President makes creative arts optional after pressure from religious conservatives

President Abdulla Yameen will make creative arts – including music and dance – optional subjects in the next year’s school curriculum after pressure from religious conservative organisations and political parties.

Islamic Minister Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali tweeted his gratitude towards the president, though he was unavailable to comment on the news at the time of publication. President’s office spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz also tweeted about the decision.

Local media reported that religious NGO Jamiyyathul Salaf had met with the president to voice concerns as well as sending a letter identifying ‘anti-Islamic’ aspects in the new curriculum.

Speaking to after the meeting, Jamiyyathul Salaf President Abdulla Mohamed said government ministers at the meeting denied the fact that creative arts was compulsory saying that it seemed unlikely that there would be any amendments to the curriculum.

The NGO Jamiyyathul Salaf put out a press statement last month describing the decision to make music and dance compulsory as an “insult to Islam”, contending that music is prohibited in Islam.

The meeting in question was also attended by the Islamic minister, education minister Dr Aishath Shiham, and the Adhaalath Party leader Sheikh Imran Abdullah.

The education minister had previously stated at a press conference of the Cabinet’s Social Council last week (October 23) that the whole curriculum was based on Islamic values and codes of behavior.

The religious conservative Adhaalath Party declared last week that it had been working ceaselessly to ensure that music and dance are not included as compulsory subjects in the new curriculum.

Meanwhile, Shaheem noted that Quran was included as a compulsory subject in the new curriculum and declared his support for efforts to “broaden Islamic education and Arabic language”.

Earlier this year, Islamic ministry unveiled its policies and plans for the year, placing great emphasis on strengthening Islamic education by focusing on schools and the youth population. The ministry has also revealed plans for an Islamic University in the Maldives.

Plans included sermons at school assemblies, special Islamic workshops, and a monthly Islamic magazine which is to be distributed to all schools and public libraries.

Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed said the government will mainstream Arabic education in the Maldives, focusing particularly on Islamic education and the study of Quran.


Comment: Maldivian faith to Maldivians

This article first appeared on DhivehiSitee. Republished with permission.

Political prostitutes who pose as religious scholars and sell their Islamic learning to the highest bidder have become some of the biggest contributors to the current socio-political and economic turmoil in the Maldives.

Chief among them is Sheikh Imran Abdulla, current president of Adhaalath Party – an organisation which uses the religion of Islam as its chief recruitment and fundraising tool, and proudly exploits people’s faith for political purposes.

Sheikh Imran Abdulla was one of the chief choreographers of the Islamists’ role in the downfall of the Maldivian democracy. On 2 February 2012, he issued an ultimatum to the then President Mohamed Nasheed: resign within five days or be forced out of office.

Nasheed was forced to resign on 7 February.

Yesterday, Sheikh Imran, now a chief mover and shaker in the current ‘Coalition Government’ issued another ultimatum. This time to the government he helped put in place: get out of the 25-year contract with India’s GMR Group for upgrading and running the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport within six days (by 15 November), or else.

He issued the ultimatum at a public rally widely believed to be funded by rich tourism tycoons, currently openly fighting over the country’s airports, and who have vested interests in getting GMR out.

The rally was a colourful affair, aimed chiefly at rousing the masses into a fervour by making the GMR issue into a religious one. The aim, it appears, is to incite enough public discontent to pressure the government into reneging on its agreement with GMR.

Ahead of the rally, held at the Artificial Beach in Male’, leaflets were distributed all over the island, encouraging people to attend the rally in the name of Islam, to save the Maldivian airport from foreign ‘economic invaders’ of ‘other religions’.

Songs were played on loudspeakers attached to pick-up trucks that went round and round the island, stopping at mosques after Friday prayers for maximum effect.

One of the songs has the title—Maldivians’ Prayer: Maldivian airport to Maldivians. Another is called simply Maldivian Airport to Maldivians. The latter raises the volume on nationalism and the former suggests ending the agreement with GMR is a religious duty of Maldivians.

