Parliament to consider mandatory Shariah punishments

Anara Naeem MP; Haa Dhaal Makunudhoo; Adhaalath1

An amendment to make Islamic Shariah punishments mandatory in the new penal code was accepted for consideration at today’s sitting of the People’s Majlis.

Proposed by Adhaalath Party MP Anara Naeem, the amendment to article 1,205(a) (Dhivehi) reads: “If a person is found guilty of a crime with qisas [retaliation in kind] or hadd [a punishment fixed in the Quran or teachings of the Prophet], the sentence must be the penalty prescribed in Islamic Shariah.”

Introducing the amendment, the MP for Haa Dhaal Makunudhoo referred to Article 10(b) of the Constitution, which states, “No law contrary to any tenet of Islam shall be enacted in the Maldives.”

The new penal code is due to come into force on April 13. Anara noted that the law currently states that Islamic Shariah punishments must be meted out only for crimes with a punishment fixed in the Quran.

The purpose of her amendment is to “further improve” the provision in line with the constitution, Anara said.

The six crimes with punishments fixed in the Quran are theft (amputation of the hand), illicit sexual relations (death by stoning or one hundred lashes), making unproven accusations of illicit sex (eighty lashes), drinking intoxicants (eighty lashes), apostasy (death or banishment), and highway robbery (death).

The only one of these punishments that is currently implemented is the flogging punishment for illicit sexual relations, normally enforced on women. However, the home minister last year established a death chamber at Maafushi jail, ending a six-decade moratorium on the death penalty.

The amendment bill was unanimously accepted for consideration with 44 votes in favour and sent to the National Security Committee for further review.

Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Ibrahim Riza also proposed several amendments to the penal code on behalf of the government to correct minor errors and problems noted during the preparations for implementing the new law.

The government-sponsored legislation proposes amending issues of conflicting interpretations and confusing provisions as well as reordering sections.

Riza’s bill was accepted with 40 votes in favour and two abstentions.


Islamic minister defends government policy on extremism

Defending the government’s stance on extremism and the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq (ISIS), Islamic Minister Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed has told the Majlis the “Maldives will not allow Maldivians to go and fight in foreign wars.”

Shaheem told MPs today that Islamic scholars have criticised and expressed concern over ISIS policies, and stressed that Western powers also faced the challenge in preventing their citizens from joining ISIS.

He did not provide specifics on preventive mechanisms, and declined to respond to a question by MP Ibrahim Mohamed Didi on whether ISIS constituted a threat to Maldives national security.

According to Jihadist media groups, at least four Maldivians have been killed while fighting in the Syrian civil war. Meanwhile, reports of Maldivians travelling abroad to Syria have increased this year.

In October, 23-year-old Ibrahim Ahsan departed to Syria with his wife, mother and 10-year-old sister, telling his father that the Maldives was a “land of sin”. On November 6, the Maldives Police Services and Sri Lankan police apprehended three Maldivians at the airport, on their way to Syria via Turkey.

“We do not support their [ISIS] extremist policies. We have repeatedly appealed to our beloved youth to refrain from falling prey to these ideologies,” he said.

The government had taken action to stop Maldivians from praying in independent congregations, he said.

The ministry first advises individuals who take part in authorised prayer congregations, and only takes action against their leaders if the congregations do not stop, he said.

The Imam of an unauthorised independent prayer congregation in Malé was arrested in early October after he prayed for God to destroy the government and for victory against the “irreligious” administration that was attempting to “obstruct the spreading of Allah’s message”.

Under the Religious Unity Act, permission and written approval must be sought from the Islamic Ministry to preach, give sermons, and issue religious edicts.

Shaheem said the Islamic Ministry has also received reports of unauthorised prayer congregations in island communities and reports of illegal out-of-court marriages.

“From our side, Islamic scholars and ministry’s scholars have been sent to meet these communities and religious advice programmes are ongoing,” he said.

The programme has been successful, he claimed, adding that religious advice had stopped several young people from participating in unauthorised congregations.

The Islamic ministry has also blocked several websites that published offensive cartoons or articles that harass the Qur’an and Prophet Mohamed in order to strengthen religious unity, he said.

The ministry has facilitated opportunity for those who wanted to commit the Qur’an to memory, and is planning videoconferencing lessons to students who want to study the Qur’an in the atolls.

Shaheem said he is “satisfied” with the government’s religious policy and appealed to the public for support.

“President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom’s administration is doing tremendous work to revive religious unity in the Maldives, uphold Islamic identity and strengthen faith.”

