Islamic Foundation of Maldives launches country’s first religious TV station

The Islamic Foundation of the Maldives (IFM) today launched a new television channel said to be exclusively geared towards religious programming, local media has reported.

The channel, known as MVTV, is planned to be broadcast on a daily basis between 2:00pm and midnight across the country on both the Maldives’ digital terrestrial network and satellite services.

Speaking to Sun Online, Ibrahim Mohamed, who heads the station’s production and broadcasting, claimed that the channel would make use of sheikhs “not active in politics” to provide religious information to viewers.

MVTV is available presently on channel 155 of the Medianet service, according to the report.

Correction: The headline to this story incorrectly stated that the Islamic Ministry was launching the religious television station. The station is being started by the Islamic Foundation of the Maldives, which is unaffiliated with the government. Minivan News regrets the error and apologises for any confusion.

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Charges against Sheikh Fareed “political matter, not a religious issue”

The President of the Islamic Foundation of the Maldives (IFM) Ibrahim Fauzy has called on the authorities to withdraw charges against Sheikh Ibrahim Fareed Ahmed, after he appeared in the Criminal Court charged for violating the former Religious Unity Act.

The Court alleged that Sheikh Fareed had preached on some islands without permission from the government authorities in 2007.

Sheikh Fareed was summoned to the Criminal Court today and was given the chance to respond to the charges.

”The former Religious Unity Act is contradictory to the new constitution, it is not acceptable to charge Sheikh Fareed over this issue,” said Fauzy. ”It is all related to politics. The former government confiscated his permission to preach, and later he only spoke at political rallies when he was in the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).”

Sheikh Fareed was arrested alongside many MDP delegates while he was aboard a boat traveling from Thinadhoo in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll in the year 2007, said Fauzy.

”Perhaps he sometimes gave advice to people at political rallies, but that cannot be considered preaching,” he said. ”It is a political matter, not a religious issue.”

Sheikh Fareed told Minivan News today that he was not sure about the nature of the charges against him.

”They are saying that I preached without the permission of authorities,” said Sheikh Fareed. ”I have requested the Criminal Court provide me details of the case.”

Sheikh Fareed said that he could only be certain of the case when he received the documents from the court.

On January 25, 2007, local newspaper ‘Miadhu’ reported that Sheikh Fareed was arrested moments after he walked out of ‘Ibrahimi Mosque’ after concluding Isha preayers.

Miadhu then reported that he was arrested for allegedly taking part in a demonstration that took place in Male.

Later on March 17, 2007, Miadhu reported that he was released from house arrest, kept in Maafushi jail for a few days, and then returned to house arrest.

Furthermore, Sheikh Fareed was arrested several times during the former regime for his participation in anti-governmental protests.

According to the local media, he was also once charged with terrorism but was released after the court found him innocent.

In 2007 he was the former vice president of MDP religious council but resigned after alleging that the party was against Islam.

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“Hysterical outbursts” reflect dissatisfaction over Israel aid, says Islamic Foundation

Founders of the Islamic Foundation of the Maldives (IFM) NGO have claimed that although they do not believe in “hysterical outbursts” and theories of an imminent “Jewish invasion” in the country, a week of anti-Israel protests and flag burning across Male’ has reflected “strong dissatisfaction with the government’s open attitude” to the Jewish state.

During the last six days, Maldivians both in Male’ and some islands have engaged in protest marches and burning the Israeli flag, calling for the deportation of a group of Israeli doctors conducting eye surgery at a number of hospitals around the country as part of a humanitarian work for a group called ‘Eye from Zion’.

Some 739 people in Male’ and 879 in Addu and Fuvahmulah had registered for treatment at eye camps run by the NGO as of  December 9.

The furore over the visit of the group of Israeli surgeons led to groups such as Jamiyyathusalaf to call for the provision of “military training to all Muslim Maldivians and familiarise citizens with the use of modern weaponry” before “Jews take over the country”.

Distancing itself from these statements, the IFM told Minivan News it believes that by adopting a “pro-Israel” stance, the Maldivian government was losing support and credibility among its people.

While the government said it has been “consistent” in its opposition to Israel’s foreign policy concerning Palestine, the President’s Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair said the Maldives had tried to maintain positive diplomatic relations with almost every nation and that it welcomed humanitarian aid, such as the services provided by Eye from Zion.