Here’s some of the lyrics from Maldivians’ Prayer:

You get the picture.

The rally was not as big as the Mother of All Rallies, or the so-called Mahaasinthaa, held on 23 December 2011 to ‘Defend Islam’ by removing President Nasheed from office and endorsing his then Vice President Dr Waheed as his replacement.

But there was still a sizeable crowd of hundreds gathered around the nationalistic/religious banners.

Sheikh Imran told them it was their religious duty to deliver the airport from India’s GMR. Men and women (strange this, given that Imran has repeatedly stated that women should stay home and breed instead of joining political rallies) stayed listening to Sheikh Imran and his fellow Islam-sellers long after midnight and in the pouring rain.

Before ending the rally for the night, another ‘scholar’ led a prayer calling on Allah to bring his wrath upon GMR and cause it great destruction.

Such rhetoric not only fools a lot of people into accepting this economic/political issue as a religious matter, it also helps increase the intolerance and xenophobia which have become defining characteristics of the Maldivian society today, thanks mainly to the religion-political-tourism industry complex that now reigns supreme over Maldivian affairs.

Moreover, as former Maldivian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom Farah Faizal quickly highlighted, turning the issue into a religious one also has the potential to make life very difficult for the tens of thousands of Maldivian immigrants in India by creating tensions between them and the largely Hindu majority Indian population.

The rising radicalisation of Maldivians has been a cause for concern in India for several years, and it is well-known that a Maldivian was involved in the Mumbai attacks of 2008, as is the fact that the terrorist organisation Lashkar e Taiba has beenoperating and recruiting in the Maldives.

Young disaffected Maldivians are many, and most are highly vulnerable to ideological indoctrination by individuals who propagate extremist ideologies.

Sadly, many do not see beyond ‘The Scholar’ façade behind which these individuals operate. Tens of thousands remain incapable of looking further than the carefully cultivated beards, or the Pashtun garb—no more Islamic or Maldivian than GMR itself.

Hundreds everyday accept these individuals as devout religious scholars and remain blind to how they turn Islamic teachings into a commodity that can be bought and sold to equally unscrupulous businessmen/politicians.

It is these individuals, worked into a frenzy by individuals like Sheikh Imran, who have travelled abroad to kill themselves and others in the name of Islam.

Several government officials were at yesterday’s rally, including the President’s Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza. Riza loudly accused Indian High Commissioner to the Maldives D.M. Mullay—a key figure behind India’s quick acceptance of Dr Waheed’s government as legitimate—of taking bribes to ensure GMR was awarded the Maldives airport contract.

Here’s Dr Waheed’s spokesperson Abbas Riza at the rally:

But, as is now coming to be expected, the government has stayed wholly silent on the rampant exploitation of religion for political purposes, further reinforcing the perception that it is complicit in this phenomenon and condone it as a valid political strategy.

It is still silent, for instance, on the Salafists’ call last week to have Maldivian girls declared women at puberty. A children’s Afternoon with Ali Rameez remains scheduled to go ahead on 15 November as planned, despite the fact that Ali Rameez is the man leading the call to end girl-childhood at puberty.

And, as we shall see on 15 November (also the date of the GMR ultimatum), there will be many parents who would take their children to this pop-singer turned ultra-religious conservative without pausing to think about what they are doing.

These people will represent the thousands of Maldivians who have already bought into the dogma, among others, that it is their religious duty to have their girl-children married off at puberty to men old enough to be their grandfathers.

The official silence over ‘religious scholars’ and their exploitation of Islam to suit various socio-political and economic purposes must end. Such voices must be strongly countered and condemned.

The long term consequences of their actions will not be seen only in the political economy, but in the Maldivian identity itself which has already changed so drastically in the last decade as to be unrecognisable.