Related to this story

Maldivian jihadist fighter dies in Syria

Islamic Minister advises Maldivians against participating in foreign wars

Police arrest Imam of unauthorised independent prayer congregation

MDP questions sincerity of Islamic minister’s stance on ISIS


Dr Bilal Phillips to visit the Maldives for the second time

Canadian preacher Dr Bilal Phillips is set to visit the Maldives for the second time at the end of this month in order to deliver a religious sermon upon invitation by local religious organisation Jamiyyathul Salaf.

Dr Phillips will give a sermon named ‘The call’ on the 30th of this month, and will be accompanied by British Islamic scholar Abdu Raheem Green.

Speaking to Haveeru, president of Jamiyatthul Salaf, Abdulla bin Mohamed Ibrahim said that they had received a lot of support for the initiative and informed that the programme will be conducted in various locations in the Maldives including Fuvahmulah and Addu City.

Dr Phillips was recently investigated and deported from the Philippines for inciting terrorist ideologies. He was questioned by the Phillipines police regarding links terrorist organisations including the Islamic State (IS).

The controversial preacher who frequently appears on Islamic television channel Peace TV has been banned from entering Germany, the United Kingdom, Australia, and the United States of America for security reasons.


Maldives’ human rights developments “disturbing”, says Canadian foreign minister

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has described recent developments in the Maldives as “disturbing”, expressing concern over the current human rights situation.

“The likely kidnapping of a leading local journalist and threats and attacks against other journalists, politicians and activists are particularly disturbing,” read a statement from the Foreign Affairs Ministry.

Baird subsequently labelled the legal action against the Human Rights Commission of Maldives – initiated in relation to a report submitted to the UN Human Rights Council – as “unfortunate”.

He described the Supreme Court’s suo moto case – which continues today (September 30) – as “a decision that will not help to restore its credibility. Free speech must be protected, not trampled.”

Recent attacks on the office of Minivan News, the office of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), and the homes of MDP MPs have prompted international condemnation.

The Maldives Ministry of Foreign Affairs was joined by the United States and Reporters Without Borders in condemning the night of lawlessness in the capital Malé following the Minivan News incident.

Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon “noted that the government remains strongly committed to create an environment that gives protection to media personnel to exercise their duties freely and responsibly.”

The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office was the first foreign government to officially register such concerns earlier this month in relation to a growing culture of death threats and the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan on August 8.

Baird has been notable for his strong statements regarding the Maldives in recent years, often resulting in criticism from the government.

A statement from the Canadian minister in 2012 regarding the alleged persecution of opposition MPs was described as “misleading” and “one-sided” by government officials.

Similarly, last year President Dr Mohamed Waheed wrote a letter of complaint to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, accusing Baird of making “inappropriate and derogatory remarks” towards then acting Foreign Minister Dr Mariyam Shakeela during a Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group meeting.

Concerned by extremism

“Canada is concerned by disturbing reports of increasing Islamic extremism and deterioration in the promotion and protection of human rights in the Maldives,” continued Baird’s statement yesterday (September 29).

“The government and judiciary must demonstrate a clearer commitment to dealing with these issues, including indications of domestic support for the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL),” said Baird.

A number of Maldivians are reported to have been killed this year while waging Jihad in the Syrian civil war, while local groups marched through the capital this month waving the the ISIS/ISIL flag.

‘To hell with democracy’, ‘Democracy is a failed system’, ‘Shariah gave you the rights, not democracy”, ‘Shariah is the only solution’, read the placards of the 150 demonstrators.

Government leaders have spoken out against atrocities committed by ISIS forces in the Middle East as well as discouraging Maldivians from participating in foreign conflicts.

“IS is using the veil of religion as a pretext for inflicting terror, and committing violations of human rights,” said Dunya in August.

“Their philosophy blatantly violates the fundamental principles of peace, tolerance, and unity which are advocated by Islam, and their actions have tarnished the world’s perception of our great religion. A religion of peace and tolerance.”

Both former President Mohamed Nasheed and an independent report commissioned by the Maldivian Democracy Network have suggested radicalised gangs were likely to have been involved in the disappearance of Rilwan 53 days ago.

After Nasheed’s comments at an MDP rally last week, MP Eva Abdulla received a threat suggesting the next MDP event would be attacked by a suicide bomber. Threats sent to journalists last week warned against reporting on the continuing spate of attacks.

“This is a war between the laadheenee [secular or irreligious] MDP mob and religious people. We advise the media not to come in the middle of this. We won’t hesitate to kill you,” read one widely circulated SMS.

Nasheed has argued that the Maldives now represents a fertile recruiting ground for international jihadi movements, suggesting that the government’s inaction posed a serious danger to the security of the country.

Attempts to shut down congregations considered to be conducting unauthorised sermons, labelled “extremist” by the Islamic minister, have proved unsuccessful in recent months.

A Facebook page called Islamic State in Maldives promoting IS in the country was discovered last month, which shared photos of protests calling for a ban on Israeli tourists where protesters carried the IS flag.

