Maldives’ celebrates Eid with record number of goats sacrificed

This year’s Eid celebrations in the Maldives saw the holiday’s traditional prayers and feasting accompanied by a record number of goats slaughtered in the capital Malé.

The Islamic Foundation of Maldives (IFM) arranged for the importing and slaughter of over 175 goats on Thursday, a record number for a country in which this large-scale practice was uncommon just a few years ago.

Signs appeared around the capital in the days leading up to the holiday advertising the ‘uluhiya’, or slaughter – a word previously unfamiliar in the Dhivehi lexicon – providing a telephone number for anyone who wanted to join in the festivities.

A representative of the IFM explained that the organisation had surpassed its previous efforts this year after its founding in 2009.

“In 2010, we only had 20 goats. In 2011, we slaughtered 80 goats and two cows,” he explained.

“Next Eid we will slaughter a camel – this will be good for the public as it will be the first time this has been done.”

Combined with the activities of other Islamic organisations in the country – most notably the Jamiyyathul Salaf – the number of animals sacrificed came to well over 200.

Traditional practice dictates that the animals be slaughtered by having their throats cut, before the body is drained of blood. After this, the animal is cut up with some meat divided amongst friends and family and some distributed to the poor and needy.

The foundation member explained that, owing to the relative affluence of the Maldives , it was difficult to determine needy individuals and so the meat was distributed to whoever was in attendance.

Local media reported that some meat was being sold for MVR 400 a piece (US$25), but the IFM member said he did not know about this, saying: “Selling [the meat] is not encouraged.”

He explained that, due to the practice being uncommon to the Maldives, Bangladeshis were employed to do the butchery after the animal was killed, although locals were given the opportunity to cut the animal’s throat themselves if they had paid for the animal first.

Goats are often kept in the Maldives’ smaller islands but are an unusual sight in the capital. They are often sacrificed in naming ceremonies.

“People who bought the animals were given the opportunity to slaughter them,” he said, explaining that the animals cost around MVR 3500-4000 (US$227 – US$260) each to purchase in Male, more than double their cost prior to shipping from India.

“When sacrificing, the condition is to kill it at once without damaging or hurting in any other way,” he said, adding that the animals were prevented from seeing the others being slaughtered and that they were adequately fed and watered before the sacrifice.

“I find it hard to watch,” he added, “but others come and watch it for entertainment.”

The animals were brought into the country three days prior to the sacrifice, being kept near to the petrol shed on the south of the island before being sacrificed on an adjacent plot of land.

The foundation member said that three goats had given birth after being brought to the country, making them unsuitable for sacrifice.

Those animals that were not bought and slaughtered by individuals were sacrificed on behalf of the foundation. The IFM then arranged for a large feast at the nearby Maafanu Madrassa for which 2,000 people were expected. Inclement weather on the day was blamed for the smaller attendance – estimated at around 1,200.

The act of sacrifice and the giving away of the meat – practiced throughout the Muslim world – is intended to symbolise the Prophet Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his only son to show his obedience to Allah.

The IFM was founded with the stated aim of raising Islamic awareness and organising social activities within the Islamic framework in order to “ensure the religious and social development of each and every individual of Maldivian society,” according to its website.

The Maldives has embraced Islam with increasing fervour in recent years. The 2008 constitution saw the practice of Sunni Islam become mandatory for Maldivian citizens as well the establishment of a state ministry to handle Islamic affairs.


Islamic Foundation donates food aid to Somalia

Islamic Foundation of the Maldives (IFM) has donated vital food aid to over 80,000 victims of famine in the drought-stricken Somalia.

In a press statement released today, the religious NGO claimed that the food aid which included rice, flour, sugar, dates and cooking oil was handed over to 84,040 Somalis. Most recipients were women, children and the elderly.

According to IFM, food items worth Rf365, 203 (US$23,683) were equally distributed among 10,050 households belonging to the four worst hit areas: Bay, Bakool, Lower Shabelle and Banadir.

During the last quarter of 2011, an IFM official went to Somalia and dispersed the aid with the help of Islamic Relief Worldwide (IRW), the statement noted.

The UN has officially declared six parts of Somalia to be suffering from famine amid the worst drought in east Africa for 60 years.

“The Somalia crisis is everybody’s responsibility and Somalis need support now. We cannot afford to wait or we will let down the Somali people,” said Mark Bowden, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Somalia.

According to Bowden, more than half of Somalia’s 10 million people who are in dire need of help “will die without assistance”, while tens of thousands, including children, have already died of starvation.

The drought in East Africa has put an estimated 11 million people at risk. Suffering decades of relentless conflict, Somalia is the worst-hit country in the region.

Somalia’s south are experience the worst cases of famine, particularly the regions of Lower Shabelle, Middle and Lower Juba, Bay, Bakool, Benadir, Gedo and Hiraan, where the UN says an estimated 310,000 now suffer from acute malnutrition.

Meanwhile the UN has appealed for $1.5 billion for 2012, warning that the humanitarian crisis gripping millions of Somalis will persist for the coming months.


Islamic Minister, MPs, PPM and religious groups condemn UN Human Rights Commissioner

Statements by visiting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay calling for a moratorium on flogging as a punishment for fornication and criticising the Muslim-only clause for citizenship in the Maldivian constitution have been widely condemned by religious NGOs, public officials and political parties.

In an address delivered in parliament last Thursday, Pillay said the practice of flogging women found guilty of extra-marital sex “constitutes one of the most inhumane and degrading forms of violence against women, and should have no place in the legal framework of a democratic country.”

The UN human rights chief called for a public debate “on this issue of major concern.” In a press conference later in the day, Pillay called on the judiciary and the executive to issue a moratorium on flogging.

