Rising extremism could threaten Maldives’ tourism industry: report

Religious conservatism and extremist violence have been increasing in the Maldives over the past decade, while incidents of Maldivians joining overseas jihadist groups are becoming more common, according to a report published in the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) Sentinel, a publication based out of the West Point military academy in the US.

The article entitled The Threat from Rising Extremism in the Maldives, observes that growing religious extremism and political uncertainty could result in more violence and negatively affect the nation’s tourism industry, which would be “devastating” to the Maldives.

“This has coincided with a number of violent attacks on liberal activists and other citizens who have expressed outspoken support for moderate religious practices,” the report notes.

If current trends continue “extremist incidents may rise, with violence targeted against the country’s more liberal citizens,” it states.

According to the report, five key factors have contributed to the growing extremism and violence:

  • the encouragement of  “more hard line Islamist elements in the country” during the 30 year autocratic rule of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom;
  • political uncertainty;
  • an increasing number of people seeking education in foreign madrasas;
  • grassroots radicalisation through civil society and political parties;
  • escalating extremist incidents of violence and involvement with jihadist groups.

“The country has already suffered one terrorist attack targeting foreign tourists, and a number of Maldivians have traveled to Pakistan’s tribal areas to receive jihadist training. Moreover, evidence exists that jihadists tried to form a terrorist group in the country in 2007-2008,” the report states.

The study recommends that Maldivian political and religious developments be followed closely.

Encouraging of hard line Islamic elements

Islam was introduced to the Maldives in the 12th century and subsequent religious practices have been the “moderate, more liberal form of the religion”.

“Yet, during Gayoom’s three decade autocratic rule, the Egyptian-trained religious scholar enacted a number of measures that, at least inadvertently, encouraged more hard line Islamist elements in the country,” the report concluded.

“From imposing a ban on Christian missionary radio to apprehending migrant service providers for allegedly preaching and practicing their own religion, Gayoom’s regime initiated an era of state-backed religious intolerance and radicalisation in the Maldives.”

The Protection of Religious Unity Act, passed in 1994, mandated that no other religion but Islam could be practiced.

In 1996, Gayoom constituted the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, renamed the Ministry of Islamic Affairs in 2008, to preside over religious affairs in the Maldives.

“This body of clerics pressured the government to carry out moral and cultural policing of alleged “anti-Islamic activities”,” the report states.

For example, in 2008 the Ministry requested police “ban nightclubs and discotheques for New Year’s Eve celebrations because they were contrary to Islam”.

“By the end of Gayoom’s time in office in 2008, the dress code for women had grown increasingly conservative, and more and more men grew out their beards,” the report states.

Women now dress more conservatively with fewer brightly colored clothes. Instead they “increasingly wear black robes and headscarves and on more conservative islands such as Himandhoo, women wear black abayas and face veils,” it added.

Political uncertainty

The democratic transition “gave a greater voice to religious conservatives and those calling for the rigid implementation of Shari`a (Islamic law) in the Maldives,” states the report. “This became especially evident following the implementation of political reforms and the transition to multi-party democracy in 2008.”

The first democratic presidential elections in the Maldives were held in 2008, with Mohamed Nasheed defeating Gayoom in the second round with 54 percent of the votes.

However, the Nasheed administration was accused of defiling Islam by “promoting Western ideals and culture and restricted the spread of more austere Islamic practices,” the article notes.

This resulted in the December 2011 “Defend Islam” protests led by opposition political parties, religious groups, civil society organisations and thousands of supporters in the country’s capital, Male’.

These protests “unleashed a chain of events that culminated in a bloodless coup on February 7, 2012 that toppled the Maldives’ first democratically-elected government,” declared the study.

Appeal of education in foreign madrasas

Education in foreign madrasas has also contributed to growing extremism within the Maldives, with students “unwittingly attending more radical madrasas” and preaching these views upon their return.

“The offer of free education in madrasas in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia is widely acknowledged as a core means of radicalising Maldivians locally, with well-meaning parents sending their children off on scholarships to ‘study Islam’,” the report states.

Following the 2007 terrorist attack in Male’s Sultan Park, “Gayoom himself warned of this problem”.

“Maldivians are influenced by what is happening in the world. They go to Pakistan, study in madrasas and come back with extreme religious ideas,” the report quoted Gayoom as saying.