Moreover, a new site called Haqqu and Twitter account sprang up recently featuring IS-related news and publications in Dhivehi as well as translations of a sermon by self-proclaimed Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Rilwan was one of the first journalists in the Maldives to write in depth about Maldivian jihadis, receiving intimidation from online groups as a result of his research.


Comment: Afrasheem, Rilwan, and the future of the Maldivian community

Writing in the 1970s, anthropologist Clarence Maloney remarked that religion in the Maldives was limited to “washing, fasting and praying”.

What he meant is similar to what MB Hooker observed in the Southeast Asian Muslim populations – Islam was characterised by “a ‘non-literally’ Muslim culture”, limited largely to practice without much theorisation and philosophising.

However, since the 1980s – and especially since the year 2000 – the most spectacular change in our culture has been the conscious appropriation and questioning of received religious doctrines and practices. Processes associated with modernisation and mass education have enabled this never-ending fragmentation of discourses, interpretations, and different visions at a larger scale.

This is what Eickelman and James Piscatori described as the “objectification of Muslim consciousness” that has now swept the whole Muslim world. Maldives is no exception to this.


It was in this emerging context of fragmented religious discourses and different religious interpretations that the regime of President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom suppressed both those who embraced Salafi interpretations of Sharia and those drawn toward more pluralist Sharia.

It is in this context – now characterised by extreme political and social uncertainties – that one of the most prominent Maldivian religious scholars, Dr Afrasheem Ali, was murdered in October 2012. It was also in this same context that my friend, journalist, and human rights activist Ahmed Rilwan disappeared six weeks ago.

None of us yet knows the truth about those tragedies. But what we know is that both have significant religious context. Afrasheem had faced harassment and assault on several occasions because of his religious views. Similarly, Rilwan – once a Salafist – received threats because of his criticisms of certain understandings of Sharia.

More importantly, the murder and disappearance sends a chilling message to the rest of us – religious disagreements cannot be tolerated.

The fact of the matter is that, however small and homogenous, ours is now a society characterised by pluralism. We cannot wish away these disagreements on deep questions of what the good life is.

In need of a new moral order…

But ethical and religious disagreements do not mean there is no possibility of a moral order for collective life that we could come to agree upon.

Such a moral order must be based on political and moral principles that we all can – or should – value, i.e. liberty, equality, and peace. These are also among the higher values that Islam stands for.

In this moral order, there should be a maximum and genuine role for religion. It is not a secularist moral order where religion must be privatised, or religion is seen as something that will just disappear with the rise of ‘rationality,’ science, or modernisation.

In my view, both the Maldivian Democratic Party and the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party/Progressive Party of Maldives have failed to articulate a vision of democracy that genuinely respects the place of religion in democracy.

Officials of both governments have characterised religious people as somehow irrational or pre-modern. Both governments have tried to control or co-opt religion in their instrumentalist and ideological narrowness.

A democracy based on such a moral order does not make a fetish out of ‘secularism’ or ‘separation of religion from the state’. Secularism is not about separation as such. It is about certain moral ends, including liberty and equality.

Sometimes separation and at other times accommodation will promote those values. There is no a priori fixed solution (such as “a wall of separation”) to the relationship of religion to the state in order to achieve those ends.

Context is everything. And contextual reasoning is the way forward.

Thus the moral order the Maldives need is not that of the mainstream secularism we find in France, Turkey, or sometimes even the US – where the value of religion and the rights of religious people are not fully recognised.

In this new moral order, religious parties and religious scholars must have an equal place in the public sphere as their secular counterparts. Laws and policies based on religious values must have a place too. How else could it be, unless we think we can simply separate our religious selves from our political selves?

Only a ‘thin’ liberal conception of citizenship based on a ‘thin’ understanding of epistemology would think moral truth is somehow ‘secular’.

…for a new imagined community

To be sure, in concrete terms, this moral order means freedom of religion cannot be denied – citizenship cannot be denied on religious grounds. How can anyone of us in all religious honesty deny this basic and God-given right?

Even Gayoom, who was the architect of the prevailing insular nation-identity based on ‘sattain satta muslim quam/100 per cent Muslim nation’ had to acknowledge that the denial of religious freedom in the Maldives was in spite of Islam:

The real essence of Islam…is that it is non-discriminatory. Its tolerance of other beliefs and religions is clearly established in the Holy Quran…

We Maldivians…hold freedom of belief as sacred and we abhor discrimination…on any grounds whether of creed, colour or race. It is only that we are such a homogenous…society based on one national identity…that we are convinced that the preservation of this oneness in faith and culture is essential for the unity, harmony, and progress of the country.

