New penal code will ‘bury’ Islamic sharia

A religious NGO has said the new penal code will “bury” the principles of Islamic sharia in the Maldives, as it does not criminalise apostasy or include punishments of stoning for adultery and amputation for theft.

“We note with regret that this law has been formulated on a secular, liberal basis that is alien to the purposes of Islamic sharia, after changing the whole shape of the Islamic sharia that should be enforced upon Muslims in an Islamic country,” the conservative Jamiyyathul Salaf said in a statement on Sunday.

Salaf’s statement was released shortly before the pro-government majority in parliament delayed implementation of the penal code by three months, a day before it was due to come into force.

Ruling party MP Ahmed Nihan said more time is needed to raise awareness among the public and address concerns of religious scholars.

The law was ratified on April 13 last year, nine years after it was first submitted to parliament.

The current penal code was adopted in 1968 and has been widely criticised as outdated, draconian and unsuited to the 2008 constitution. The new law has meanwhile been touted as the first time Islamic sharia has been codified while upholding minimum international human rights standards.

However, Salaf claimed attempts to portray the law as sharia-compliant were intended to “deceive the citizens of a 100 percent Islamic nation”.

As the law currently states that shariah punishments must be meted out only for crimes with a punishment fixed in the Quran, Salaf argued that it “completely does away with” the Sunnah (Prophetic traditions) under a “secular philosophy”.

The Sunnah is one of the “fundamental sources” of sharia law and specifies how punishments prescribed in the Quran must be enforced, Salaf said.

The law will also make it easier for criminals to escape punishment and encourage youth to offend, Salaf contended, claiming it was drafted by lawyers with a view to increasing their income.

The language of the law and criteria for constituting a crime are “alien to the principles of Islamic criminal jurisprudence,” Salaf argued.

The mandatory punishment for wrongfully accusing a chaste Muslim of adultery or homosexuality in the law is a jail term of no more than four years, Salaf noted, while meting out the sharia punishment of 80 lashes is left to the discretion of judges.

The offences of ‘murder and reckless manslaughter,’ ‘involuntary manslaughter,’ and ‘negligent manslaughter’ are based on English common law and is contrary to the degrees of murder in sharia, Salaf said.

Several punishments fixed in the Quran and Sunnah such as amputation of the hand for theft, death by stoning for adultery, death for highway robbery, and death or banishment for apostasy are not enforced in the Maldives.

However, flogging for pre-marital sex is implemented while the current administration has ended a six-decade moratorium on the death penalty.

Codifying sharia

In an op-ed published on newspaper Haveeru on April 7, former deputy prosecutor general Hussain Shameem stated that the Maldives is the first Islamic country to pass a criminal law in accordance with sharia and international standards.

While sharia punishments are specified in laws of other Islamic nations, Shameem said the Maldives’ penal code was drafted on the basis of codifying sharia.

“Therefore, the law will not include parts of principles contrary to Islam,” he wrote.

The law criminalises fornication, eating during daylight hours in Ramadan, consumption of alcohol and pork, and anti-Islamic activities, he added.

All crimes with punishments prescribed in the Quran are included, he continued, including the death penalty for murder.

“Therefore, the new penal code of the Maldives is in line with Islamic sharia and a victory for Islamic sharia,” Shameem asserted.

As a senior legal consultant at the Legal Sector Resource Centre established by the attorney general’s office with assistance from the UNDP, Shameem has been involved in training more than 1,100 individuals, including state prosecutors, lawyers, staff and members of independent commissions, customs officers, and 98 percent of police investigators.

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“Pathetic state of judiciary”, religious intolerance Maldives’ major human rights failures: Dr Shaheed

Former Foreign Minister and UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran Dr Ahmed Shaheed has welcomed the Maldives’ selection as a Vice President of the UN’s Human Rights Council for 2013, stating that the nomination can help strengthen society against domestic abuses.

Speaking to Minivan News by e-mail today, Dr Shaheed said significant human rights concerns remained in the Maldives, including the “pathetic state of the judiciary”, lack of an educational focus on rights, and little scope for “informed discussion” on religious freedom.

However, Dr Shaheed added that the Maldives’ election to the council reflected the strong reputation of its diplomats over the last six years in “championing” human rights causes, even despite developments such as February’s controversial transfer of power that saw a new government installed following a police and military mutiny.

“If you look at the Maldives’ voting record in Geneva and in the Third Committee in New York, it is as if there has been no change in the government in Male’. The Maldives still supports country-specific mandates, country-specific resolutions, and progressive positions in human rights debates, including on issues of defamation of religion,” he said.

