through such actions as authorising restaurants to serve expatriates during Ramadan, allowing the sale of alcohol at the airport departure terminal and proposing to make Islam and Dhivehi optional subjects at A’ Levels.
“A Muslim said in public for the time in the Maldives that he was not a Muslim,” said Mahlouf. “We believe these things are connected to President Nasheed because he hasn’t come out and directly said anything about it.”
He urged the public to join the protest planned by the NGO coalition for December 23 and “directly overthrow this government.”