Crowds of protesters gathered in front of the UN building on Friday, protesting against the movie “Innocence of Muslims”, perceived as offensive to the Prophet Mohamed.
Similar protests have erupted across the Arab world following the release of video offensive to Muslims on the the video-sharing website, YouTube. The UK’s Guardian newspaper reported that the video was promoted by radical Islamophobic Christians in the US and then broadcast in Egypt by Islamic activists.
Protests have occurred in Iraq, Iran, Bahrain, Afghanistan, Yemen, Egypt, Jerusalem and the West Bank, Kashmir, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Nigerian city of Jos. The most serious incident was in Libya, where demonstrators killed US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three embassy employees by firing a rocket-propelled grenade at their car. British and German embassies have also been attacked.
On Friday in Male’, a leaflet was distributed inviting persons to the protest at 4:00pm, titled “In Protection of Prophet Mohamed”. The leaflet did not specify who the organisers of the protest were.
Police had cordoned off the area ahead of the time, and protesters initially gathered opposite Billabong International School. Placards were mostly in English, and had a range of messages expressing their anger against the movie and the US in general.
Some of the placards in the front row read: “Behead those who insult our Prophet”, “Our prophet is dearest to us than our mother”, “May Allah curse America”, and “Maldives: Future graveyard of Americans and Jews”.
In less than an hour protesters broke through police barricades, shoving police away angrily and approached the UN headquarters. The few police officers present cleared the entrance of the building, but let protesters remain right in front of it.
Female protesters remained at the far end of the road, near the Billabong school.
A US flag was set on fire, with protesters surrounding it chanting “Allah Akbar”. A number of speeches were made, accompanied with chants. Some of the most repeated chants include asking President Waheed to return America’s US$20,000 contribution to restore the historical Buddhist artifacts in the museum, which were destroyed by a mob of vandals during February’s political turmoil. Some protesters stated loudly that if the idols were restored, they would promptly destroy them again.
At one point, protesters demanded the resignation of Minister of Islamic Affairs, Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed.
A lecturer at the Maldives University, Sheikh Mohamed Thoyyib, was given protection by the police after his speech asking protesters to show patience and compassion like the Prophet enraged some of the people gathered there.
Young children accompanied some of the protesters, with some children and their parents holding toy guns in their hands.
The protest was adjourned in time for maghrib prayers, at around 6:30pm.
The Ministry of Islamic Affairs released a statement on Thursday condemning the movie. It stated that the enemies of Islam had always used tools of the times to insult the Prophet, but that such efforts would not at all harm the character of the Prophet, as he was held in high regard all over the world. The statement called on people to show restraint and to offer prayers for the Prophet.
The Islamic Foundation of the Maldives also issued a press release today, stating that “Countless numbers of Muslims all around the world intensely revere the person of Mohamed, in fact they revere him more than their own lives, and therefore it is extremely offensive for them to defame Prophet Mohamed (PBUH).”
The Maldives’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs has meanwhile officially condemned the attacks on the US Embassy in Cairo and the US Consulate in Benghazi.
In a series of Tweets last night, the Maldives’ Islamic Adhaalath Party (AP) condemned the video, whilst urging Muslims not to resort to violence.
“AP strongly condemns the anti Islamic video ‘Innocence of Muslims’ which is highly provocative and highly insulting to Muslims,” said the party, before adding, “Islam forbids resorting to violence against innocents. We should not attack our foreign guests and/or foreign diplomatic offices.”
The protests come at the end of a week that has seen two visits from to the Maldives from both the US Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Michele J. Sison, and US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake.
Local media reported that threats were made against Sison during the protest.
There were also reports that the crowd had issued warnings against Commonwealth Special Envoy Sir Donald McKinnon who also visited the country this week to discuss the recently completed Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) with leading politicians.