“The Maldives will continue to get challenged in places like the Human Rights Committee but in the political councils of the world, the spokespersons for the Maldives continue to be professional diplomats, and they are doing a good job to limit the influence of radical Islamists on foreign policy.”

News of the Maldives’ election to the Human Rights Council was broken yesterday by the Reuters news agency, which noted that the country had the same day been criticised for its stance on banning religious freedom in a report compiled by the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) NGO.

The IHEU, which describes itself as an “umbrella organisation embracing Humanist, atheist, rationalist, secularist” organisations around the world, yesterday published its report, ‘Freedom of Thought 2012’ , which details international examples of discrimination against non-religious people.

The report, which was welcomed by UN Special Investigator on Freedom of Religion and Belief Heiner Bielefeldt, concluded that the Maldives did not prohibit discrimination on a religious basis, while also making practising Sunni Islam compulsory for Maldivian citizens wishing to vote or stand for office.

Pointing to prominent cases of discrimination, the IHEU highlighted the case of 37 year-old Mohamed Nazim, who in 2010 faced public calls for his execution after standing in front of a crowd of 11,000 people in Male’ and declaring himself “Maldivian and not a Muslim”.

After two days of religious counselling in police custody, Nazim repented before television cameras at an Islamic Ministry press conference and gave Shahada – the Muslim testimony of belief.

The report also highlighted the case of 25 year-old air traffic controller Ismail Mohamed Didi, who was found hanged from the control tower of Male’ International Airport in an apparent suicide.  He had previously sought asylum in the UK for fear of persecution over his stated lack of religious belief.

“Ismail Mohamed Didi faced the same choice as Mohamed Nazim: believe or die. He chose death,” the IHEU stated.

Speaking to Minivan News, IHEU Communications Officer Bob Churchill said the NGO did have some concerns over the Maldives’ election to the Human Rights Council considering its attitudes to non-Muslims and non religious peoples.

However,  Churchill added that the Maldives was not the first country to hold such a position in the UN council while also having questions over its own work on human rights abuses.

The IHEU added that the report has been put together in order to stand as a reference for alleged abuses of non-religious peoples on countries all over the world.

Churchill suggested that the high-profile focus may help “shine a light” on wider abuses occurring in the country and allowing for some form of redress.

However, in the case of the Maldives, where the country’s religious ideals are enshrined in its constitution, Churchill accepted that effecting any sort of change would be much harder.

“However, just because an issue is a sovereign matter and has a vocal majority it does not mean that people are not suffering,” he said. “People at present are having to hide their beliefs for fear of oppression.”

“Good reputation”

Despite the concerns of the IHEU, Dr Shaheed said he was optimistic about the Maldives’ new role on the council.

“The Maldives [UN] delegation still enjoys a good reputation in Geneva and is still playing a very constructive role. I believe the position would militate in favour of improving the domestic human rights situation,” he said. “I would like to congratulate Ambassador Iruthisham [Adam] and her team for this fine achievement.”

Addressing the issue of freedom of religion in the Maldives, which he stressed was a fundamental human right, Dr Shaheed said that any nation choosing to impose any particular faith on its people or discriminate along the same lines would face “stiff international opposition”.

“A number of NGOs have been raising the issue of religious intolerance in the Maldives, and the notion of sovereignty does not trump human rights obligations. There is indeed scope for informed discussion in the Maldives on religious freedom,” he said.

“Perhaps a good place to start would be to lift the ban on the book co-authored by Dr Hassan Saeed – the current Special Advisor to President Waheed – which argues that there is no apostasy in Islam. This is a position that is upheld by a growing number of reputable scholars in the Islamic world and elsewhere.”

“Biggest breakthroughs”

Beyond the issue of religion, Dr Shaheed claimed that the Maldives had over the last decade pressed ahead with a number of significant developments in bringing the country in line with human rights regulations.

“The biggest breakthroughs, in my view, were the ratification of the core international human rights treaties, and the establishment of an independent human rights commission, as well as freedom of the press, and the separation of powers,” he said, but emphasised that there remained room for improvement.

“The major failures include the pathetic state of the judiciary, which is not only corrupt, but also coming under the influence of radical Islam, even to the extent of violating codified laws of the Maldives and clear international obligations,” Dr Shaheed added.

“Disregard for rule of law has also meant that a culture of impunity is deeply entrenched, rendering many of the human rights of the people meaningless. It is also very disappointing that respect for human rights has not been made mainstream in our education system, because human rights safeguards are not only about litigation and legislation, but also about ideas and values, which are formed and transmitted through the education system.”

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Mother of self-declared Addu apostate launches media appeal seeking scholars’ help

The mother of a 22 year-old girl from Addu City who publicly declared her apostasy has launched an appeal in the local Maldivian media seeking the help of religious scholars to make her daughter repent.

