Parliament accepts bill potentially banning pork and alcohol from resorts

Parliament has narrowly voted to accept a bill that would potentially ban pork and alcohol completely from the Maldives, requiring resorts to cease serving haram (prohibited) products to foreign tourists.

The proposed amendment to the Contraband Act was initially submitted by Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Nazim Rashad, who after the vote praised MPs’ “willingness to serve Islam”.

When presenting the bill, Nazim argued that the import of these products violated article 10(b) of the constitution which states that “no law contrary to any tenet of Islam shall be enacted in the Maldives.”

“We often hear rumours that people have alcohol at home in their fridge, available any time. We’ve heard that kids take alcohol to school to drink during their break. The issue is more serious than we think, it should not be ignored,” Nazim told the media, presenting the bill last week.

The vote was level with 24 MPs voting to accept the bill, and 24 to reject it, while 11 MPs abstained. Speaker Abdulla Shahid cast the deciding vote, in favour of accepting the bill.

The bill will now be sent to Parliament’s National Security Committee, which will assess it and potentially forward the proposal to parliament for a final vote on the matter.

Regulation permitting the sale of pork and alcohol in tourism establishments was passed by the Ministry of Economic Development in 1975. Parliament did not reject the regulation on the sale of pork and alcohol in 2009 following the introduction of the new constitution, thus allowing it to stand by default.

However the 2008 constitution explicitly states that no regulations against a tenet of Islam may be passed in the Maldives, in apparent contradiction of those laws allowing the import and sale of haram commodities.

After being asked in January for a consultative opinion over whether the Maldives could import pork and alcohol without violating the nation’s Shariah-based constitution, the Supreme Court unanimously rejected the case on the grounds that the matter did not need to be addressed at the Supreme Court level.

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Mariya Ahmed Didi this week told Minivan News that the issue of alcohol needed to be “clarified” and “addressed”.

“If this is a religious issue, that is if Islam bans sale of alcohol, it should not be sold in the Maldives as we are a 100 percent Islamic nation. If the sale is allowed, then the question to ask is whether alcohol is needed for the tourist trade to flourish,” she said.

She added that if alcohol proved to be a vital element in the tourism sector, then the sale of alcohol should be allowed for “registered places” to which a permit is given to accommodate tourists including resorts, safari boats and guest houses.

“If the objection to the sale of alcohol is on [religious] grounds, it should not be sold in places where Maldivians reside. But Maldivians do reside on resorts as employees. If we deny Maldivians the employment opportunities in the resorts, then the income from resorts will be restricted to those who own resorts, that would give way to increase in expatriate workers and foreign currency drainage,” she explained.

Jumhoree Party (JP) MP Abdulla Abdul Raheem – who voted in favour of accepting the bill – was reported by Sun as stating that as alcohol was banned under Islam, it was illegal in the Maldives to create laws and regulations concerning it.

The JP is headed by local resort tycoon, Gasim Ibrahim, who owns the Villa Hotels chain. According to customs records for 2011, those properties – including the Royal, Paradise, Sun, and Holiday Island resorts, in 2011 imported approximately 121,234.51 litres of beer, 2048 litres of whiskey, 3684 litres of vodka and 219.96 kilograms of pork sausages.

Gasim abstained on the vote, as did fellow resort owners Abdulla Jabir and Ahmed Hamza. Resort owner ‘Sun’ Shiyam voted in favour of accepting the bill.

Dhivehi Rayithunge Party (DRP) Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali voted against accepting the bill, as did Independent MP Mohamed Nasheed and Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) Parliamentary Group Leader, Abdulla Yameen.


Sri Lankan special forces bring bark to SAARC

Sri Lanka will provide security from its Special Task Force (STF) units for the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit to be held in Addu City this November.

STF is an elite special forces unit of the Sri Lankan police which was formed in 1983, and focuses on counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations. It was the lead unit engaged with the Tamil Tigers during the Sri Lankan civil war.

