After incendiary sermon, thousands pray for Nasheed and Nazim’s freedom

Following an incendiary Friday sermon warning unjust judges of hellfire, thousands gathered outside the Islamic Center in Malé at noon and prayed for former President Mohamed Nasheed and former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim’s freedom.

Dozens of police officers attempted to disperse the congregation before the prayer began, but later watched on until the prayer was completed. The police then cordoned off the area.

The sermon, issued by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, quoted several verses from the Qur’an and hadiths from the Prophet Mohamed’s Sunnah on the importance of delivering just verdicts and the wickedness of false testimony.

The unusually incendiary sermon comes in the wake of an 11-year jail term for Nazim on charges of smuggling weapons, and a 13-year jail term for Nasheed on charges of terrorism over the military detention of a Criminal Court judge.

The opposition has claimed the trials were unjust and marred with irregularities including the Criminal Court’s refusal to call defence witnesses and to allow adequate time and facilities to mount a defence.

Nazim maintains he was framed by rogue police officers on the orders of Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb, a claim the police and Adeeb have denied. Defence lawyers said prosecution’s witnesses had lied in court, and said the judges had violated the ex-defence minister’s right to defence.

Reading out the prepared sermon, Imams across the country said upholding justice was necessary for progress and the establishment of peace and order. Islamic Empires had progressed because they were founded on justice, they said.

Quoting from Surat al-Nisa, the sermon said: “Allah commands that you should render back the trusts to those to whom they are due; and that when you judge between men, you judge with justice.”

The sermon also urged judges to be fair, consider both sides of the argument and evidence in delivering a verdict. Providing false testimony is among the greatest of sins, it added.

Quoting from Prophet Mohamed’s Sunnah, the sermon said: “Judges are of three types, one of whom will go to Paradise, and two to Hell. The one who will go to Paradise is a man who knows what is right and gives judgment accordingly; but a man who knows what is right and acts tyrannically in his judgment will go to Hell; and a man who gives judgment for people when he is ignorant will go to Hell.”

Religious conservative Adhaalath Party’s scholars control the Islamic Affairs Ministry. The party recently withdrew support for President Yameen’s administration, and joined Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) under the banner “Alliance Against Brutality.”

The alliance has been organising daily protests in Malé.

After the sermon ended, the congregation of men and boys gathered outside the Islamic Center, adjacent to the military barracks and offered a prayer for Nazim and Nasheed: “Our beloved leader, a man loved by a majority of us, Mohamed Nasheed, has been unjustly sentenced and imprisoned. He has suffered and continues to suffer brutality. O Allah! Save Mohamed Nasheed from jail and keep him safe. Bless us in our work to establish peace and security in our country, and make us victorious.”

“Colonel Mohamed Nazim, a man who has dedicated his life to serving our people, has been falsely accused and unjustly imprisoned. Protect Mohamed Nazim and all Maldivians who suffer injustice.”

Opposition supporters last week also offered a similar prayer at the Islamic Center, prompting Home Minister Umar Naseer to call for police action against using mosques and surrounding areas to “make political statements.”

Dozens of opposition supporters on Baa Atoll Thulhadhoo Island also prayed for Nazim and Nasheed yesterday.

The alliance meanwhile held a march attended by hundreds in the afternoon and a rice pudding banquet at Raalhugandu area at night in Malé. There were protest marches on Thulhadhoo and Gaaf Alif Atoll Kolamafushi as well.


Police deny arresting worshippers at Dharumavantha mosque

No additional reporting by missing journalist Ahmed Rilwan

Police have denied arresting six men yesterday from an independent prayer congregation at the Dharumavantha mosque in Malé, despite media reports to the contrary.

“Reports in some media [outlets] about police arresting people who performed Friday prayers in an independent congregation at the Dharumavantha mosque [on October 3] were published irresponsibly in an attempt to mislead the public,” police insisted in a press release yesterday.

On Wednesday (October 1), police arrested a 34-year-old man for leading an independent prayer congregation and delivering unauthorised Friday sermons at the mosque.

The Imam was taken into custody with an arrest warrant on charges of “attempting to incite religious strife and discord” and leading prayers without authorisation from the Islamic ministry in violation of the Protection of Religious Unity Act of 1994 and regulations under the law.

Police stressed in yesterday’s press release that no further arrests have been made.

“And no one has been summoned to the police headquarters for questioning concerning this case,” police said

Police were not active in the area and no attempts were made to prevent the independent congregation from performing Friday prayers, the press release stated.

Local media reported eyewitness as saying that the Friday prayer was led by former opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Mohamed Rasheed ‘Kubey’ while a loudspeaker or megaphone was provided by Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party activist Mohamed ‘Eagle’ Shareef.

Both Kubey and Shareef have reportedly been attending the mosque regularly for Friday prayers.

A member of the independent congregation told online news outlet CNM that the mosque’s sound system has not been seen since the Imam was arrested.

“Today the govt acted against radicals but MDP stepped in & helped them spread their message. I thought we were together in this fight,” Home Minister Umar Naseer tweeted late afternoon on Friday.

“MDP will have to decide whether to be with us or with them,” he added.

MDP Chairperson Ali Waheed was not responding to calls at the time of press.

