Religious TV channel at centre of dispute

The Adhaalath party has accused the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) of opposing the Islamic ministry’s plans to establish a religious TV channel using Zakat funds for political reasons.

A strongly-worded press release issued on Sunday states that the Adhaalath Party welcomes religious scholars from political parties criticising policies to hold the government accountable.

“But the Adhaalath party will speak out against anyone who seeks to use religion as a weapon to conceal personal motives,” it reads.

It adds that the DRP press release was intended to deceive people and undermine Maldivians’ faith in Islam.

A press release by the DRP last week stated that, according to the Qur’an, the Zakat fund can only be spent on eight categories of people, including the destitute, the poor and needy, those who collect alms, those in debt, wayfarers, converts, to liberate slaves and to promote Allah’s cause.

While the DRP statement interpreted the last category as funds for supporting holy wars or jihad, the Islamic ministry has said it extends to the propagation of Islam.

Establishing a television channel, building mosques, paving roads or arranging funerals for the poor from Zakat funds was prohibited in Islam, it continued, calling on the government to halt its plans to use the funds to build prayer rooms in schools and set up a television channel.

Last month, Islamic Affairs Minister Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari said promoting the cause of Allah or Fi Sabeelillah did not only refer to jihad.

Bari said Rf2 million (US$156,000) was spent to establish an Islamic TV channel from the Zakat fund under the principle of Fi Sabeelillah.

“We did not say we are spending the Zakat fund allocated for poor and needy,” he said. “We decided to spend funds allocated for Fi Sabeelillah. We made the decision based on Fatwas issued by Islamic scholars.”

The Adhaalath Party press release refers to the Fiqh Sunnah of Sheikh Sayyid Sabiq, which states that Zakat funds can be used to pave roads, provide food and water and medical treatment for pilgrims.

Quoting the Fiqh Sunnah, it adds that the funds could be used to build military hospitals and finance social projects.

Further, Fi Sabeelillah includes training religious scholars to preach Islam and find converts in the manner of Christian missionaries as well as build religious learning centres.

The al-Azhar University in Egypt spends Zakat funds on pocket money for its students, the press release continues, adding that the DRP leader and his colleagues would have received this money when they were studying in Egypt.

“Therefore, if they are saying that Islam does not allow using these funds for a noble purpose, they are talking about some other religion,” it reads.

In the past, Zakat and welfare funds were misappropriated to spend on relatives and associates of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the Adhaalath party press release alleges.

It goes on to urge members of DRP to repent and “confess to their crimes before the people”.