“She’s been a bit odd ever since she was in the seventh grade, but at the  time she did not say the things that she says now,” the 49 year-old mother told Minivan News.

“Every time I try to advise her she shouts at me and asks me what I was trying to make her believe, and says that she cannot believe the existence of Allah,” the mother said.

The mother said her daughter was currently being held under house arrest while being investigated for allegedly giving birth to a child out of wedlock.

“She has misbehaved since she was young, and is saying things that should not be said in front of the children. She has even been calling me balhu (dog).”

The mother said that whenever she tried to inform her daughter about death, the afterlife and the punishments for apostasy, her daughter would reply that it was “not a problem for her, and not to worry.”

“I admit that it was our negligence as well that allowed her to come this far. We knew about this a while ago and we could have been more careful then,’’ the mother said. “I have been asking around my neighbors and everyone about what to do, but all I can do is remain in this grief thinking about her.”

The mother said she “had no solution” to her grief.

“There’s still some good inside her. I know that because she has been advising her younger sisters not to be like her,’’ she said. ‘’It’s because she can believe that she is not going the right way.’’

The mother said there “was a reason why this had happened to [her daughter],” but said it was “a long story”.

President of Islamic Foundation of the Maldives, Ibrahim Fauzee said the organisation had heard of the appeal and that its local branch was looking into the matter.

“For sure, we will provide her assistance,’’ Fauzee said.

The Islamic Ministry said it had not received official notice of the matter.

The Maldivian Constitution states that the Maldives is a “100 percent” Sunni Muslim country, and the country maintains a reservation to article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on freedom of religion.

The last Maldivian to publicly declare apostasy, Mohamed Nazim, did so in front of an 11,000-strong audience attending a lecture in May 2010 by well-known Islamic speaker Dr Zakir Naik.

Nazim was escorted from the venue by police for his own protection after members of the audience attempted to attack him, and was held in police custody. The Islamic Foundation of the Maldives subsequently issued a statement calling for Nazim to be stripped of his citizenship and sentenced to death if he failed to repent and return to Islam.

After two days of religious counseling in police custody, Nazim declared that his misconceptions had been clarified and gave Shahada – the Muslim testimony of belief – on national television during a press conference held at the Islamic Ministry.

In a later interview with Minivan News, Nazim said that he did not regret his actions.

“Somebody had to do it, it needed to be spoken about. The repression of thought, the lack of debate and a lack of a proper public sphere in which such discussion can take place, is dangerous,” he said.

The reaction, he said, was mixed – angry and supportive, superficial and profound. He lost 65 friends on Facebook, the social networking site to which almost every computer literate Maldivian subscribes. He did, however, gain 246 new ‘friends’.

His own friends and colleagues, he said, were uneasy talking about it, and very few actually discussed it with him. However, he told Minivan News he could feel the presence of the issue, “unspoken yet potent”, in every social interaction he had with another person.

In July 2010, 25 year-old air traffic controller Ismail Mohamed Didi hanged himself from the control tower of Male’ International Airport after seeking asylum in the UK for fear of persecution over his lack of religious belief.

Over two emails sent to an international humanitarian organisation on June 23 and 25, obtained by Minivan News, Ismail confessed he was an atheist and requested assistance for his asylum application, after claiming to have received several anonymous threats on June  22.

In the emails, he said he “foolishly admitted my stance on religion” to work colleagues, word of which had “spread like wildfire.”

“Maldivians are proud of their religious homogeneity and I am learning the hard way that there is no place for non-Muslim Maldivians in this society,” Ismail said, in one of his letters.

“I cannot bring myself to pretend to be something I am not, as I am a staunch believer in human rights. I am afraid for my life here and know no one inside the country who can help me.”

A colleague of Ismail’s told Minivan News that it appeared the 25 year-old had sought the early 3:00am shift and “came to work fully prepared to die.”

“His mother said she called him in the morning at 5:30am to tell him to pray, but there was no answer. They found his cigarette lighter on the balcony.”

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Case of former apostate Nazim sent to Prosecutor General

Police have completed investigating the case of Mohamed Nazim and have submitted the matter to the Prosecutor General’s office.

Nazim publicly claimed he was “Maldivian and not a Muslim” during a question-and-answer session with Islamic speaker Zakir NaikNaik in March, angering many in the 11,000-strong crowd and forcing police and Islamic Ministry officials to escort him from the venue for his own protection.

After two days of religious counselling while in police custody, Nazim appeared before television cameras at an Islamic Ministry press conference and gave Shahada – the Muslim testimony of belief – and apologised for causing “agony for the Maldivian people” and requested that the community accept him back into society.