Grassroots radicalisation

“The contemporary Maldivian political environment favors radical and political Islam taking root in Maldivian society, especially when political parties and civil society increasingly take refuge in religion,” the report states, citing Maldivian academic Dr Azra Naseem.

In 2010, new regulations prohibited “talking about religions other than Islam in Maldives, and propagating such religions through the use of any kind of medium.” The Ministry of Islamic Affairs published this legislation under the Protection of Religious Unity Act of 1994.

However, the report found that the “major force behind more austere religious practices in the Maldives is the Adhaalath (Justice) Party (AP), which has controlled the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, with Sheikh Shaheem Ali Saeed as its current minister”.

Given that the AP supports strict implementation of Shari’a Law, the party has “outspokenly argued that music and singing are haram (forbidden) and called for an end to the sale of alcohol at the country’s hundreds of luxury resorts,” said the report.

In February 2013, Saeed warned that “various Christian organisations and missionaries are strongly involved and active in our society because they want to ‘wipe out’ Islam from the Maldives”. He subsequently started a campaign against Christians and “Freemasons”, the report stated.

Two non-government organisations (NGOs), Jamiyyathu Salaf (JS) and the Islamic Foundation of Maldives (IFM), are considered religiously conservative Salafists who “work with the country’s political parties to further the cause of Islamism in the Maldives,” the report stated.

Extremist incidents

Extremists have directly targeted Maldivian liberal intellectuals, writers and activists, the study notes.

“On January 3, 2011, assailants attempted to kill Aishath Velezinee, an activist fighting for the independence of the country’s justice system, by stabbing her in the back in broad daylight,” said the report.

Velezinee is a whistleblower that in 2010 identified members of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) who were “conspiring with key political figures to hijack the judiciary and bring down the country’s first democratically-elected government,” the report added.

The study found that the Ministry of Islamic Affairs was “at least indirectly encouraged extremism” by initiating “crackdowns” on media outlets for anti-Islamic content.

The blog of prominent free speech and religious freedom campaigner, Khilath ‘Hilath’ Rasheed, was blocked in 2011. A month afterward, Rasheed’s skull was fractured when 10 men attacked him with stones during a peaceful rally he organised in Male’.

Rasheed was arrested a few days after the incident and jailed for 24 days for participating in the rally.

In June 2012, Rasheed was nearly killed “after extremists cut his throat open with a box cutter”.

“After the attempt on his life, Rasheed named three political leaders—Islamic Affairs Minister Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed, Adhaalath Party President Imran Abdulla and Jumhooree Party lawmaker Ibrahim Muttalib Shaheem – as being indirectly responsible for the attempt on his life,” the report states.

Later in 2012, the moderate religious scholar and lawmaker, Afrasheem Ali, was stabbed to death at his home in Male’. He was considered an Islamic moderate who was “outspoken in his controversial positions,” reads the report.

In February 2013, “a reporter for the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)-aligned Raajje TV station, Ibrahim ‘Aswad’ Waheed, was beaten unconscious with an iron bar while riding on a motorcycle near the artificial beach area of Male’,” the study added.

Previously, during the 2011 South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), protesters “intolerant toward other religious and cultural symbols” damaged monuments gifted to the Maldives by Pakistan, Bhutan, Sri Lanka.

Islamic radicals on February 7 2012 also vandalised archaeological artifacts in the National Museum that were mostly ancient Hindu and Buddhist relics, destroying 99 percent of the evidence of Maldivian pre-Islamic history.


“In April 2006, a Maldivian national, Ali Jaleel, and a small group of jihadists from the Maldives attempted to travel to Pakistan to train for violent jihad in Afghanistan or Iraq,” the report reads.

While his first attempt was unsuccessful, Jaleel did eventually travel to Pakistan and “launched a suicide attack at the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) headquarters in Lahore in May 2009.”

In September 2007, Islamic extremists committed a terrorist attack in the Maldives aimed at the tourism industry.

A bomb exploded in Male’s Sultan Park and wounded 12 foreigners. The three men arrested and later jailed for the bombing confessed that their goal was to “target, attack and injure non-Muslims to fulfill jihad,” states the report.

A month following the bombing, the investigation led to Darul-Khair mosque on Himandhoo Island. However, “some 90 masked and helmeted members of the mosque confronted police, wielding wooden planks and refusing to let the police enter,” said the report.

