Men and women of various ages marched through the streets of Male’ yesterday (April 19), calling for Islamic Sharia to be fully implemented in the Maldives.
Yesterday’s march, which organisers claimed had no political backing, was said to have been led by a group of young people calling for Sharia to be fully implemented to protect the Maldives from “calamities” that it is presently facing, according to local media.
However, one local religious NGO has argued that Maldivian society was not presently ready to undergo such radical reforms to the nation’s legal system, arguing that any changes would need to be made gradually over a long period of time.
Commencing yesterday at 4:30pm by the social centre in the capital, the pro-Sharia march concluded just before 6:00pm at the artificial beach area.
A small number of demonstrators were in attendance, reported the Sun Online news website. Organisers have pledged that further pro-Sharia marches were anticipated in future.
Minister of Islamic Affairs Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed and State Islamic Minister Mohamed Didi were not responding to calls at the time of press.
Co-founder of the Islamic Foundation of Maldives (IFM) Ibrahim Nazim, speaking in a personal capacity, told Minivan News that he believed demonstrators may have been affiliated with fellow religious NGOs in the country.
Nazim said key figures behind the demonstration would have likely been religious conservatives, who in some cases may have held more “radical” views of Islam.
In addressing the key aims of the march, he added that from a personal perspective, Maldivian society was not presently an environment conducive for Islamic Sharia to be implemented outright.
Nazim argued that implementing Sharia law correctly would be a long process for the country. He took the example of other Islamic nations such as Pakistan that had sought to implement a complete adherence to Sharia law in a short period of time, resulting in power struggles and other political complications as a result.
“This is not something we can just implement overnight, we will require people to change their attitudes before we are ready for such a change,” he suggested. “It will be a long process for the country.”
When contacted about the implementation of Sharia in the Maldives, President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad today recommended Minivan News contact the Islamic Ministry over religious issues concerning the state.
“I think it would be best to speak to the Islamic Ministry on this,” Masood said.
Meanwhile, a senior figure serving within the current government of President Dr Mohamed Waheed – speaking on condition of anonymity – argued that any significant changes to the country’s faith would always have to be made gradually and could not be made in a short period of time.
The source argued that the previous government of former President Mohamed Nasheed – which claimed to favour what it called a “more moderate and tolerant” form of Islam – had attempted to bring changes to the country’s perception of faith and religious conservatism in too short a period of time.
While claiming to personally favour a “more tolerant” interpretation of Islam, the source argued that the resulting opposition to the former government’s religious stance had likely led to the controversial transfer of power that saw former President Nasheed resign on February 7, 2012. His resignation came on the back of a mutiny among sections of the police and military.
Islamic Sharia in the Maldives
Under article 142 of the Maldives’ Constitution, the judiciary is presently required to looked to turn to Islamic Sharia in any matters where the Constitution or the law is silent.
To this end, the country’s courts have in certain cases granted the death sentence to severe crimes such as murder, while also using punishments like flogging in certain sexual offence cases.
However, the acting Head of State under each of the last three governments has commuted death sentences to life sentences in every single case.
The last person to be judicially executed in the Maldives was Hakim Didi, who was executed by firing squad in 1953 after being found guilty of conspiracy to murder using black magic.
In December 2012, former Attorney General Azima Shukoor drafted a bill outlining how the death sentence should be executed in the Maldives as part of ongoing consultations on enacting such a punishment.
Lethal injection was identified as the state’s preferred method of capital punishment in the bill, while further consultations were being taken on possibly removing the serving Head of State’s right to commute death sentences upheld by the Supreme Court.
Earlier this year, the government of President Dr Mohamed Waheed had pledged to review the possibility of legal reforms to bring an end to the use of punishments like flogging in the country’s justice system.
Addressing the scale of these potential reforms, President’s Office Media Secretary Masood said last month that all authorities involved in the process would have to tread “a very fine line” in order to tackle long standing “traditions” and beliefs in the country.
“Reforms must be undertaken, but this must be done gradually considering we are dealing with a process embedded in society,” he said, discussing the government’s commitments to bring an end to sentences like flogging. “A certain amount of compromise may be needed.”
The wider Maldives legal system has itself been brought under the spotlight after former President Nasheed controversially detained the Criminal Court Chief Judge last year.
Nasheed’s government argued the decision was necessary as the judge in question had become a threat to “national security” after ordering investigations into his own alleged misconduct halted.
Nasheed is presently facing trial in the country over the abduction of the judge.
Following the commencement of the trial, Gabriela Knaul, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, earlier this year raised several concerns about the effectiveness of the wider Maldives legal system following a fact-finding mission.
Knaul stated back in February that upon conclusion of her mission meetings, she had found that the concept of independence of the judiciary has been “misconstrued and misinterpreted” by all actors, including the judiciary itself, in the Maldives.
Addendum: This article earlier attributed views of Co-founder of the Islamic Foundation of Maldives (IFM) Ibrahim Nazim to the organisation. He has subsequently clarified that his comments were made in a personal capacity.