Deputy Prosecutor General Hussein Shameen confirmed the PG’s office had received the case from police, but had not yet taken the decision to submit it to the Criminal Court.

According to the Maldivian constitution all citizens are required to be Muslim, and the country is always described as a ‘100 percent’ Muslim country.

Minister for Islamic Affairs Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari told Minivan News at the time that he was unsure if Maldivian law had a penalty for apostasy. Where the country’s laws do not cover such a case, Maldivian courts default to sharia law.

Apostasy is considered a grave sin under Islam, although scholarly opinion varies as to its punishment: in response to Nazim’s question, Dr Naik clarified that the penalty was only death “if the person becomes a non-Muslim and propagates his faith and speaks against Islam. Just because a person who is a Muslim becomes a non-Muslim, death penalty is not the ruling.”

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Comment: Cancer in our heart

With my own ears, I’ve heard more than one Maldivian long for death’s release. And the chills that ran down my spine the first time I heard it reside in me still, slowly corroding my hope for a better national future.

Recently – amidst the political turmoil that has dominated everyone’s consciousness – there was a spectacular suicide that captured us for the briefest of moments. A wayward youth, giving in to his inner turmoil, flung himself from the air traffic control tower – departing this world, not by meeting the ground below, but rather by meeting a hangman’s noose. His body left dangling, silently screaming his frustration and his surrender.

Did the abuse he endured in life end with his death? Was the respect and dignity he so desired afforded him after he passed from this world? No.

Accused of apostasy, people have called him a showoff for his ever-so-public last testament. A lunatic. Someone unworthy of sympathy. They have taunted him and scarred his memory and even gone to such as extent as to suggest that he should not be given his due burial rights. That he was not God’s creature and that his alleged disbelief in God meant he is somehow less than human.

With this poor soul, we have failed. Failed in offering alternatives to troubled youth. Failed in addressing the intolerance in our society. And we have failed in our duties as human beings.

Social Negligence

As a nation we have developed a culture of neglect. While being among the nosiest of peoples, constantly sticking our noses where they don’t belong, we have not taken the next step: actually caring about those around us and the plight of others.

The social ills we face are greater than I have seen in any other non-war-torn nation. Soaring sexual and drug abuse rates have become the widely accepted bane of our society. And those who are left with significant psychological damage are left without avenues for help. Those who have entered into depression, who feel their very soul being eaten away, and who no longer believe in the value of their lives, have no avenue for help. While physical abuses have only just started to be addressed, mental abuses of all denominations have been forgotten.

This culture of neglect must end. We have to encourage more therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists to come to this country. We have to convince government and private institutions that we cannot heal our nation if the souls of our nation remain in tatters. And we cannot continue to pretend that the local Imam is all knowing and qualified to deal with all manner of mental problems.

Ideologies of Intolerance

We especially have to stop pretending that neo-salafi ideologies based in the Hanbali school of Islamic Jurisprudence are competent enough to deal with this world’s problems and issues. I believe Islamic counseling has a place in our society; that it helps bring people fulfillment and that it is an integral (not primary) part of efforts such as drug counseling. However, the recent global trend towards the propagation of neo-salafi ideologies is something I cannot accept.

Not only is neo-salafism fundamentally against Maldivian culture and heritage, it is also the most intolerant of all the classical Islamic schools of jurisprudence. It does not allow the scholars of this ideology to relate to victims of mental abuse. It does not allow for varying thoughts to exist, which is necessary to help in the process of healing. Instead, this ideology calls for the strict imposition of their beliefs, wiping out whatever was there before – removing all traces of the person who once existed.

Would be Saviors

They see all the world as sinners, and themselves as the would be saviors of our nation. The salafis and all their ilk would save our society from all of our ills. They will bring us to heaven’s gate and lead us hand and foot into the Creator’s embrace, with never a moment’s consideration that such action would leave ours meaningless.

“We can talk about there being no compulsion in religion till we lose our voices, but conservatives will not care, and this will not lessen the number women being abused, or the number of atrocities being committed in our religion’s name,” Tariq Ramadan, Islamic scholar at Oxford University and grandson of the Islamic Brotherhood founder Hassan Al-Bana, told me at a conference on Islam and democracy in April.

I do not believe in secularism in the Maldives. But I do not accept neo-salafism as the only answer to it.

The Result of Conservatism

This poor soul, Ismail Mohamed Didi, was pushed to the edge as a result of the conservative ideologies present in our society. Those who knew him well have all attested that he was “a nice guy” who did not impose his atheism in others. The problem was that some who knew of his beliefs were offended by the fact that he had them to begin with, hence the official complaint and investigation. It is pure and simple: blatant intolerance is surpassing our need to have love for our fellow Maldivians.