Although the Maldivian army eventually established control, “The stand-off resulted in a number of injuries, and one police officer had his fingers cut off.” In November, a video of the mosque confrontation was posted on the al-Qa’ida-linked alEkhlaas web forum by a group called Ansar al-Mujahidin with the message “your brothers in the Maldives are calling you,” the report states.

Evidence suggests that three Maldivian jihadists planned to establish a terrorist group in the country around 2007-2008 and send members for military training in Pakistan.

“At least one of these individuals did in fact travel to Pakistan, as Yoosuf Izadhy was arrested in Pakistan’s South Waziristan Agency in March 2009, along with eight other Maldivians,” states the report.

In 2009, then-President Nasheed warned that “Maldivian people are being recruited by Taliban and they are fighting in Pakistan,” quotes the report.

“Despite its reputation as an idyllic paradise popular among Western tourists, political and religious developments in the Maldives should be monitored closely,” the report concludes.


Q&A: Silent coup has cost Maldives a judiciary, says Aishath Velezinee

Aishath Velezinee was formerly the President’s Member on the Judicial Services Commission (JSC), the watchdog body assigned to appoint and investigate complaints against judges.

She has consistently maintained that the JSC is complicit in protecting judges appointed under the former government, colluding with parliament to ensure legal impunity for senior opposition supporters. During her tenure at the JSC she was never given a desk or so much as a chair to sit down on. In January 2011 she was stabbed twice in the back in broad daylight.

The JSC is now at the centre of a judicial crisis that has led to the military’s detention of Chief Judge of the Criminal Court, Abdulla Mohamed.

JJ Robinson: To what extent does the current judicial crisis represent the failure of Article 285 in 2010, the constitutional provision guaranteeing an independent and qualified judiciary at the conclusion of the two year interim period?

Aishath Velezinee: 100 percent. This was what I was trying to bring out at the time – but I could only allege that Abdulla Mohamed was at the heart of the matter. But it was very obvious to me that this was not just the action of one man, but a hijacking of the judiciary [by the opposition] – the ‘silent coup’.

In the highly politicised environment at time it was very difficult to get people to look into this, because parliament was out to cover it up – nobody was willing to take it up, and everyone wanted distance because it was too sensitive and so highly politicised. So really no one wanted to try and see if there was any truth to what I was saying.

Time passed. I didn’t imagine all this would come up so soon – it has been an amazing experience to see all of this suddenly happening so quickly.

It was inevitable – with everything Abdulla Mohamed has done inside and outside the courts, it was very obvious that he was not a man to be a judge.

With all the highly political rulings coming from the Criminal Court, it was clearly not right. The JSC’s cover up of Abdulla Mohamed was also apparent.

He had spoken on TV [against the government] – and it was not just his voice. There was no need to spend two years investigating whether he had said what he said.

Finally they decided yes, he is highly politicised, and had lost the capacity to judge independently and impartially. His views and verdicts were expressing not just partiality towards the opposition, but apparently a very deep anger against the government. It is very obvious when you speak to him or see him on the media. We had to look at what was behind all this.

JJ: Abdulla Mohamed filed a case in the Civil Court which ordered the JSC investigation be halted. Does the JSC have any jurisdiction to rule against its own watchdog body?

AV: Absolutely not. If the judicial watchdog can be overruled by a judge sitting in some court somewhere, then it’s dysfunctional. But that’s what has been happening. And [Supreme Court Judge] Adam Mohamed, Chair of the JSC, has probably been encouraging Abdulla Mohamed to do this.

The whole approach of the JSC is to cover up the judge’s misconduct. When it comes to Abdulla Mohamed it’s not just issues of misconduct – it’s possible links with serious criminal activities. There is every reason to believe he is influenced by serious criminals in this country.

JJ: The international community has expressed concern over the government’s ongoing detention of the judge by the military. Is the government acting within the constitution?

AV: It is impossible to work within the constitution when you have lost one arm of the state: we are talking about the country not having a judiciary. When one man becomes a threat to national security – and the personal security of everyone – the head of state must act.

He can’t stand and watch while this man is releasing people accused of murder, who then go out and kill again the same day. We are seeing these reports in the media all along, and everyone is helpless.