On article 9(d) of the constitution, which states “a non-Muslim may not become a citizen of the Maldives,” Pillay said the provision was “discriminatory and does not comply with international standards.”

Local media widely misreported Pillay as stating during Thursday evening’s press conference that she did not believe the Maldives had a Constitution, which prompted a great deal of public outrage. Her comment, however, was in response to a challenge from Miadhu Editor Gabbe Latheef, who asked “if you believe we have a Constitution, why are you speaking against our Constitution?”

“I don’t believe you have a Constitution, you have a constitution. The constitution conforms in many respects to universally respected human rights. Let me assure you that these human rights conform with Islam,” Pillay said on Minivan News’s recording of the press conference, however her phrasing was widely misinterpreted by the media.

Shortly after Pillay’s speech in parliament, Islamic Minister Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari told local media that “a tenet of Islam cannot be changed” and flogging was a hudud punishment prescribed in the Quran (24:2) and “revealed down to us from seven heavens.”

Bari noted that article 10 of the constitution established Islam as “the basis of all the laws of the Maldives” and prohibited the enactment of any law “contrary to any tenet of Islam,” adding that the Maldives has acceded to international conventions with reservations on religious matters such as marriage equality.

In his Friday prayer sermon the following day, Bari asserted that “no international institution or foreign nation” had the right to challenge the practice of Islam and adherence to its tenets in the Maldives.

Meanwhile, the religious conservative Adhaalath Party issued a statement on Thursday contending that tenets of Islam and the principles of Shariah were not subject to modification or change through public debate or democratic processes.

Adhaalath Party suggested that senior government officials invited a foreign dignitary to make statements that they supported but were “hesitant to say in public.”

The party called on President Mohamed Nasheed to condemn Pillay’s statements “at least to show to the people that there is no irreligious agenda of President Nasheed and senior government officials behind this.”

The Adhaalath statement also criticised Speaker Abdulla Shahid and MPs in attendance on Thursday for neither informing Pillay that she “could not make such statements” nor making any attempt to stop her or object to the remarks.

The party insisted that Pillay’s statements and the SAARC monuments in Addu City were “not isolated incidents” but part of a “broad scheme” by the government to “pulverize Islam in the Maldives and introduce false religions”.

Later that night, the Civil Society Coalition – a network of NGOs that campaigned successfully against regulations to allow sale of alcohol in city hotels to non-Muslims last year – announced a nation-wide mass protest on December 23 against the government’s alleged efforts to securalise the country.

Spokesperson Mohamed Didi claimed the current administration was pursuing an agenda to “wipe out the Islamic faith of the Maldivian people” through indoctrination and “plots” to legalize apostasy and allow freedom of religion.

He suggested that “the few people who cannot digest the religion of the people should immediately leave the country.”

The NGO coalition said it expected “over a 100,000 people” to participate in the planned protest.

Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) announced today that it would join the protest. PPM interim council member and religious scholar MP Dr Afrashim Ali told newspaper Haveeru that Pillay “can’t say that to us” and condemned the statements on behalf of the party.

Afrashim called on the executive, parliament and judiciary to enact a law prohibiting any statements that “opposes the principles of Islam.”

In a statement today, religious NGO Islamic Foundation of Maldives (IFM) strongly condemned Pillay’s remarks and criticised MPs for not objecting at Thursday’s event.

Pillay’s statements in parliament amounted to calling on MPs “to legalize fornication and gay marriage,” IFM contended.

“Therefore, anyone who agrees to this surely becomes an apostate,” the statement reads. “And if this [fornication and homosexuality] is spread anywhere, Almighty God has warned that fire will be rained upon them from the seven heavens.”

Meanwhile, a Facebook group was formed yesterday with members calling for her to be “slain and driven out of the country.”  The group currently has 207 members.

One member posted a banner to open a public debate on whether citizens should rise up and either “kill or lynch” those who “deny the Quran, not tolerate Islam and undermine the constitution.”
The opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) also issued a statement calling on the government not to accept Pillay’s suggestion for a public debate on flogging.
Although DRP Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali was the first to shake Pillay’s hand after her address, the party’s statement argued that “neither a Maldivian nor a foreigner has the right to consider the enforcement of a punishment specified in Islam a violation of human rights.”

Independent MP Mohamed ‘Kutti’ Nasheed meanwhile told newspaper Haveeru that Speaker Abdulla Shahid had to “bear full responsibility” for allowing Pillay to “talk about changing penalties of Islam in front of Muslims,” adding that Dhivehi translations of her address were distributed to MPs in advance.

“This is a very serious problem. You can’t say flogging is a form of violence against women,” he said.

Nasheed explained that Pillay’s remarks were tantamount to proclaiming in the Indian parliament that “worshiping cows is so uncivilised.”

Echoing Nasheed’s sentiments, MP Abdulla Abdul Raheem of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) said allowing Pillay to make her statements was “a mockery of parliament”, arguing that the Speaker’s decision to allow her “to openly speak against the constitution” violated parliamentary rules of procedure.

Local daily Haveeru also published an op-ed by editor Moosa Latheef censuring Speaker Abdulla Shahid and the MPs in attendance for not objecting to Pillay as her call for a public debate on flogging “made it very clear that she was working to shake the main pillar of Maldivians.”

Speaking at a UNDP event yesterday, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Ahmed Faiz noted that the constitution placed limits on free speech and the right to free expression “cannot be used under any circumstances outside of Islamic principles or in violation of a tenet of Islam.”

Protests led by religious groups that began outside the UN building yesterday are set to continue tonight near the tsunami memorial.