Speaking to Minivan News this week, IFM co-founders Ibrahim Nazim and Ibrahim Fauzee said that although they were not actively involved in protests and flag burnings as an organisation, they did not wish to “prohibit its members” from taking part in the week’s protests that it saw as a “spontaneous reaction” to concerns over Israel’s attitude towards Palestine.

“We’re very concerned about Palestine, but we are neither anti-Israel or pro-Israel,” said Nazim. “We understand there are genuine feelings of concern about Palestine, which is always a central issue for Muslims.”

Nazim said that the IFM did not favour violence as an organisation and that claims by “other organisations in the country” that Jewish people were planning to take over the country were setting back legitimate concerns over the visit of Eye from Zion and Israeli foreign policy.

“What I feel is that some groups are trying to win publicity by making radical statements,” he said. “We do not believe this is good and in the long-term it is not be favourable [towards effectively opposing Israeli activities in the Maldives].”

Nazim said the IFM “understood concerns about offensive nature of burning flags”, but added that “it’s not the first time flags have been burned around the world.”

Fauzee said that he believed the protests reflected the fact that “many people in the Maldives do not accept Israel as a state.”

As an organisation, he said, the IFM backed “the official Iranian position” in regards to Israel and its legitimacy as a state, though he distanced himself from any potential calls for violence against the nation itself.

“[The IFM supports this position] not because the Iranian leader is a great or respected person, but because of the issue of legitimacy regarding the land [Israel] occupies,” claimed Fauzee.

He added that opposition to the Eye from Zion group was very much tied in to Israel’s foreign policy in relation to Palestine and its conduct in Gaza.

Amidst claims that a majority of Maldivians were opposed to the notion of an Israeli state, Nazim said the IFM itself feared that the government were having both open and “secret” negotiations with Israel.

“What are these negotiations? As an NGO we are concerned at this, and such suspicion is shared across the country,” he added. “The more the government gets involved in relations with Israel, the more problems it creates for itself.”

Nazim claimed that President Mohamed Nasheed was now suffering very low approval ratings as a result of allowing Eye from Zion to operate in the country.

“We feel the government should not have any diplomatic relations with Israel,” he said. “There is [political] opposition that wants to exploit this situation; the President is giving them opportunity to do so.”

Nazim added that as an NGO, beyond opposition to allowing collaboration with Israel, it was not opposed as a group to humanitarian aid from interfaith groups as long as they did not try and conduct missionary work in the country.

“Eye from Zion is a radical group that is trying to win the support of islands across the Maldives,” he said. “What we believe is that the protests will die down once the Zionists go back.”

In response to this week’s anti-Israel protests and criticism that the government was engaged in a pro-Israel agenda, Press Secretary for the President Mohamed Zuhair said that the government “holds friendly relations with Israel, as it does almost every other nation in the world.”

“We are not at loggerheads with any states, thugh we have some differences with Burma over the treatment of [formerly arrested dissident] Aung Sun Suu Kyi,” he said. “There is nothing special in terms of agreements with Israel.”

Though Zuhair claimed that the Maldives government has been “consistent on criticising Israel over Palestine and other foreign policy issues it did not agree on”, this was not a barrier to humanitarian cooperation, he said.

Zuhair added that by having bilateral relations with a large number of nations, the Maldives was able to benefit from cooperation based on technical assistance, education and humanitarian aid.

He claimed that the medical expertise offered by Eye from Zion was a strong example of this.

“We ourselves don’t have the means for this type of surgery, which has so far treated 140 patients in Male’ and 40 people across islands in the outer atolls,” Zuhair added. “In this case, the patients that thankful for the treatment they have received, which outweighs the protests against [the doctors].”

David Goldfarb, spokesperson for the Embassy of Israel in New Dehli, claimed that “too much emphasis” has been placed on protests against the visit of Eye from Zion to the Maldives compared to the work they had conducted.

“There will always be extremists ready to sacrifice their own people’s welfare in order to achieve extreme political goals,” he told Minivan News. “The major success of the project has been proven by well over 1000 men, women and children who have flocked to the doctors to receive ophthalmological care, and this is where the emphasis really lies.”

Goldfarb claimed that Israel had conducted a wide range of humanitarian work around South Asia beyond the current project relating to eye surgeries.

“Israel is actively involved in international development and humanitarian cooperation in India, Sri Lanka and in many other countries in South Asia,” he told Minivan News. “This was especially noticeable, for example, after the Tsunami, when Israel was one of the first countries to offer and provide assistance to South Asia.”

