Historical ‘Fan’diyaaru’ Mosque demolished

A historical mosque in Male’- aged at least 268 years old – has been demolished in order to build a new one on the same site.

‘Fandiyaaru Miskiy’ (Judge’s Mosque) was built by Al Qadi Muhammad Muhibbuddin Fan’diyaaru Kaleyfaanu – who was appointed as Chief Justice in 1747- and was subsequently named after him.

REVIVE, a local NGO working to preserve national history and culture, has condemned the demolition, and expressed remorse over the historical loss.

Describing the demolition as unlawful, the organisation called on the Maldives Police Service, Prosecutor General’s Office, and other authorities to investigate and take action.

REVIVE has also called on the People’s Majlis to pass a national heritage bill as soon as possible.

“The government have an obligation to protect such historical buildings under the 27/79 Act on Historical Places and Things and the UNESCO Convention Concerning The Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage,” a REVIVE press release stated.

The organisation also called on relevant authorities to ensure that the digging of the site should be done under the supervision of the Department of Heritage, as historical relics are often found under such sites.

Male’ city council member Ibrahim Shuja said that the mosque was demolished to build a modern four-storey mosque ‘ for the benefit of the people’.

“A generous businessman has offered to build a new mosque there, they have been planning this for three years. It was discussed with the [city] council and the Islamic Ministry before we approved it. We are not doing anything illegal here. It is a mosque we are building, not a carnival. We will go on with the project as planned,” Shuja said.

He also said there was “not that much of history”, that the corpses buried there would be removed, and that the place would be cleaned for building the new mosque.

“If anyone wants to observe, they are welcome. And if anyone wants the wooden structure of the ceiling, they can take it,” he said.

Director of the Department of Heritage Ali Waheed confirmed that the department was not informed about the demolition of the mosque. He noted that while there is no heritage law requiring such approval, considering the department is mandated with taking care of such sites, the usual practice is to consult with it before such activity.

“Even if it is to place a telecommunication antenna near a historical site, we are consulted usually. But we haven’t been officially informed about Fandiyaaru Miskiy,” Waheed said.

Ali Waheed noted that the department has a number of challenges in taking care of historical sites around the country, including the fact that such places are under the jurisdiction of Island Councils with budget deficiencies.

“We have earlier paid people from islands to maintain such places, but since we can no longer pay for the maintenance, those places haven’t been maintained for the past four years. And not all councils are cooperative in maintaining such places,” Waheed said.

Mohamed Shatir, Historian and Director General of the National Archives also expressed concern over the demolition.

“Personally, I feel that it shouldn’t have been demolished. If there was a need to expand the mosque, I think it could have been done while retaining the original old mosque. Perhaps it is not exactly unlawful as there is no proper heritage act in place, but it is definitely not right,” Shathir said.

According to REVIVE, a seven foot tombstone within the mosque premises was also demolished in early 2000s, while the greater cemetery was dismantled in 1970 to provide housing plots.

REVIVE president Ahmed Naufal said that other historical sites such as Koagannu Cemetery in Addu City – one of the oldest in the country- and the cemetery of the old Friday mosque in Male’ have also been vandalised.

“In most islands such places are abandoned and ignored. Not just by the authorities but also members of the public don’t seem to care about such places,” he said.

“We are working on a National Heritage Bill currently. But I really don’t think laws alone will get results. The Maldives National Archives Act was passed in 2011, and they still have only a few staff and no office,” he said.

Referring to the religious extremists’ destruction of historical Buddhist relics at the Maldives National Museum in 2012, Naufal said that even after the incident the security of the museum is poor.

“These are national treasures. They represent our history and our culture. They should be properly protected, perhaps by our national security forces. A lone security guard is not enough, especially considering the place was attacked recently,” said Naufal.


Abandoned historical documents salvaged for public access

Historical state documents dating back to the 16th Century, discovered in storage boxes at the President’s Office, have been catalogued and handed over to the Department of Heritage.

The documents were discovered in 2008 when the newly elected President Mohamed Nasheed was moving into the President’s Office vacated by former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

They were stashed away in boxes and discovered on three different occasions at the premises of the President’s Office.

President Nasheed handed over the documents, digitally catalogued, to the Department of Heritage at a ceremony at the National Museum this morning.

The oldest document in the collection, which contains a total of 1005 documents, dates back to 1560.

The collection contains, among other state correspondence, letters of diplomacy between various Maldivian rulers and foreign states including Britain, the United States and Germany.

Other documents provide painstakingly kept records of how historical rulers divided up, endowed or gifted land, vegetation and even parts of the sea to members of the public according to their largesse and customs.

The documents also provide an opportunity to trace how land in Male’ came to be in the possession of particular families, and makes possible previously denied insights into what Male’ was like hundreds of years ago.

Some of the documents were written on ‘scrolls’ made from the skin of goat, while some others were scribed on cloth. Most of the documents, however, were written on paper that are now in different conditions of repair.

The document catalogue, prepared under the supervision of Aminath Shareef, Senior Projects Director of the President’s Office, contains over a thousand pages of digitised images of each document with accompanying explanations as to their origin and use.

The collection will be managed by the Department of Heritage, established recently to operate under the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture. The new Department will also manage the National Museum, the Boduthakurufaanu Memorial Centre in Utheemu, and the National Archives.

Director of the National Museum, Ali Waheed, told Minivan News that the documents will be on display for the general public early next year.

In addition to being exhibited, the documents will also be made available in electronic format for historians and other researchers.