American connected to bringing in Christianity books blacklisted from Maldives

An American man has been blacklisted and banned from entering the Maldives after he was linked with a Bangladeshi national who imported books on Christianity into the country.

Maldives Customs said sufficient evidence had been collected by police to connect the American, Kevin Thomas Greenson, with the Bangladeshi, Jathis Biswas, 44.

Jathis Biswas, who arrived in Maldives on 27 September 2012, has also been deported following accusations of spreading other religions in the Maldives.

Customs found 11 books on Christianity in the possession of Jathis Biswas when he entered the country.


Custom seize two men carrying books about Christianity

Customs officials at the Male’ Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) on Thursday seized 11 books about Christianity, typed in Dhivehi, from a Bangladeshi expatriate who came to the Maldives via Sri Lanka.

Speaking with the press last Thursday inside the Customs Building, Chief Customs Officer Ahmed Samah identified the Bangladeshi expat as Jathish Bisvas, 44.

Samah said the 44 year-old man had arrived to the Maldives on a  tourist visa and that it was the first time he visited Maldives.

According to Samah, customs officials were suspicious that the expat who had tried to bring the banned items into Maldives had links with a person in Male’. Samah said the Bangladeshi man had made a booking with a hotel in Male’ but did could not identify which hotel it was.

Samah said later the same day a Maldivian national was caught with similar books, after arriving to the Maldives from Sri Lanka.

The books he brought were not typed in Dhivehi, according to Samah.

Furthermore, Samah said it was highly possible that a Maldivian was behind the illegal smuggling operation given the quality of the Dhivehi language used to type the book. He also said it was a “very serious case if a Maldivian is behind this.”

He told the press that it was difficult to identify or provide further details about the suspected Maldivian man.

The pair have been handed over to police and customs and police are conducting a joint investigation into the case.

According to the Maldives Religious Unity Regulations, it is illegal in the Maldives to propagate any faith other than Islam or to engage in any effort to convert anyone to any religion other than Islam. It is also illegal to display in public any symbols or slogans belonging to any religion other than Islam, or creating interest in such articles.

It is also illegal in the Maldives to carry or display in public books on religions (other than Islam) and books and writings that promote and propagate other religions, and the translation into Dhivehi language such books and writings on other religions.

Violation of the Religious Unity Act is subject to two to five years in prison and fines up to MVR 20,000 (US$1300).


Comment: Adhaalath out of sight, out of mind?

The Adhaalath party has blown the popsicle stand, having declared defeat in its efforts to ‘reform’ the sinful government led by President Nasheed.

In the days leading up to its decision to leave the coalition, Adhaalath provided the public with what it considers a damning indictment of MDP-facilitated transgressions: invited Jews to preach Christianity in the Maldives; sent young Maldivians to a Christian seminary otherwise known as Christ College, Oxford University; and encouraged Maldivians to commit the haraam act of gambling by publicising the US Green Card Lottery.

Adhaalath’s departure from the ruling coalition, and the preceding days it spent in the headlines, provoked different reactions among different segments of society.

For some, the party and its departure are inconsequential. They have no political power, anyway. A substantial number of social media pundits think Adhaalath should be wholly exempt from mainstream media coverage. There are two primary reasons offered as support for this position: Adhaalath is too stupid to be worthy of attention or Adhaalath is too good (read too Islamic) to criticise. The inevitable conspiracy theorists, meanwhile, see media coverage of Adhaalath as evidence of a covert operation run (probably by Mossad) to discredit Islam in the Maldives.

Quite apart from the fact that no right-minded journalist would turn down the opportunity to cover displays of such gargantuan stupidity by politicians, there are many reasons for the public watchdog to keep a wary eye on this party.

A party of little consequence?

It is a mistake to assume that Adhaalath has no political power because it has few bodies in state institutions. Power is not exercised simply by those in government; and governing is not done merely by elected politicians. The power Adhaalath has is greater than the sum of its political seats – it governs by dictating faith and thus penetrates further into people’s lives than a democratic government can.

Consider this: the Constitution requires that every Maldivian citizen be a Muslim. Automatically, that puts every citizen within the legitimate reach of any authority that claims to know Islam best. It is this power to govern the conduct of every citizen through a supposedly privileged knowledge of ‘true Islam’ that makes parties like Adhaalath important. It is a power that is outside the boundaries of legislation and government policy, yet manages to carry the most legitimacy among the people.

Over the last few years, Adhaalath has positioned itself as The Religious Party. Given the emphasis that Islam places on truth and honesty, it is the most politically advantageous position that any political party can occupy in the Maldives today. People are daily disillusioned by reports of corruption at every level of government, and within communities. Two years of intensely partisan politics have created strife within previously harmonious communities. The decentralisation project is increasingly revealing itself to be deeply flawed with untrained local councillors and people clashing on a regular basis. The promise of ‘equal justice for all’ remains not just unfulfilled but is being intentionally ignored, there being neither political will nor courage to change the status quo.