Maldivians are becoming fanatical in their beliefs and the world has started to notice. We are importing Saudi-based neo-salafi ideologies rooted in the Hanbali School of Islamic jurisprudence. Out of the 1.5 billion Muslims on earth, only 10 percent of the Islamic world agrees with this interpretation. An interpretation, mind you, which refuses to accept the validity of any of the other classical forms of Islamic jurisprudence.

Religion is not something you wear on your sleeve, or with a long beard or Arabian dress. The growing norm in Maldivian culture is a complete eradication of it, because today in Maldives to be a better Muslim, you need to be a better Arab. Forget Indonesia, Malaysia, and even Egypt, because those are apparently not real Muslims. They are not educated enough. And even though many of their scholars have a lifetime of learning behind them, they do not see the truth.

Really?

Our Choice

Social negligence, which has existed for time immemorial, mixed with the newly institutionalised ideologies of intolerance have proven to be in this instance a fatal concoction. And this darkness has spread through our nation.

We all have a choice to make. We either chose to stand in the light, or to recede further into darkness. We each need to take responsibility for our actions and inaction. We each need to take responsibility for our society and the ills we see in it. We need to stand up for what is right; turning away from ignorance, hatred, intolerance and complete societal degradation. It starts with each and every one of us.

http://jswaheed.com

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]

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Hanged air traffic controller sought asylum for fear of religious persecution

Ismail Mohamed Didi, the 25 year-old air traffic controller who was found hanged from the control tower of Male International Airport at 4:00am on Tuesday morning in an apparent suicide, was seeking asylum in the UK for fear of persecution over his lack of religious belief.

Islamic website Raajjeislam reported yesterday that Ismail “was a person inclined to atheism” and had “declared his atheism to his friends.”

The website alleged that Ismail had refused to follow religious sermons.

“This is an issue that a Muslim government should consider,” the website said. “Because when these types of people die, they are buried in the same [cemetery] where Muslims are buried. Their funeral prayers and body washing are also conducted as for Muslims. It is questionable as to whether this is allowed according to Islam.”

Over two emails sent to an international humanitarian organisation on June 23 and 25, obtained by Minivan News, Ismail admits he is an atheist and desperately requests assistance for his asylum application, after claiming to have received several anonymous threats on June  22.

In the emails, he says he “foolishly admitted my stance on religion” to work colleagues, word of which had “spread like wildfire.”

“A lot of my close friends and girlfriend have been prohibited from seeing me by their parents. I have even received a couple of anonymous phone calls threatening violence if I do not repent and start practising Islam,” he said.

“Maldivians are proud of their religious homogeneity and I am learning the hard way that there is no place for non-Muslim Maldivians in this society.”

Ismail claimed he had been “trying for some time to seek employment abroad, but have not yet succeeded. I would already have left the country if I was sure I could meet the required burden of proof in an asylum claim.”

“I cannot bring myself to pretend to be I am something I am not, as I am a staunch believer in human rights. I am afraid for my life here and know no one inside the country who can help me.”

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: ismail mohamed <[email protected]>
Date: 25 June 2010 09:30
Subject: a plea for help

Dear sir,

I’m a 25 year-old Maldivian living in Male’. I have been working as an Air Traffic Controller at Male’ International Airport for almost 7 years now.

I started becoming disenchanted with Islam around 5 years ago and am now an atheist. During my transformation, and even now, I am quite the idealist, and when i was confronted about two years back by a couple of my colleagues about my aversion from the daily practices of Islam, i somewhat foolishly admitted my stance on religion.

I had asked them to keep it a secret from the rest of our workforce at ATC, although i now realize i should have known better. It did not take long for everybody at work to find out and since then, i have faced constant harassment in my work environment.

An atheist is not a common feature at all among Maldivians and the word has spread like wildfire since then. It has now come to the point where everyone I know, including my family, have become aware of my lack of belief.

In a society that has always been proud of their religious homogeneity, you can imagine what i am being put through. I have been subjected to numerous consultations with religious scholars and even my closest friends are not allowed to see me.

My company has already begun investigating a complaint regarding me, collecting testimony from fellow workers about my apostasy.

Just 3 days ago, i received two anonymous phone calls threatening violence if i do not start openly practicing Islam.

I am at my wit’s end now. I have been trying for sometime to secure employment abroad, but have not yet succeeded.

The only other alternative i can think of is to flee the country to seek asylum elsewhere. I have already written an e-mail to your organization, and am anxiously waiting for a reply. I found your e-mail address on facebook. I am in dire need of assistance and know of no one inside the country who can guide me.

I would have already left the country if i was sure i could meet the required burden of proof in an asylum claim. I would like to know if you would be able to help me in anyway should i travel to the U.K to seek asylum and what my chances are of making a successful claim.