The Foreign Ministry and the Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) confirmed today that STF will be sending police dogs to support unidentified security matters.

“Previously, security dogs were allowed at the international airport, I’m not sure if they are still there but Maldivian law allows dogs to be used for security measures,” said MNDF Spokesperson Abdul Raheem.

“The dogs will clear the same areas as the event and other security forces, but I can’t say what they will be looking for,” he added.

Dogs are considered haram in Islam, and are prohibited as domestic pets in the Maldives. An exception was made for drug-sniffing and security dogs at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport, however sources familiar with the issue say local staff were unable to provide proper care for the dogs and they fell ill.

Allegations of religious intervention were denied.

President’s Office Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair told Minivan News that the STF dogs would not be an issue for the SAARC event. “We had dogs earlier for security without any trouble, I don’t see why anybody should object because the government has officially employed dogs before,” he said.

All countries participating in the SAARC convention are providing security forces. According to Zuhair, Bangladesh has donated trucks to the army, India is contributing police forces, and equipment with an estimated value of US$400,000 will be arriving from Pakistan in the next few days.

China will provide CCTV equipment for surveillance.

“It’s a well-integrated and cooperative effort with MNDF and all participating members,” said Zuhair, who pointed out that Addu was a unique site for an event of this magnitude.

“The last SAARC was held in Male’, but this time the event will be spread across several islands. Transportation logistics will be different,” said Zuhair.

Raheem said security preparations are under way for SAARC, and that MNDF “is sure that things will be to our satisfaction.”

Heads of state from the region will be attending SAARC, several of which are currently high-profile figures in the international community.

“We have to look at this as a high-risk event. Some heads of state are high-risk, but we are treating each and every head of state as high-risk to ensure their security,” said Raheem.

Local media reports that STF forces have been having special training programs in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo to prepare for the Addu event.


The previous version of this article stated that Pakistan would provide US$4,600-worth of equipment to the SAARC summit security measures.

It should have read, “equipment with an estimated value of US$400,000 will be arriving from Pakistan in the next few days.”


Maldives Halal-Haram Committee researching Golden Churn Butter

Spokesperson for the Islamic Ministry, Sheikh Ahmedulla Jameel, has said that the Halal-Haram Committee of the Maldives has begun to determine whether ‘Golden Churn Creamy Butter’ contains any unlawful substance in it, after Malaysia’s Islamic Ministry declared that the product contains the deoxyribonucleic acids (DNA) of swine and may be haram for Muslims.

The product is a popular food commodity in the Maldives and found in many local convenience stores.

Jameel said that the Islamic Ministry had received no official information from the Malaysian authorities, and was going by media reports.

‘’The Committee will declare whether it is haram or halal, as it is the committee that determines the status of food products in the Maldives,’’ he said, adding that the Islamic Ministry did not have further information to share on the matter.

Malaysian newspaper reports said the issue came in to light in April 18 when the Johor State Religious Department (JAJ) circulated a memo within its department to alert them of a swine DNA finding in Golden Churn Pure Creamery Butter products.

“There has been much confusion regarding the Golden Churn product. We have released a media statement before stating that the product contains pig DNA but many doubted it,’’ the newspaper quoted the Assistant Islamic Minister Datuk Daud Abdul Rahman saying.

President of Religious NGO Jamiyyathul Salaf Sheikh Abdulla Bin Mohamed Ibrahim said he heard about this incident but did not have any official information on the issue.

”These kind of issues do occur in the Maldives, in many cases these companies produce both types of the same product, one type which is for Gulf countries,” Sheikh Abdulla said. ”But the Maldives have sometimes received stocks produced for the Europe.”

He said the NGO has recently discussed the issue with the Islamic Minister.

”The ministry told us that because the cost of establishing a laboratory was expensive they were were many challenges they faced in solving the issue,” he said.

Andrew Ballantyne, Executive Chairman of the Australian company that produces the butter, Ballantyne Foods, said in a statement that both Ballantyne factories in Australia and New Zealand had been certified halal by halal certification authorities for all the butter brands produced and distributed by the company.