At a press conference last month, Naseer revealed that efforts were underway to stop the independent congregation gathering at Dharumavantha mosque.

“Putting a stop to it is not just physically going there and stopping them sometimes with shields. Due to the nature of the [issue], we want to advise them and explain to them how it is in religion,” Naseer said.

The Islamic ministry had summoned members of the separatist prayer group and conducted “one-to-one” counselling sessions, Naseer revealed.

“Unless all these efforts fail, we will not use the force of law,” Naseer said.

Religious unity

Police noted in a statement last week that the Dharumavantha mosque was not among mosques designated in Malé for Friday prayers.

“And those delivering sermons and issuing fatwas there have not sought authorisation from the Islamic ministry,” police said.

Under the religious unity regulations enacted in May 2010, permission and written approval must be sought from the Islamic ministry to preach, give sermons and issue religious edicts in the Maldives.

Scholars seeking a license to preach are required to have at least a first degree in religious studies from an institution recognised by the government.

In April, President Abdulla Yameen ratified amendments to the Religious Unity Act – which came into force mid-July – outlawing independent or unauthorised prayer congregations.

The penalty for violations of either the law or the regulations is a jail sentence of between two to five years.

In February this year, the Malé City Council posted a notice on the Dharumavantha mosque stating that it would be temporarily shut down at the request of the Ministry of Home Affairs.

The prayer group had been described as “extremist” by Islamic Minister Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed.

However, the congregation gathered for prayers the next Friday and prayed for God to destroy the government as well as for victory against the “irreligious” government that was attempting to “obstruct the spreading of Allah’s message”.

The Imam also prayed for God to destroy and send his wrath upon military and police officers who implement the government’s orders.

Despite the notice, the group continued to gather for prayers at the mosque and conduct Friday prayers every weekend at a time earlier than the time set by the Islamic ministry.

Local media reported last month that the Dharumavantha mosque’s Imam accused the government in a Friday prayer sermon of declaring “war” against the congregation.

A prayer was also offered against the government’s alleged efforts against the “true invitation” and for Allah to strike fear into the hearts of police and army officers who might be used stop the unauthorised congregation.


MATATO complains tourism not included in Islamic Ministry’s blessings during Friday prayer

The Maldives Association of Travel Agents and Tour Operators (MATATO) has written to the Islamic Ministry expressing concern that tourism was not among those industry sectors blessed during Friday prayers.

MATATO President Mohamed Khaleel confirmed to Minivan News that a letter had been sent to the Islamic Ministry yesterday (May 29) expressing concern that the country’s farming and fishing industries continued to be blessed following Friday prayers, while tourism sector had not received the same courtesy.

Under the country’s laws, traditional holiday staples such as the sale and consumption of alcohol and pork products, and women publicly sunbathing in bikinis, are outlawed outside designated ‘uninhabited’ islands set aside exclusively for resort development.

A letter sent by MATATO to the Islamic Ministry stated that the biggest gift from God to the Maldives over the past 40 years was the establishment of tourist resorts on uninhabited islands in the Maldives, according to local media.

The letter also argued that profits from the travel industry over the 40 years had been used to build harbours, roads and mosques across the country.

Considering the financial impact of tourism to the country’s revenue, MATATO President Khaleel said a letter had been sent to the Islamic Ministry asking for tourism to be included along with other industries worthy of being blessed in the Friday prayer.

“We are expecting a response [to the letter] by Sunday (June 2) or Monday (June 3) next week. We are expecting positive feedback from the ministry, not for ourselves, but for the sake of the country,” he said.

Given the substantial contribution of tourism to the country’s GDP – thought to indirectly reach over 70 percent – Khaleel questioned the financial impact to the country should the industry cease to exist.

Khaleel added that the government had earned large amounts of additional income from import taxes on goods and services brought into the country to cater for holidaymakers.

Minister of Islamic Affairs Sheikh Shaheem Ali Saeed and Minister of State for Islamic Affairs Mohamed Didi were not responding to calls from Minivan News at time of press.


Sermons question presidential authority on clemency: local media

Imams across the Maldives yesterday used their sermons to question the president’s authority to grant clemency for criminals sentenced to death in the country, local media has reported.

The Sun Online news service reported that yesterday’s Friday prayers were used to raise the issue of death sentences in the country, with imams saying that only the heirs of an alleged victim could decide on pardoning a criminal sentenced to be executed.

According to the report, the sermons also stressed that failure to implement the death penalty over fears of human activists or “powerful countries” was not allowed in Islam.

Speaking to Minivan News earlier this month, Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz said that more than 10 people have been sentenced to death in the past decade, out of which, none have been executed by the authorities tasked with the role.

For the past 60 years, the state has been commuting these death sentences to life imprisonment (25 years).

“The Maldives judicial system is constructed in a manner whereby another body is responsible to enforce the punishment once it is decided by the court,” Faiz explained.
“Not only in murder cases, but if all court verdicts on all crimes are properly enforced,  we will see the [positive] outcomes of these verdicts,” the Supreme court judge noted.

A motion related to death penalty is currently being reviewed in parliament which, if passed, will make the enforcement of the death penalty mandatory in the event it is upheld by the Supreme Court. This development would bring to an end the current practice of the country’s president commuting such sentences to life imprisonment.