Thank you for your consideration
Ismail Mohamed Didi

Mohamed Ibrahim, Managing Director of the Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL), confirmed that Ismail was  the subject of an internal investigation last month regarding his professed apostasy.

“I believe his family were also concerned, and tried to give him counselling through religious leaders,” Ibrahim said.

“Management decided it was outside our mandate and referred the matter to the Ministry of Islamic Affairs – we haven’t got a reply. Professionally we took no action – he was a good worker.”

A colleague of Ismail’s told Minivan News on condition of anonymity that his colleagues had learned he was an atheist “more than a year ago”, and while they did not care whether or not he believed in God, “some became irritated at the way he openly insulted God.”

“A complaint was made to the airport company’s human resources department. Based on their report – I saw a copy of the final version a month ago – they found that although he was an atheist, he was not propagating his belief in the workplace and so no action would be taken.”

The source insisted that Ismail was never mistreated by his colleagues about his religious position, “although they were sometimes irritated by the way he addressed God. He was treated as a normal controller and suffered no discrimination,” the source said, explaining that the air traffic controllers were a close-knit bunch who “lived and played together. Everybody was crying and misses him.”

Ismail was part of a large family from the island of Thinadhoo in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll, the source explained.

“The family is very humble and religious. His mother tried sending him to religious classes and a couple of months back he said he went to see Sheikh Illyas, but just argued with him about religion and stormed out. That’s what he said – I don’t know what was said in person. But it is possible his friends may have distanced themselves.”

Minivan News was unable to confirm whether Ismail visited Sheikh Illyas prior to his death, as the Sheikh was not responding to calls. However Islamic Minister Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari said he was aware that Ismail’s parents had sought religious counselling for their son “because of some problems he was facing in his religious beliefs.”

“They asked for counselling but I think they met a scholar while they were in our office. I was not at the Ministry – this was during the period of [Cabinet’s] resignation. I heard he was not a ministry scholar – I don’t think it was Sheikh Illyas this time. I think he saw [Sheikh Hassan] Moosa Fikry,” Dr Bari said.

Sheikh Fikry, who is the Vice-President of religious NGO Jamiyyathul Salaf, was not responding to calls at time of press. Salaf’s President, Sheikh Abdulla Bin Mohamed Ibrahim, also could not be contacted.

Last moments

Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam said Ismail’s body showed no sign of physical injuries.

“Police have taken samples for forensic investigation, we are seeking more information about him to try and determine how this happened,” Shiyam said.

Ismail’s colleague said the 25-year-old had returned from leave shortly before the day he died.

“It seemed like he came to work fully prepared to die,” he said. “Ismail normally took the 6:00am-8:00am shift, but on this day he requested the supervisor give him the 3:00am-5:00am shift.”

“During this time there are no air traffic movements and the tower can be staffed by one person, before operations begin at 5:30am. It seems he wanted the quiet time alone,” he said.

“His mother said she called him in the morning at 5:30am to tell him to pray, but there was no answer. They found his cigarette lighter on the balcony.”

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Islamic Foundation calls for death sentence if apostate fails to repent

The Islamic Foundation has called for self-declared apostate Mohamed Nazim to be stripped of his citizenship and sentenced to death if he does not repent and return to Islam.

Nazim claimed he was “Maldivian and not a Muslim” during a public question-and-answer session with Islamic speaker Dr Zakir Naik, the first time a Maldivian has publicly announced he is not a Muslim.

According to the Maldivian constitution all citizens are required to be Muslim, and the country is always described as a “100 percent” Muslim country.

The 37 year-old angered many in the approximately 11,000-strong crowd with his statement during Dr Naik’s ‘Misconceptions about Islam’ lecture on Friday.

Dr Naik responded that Nazim had read the wrong books and “deviated from Islam”, and requested him “to read correct books on Islam, and Inshallah, you’ll come back to Islam.”

However Nazim did not relinquish the microphone and pressed Naik to clarify the penalty for apostasy.

“In Islam, there are many cases, it doesn’t mean death penalty,” Dr Naik explained. “But if the person who reverts who was a Muslim then converts to and becomes a non-Muslim and propagates his faith and speaks against Islam, and if it’s Islamic rule, then the person should be put to death. But just because a person who is a Muslim becomes a non-Muslim, death penalty is not the ruling.”

Nazim was escorted from the venue by police for his own protection, after members of the audience attempted to attack him.

Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam said two men who tried to attack Nazim were arrested after they attacked the police officers protecting him. Nazim himself “was not injured because police protected him,” Shiyam said.