“It is important to understand that each delivery of butter out of Australia and New Zealand carries mandatory quality standards from relevant Government Food Authorities including Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service, (AQIS) and the New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA) in additional to strict Halal certification requirements. We confirm that our Golden Churn butter complies with the requirements of these authorities,” Ballantyne stated.

“Ballantyne only use high quality milk to make cream that is churned into butter. Ingredients are: cows milk, milk solids (non fat), moisture and 1.5-2 percent salt. No other additions, colours or preservatives are permitted.”

The particular canned butter variety under question in Malaysia had been certified halal by New Zealand Islamic Processed Food Management, “a recognised Islamic authority in New Zealand. NZIPFM is duly accredited by Jakim to certify products that are produced in New Zealand.”


Brand of butter commonly used in Maldives declared non-halal by Malaysia

The Islamic Development Department of Malaysia has declared the ‘Pure Creamery Butter-Golden Churn’ as non-halal (forbidden under Islamic sharia). The brand, widely used in the Maldives, was found to contain pig DNA.

According to media reports, the department’s director general explained that the product was the same brand that had been previously banned but had been brought into the country by different importers.

Meanwhile, local daily Haveeru reports Ibrahim Arif from the Olympia Shop as insisting that the New Zealand company that manufactures the butter had guaranteed it was pig-free.

“The company has denied the reports as baseless. As the company has guaranteed [that the product is free from pig DNA], we have recently placed an order worth US$100,000,” he said.


Music: a front line of Dhivehi culture

Hundreds of young Maldivians descended on Sultans Park on Friday night for the launch of a music album by a young local artist.

Sitting in the dark shade of the trees at night, they cheered loudly as two young ladies strummed guitars to a soft melodic tune.

Music has been closely entwined with cultures around the world, from beyond the mists of time. Soaring orchestras and gentle flutes have enamoured mankind with their ability to convey, wordlessly, their deepest thoughts and most powerful emotions. So majestic is their beauty that, in many cultures, instruments like the lyre, the sitar and the harp have been associated with the divine, the heavenly.

The ancient traditions of song and dance in Dhivehi Raajje have evolved to a point where geographically disparate islands have formed their own subtly distinct styles that allow a keen ear to differentiate between, for instance, the Giraavaru tribe and their neighbouring islanders.

The accelerating beats of bodu beru drums have moved generations of Dhivehin to ecstasy and euphoria as they climaxed in a thrilling crescendo.

As it happens, the centuries old traditions that seem to be infused in the very genes of Maldivians are now facing a new kind of threat – a battle between cultural expression and religious dogmatism that has recently arrived on the Maldivian shores.

In March 2008, a gathering assembled at the Dharubaaruge Conference Centre, organised by Jamiyyathul Salaf, a religiously conservative NGO.

The backdrop on the stage had an image of a burning musical note crossed out with flames.

During the gathering, presumably held in opposition to the government’s support for cultural activities like song and dance, they released a video with 22 local lslamic clerics ruling that song and music were ‘haraam’, or forbidden in Islam.

The gathering was broken up by police, citing concerns over religious radicalisation.

Today, the first cleric to condemn music in that video montage, Adhaalath Party leader Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari, is the country’s cabinet Minister of Islamic Affairs.

Among other clerics in the same video were two members of the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs, staff members of the Centre for the Holy Qur’an, one member of the Human Rights Commission, and also a member of the MDP religious council.

Immanuel Kant, the 18th century German philosopher, suggested that one’s ability to appreciate beauty was closely tied with one’s ability to make moral judgments.

Grand symphonies of Mozart, Schubert and Bach have endured for centuries on the strength of their sheer brilliance, and the daunting complexity and elegance of their compositions that could evoke romance, passions and dark sorrows in mute observers.

