The Ministry of Islamic Affairs has renewed its proposal for an ‘extremist rehabilitation centre’ to curb fundamentalism in the country.
The idea was first raised in a letter from the Islamic Ministry to the Home Affairs Ministry and the President’s Office in April 2009. According to the President’s Office Spokesman Mohamed Zuhair, joint consultations were held yesterday about how to best take the concept forward.
State Minister for Home Affairs Ahmed Adil explained that six prisoners involved in the Himandhoo case had been transferred to Dhoonidhoo prison for “rehabilitation by the Islamic Ministry.”
The Himandhoo islanders, who had been worshipping in their own mosque without the approval of the state, armed themselves and fought with police and military personnel in October 2007. The then-government claimed it was searching for evidence relating the Sultan Park bombing, which injured 12 tourists.
“The reintegration has been very successful, especially in the Himandhoo case,” Adil said. “It was a very big issue and there were a lot of problems at the time. Now the whole of Himandhoo has been cleaned.”
Himandhoo, explained State Minister of Islamic Affairs Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed, was “a very beautiful example” of the Ministry’s successful rehabilitation programme.
“The former government fought with [the extremists] and put them in jail,” Shaheem said. “Now we don’t fight. We deliver the right information [about Islam] through dialogue. We have a lot of programmes on television, radio, the Hukru Khuthuba (Friday sermon), and we send scholars to the islands.
“We tried our best to control [fundamentalism] in Himandhoo and now there is no problem [there]. All the people are praying in the [official] mosque, when just two years ago the government was fighting with them. Now the island is very good.”
The Islamic Ministry now wants to institutionalise the rehabilitation process as part of its work tackling extremism, he explained.
“We have suggested that the government establish a centre for special studies as a rehabilitation centre to fight [fundamentalists] ideologically,” Shaheem said. “This is an ideological problem, and we can solve this problem by having scholars give them the right information on Islam.”
The Ministry was especially concerned about several groups praying separately at mosques in Male’, Shaheem said, explaining that some had been delivering their own fatwas (religious edicts). However radicalisation in the country was in overall decline, he noted.
“At the moment I don’t believe there are people like Al-Queda [operating] in the county. But there a few groups who support their ideas. We can solve this by giving them the right ideas.”
Spokesman for the President’s Office Mohamed Zuhair agreed with Shaheem that the growth of radical groups had declined across the globe, “a trend I believe has affected the Maldives through better inclusion in society, increased security and a lack of persecution.”
Shaheem also noted that the Ministry’s Religious Unity Act, “which was sent to brother Attorney General Husnu Suood three months ago” and is due to be returned in 1-2 weeks, contained regulations governing the issuing of fatwas and scholars coming from outside the country to deliver sermons.
Most important, Shaheem said, was ensuring that the issuing of fatwas remained the duty of formal national bodies, such as the Fiqh academy and the Islamic Ministry.
“In my opinion, NGOs cannot give fatwas – this is very dangerous,” he said. “In the Islamic world you do not see any NGO’s giving fatwas, it is the duty of national formal body, such as a scholar’s council. [Moreover] one scholar cannot give fatwas for many things – he must share and discuss it with others.”
Minister of Home Affairs Mohamed Shihab observed that religious rehabilitation centres, such as the kind proposed by the Islamic Ministry, “are found in countries like Singapore, Malaysia and the UK as well.”
“There is a detailed programme,” he noted. “Rehabilitation through regilious education is done by the Islamic Ministry. Rehabilitation of drug users is handled by the Health Ministry, while the Home Ministry conducts a [criminal] rehabilitation programme through the DPRS.”
The government’s respect for the diversity of beliefs acceptable within the Islamic faith went as far as the Constitution, Shihab explained: “Extremist beliefs affect the rights of others as afforded by the Constitution. Then the State has to intervene and protect its citizens.”