He was taken to a police building where a crowd of protesters had gathered, calling for him to be punished. Shiyam confirmed that Nazim is now being held in an undisclosed location for five days while police investigate “in consultation with the Islamic Ministry and the Prosecutor General’s office.”

Today the Islamic Foundation of the Maldives issued a press statement calling on judges to give Nazim the opportunity to repent “and if he does not, then sentence him to death as Islamic law and Maldivian law agree.”

“The Islamic Foundation believes that the person who announces apostasy should be punished according to Islamic laws,” the NGO said, warning that Nazim represented “a disturbance to the religious views and the religious bonds that exist with Maldivians.”

“Hereby if this man does not do his penance and come back to the Islamic religion, the Islamic Foundation of the Maldives calls to take the citizenship away from this man as mentioned in the Maldivian constitution.”

If case crossed into areas not covered by the laws of the country, “then the judges should rely on Islamic law,” the NGO stated, as per article 142 of constitution which says judiciary shall look into Islamic shar’ia on matters not covered in law, and sentence accordingly.

“So it is requested that the commissioner of police run the legal research on this man and take this to the Prosecutor General’s office. We also request the Prosecutor General to go through this matter and to take this man to the criminal court for trial,” the Islamic Foundation said.

A government official involved in the legal process, who requested that his name and department be kept anonymous, said he was “really worried” and described the case as “a very sensitive subject”.

“Police are investigating the case,” he said. “My understanding is that the court authorities will give [Nazim] opportunities to change his mind. I think he will be given every opportunity to think about his decision.”

Minister for Islamic Affairs Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari told Minivan News that Ministry officials had acted quickly to remove Nazim from the venue “for his own protection”, and had now handed the matter over to the legal system.

“I don’t know if there is a penalty for apostasy according to Maldivian law,” he said.

The Adhaalath Party issued a press statement claiming that the act violated the constitution of the Maldives and called on the government “to strengthen Islam and protect the constitution.”

Religious NGO Jamiyyathul Salaf declined to comment on the matter during a press conference held today on another matter, however NGO Jamiyyathul Musliheen expressed “concern and regret” over the incident.

”Not a few number of Maldivian youths are moving further from the religion, and many of them are going renegade,” the NGO said in a press statement, adding that “it is a responsibility of the government to strengthen Islam in the country.”

President of the Human Rights Commission to the Maldives (HRCM), Ahmed Saleem, said “what happened was really unfortunate.”

“I think the best thing will be to talk to him and to make him understand the situation and the repercussions, talks which HRCM will welcome,” Saleem said.

He said he was unsure how the Maldivian government would handle the incident.

“I’m afraid of the reaction from the international community should we resort to harsh action,” he said. “I don’t think it would be in our interest – we have just been given a seat on the UN Human Rights Council. This is something we need to think seriously about before we start using harsh language.”

Minivan News contacted several local human rights NGOs however they had not responded at time of press.

A senior government source, who requested anonymity, said he felt the case “will be a real test of how the government will abide by its international commitments.”

Press Secretary for the President Mohamed Zuhair was on medical leave and unable to comment.

Minivan News was unable to reach Nazim himself for comment, however a person close to the matter described him as “a very sensible guy who will think of the people around him. But he will not give up on calling for people to be more honest about themselves. I think he will become a genuine refugee if he refuses to take back his words,” she said.

A transcript Dr Naik’s response to Nazim is available here.

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Comment: Playing God’s Advocate

‘Ambiguities’ are stalling the speedy passage of The Regulations to Protect Maldivian Religious Unity. If this document does not get on the government gazette ASAP, this country will degenerate into religious chaos.

Evidence clearly shows Maldivian religious unity to be a perilous façade, having managed to endure without legal enforcement (apart from the small matter of the constitutional stipulation that every citizen be a Muslim for only 800 years).

As citizens who are so closely consulted in the open and democratic lawmaking process of the country, it is our duty to highlight the problem areas so the Ministry can move rapidly to pass The Regulations and pre-empt the imminent religious war.

What is unambiguous about The Regulations is that The Ministry of Islamic Affairs is The Supreme Entity. Omniscient, but not omnipresent, it will choose a learned group to act as its eyes and ears in society. This select group, or The Board, will report to The Ministry any utterances, actions and opinions expressed or held by unlicensed-scholars, citizens and/or visiting aliens/infidels deemed to possess the potential for creating religious disunity.

Recognising the gravity of The Board’s responsibility, The Ministry has set the appointment criteria very high indeed. Members must: (1) be at least 25 years old; (2) possess at least a first degree in Islamic Studies or law; and (3) should not have committed an act defined as a punishable crime in Islam.

Given how difficult it would be to find a 25-year-old graduate who has not fornicated, The Board has the potential to become one of the most exclusive gentlemen’s clubs in the world.