However, during another sermon organised by Jamiyyathul-Salaf in 2010, titled ‘Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘N’ Roll’, preacher Abdur-Raheem Green called the attention of his audience to the music playing from the nearby Carnival stage, and alleged that the musicians playing at the venue were people with empty lives.

In his sermon, he equated music with hedonism and “worship of materialistic culture… the Qur’an of the shaithaan.”

When the Maldivian death metal band Nothnegal returned from a successful tour of Europe, what awaited them in the report of their story were several hostile comments that insisted music was forbidden in Islam, and the group’s activities were akin to ‘devil-worship’.

While the Maldivian music scene hasn’t quite come to a head-on collision with religious dogmatists the way it has in some other Islamic countries, there are some notable incidents where they have crossed paths.

Ali Rameez, arguably the biggest pop-star in the Maldives at the time, famously quit music in a very public manner, reportedly making a symbolic renunciation by dumping a large quantity of his CDs into the sea.

The lead singer of the popular music band Trio, that had recently represented the Maldives at International music events, quit music at the height of the band’s popularity and announced on his Facebook page that his decision was driven by religious considerations, as he was given to understand that music was forbidden to Muslims.

The cultural differences and the attitudes of talented musicians towards their religious duties are a fascinating study in contrast.

The famous Ghazal and Qawwali musical traditions of the subcontinent have a long and rich legacy of talented Muslim artistes, including internationally acclaimed Pakistani singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

AR Rahman, the double Oscar and Grammy winning Indian musician is also known to be a very devout Muslim.

There appears to be no clear consensus on what is considered acceptable music and what is not.

The late Sheikh Ibn Baz, former grand mufti of Saudi Arabia, rejected all forms of popular music as ‘haram’, except during weddings where it was restricted to women folk.

While many conservative scholars make exemptions for devotional songs accompanied only by the beats of a daf (a frame drum resembling a tambourine), others consider even devotional music to be taboo.

Renowned Lebanese Islamic scholar Sheikh Ibrahim Ramadan Al-Mardini rejects such religious restrictions on music, saying no such prohibition existed in the Qur’an.

He also argues that the hadith often used to justify it were “very weak”.

Opposition religious leader, Dr Afrasheem Ali, said on national television in 2008 that the Prophet himself had sung. Former President Gayoom, also a religious scholar, asserted in a speech that singing and dancing were not incompatible with Islam.

Indeed, even the definition of the term ‘singing’ appears to be equally nebulous.

The stirring qualities of rhythm, melody and tenor have been used to great effect by famous qaris like Abdul Basit Abdul Samad – who became internationally known for his spell-binding recitations of that Qur’an that inspires many imitators.

Even after ‘renouncing music’, former pop-star Ali Rameez has sung several devotional songs, many of them quite popular.

So did Rock-star Cat Stevens, who embraced Islam at the peak of his career and gave up music. Upon conversion, he took on the name Yusuf Islam, and auctioned away all his guitars.

Elsewhere, Salman Ahmad, the lead singer of iconic Pakistani rock band Junoon and arguably the greatest rock star to emerge from the Muslim world, is appealing to youth in his terrorism-plagued country to take up the guitar and reject extremism.

Cat Stevens, aka Yusuf Islam, eventually returned to music. On the eve of his album’s re-release, he explained that he had stopped performing due to his misunderstanding of the Islamic faith.

“This issue of music in Islam is not as cut-and-dried as I was led to believe … I relied on hearsay, that was perhaps my mistake”, Yusuf said.

Salman Ahmad, too, pointed out that the verses of celebrated Sufi poet Rumi “promoted harmony, tolerance, peace, self-discovery, simplicity… really, the antithesis of the religious extremists protesting on the street.”

Arguing that both rock musicians and extremists had a common target – the youth, he has vowed to undertake a new kind of ‘jihad’, one that combats what he considers the destructive power of extremism and “murderous thugs masquerading as holy men” by providing the outlet of music.

Indeed, young rock bands in the Maldives have chosen to vent their angst against political violence with powerful thrash music. Judging by the crowds that throng their shows, the message has been received well.