When considering ongoing conflict and the difficulties being experienced in Gaza, Goldfarb claimed that the Hamas leadership had themselves “declared an existential war with Israel”, but this was not related to wider aid projects that the country was involved in.

“This has nothing at all to do with the extremely large scale Israeli humanitarian projects in the Maldives and around the world, including in many countries in Asia and Africa,” he said.

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Israeli flag burnings and ‘sit-together’ marks tale of two protests on International Human Rights Day

Protests erupted across Male’ over the weekend that saw the burning of Israeli flags and calls to “ban all Israeli medical teams” from practicing in the Maldives, alongside a “silent-sit together” against so-called “religious extremism”.

Protesters burned several Israeli flags in Republican Square and demanded the deportation of seven visiting Israeli eye surgeons, who are holding free eye camps in Male’ and the island hospitals.

Protesters gathered near the tsunami monument on International Human Rights Day, claiming that “Jews would not provide any form of assistance, unless there is a hidden agenda”, according to the website of the Islamic Foundation of the Maldives.

The religious NGO has previously called on the government to “shun all medical aid from the Zionist regime”, alleging the Israeli surgeons “have become notorious for illegally harvesting organs from non-Jews around the world.”

Religious NGO Jamiyyathusalaf has also called on the government to provide citizens with military training “before Jews take over the country”.

President Mohamed Nasheed today met with the doctors the Israeli ‘Eye from Zion’ NGO and said “a vast majority of Maldivians” appreciated the humanitarian work of the doctors.

The doctors “expressed their appreciation for the warm hospitality they received in the Maldives”, according to a statement from the President’s Office, and “also noted that there was a great demand for their services in the Maldives.”

Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Mohamed Didi, said there had been “no discussions” in the Ministry regarding the anti-Israel protests.

“We are not saying anything for or against the protest action taken this week,” he said.

Didi added that the Foreign Ministry was “more involved in state humanitarian projects and inter-faith charity work than the Islamic Ministry.”

“The major roles of the ministry are to raise Islamic awareness and bring scholars from different countries to visit,” he said.

Coinciding with protests opposing the visit of Israeli doctors, the Islamic Foundation published allegations on its website that only two of the seven visiting surgeons from Eye from Zion had at the time been granted licenses by the Maldives Medical Council (MMC).

An MMC spokesperson was reported as claiming that certificates produced by the seven-member Eye from Zion medical staff were not carrying official stamps. However, the spokesperson added that all the surgeons would be able to receive licenses to operate upon clarification of their legitimacy by the Israeli government.

Meanwhile,  a group of 30 Maldivians gathered near the artificial beach on Friday, up the road from the anti-Israel protest occurring at the tsunami monument, holding what they called a “silent sit-together” on International Human Rights Day.

Members at the gathering said they were attempting to oppose wider concerns over growing “religious extremism” in the country.

“Displaying a stark contrast to the loud truck and motorcycle cavalcade of religious conservatives who were protesting against Israeli doctors around the same time by announcing anti-Semitic messages through loud speakers, the youth that participated in the sit-down took a decidedly fresh approach towards protest,” a press release from the sit-together’s members claimed.

“The silent sit-together, conspicuous by the absence of any banners, megaphones, or sloganeering, aimed to send the message that youth are against religious extremism and supported Human Rights, Tolerance and Dignity for all humans.”

People participating in the protest said they were trying to start a “grassroots” movement against religious extremism, but did not wish to give their identities.

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Islamic Foundation calls on government to sever diplomatic ties with Israel

The Islamic Foundation of the Maldives has called on the government to break off all diplomatic ties with Israel, a day after Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) announced that a team of seven Israeli doctors is due to arrive in the country to treat patients at the government hospital for a week.

The Foundation requested the government terminate all ties with Israel saying ”we do not want any sort of assistance from Jews.”

President of the Islamic Foundation Ibrahim Fauzy said that the organisation did not support accepting “any sort of assistance from Israel as long as they are in the lands of Palestine. We should fear that we might have to face the wrath of God.”

Fauzy explained that the Islamic Foundation does not recognise Israel as a state as “they have stolen the lands of Palestine by power and force,” adding that “it also against our religion to have relationships with Jews.”

In November last year, Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed narrowly survived a no-confidence motion for his role in deciding to normalise relations with the Jewish state.

Dr Shaheed told Minivan News today that the “government does not have diplomatic relations with Israel” and has not signed any agreements to that effect.

