Imam of unauthorised independent prayer congregation sentenced to jail

Self-appointed Imam, Hussain Thowfiq, arrested last month (September 30) for leading unauthorised prayers at Dharmuvantha Mosque, has been sentenced to jail for two years by the Criminal Court.

The 34-year-old was found guilty of disobeying religious unity regulations by delivering unauthorised sermons at the mosque, leading Friday prayers at a mosque not designated for the prayer, and of attempting to incite religious strife and discord read the criminal court sentence.

Meanwhile, Islamic Minister Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed said yesterday (November 8 ) that such independent congregations are “unacceptable” and threatened legal action if members of such groups refuse to accept advice from scholars.

The government would not allow practices outside the bounds of the law and religious strictures, declared Shaheem.

The Dharumavantha congregation had previously been described as inciting extremist ideology by the Islamic minister. The sermons had called for the destruction of the current government, prompting a temporary shutdown on February this year.


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.


Renowned Quran reciter arrested for molesting children

Renowned Qary (Quran reciter) Hussein Thaufeeq, widely considered to be one of the best Quran readers in the Maldives, has been arrested on multiple charges of child sex abuse.

Thaufeeq hosts a daily Quran teaching programme on Television Maldives (TVM) for school children every evening after Isha prayers. He also leads Friday prayers and conducts sermons.

Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam confirmed Thaufeeq was in police custody after being arrested in connection with “many” child sex offences against girls, “some cases going back a long time.”

‘’The case is under investigation and further information cannot be provided at this stage,’’ said Shiyam.

Police arrested Thaufeeq last week and presented him to the Criminal Court requesting for an extension of his detention. The Court granted an extension of custody to 15 days.

State Islamic Minister Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed declined to comment on the issue, “as the case is still under investigation.’’

President of the Adhaalath Party Sheikh Hussein Rasheed said that the party was “very concerned” over the issue, “not because a certain person may have done it, but because lately these sorts of crimes are increasing in number day by day,’’ Hussein said.

‘’I would not like to say anything regarding this [specific] case, because it hasn’t been decreed by a court of law and until then it is just an accusation.”


Islamic Ministry expresses concern over isolated congregations

The Islamic Ministry has expressed concern at the rising number of privately-held, unsanctioned congregations.

The ministry said it was “advisable” for such congregations to immediately cease worshipping in isolation and conducting sermons administered by scholars not licensed by the ministry.

The Islamic Ministry said that private congregations were against laws protecting religious unity.

”The Islamic Ministry does not believe that there is any reason to perform isolated congregations as the state is based on Sunni Islam, and formal congregations in the mosques are approved,” the Islamic Ministry said in a press statement.

The ministry advised Imams not to dispute religious issues or get into disputes over ‘Madhab’ (way of thinking, persuasion) , and to instead follow the Sunnah of Prophet Mohamed (PBUH) and to believe and return to the way that trusted Islamic scholars had advised.

Sheikh Ali Zahir said that the issue could be spoken about for a long time, but that the Islamic Ministry was the authorised department and had said its word.

However, a man who follows Islam in a private congregation told Minivan News on condition on anonymity that his group had decided to isolate themselves “because the current government is following a law established in 1982 by the former government, a law protecting religious unity which is contrary to the tenets of Islam.”

He said that according to the Constitution Article 10[b], “no law can be enacted contrary to the tenets of Islam.”

”So we do not have to follow the law protecting religious unity,” he said.

He said that according to the tenets of Islam there were no different ‘Madhabs’ on the Sunnah of Prophet Mohamed (PBUH).

”They force all the Imams to pray according to the Shafi’e Madhab, so we cannot follow the Imams who pray according to a Madhab, we follow Prophet Mohamed (PBUH),” he said.

He said another reason for the isolated congregations was that the former government ordered the Imams not to read ‘Gunooth’ during the fajr prayers.

”Now they read Gunooth when the Imams feels like it,” he said.

Furthermore, he said, the three powers of the government had been divided and Shari’ah Law had not been implemented in the Constitution and Penal Code, contradicting the tenets of Islam.

”According to Islam all the powers should be in one  hand,” he said.