From a laid-back island community of moderate and tolerant Muslims whose relationship with God was their personal affair, Maldives has become a highly radical and tense society in which a large percentage of the population is bigoted, intolerant and xenophobic.

Among them will be the few who will join the violent militants.

What is of equally great concern are the tens of thousands of Maldivians who fail to see these political prostitutes for what they are, and willingly give up their own human rights and dignity and deny others theirs in the name of Islam.

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]


“We will celebrate liberation of airport on February 7”: Sheikh Imran

Adhaalath Party President Sheikh Imran Adbulla has said that the people of the Maldives will celebrate the liberation of Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) on the first anniversary of the resignation of the previous government – February 7, 2013, local media has reported.

The comments were made at a press conference held by a coalition of NGOs and political parties opposed to the deal with the Indian infrastructure company GMR – signed by former President Mohamed Nasheed’s administration – to develop and manage the country’s international airport.

Imran predicted there would be “some unrest and damage” on the day the deal is annulled, but urged people to come out and support the calls for nationalisation  – although the GMR deal is actually a 25 year lease arrangement and the airport still belongs to the government.

Minivan News was unable to gain further comment from the Adhaalath Party members at the time of press.

Imran said the Maldivian population would be able to endure economic hardship should the deal be annulled, before threatening “a completely different activity” should the government fail to resolve the issue to the coalition’s satisfaction.

“February 7 this year should suffice to make this clear [to the government],” Imran was quoted as saying by Haveeru.

“We were talking about a particular thing and a particular person completed it. Therefore, when the Maldivian people carry out these activities, too, in a certain way, the people who completes it will decide it a certain way. I hope the President has the courage, ability and steadfastness to take such a measure on behalf of the people,” he continued.

Imran’s comments are symptomatic of the incendiary rhetoric surrounding the airport, the nationalisation of which the Adhaalath Party has previously described as a “national jihad”.

The Civil Coalition of NGOs joined with the seven now-government aligned parties to campaign against the former Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) led administration, most famously gathering on December 23 last year to defend Islam against what it perceived as irreligious tendencies in the Nasheed government.

The Coalition explained that it was to conduct a week of activities between November 3 – 9 in opposition to the deal, referred to as “airport week”, rather than the mass protest that had previously been planned.

Sun Online reported that the decision had been made owing to clashes with school exams and the government’s plans to celebrate the anniversary of 1988’s attempted coup on November 3.

The paper also reported that the week would be accompanied by the launching of songs and a special logo in support of the movement.

A large balloon has appeared in recent days over the skies of Male’ reading “GMR go home.”

However, previous attempts to organise demonstrations in opposition to the development met with disappointing results when a September protest was poorly attended.

One government-aligned party, the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), refused to join the September protest, arguing that the dispute ought to be resolved through the courts.

DRP leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali has previously expressed his concerns that reneging on the GMR deal might have detrimental effects on investor confidence in what is already a perilous financial situation for the Maldives.

Abdulla Jabir, Deputy Leader of the Jumhoree Party (JP), has also been vocal about the economic impact of politicising the deal, criticising the Adhaalath Party.

“Sometimes they are religious experts, sometimes they are financial experts. But everyone loves Islam here. Right now, foreign investors are finding it difficult to understand the climate here,” Jabir told Minivan News earlier this month.

“This is not a perfect time for this issue to be happening with GMR,” he added. “I think these protests [against GMR] are unrealistic.”

The JP were, however, represented at the press conference, with State Minister for Fisheries and Agriculture Fuad Gasim reportedly suggesting that senior government figures were being pressured into silence over the deal.

Official government opposition to the deal is currently taking the form of investigations of the $511million deal via the country’s Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) as well as through a Singapore court of arbitration as agreed in the original contract.

However, the Attorney General has asked the Supreme Court to rule on whether the matter might be dealt with within the Maldivian court system.

Earlier this month, INIA CEO Andrew Harrison told Indian media that the company had received no official word from the Maldivian government concerning a resolution to the dispute.