He added that he was not aware of the visiting Israeli team as “doctors don’t come through the Foreign Ministry.”

Fauzy also claimed to have information that Israel was attempting to influence the education policy of the government, which has come under fire from religious NGOs for plans to make Islam an optional subject in A’ Levels and change four secondary schools in Male’ to single-sex schools.

”There will be cunning plans of them behind the scenes, they will not wish any good for Muslims, inside their heart,” Fauzy alleged.

In a press release yesterday, IGMH invited interested patients to register at their customer relations counter between November 28 and December 2 for appointments with the visiting Israeli doctors.

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Hackers target Islamic Foundation website, circulate false press release

The religious NGO Islamic Foundation of the Maldives has said a press release issued to several media outlets regarding the resignation of Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) Religious Council leader, and supporting the government’s education policy, was not from the Foundation.

Sheikh Adam ‘B.A’ Naseem resigned from the party yesterday, in opposition to the government’s education policy.

“The press release was sent in the name of the Islamic Foundation supporting the Education Minister Dr Musthafa Luthfy, and opposing the leader of MDP Religious council Sheikh Naseem,’’ said the President of the Islamic Foundation Ibrahim Fauzee. “The press release is misleading and could potentially harm the reputation of the foundation.”

‘’The statement alleges that Adam Naseem resigned due to political issues and for his own political interest.’’

Fauzy said the case had been reported to police for investigation.

‘’The press release was first uploaded on our website yesterday, it came to our attention and we removed the press release, and again it was uploaded to our website,’’ said Fauzee.  ‘’By then we realised our website had been hacked.’’

He said that he had no idea who was responsible for the attack on the NGO’s website.

”We also have information that the statement was distributed on the streets,” he added.

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Religious unity regulations contradict freedom of expression: Islamic Foundation

Religious NGO Foundation of the Maldives has called on the government to amend the new Religious Unity regulations, saying it opposes several articles that are contrary to the ”freedom of expression” given under the article 27 of the constitution.

Other articles could potentially be used as a political tool, the NGO warned in a press release issued today.

Press Secretary for the President Mohamed Zuhair has similarly expressed concern over the new regulations, claiming they contain ambiguities and policy issues.

The Islamic Foundation NGO highlighted several articles in the regulations  it believed should be amended prior to publication of the regulations in the government’s gazette, such as the criteria for issuance of preaching licenses.

The Islamic Foundation noted that under the regulations, the preaching license requirement that a person be older than 25 years of age was not a criteria required under the tenets of Islam, and furthermore claimed it was contrary to article 27 of the constitution guaranteeing freedom of expression.

The NGO also raised concern over Article(16)(b)(4), which claims preachers must not have been found guilty in a Sharia Court of having violated any clause of Law 6/94 of Religious Unity Act.

It condemned the articles as ”many religious scholars have been given several punishments under the religious unity Act in recent years for political purposes,” and added that that article 27 of the constitution did not restrict a person’s right to express their opinion even though he had been found guilty in a court of law.

The NGO also expressed concern over Article(19) requiring foreign preachers to respect local norms, claiming it was not necessary for all foreign preachers to understand the traditions and culture of the Maldives.

Article(27), which governs illegal actions while preaching or giving sermons, was also concerning, the Foundation claimed. In particular point (2), which prohibits encouraging violence; inciting people to disputes, hatred and resentment; and any talk that aims to degrade a certain sex and gender in violation of Islamic tenets, and the telecasting and broadcasting of such speeches, could be interpreted in different ways and “used for political purposes”, it said.

The Foundation also criticised Article(27)(4), which bans the promotion of any opinion contrary to religious ruling as unanimously agreed upon by the Fiqh Academy of Maldives, claiming that the Fiqh Academy “was not a committee based on independent scholars.”

”We believe that there should be the freedom for a scholar to express how he thinks on a specific doubtful issue,” the press release said.

On Article(38), concerning punishment as prescribed in Law 6/94 of the existing Religious Unity Act, the Foundation claimed the law narrowed freedom of expression guaranteed by the constitution and said was “not acceptable.”

Moreover, it referred to the constitutions article number 63, article 64 and article 268 and called on the government to amend the mentioned articles of the new religious unity act.

State Islamic Minister Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed however stated that while the Ministry respected opinions and comments on the new regulations, it had been drafted with the assistance of 11 reputable scholars and widely approved by both government and police.

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