Let there be truth

In uncertain times, people flock to those who can shepherd them towards certainty. Adhaalath’s position as ‘the only honest party’ is proving attractive to many disillusioned voters. The septuagenarian Gayoom’s recent political acrobatics was an added bonus for Adhaalath as disgruntled voters, unsure of which letter of the alphabet to choose from, signed up for the simplicity and straightforwardness of ‘Adhaalath.’

Gayoom’s ploy to stem the number of people leaving him by aligning himself with Adhaalath’s version of Islam backfired somewhat. For many Maldivians who regarded the right path to Islam as intertwined with the road leading to Gayoom’s favour, his endorsement of Adhaalath provided a way of leaving the increasingly erratic Zaeem without betraying their religious loyalties. It is a little wonder that Adhaalath boasted a bump in membership numbers in recent weeks.

For the minority who have been exposed to alternative ways of thinking, Adhaalath’s policies may appear formulated in an intellectual vacuum, and no doubt provides much cause for levity. For the majority, however, Adhaalath speaks the truth. It is a claim Adhaalath never hesitates to reiterate, invariably shoring it up with references to the Qur’an.

The power of such truth claims is evident in the religious right’s ability to convince the population of an entire island that they were about to be infiltrated by a group of Jews pretending to be philanthropic farmers, whose real aim was not the local cabbage patch but preaching Christianity. It would be a mistake to underestimate the power of any group capable of convincing a population that such a scenario is not just probable but imminent.

The known unknowns

The Maldivian people, like most people across the world, have been put through an ideological and political wringer in the last decade. Unlike most other countries going through the chaos of transition, however, a majority of the Maldivian population has been vastly shielded from the intense debates surrounding the enormous changes in the world’s political, economic and ideological landscapes.

Thirty years in which ignorance was used as a tool of governance would have that affect. The long cultural and educational stagnation has created a society in which a majority of people are incapable of critically engaging with the world around them. The democracy that flourishes in such a society cannot help but be different from a democracy that takes shape in a society more widely exposed to diverse views and opinions.

In the absence of alternative views, on what comparative basis can the majority question the policies Adhaalath advocates? After all, the leaders of Adhaalath can recite the Qur’an, often from memory, and always have handy a suitable interpretation of Hadith whatever the situation. When they have all the answers, what is there to question?

Among a population that is being directed to spend their lives preparing for afterlife, there is no authority greater than the one that offers them a straight path to heaven. Adhaalath has positioned itself to be just that.

For those who advise against scrutiny of Adhaalath – if not now, then when? After the first person is hanged for blasphemy? After the first woman is stoned? After all civil liberties have been eroded in the name of Islam?

Refusing Adhaalath the ‘oxygen of publicity’ is not going to wane its influence. With the pulpits theirs for the taking, Adhaalath does not need the mainstream media for its message. Ignoring Adhaalath, on the other hand, will allow it to quietly perpetuate its ideology among people until every follower will happily to make a detour to the ballot box en route to heaven.

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]


Adhaalath Party condemns Christchurch College scholarships at Oxford

The Adhaalath Party has expressed concern over a memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed with Christchurch College at Oxford University last week to provide an annual scholarship for a Maldivian student.

The party claimed that the scholarship was the result of President Mohamed Nasheed, former Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed and his successor Ahmed Naseem repeatedly “begging and pleading with Christian powers that Maldivians going to [Middle Eastern or Islamic universities] can only be stopped by sending Maldivian Muslim students to countries under the rule of the cross.”

The Adhaalath Party’s statement was accompanied by images of a church and what appeared to be choirboys.

In a statement last week, the Foreign Ministry noted that the scholarship “was initially discussed during President Nasheed’s visit to Oxford University in December 2010 and has now materialised into a wonderful opportunity for outstanding Maldivian students.”

“The scholarship will encourage Maldivians to study in the field of Environmental Sciences with a view to enhancing the Maldives’ capacity to manage the specific threats the country faces from climate change. On completion of their studies the scholars will return to the Maldives with exceptional expertise in this field.”

The Adhaalath party statement meanwhile claimed that Christchurch college “is a Christian religious college that offers modern education.”

“Former English Prime Ministers and Cabinet Ministers studied at the institution,” it continues. “In addition, a number of people who are Christian priests today studied there. The university also runs a Christian school for children called Christ Church Cathedral School. It is important to beware of scholarships our young ones could get from this school.”


Maldives to introduce study of comparative religion, says State Islamic Minister

State Minister for Islamic Affairs Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed is advocating the study of ‘comparative religion’ in the Maldives.