Gentle plucks on guitar strings have in the past summoned millions of anti-war activists, raised millions in charity, and defined entire cultural eras.

Countries everywhere use the strength of music to put together stirring verses set to triumphal tunes played by military brass bands – a shared national anthem, to signify a shared nationhood.

Maldivian bands like Zero Degree Atoll have revived cultural identities by skilfully infusing the sounds of waves and conch shells along with modern guitar riffs and bodu beru percussion, accompanying, of course, their evocative Maldivian poetry.

If the music that mingled with the Maldivian sea breeze for centuries is to survive, one would do well to heed the advice of the young man on the stage at the Sultan Park last night, who exhorted his artist and musician colleagues to defy those who discourage and object to music, and remain steadfastly committed to creating wonderful new melodies; words that would clearly be music to our ancestors’ ears.


Profits from resorts that serve alcohol are haram, explains Dr Zakir Naik

Visiting Islamic speaker Dr Zakir Naik clarified during a question and answer session this morning that profits generated from the sale of alcohol are haram (prohibited), and urged the Maldives to encourage investment in halal (permitted) tourism.

“In Islamic finance, you cannot involve in any business as the owner of that business if it is even one percent a haram activity,” Dr Naik said.

“As a main partner you cannot be involved. If you are investing as a pool and you are a small partner, then a little bit is permitted, but as a 100% owner I cannot say ‘fine, I will have a hotel that will allow alcohol, and that money I will give to charity.’ You cannot say that. Because you are involved in haram activity.”

It was permitted, Dr Naik explained, to invest in part in a mutual fund where a haram activity might be a small percentage of the investment, as “then I can give the small amount to charity, because I have no major say in the business. But if I am a bigger shareholder, I cannot allow even 0.1% of haram activity to take place.”

Under Islam the use, handling and sale of alcohol are considered haram to Muslims, a tenet that led to vigorous opposition against the government’s attempt in February to legalise the sale of alcohol to non-Muslims on inhabited islands. Critics of the regulations claimed they were unconstitutional, as Article 10(b) of the Maldives’ Constitution states that ‘no law contrary to any tenet of Islam shall be enacted in the Maldives..

However the country depends heavily on tourism for its economy, particularly resorts which profit from the sale of alcohol, many of which are owned by local businessmen.

Dr Naik, who is speaking tonight and tomorrow at Maafaanu Stadium, after being invited by the Ministry for Islamic Affairs, questioned why the Maldives had no resorts that were “100 percent halal.”

“Your country is so beautiful. I have visited many countries in the world and I have to profess, the islands in Maldives are par excellence. I’ve been to many parts of the world, been to many top resorts in the world, but the one where I am staying in the Maldives is par excellence. Allah has blessed you with such beauty, scenery and natural resources,” he said.

“I put forward the proposal that why don’t we have an Islamic resort? I’m aware the Maldives prohibits alcohol for citizens, but those people who come from outside the Maldives can have access to these things which are haram for Muslims.”

Such resorts, he suggested, should be “exclusively halal, free of pork and alcohol, and with proper segregation and dress code – it will be a benefit.”

Similar segregated, alcohol and pork free hotels in other parts of the world had proven very successful, he explained, “with revenue far more than other hotels. The same thing can be done here.”

“The income for people investing in such Islamic resorts will be much higher,” he suggested. “I have spoken to government officials about it, and they say Inshallah, they look forward to it. Believe me it will attract more tourists very soon, in the next couple of years, with better revenue and a better profit.”

State Minister for Islamic Affairs Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed has similarly argued for promotion of Islamic “cultural tourism” within the Maldives, noting that “a lot of hotels, such as the Intercontinental in Medina, are without alcohol. What about developing alcohol-free resorts; Islamic tourism, just like Islamic banking?”

Dr Zakir Naik is speaking at an event at Maafannu stadium tonight and tomorrow, at 8:45pm.