Additional reporting by Neil Merrett.
President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan has hosted a special dinner in Male’ to honour Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, a renowned Indian national who is described on his official website “as a humanitarian leader, a spiritual leader and ambassador of peace”.
At an official dinner held Saturday evening, Waheed presented a plaque to Shankar in appreciation of his humanitarian work, although he is not thought to have conducted any activities in the country to date.
The government has informed local media that during the function, Waheed praised Shankar for advocating peace, noting the high importance at present for the people of the Maldives to also work in the spirit of unity and peace.
Speaking to Minivan News today, President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad said he had received no information whether Shankar would be conducting any projects in the Maldives.
“I know his organisation has some experience working in the areas of drug rehabilitation and social work,” he said, adding that the Gender Ministry would ultimately be responsible for any projects conducted in these areas should they go ahead.
Under Maldivian law, it is illegal for Maldivians to practice any faith other than Sunni Islam in the country. The public preaching of other faiths is also outlawed.
However, addressing Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s claims of being a spiritual leader, Masood said that any attempts to make the visit a religious matter would be blowing the situation “out of proportion”.
“He has visited over 154 countries including Iraq and Egypt. There is a potential to let [Shankar] go back and talk about the Maldives in a nice way. That would be good for us,” he said.
Masood added that with Shankar having a strong number of supporters, which includes film makers, there was also a chance that high profile productions could be shot in the Maldives, promoting the destination further around the world and creating strong publicity for the country.
“Personally I have no problem with him being here. He is a social worker. It all depends on how you view him,” he added.
Local media has meanwhile reported (Dhivehi) that the President of the religious Adhaalath Party, Sheikh Imran Abdulla, had said that President Waheed’s meeting with Shankar should not be seen as a problematic issue.
“A person meeting with another person is never a problem. It is what is said or done in these meetings that could become a problem,” Sheikh Imran said.
He added that efforts were currently being undertaken to find out the exact nature of discussions during the meeting between Dr Waheed and Shankar, as well as the justification in the president deciding to meet a man “who is aiming to spread Hinduism”.