If the JSC was functioning properly – and if the Majlis was up to its oversight duties – we would not have got to this stage. But when all state institutions fail, then it is necessary to act rather than watch while the country falls down.

JJ: What next? The government surely can’t keep the judge detained indefinitely.

AV: We have to find a solution. It is not right to keep someone detained without any action – there must be an investigation and something must happen. I’m sure the government is looking into Abdulla Mohamed.

But releasing him is a threat to security. I have heard Vice President Mohamed Waheed Hassan calling for him to be released. Abdulla Mohamed is not under arrest – but his freedom of movement and communication would be a danger at this moment. We are at the point where we really and truly need to get to the bottom of this and act upon the constitution.

We talking about cleaning up the judiciary, and this is not talking outside the constitution – this is the foundation of the constitution. The constitution is build upon having three separate powers.

The judiciary is perhaps the most important power. The other powers come and go, politics change, but the judiciary is the balancing act. When that is out of balance, action is necessary.

With regards to attention from the international community – I tried really hard in 2010 to get the international community involved, to come and carry out a public inquiry, because we do not have any institution or eminent person with the authority to look into the matter. We needed outside help.

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) did come and their report highlighted some things, but they did not have access to all the material because it’s all in Dhivehi. We need a proper inquiry into this, and a solution.

JJ: The Foreign Minister has asked the UN Office of Human Rights to send a legal team able to look into the situation and advise. To what extent will this draw on the constitution’s provision to appoint foreign judges?

AV: That has been something we were interested in doing, but the former interim Supreme Court Judge Abdulla Saeed was absolutely against it – not only bringing in foreign judges, but even judicial expertise. He was also against putting experts in the JSC so it could be properly institutionalised. The ICJ tried very hard to place a judge in there but didn’t get a positive response.

The UN brought in a former Australian Supreme Court Judge, but he didn’t get any support either. There was a lady [from Harvard] but she left in tears as well. There was no support – the Commission voted not to even give her a living allowance. They are unwelcoming to knowledge – to everyone. It is a closed place.

JJ: Is there a risk the UN will send a token advisor and things will quickly return to business as usual?

AV: We need the ICJ to be involved – someone like [former] UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Leandro Despouy. He was here for a fact-finding mission and had a thorough understanding of it, and gives authoritative advice.

We need to look for people who understand not only the law in the constitution, but what we are transiting from. Because that is really important.

JJ: There was talk of foreign judges and the establishment of a mercantile court for cases involving more than Rf 100,000 (US$6500). Based on the current state of the judiciary are people now more open to idea of foreign judges, where once they may have opposed it on nationalistic grounds?

AV: It is not a new thing. We have always used foreign knowledge since the time of the Sultans. We used Arabs who came here as our judges, they were respected people. Ibn Battuta practiced here as a judge during his voyages.

So it is not a new concept. This is the way we are – we do not have the knowledge. Now we are transitioning to a modern, independent judiciary, so of course we need new knowledge, practices and skills. The only way to get our judges up to standard is [for foreign judges] to be working in there, hands on.

Of course before that we have to make sure that the people on the bench are people who qualify under the constitution. With the bench we have right now it wouldn’t do much good bringing in expertise, because many of the people sitting there do not even have the basics to understand or move forward, they are limited in not having even basic education.

JJ: What percentage of the judiciary has more than primary school education?

AV: As a foundation, at least 50 percent have less that Grade 7. But they all say they have a certificate in justice studies – a tailor-made program written by the most prominent protester at the moment, former Justice Minister Mohamed Jameel of the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP). There were no textbooks on the course – they were given handouts.

Now we do have access to resources through the internet. But do the judges and magistrates have the skills or language abilities necessary to research on the internet? No they don’t.

JJ: Based on your access to privileged JSC information, you have also previously expressed concern at the high number of judges with actual criminal records. What about Abdulla Mohamed?

AV: Abdulla Mohamed was already a criminal convict before he was appointed to the bench. This man was found guilty of creating public disorder, hate speech and had publicly shown himself to be a woman hater or fearer- I don’t know which. But he has this bias against women and has been quoted as such in the courtroom. He’s got issues.

There are unchecked complaints against him in the JSC. The JSC has this practice of taking every complaint and giving it to committee one at a time. But if you look at everything, there is a pattern suggesting links to criminals. The Criminal Court has been given power as the only court able to rule on police custody during police investigations – why does Abdulla Mohamed have a monopoly on this? He personally locks up the seal. Why does he control it?

