The Ministry of Islamic Affairs has decided to hold a forum on Tuesday night (June 17) for local religious scholars to discuss Maldivians leaving to fight in the Syrian civil war.
Islamic Minister Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed revealed on social media yesterday that the ministry decided to consult scholars following inquiries and concern from the public regarding the issue of jihad.
“The ministry’s opinion will be shared with the public after consulting scholars. Insha Allah,” he tweeted.
Shaheem told local media that discussions at the forum – which will take place at the Islamic Centre – will focus on the question of jihad from a Shariah perspective.
Scholars are expected to determine whether fighting in Syria could be considered a religious obligation or jihad.
In May, an online media group called Bilad Al Sham Media (BASM) – ostensibly run by Maldivians in Syria – revealed that two Maldivians had been killed in the war-torn Arab nation.
While the first Maldivian was killed in a suicide attack, the group claimed a second Maldivian was killed shortly thereafter in a gunfight with soldiers loyal to Syrian President Bashar Al Assad.
Moreover, in October 2013, local media reported that two Maldivian men – aged 25 and 35 years – were apprehended from Ibrahim Nasir International Airport on suspicion that they were leaving to join the Syrian civil war.
The reported deaths of two Maldivian militants last month prompted investigations by both the Maldives Police Service (MPS) and the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF).
Responding to police attempts to locate the group last week, BASM stated in a Facebook post that they could be found at the Jabhat al-Nusra (al-Qaeda in Syria) base in Idlib, northwestern Syria.
“Now lets see whether they can bring us back,” read the post.
Islamic Minister Shaheem had previously stated that he personally did not believe it was right for “any Maldivian youth to join another country’s war in the name of Islam.”
Vice President of the Fiqh Academy Sheikh Iyaz Abdul Latheef meanwhile told Minivan News that the academy has no official view on the matter. Iyaz has however blogged about the issue in his personal capacity.
Writing on ‘MV Islam Q&A’ last month, Iyaz contended that it was unacceptable ‘jihad’ to fight in a war without seeking prior permission from the leader of the nation and from one’s parents.
He also said that another issue arising from such ‘jihad’ is the unforgivable error of killing another Muslim.
Asked by reporters about Maldivian militants in Syria, President Yameen said Maldivians were not departing to Syria with either the government’s knowledge or consent.
Responsibility for criminal activity must be borne by the individual who committed the crime, Yameen said.
“If any Maldivian – regardless of where they are, or for what reason, even if not for war – notifies us that they are unable to come back to the Maldives, the government will offer any possible financial assistance to them. However, there is no way we can bring back anyone forcefully against their will,” Yameen told the press on his return to an official visit to India last month.
A former senior police officer who spoke to Minivan News at the time on condition of anonymity described the government’s response as “highly irresponsible” and called for immediate preventive measures.
“It has previously been alleged that there are terror cells here, and that the Maldives is also somehow involved in financing terrorism activities,” he noted.
“In fact, the government must have been aware of this way before it was discussed in mainstream media. In light of these events, it is a likely danger – and a far more serious threat – that such actions may start operating here on our own land.”
Speaking to Minivan News following BASM’s threats against the police, the ex-officer questioned both the capacity and the desire of authorities to prosecute such activities.
The former officer pointed to the lack of comprehensive anti-terror laws in the country and questioned the decision to have controversial Sheikh Adam Shameem speak at the police’s recent master parade.
“For the police to invite these people validates the accusations made by some that police and the security services are quite supportive of extremist elements and extremism in general,” said the former officer.
The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has also claimed there is a prevalence of extremist ideologies within the Maldives security forces.