The Youth Ministry has denied the Islamic Ministry use of the Maafaanu football ground for the sermons of visiting Islamic scholar Zakir Naik.
Minister for Youth Hassan Latheef said that the ground was a football stadium which was used by many young people every day, ”so it is very difficult to give that land.”
Latheef said that if the ground was given for the sermon then “others” will also start requesting use of the venue.
”That land cannot be given to do anything other than football,” Latheef said. ”If you take a look, you can see people playing everywhere, in the middle, sides and outside also.”
Latheef said that the Youth Ministry was now speaking with the Islamic Ministry to see if they would like to have the ‘Alimas’ Carnival Stage instead.
”We spoke with the Municipality council and they said the carnival stage was possible,” Latheef said, ”but the Islamic ministry said that land was not large enough.”
He said the Islamic Minister Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari had telephoned him while he was out of the country, ” and told me the Islamic Ministry was hosting a sermon by Zakir Naik and asked if the football ground was possible,” Latheef said. ”I said yes, let’s see whether it is possible.”
He said the Ministry has now received another request from a religious group requesting the Galolhu national stadium for a religious event.
State minister for Islamic Affairs Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed said that the Youth Ministry had recently told him that the football ground was available, but now denied it.
”Later they said it was a land only for entertainment purposes,” Shaheem said.
He said the Islamic Ministry was now searching for another venue to host the event and would announce it very soon, but he noted that the carnival stage was not big enough for the expected turnout. The Islamic Ministry has previously claimed that Naik’s visit will be the biggest event ever hosted in the Maldives.
”There are many challenges that we face,” Shaheem said, ”from many people and in many ways. I want to tell everyone that by God’s will we will host the event – everyone be patient and don’t commit any violence,” he said.
The Adhaalath party meanwhile expressed anger over the issue on their English language website, noting that the Islamic Ministry “has spent a large amount of money to print posters mentioning the stadium grounds as the venue.”
“The decision of the Youth Ministry not to give the stadium grounds for holding the lecture event will only add to the piles of questions about this government’s loyalty to the religion of this nation,” the party said, in a recent post.
“The pretext given was that they cannot do without the ball for one whole week. The youth who play there may not like it. What about the thousands of Maldivians who want the event to be held in the most spacious and suitable ground available? Don’t their feelings count?”
“The irony is that the majority of the people who will be attending Dr Zakir’s lecture will be youth,” the party said.
“Such blatant acts of obstruction to Islamic activities will only help in further plummeting the popularity of this government. It would appear that this is a ‘tit for tat’ by the secular minded people in the establishment because the Islamic Ministry and many citizens of this country criticised the Akon concert.
“What these people do not realize is that the people of Maldives are watching. Everyday their actions are exposing them for what they are: men who don’t care about the wishes of the vast majority of Maldivians. They continually forget that this is a Muslim country. They have very little, if any, loyalty to Islam and the nation.”
President of Adhaalath Party Sheikh Hussain Rasheed told Minivan News that the land “should be given equally to everyone.”
”The Youth Ministry just don’t like it because it is religious event,” Sheikh Rasheed claimed.
Sheikh Rasheed said that there would also be youths attending the event.
”I just want to thank the youth ministry for raising this as an issue and campaigning like this,” he said. ”Before we were expecting 10,000 people for the event, but now we are expecting 20,000.”
Speaking in a press conference on decentralisation today, President Mohamed Nasheed said the government would endeavour to provide a venue for the event, “and there is no doubt about that.”
“There is freedom of expression in this country and people should be able to express their viewpoints within the basic boundries of our law, so we have to find a venue for them,” he said.