Gayoom, Address at the Opening Ceremony of the Seminar on ”The Calls for Islam in South and South East Asia’, 1983

In other words, a universal precept of Quran was overridden by his attempt at creating a homogenous ‘imagined community’. While this imagined community had been homogenous, the real community has undergone fragmentation of religious discourse.

As a result, the national self-understanding that Gayoom – still leader of the country’s ruling political party – created is now being subjected to vigorous contestation from all fronts – both religious and secular. That is why we are in need of a new moral order for a new imagined community.

Why Afrasheem and Rilwan matter

Perhaps one of the biggest immediate challenges for a new moral order in the Maldives is related to the tragedies of Afrasheem and Rilwan.

Besides our human concern for them, the need for a new moral order is the long-term reason why we all must be concerned to find truth about them. That is why everyone should be calling for greater accountability of the government in these cases.

That is why I support the #suvaalumarch taking place tomorrow afternoon (September 19) in Malé.

For the future of democratisation in the direction of this new moral order is contingent on seeking truth and justice for Afrasheem and Rilwan.

Azim Zahir is a PhD candidate at the Centre for Muslim States and Societies, University of Western Australia.


The Islamic State has supporters in paradise: Washington Post

“When the medieval Arab traveler Ibn Battuta gazed upon the Maldives, an Indian Ocean archipelago of more than a thousand coral atolls and turquoise-blue lagoons, he thought it ‘one of the wonders of the world.’ ” writes Ishaan Tharoor for the Washington Post.

“He didn’t need much persuading to halt his voyage, and assumed the role of ‘qadi‘ — or chief religious judge — for the entire archipelago, deliberating on matters of state while enjoying the delights of the islands’ beaches and, as local lore goes, its women.

Ever since then, travelers and honeymooners have flocked to the Maldives for their own bit of paradise. The country’s myriad scattered luxury resorts now bring in hundreds of thousands of tourists every year — in 2012, the Maldives counted over a million visitors, nearly three times the country’s existing population.

But there’s trouble in paradise, also. This past weekend, some 300 people in the capital city Male — a tiny, crowded concrete island in the sea — marched down its main thoroughfare waving the black flags of the Islamic State. They chanted slogans against democracy and held banners that read “Shariah is the only solution,” among others. They ended their protest with a prayer offering support to mujahideen waging jihad around the world.”

Read more


Dhivehi and Islam to be taught to Maldivians in Trivandrum

Arrangements are being made to teach Dhivehi and Islam to Maldivian children residing in Trivandrum, India, Education Minister Dr Aishath Shiham revealed today.

Speaking at the closing ceremony of a workshop for principals of schools in Shaviyani, Noonu, and Raa atolls, the minister reportedly said that efforts were underway to hire Dhivehi and Islam teachers for the approximately 300 Maldivian children in Trivandrum.

She noted that offering Dhivehi and Islamic education to Maldivian children living abroad was a campaign pledge of President Abdulla Yameen.

In January, the Maldives High Commission in Sri Lanka announced that it was seeking Dhivehi language, Islam, and Quran teachers for Maldivian children residing in the neighbouring country.


Gayoom warns of spread of “secular ideology”

Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has warned of the spread of “secular” or “irreligious” ideology in the Maldives, reports local media.

Speaking at a ceremony held last night to hand over funds to the Progressive Party of Maldives’ (PPM) branches, the ruling party’s leader was quoted as saying that “our responsibility should be to protect the country and uphold the principles and tenets of Islam.”

Gayoom warned of “an ideology to allow other religions on Maldivian soil” as well as efforts to instil values or practices that were contrary to Maldivian traditions and culture.


Archaeological team from India concludes survey in Maldives

A delegation from the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) visited Maldives from August 14-20 on the invitation of the Government of Maldives to conduct a detailed study for a project to undertake restoration of ancient mosques in Maldives.

The 4-member team, led by Dr BR Mani, additional director general, visited several mosques in various islands and held meetings with the Maldivian delegations in the Ministry of Islamic Affairs and the Department of Heritage led by Minister of Islamic Affairs Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed and Deputy Minister of Education and Director of Heritage Department Yumna Maumoon.

Both sides welcomed the proposal for a MoU between ASI and the heritage department, and the renovation and preservation of ancient cultural heritage in the Maldives.

The ASI delegation visit is a follow-up of the visit of Shaheem’s visit to India in April 2014, during which co-operation between India and Maldives in this area was discussed.

India had previously assisted the Maldives in restoration of several ancient mosques including Hukuru Miskiy (1988), Eid Miskiy (2006), Dharumavantha Rasgefaanu Miskiy (2004) in Male and Fenfushi Hukuru Miskiy in South Ari atoll (2001).

Six of the country’s coral stone mosques are currently being considered for UNESCO world heritage site status.