The Regulations states as its raison d’être ever-increasing disputes between religious scholars that threaten to tear the country apart (Article 1.2). The Mullah to Mere-mortal ratio has not yet been tallied in the Maldives, but evidence suggests it could easily be 1:2.

In such a situation, The Regulations will prove invaluable in helping us distinguish the ersatz scholar from the genuine Sheikh. Besides, ‘the liberals’ have long agitated for the government to muzzle over-zealous Mullahs, so it is now time to make a gracious retreat on the issue, happy in the knowledge that your local Mullah is not just any Mullah, but a bona fide Mullah With a License to Preach.

Chapter 4 states that it is a requirement of every Maldivian citizen to actively protect Islam (Article 4.21). Is this a legal requirement? And what does the duty entail? What exactly is it that we need to peel our eyes and cock our ears for? And how do we go about reporting our suspicions and findings? Would there be a 24-hour Infidel Alert hotline manned by a Licensed Mullah?

The Regulations bans any religion other than Islam from all public discourse. Being citizens active in protecting Islam, should we from now on categorically deny other religions exist, or is it sufficient to regard Them with condescension and/or loathing whence acknowledgement is required? Article 6.32 bans any utterance or action that is insulting to Islam in any way. What is the definition of the term ‘insulting to Islam’? Would, say, leaving out the PBUH after Prophet Mohamed be deemed an insult? Or does it have to be material such as those published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2005 before it is found to be insulting? What is an utterance that constitutes an insult against a mosque? Would criticism of its architecture – say the suggestion that its dome would have looked better if elevated five inches more – amount to an insult, or would the criticism have to take in the state of its badly landscaped garden, too, before it is deemed an Offence Against a Mosque?

Non-Muslim expatriates in the Maldives – best wean yourselves off the habit of holding garage sales to sell religious memorabilia at discount prices like you invariably do every Sunday ‘back home where you come from’. Any such sale in the Maldives would flout The Regulations (Article 34.a), so resist the temptation to make a quick buck, and firmly turn away the Maldivians queuing outside, desperate to get their grubby apostate hands on your old rosary beads or your Krishna statue for a Bai Rufiyaa.

You should also be aware that even though religion is most likely to have been your favourite conversation starter and probably the source of your best pick-up lines back home, it will not aid your hectic social life on this island paradise in a similar manner. In fact, Article 34.b makes it safer to drop religion from your vocabulary altogether. As a precautionary measure, before The Regulations are passed, you should try and remove any reflexive exclamations that may have embedded themselves in your oral register over the years such as ‘Oh my God!, ‘Jesus!’, ‘Harey Raam!’, etc. If you are more accustomed to saying ‘Jesus [insert expletive] Christ!’, however, it might help your plea of mitigation. Remember, though, a precedent is yet to be set, so proceed with caution.

Article 6.35 is a veritable quagmire of ambiguity. What constitutes a television programme or a written publication that is offensive or insulting to Islam? Where do we look to for guidance? The Taliban? The Emirates? Saudi Arabia? Insulting to whose version of Islam? Can a woman be shown wearing a bikini, or should a burqa be superimposed on her image before she appears on our airwaves? Does every shot of a church, temple and/or synagogue have to be removed from any film that a Maldivian watches? What does it mean that all advertisements should be ‘respectful of the beautiful customs of Islam’ (6.35c)? Apart from beauty being an entirely subjective concept, does this mean that only veiled women can appear in advertisements now? What if she is selling shampoo? Will all Gillette advertisements have to be axed? Books, too, are to be screened by The Board before it is available for Maldivian consumption (Article 31). If this gives us some reprieve from ‘literature’ such as The DaVinci Code, such a regulation might not be entirely without merit, but hardly justifies a group of 25-year-old male graduate virgins deciding our choice of reading matter.

Can The Ministry please clarify why it is necessary to burn the house down to roast the pig?

It has been a surprisingly risky business highlighting the ‘ambiguities’ in The Regulations. This article contains the p-word; names someone whom over a billion non-Muslims regard as the Son of God; allows Lord Krishna a cameo appearance; speaks of women in bikinis; discusses an instrument of shaving for men; and mentions places of worship other than a mosque.

Would The Regulations be applied retrospectively? If Sheikh Shaheem of The Ministry is to be taken at his word, the consequences may not be too dire. Even if found guilty of the Offence of Mockery, he has assured, the author will not be imprisoned, but will receive ‘counselling’. Whether ‘counselling’ involves a psychiatrist’s couch, one-on-one preaching sessions with a Licensed Mullah, or water-boarding, remains undefined and open to interpretation. As is much of The Regulations.

Criminalising (dis)belief will never be free of ambiguities.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]

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