“It is important for both Muslims and non-Muslims to compare their religions and cultures, and to compare philosophies,” Shaheem told Minivan News, explaining that subject was taught in many Islamic universities across the world, including academic institutions in Malaysia, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

Visiting Islamic lecturer Zakir Naik is a well-known proponent of comparative religion, and frequently quotes verses of other religious texts to support his arguments.

The religions to be studied in the Maldives course would include “all those in the world: Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism, and the other religions,” Shaheem said.

In the lead up to the launch of the course, Shaheem explained that the Islamic Ministry was drafting regulations legalising possession of books concerning other religions, such as the bible, “for educational and research purposes”.

Permitting the study of comparative religion did not mean permitting the worship of other religions in the Maldives, a 100 percent Muslim nation, Shaheem emphasised.

“The subject is comparative religion,” he said. “It will compare between Islam with other religions – such as Christianity and Judaism. At the end of study, students will know the differences and the similarities. When you study other religions, that doesn’t mean you convert to other religions – it is my belief that by the end of this people should know that Islam is the truth.”

Shaheem said the course would only be taught from an undergraduate degree level, and not secondary level “because [students’] minds are not prepared to deal with these philosophies. They are ready for it at university level,” he said.

An understanding of comparative religion would strength Islamic faith in the Maldives, Shaheem said, “because when Muslims study this subject they learn how to deal with other philosophies – they learn about what others believe, the differences between us and them, and what is the right side.”

He said he did not anticipate any objections to the new course, but noted that “the interpretation of Shar’ia has to develop from period to period. The island has become a country, the country has become a region, the region has become a world. Muslims have to be aware of these philosophies in order to deal with others in the world.”

At the same time, Shaheem said, it was necessary for other cultures to learn about Islamic culture.

“They must learn that Islam is not a religion of terrorism and extremism, or an uncivilised religion. Islam is a civilised system, because it provides all the needs of a human being – for example, in Christianity and Judaism philosophies there is no democratic political system, there is no family law, there is no economic system; we have a penal code, code, family law, economic law, even an Islamic banking system. This is why Islam is among the fastest growing religions in Europe, America and the rest of the Western world – Islam is everywhere.”

Shaheem noted that many scholars in the Maldives had studied the subject, including himself, and put himself forward as a potential teacher.

“I have studied this subject in Saudi Arabia, and I am very interested in comparative religion,” he said. “I am sure that when people study these things, at the end of the story they will agree that Islam is the truth.”


Dr Baari says President is not trying to establish a church in the Maldives

Minister of Islamic Affairs Abdul Majeed Abdul Baari said accusations made by the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) that President Mohamed Nasheed is seeking advice from the Islamic Ministry to establish a church in the Maldives are false, reports Miadhu.

Dr Baari said “missionary work has been in the Maldives for quite some time. But this government is working with the Islamic Ministry to eradicate that work.”

He pointed out several instances in which the previous government was linked to ‘spreading Christianity’ such as the opening of Salaam School, which was opened by former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom himself.

Minister Baari claimed Christian missionaries had been using the word ‘salaam’ to spread their religion in Muslim countries and said Gayoom was then forced to close the school.

He mentioned a teacher in Mauhadh school who was trying to spread Christianity in the school and was sent to another island, but not removed from the country.

Dr Baari also mentioned the former president’s personal photographer, Najmi, was convicted for translating the Bible into Dhivehi language, and said several members of the previous administration were distributing Christian books in the country.

He said Naseer’s comments were a hoax and there was no truth in the matter.


Four expats arrested for missionary activity

Four expatriates were arrested yesterday for suspected missionary activity, police have confirmed.

Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam said the four men were arrested yesterday afternoon, but he could not give further details as the case is still under investigation.

A teacher at Maafannu Madharusa, Aishat Rameeza, told Minivan News that four men entered the school office at around 10:00am and gave a book to a teacher and a parent, while she was present.

Rameeza said that they asked if the teachers knew a place called “Higher Education.”

”We said there are many higher educations,” Rameeza said. ”We thought they were asking about the faculty in old Jamaluddeen School, so we told them how to go there.”

She said the men then asked them where the local market was.

”When they were about to leave they gave a book to a teacher and a parent who was here, called ‘A story of redemption and steps to Christianity’, and said ‘here is a nice gift for you.'”

”We immediately informed the police but they did not seem to care,” Rameeza said. “We still have the book.”

Deputy Principal of Maafannu Madharusa Ahmed Farooq confirmed that four men came to the school yesterday and gave a book “of about 470 pages” to a pre-school teacher.

He said the school immediately informed the police.

”I heard they were arrested yesterday,” Farooq said. “They looked like they were Japanese or Chinese.”