JJ: What do you mean when you claim he has links to organised crime?

AV: It’s a pattern. He tries to prevent investigation of all the heavy drug cases, and when the case does make it before the court his decisions are questionable. In one instance newspaper Haveeru sent a complaint saying the Criminal Court had tried a case and changed the verdict behind closed doors.

Haveeru later called for the complaint to be withdrawn. But my approach is to say, once we have a complaint we must check it. The complainant can’t withdraw a complaint, because there must have been a reason to come forward in the first place. That verdict referred to something decided two years before – Abdulla Mohamed changed the name of the convict. A mistake in the name, he said. How can you change a name? A name is an identity. The JSC never investigated it.

JJ: Prior to the JSC’s decision to dissolve the complaints committee, it was receiving hundreds of complaints a year. How many were heard?

AV: Five were tabled, four were investigated. Their approach was that if nobody was talking about the judge, then the judge was above question. So they would cover up and hide all the complaints.

Approach of this constitution is transparency – and the investigation is itself proof of the judge’s independence. An accusation doesn’t mean he is not up to being a judge. But if it is not investigated, those accusations stand. Instead, the JSC says: “We don’t have any complaints, so nobody is under investigation.”

We are struggling between the former approach and the new approach of the constitution. We have seen judges with serious criminal issues kept on bench and their records kept secret. They have a problem adapting themselves to the new constitution and democratic principles that require them to gain trust.

The JSC has many other issues- taking money they are not entitled to, perjury; none of this was looked into. All sorts of things happened in there.

JJ: Is it possible to revive Article 285, or did that expire at the conclusion of the interim period?

AV: Article 285 is the foundation of our judiciary, the institutionalisation of the one power that is going to protect our democracy. How can we measure it against a time period set by us? Two years? We did everything we could to try and enact it. It was a failure of the state that the people did not get the judiciary.

We cannot excuse ourselves by saying that the two years have passed. Parliament elections were delayed – much in the constitution was delayed. 80 percent of the laws required to be passed under this constitution have yet to be adopted. Are we going to say ‘no’ to them because time has passed?

We can’t do that, so we have to act.

JJ: Parliament has oversight of the JSC – what ability does parliament have to reform it?

AV: Parliament has shown itself to be incapable of doing it. We are seeing parliamentarians out trying to free Judge Abdulla Mohamed – including Jumhoree Party (JP) MP Gasim Ibrahim, a member of the JSC.

So I don’t think we even need to enter into this. it is apparent they are playing politics and do not have the interest of the people or the state at heart. They never believed in this constitution, they were pushed into adopting a democratic constitution, they failed in the elections, and now they are out to kill the constitution.

I am wondering even what they are protesting about. Last night it was Judge Abdulla, and the religious card. It is fear driven.

What we are seeing is [former President Maumoon Abdul] Gayoom and [his half brother, Abdulla] Yameen trying to turn their own personal fears into mass hysteria. Nobody else is under threat – but they are if we have an independent judiciary. If their cases are heard they know they are in for life.

JJ: So this is a struggle for survival?

AV: Exactly. The final battle – this is the last pillar of democracy. If we manage to do this properly, as stated in the constitution, we can be a model democracy. But not without a judiciary.


Tourism Ministry may revise spa ban

The government is looking to revise the circular issued late last week requesting that resorts, hotels and guesthouses close down their spas over public allegations that they double as brothels.

“As specifying a certain distance from Male’ would not be a wise decision [in closing down spas] and that other resorts, which also cater for locals, are located close to inhabited islands, the government has decided to close down the spas in all the resorts on a fair basis and by giving a higher priority to the allegations made,” the circular read.

The decision to reconsider the circular was made after several resort owners and the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI) expressed “serious concern”.

A statement signed by MATI Secretary General ‘Sim’ Ibrahim Mohamed released last week expressed concern with financial losses as a result of the decision as well as effects on holiday-makers currently in the Maldives.

MATI urged the government and opposition parties to “find a peaceful solution” to the dispute.

“The tourism industry wishes for all actors in the political sphere to prioritise the domestic economy, development and security over differences and disagreements among political parties and not involve the economy’s main industries in these disputes,” reads MATI’s appeal.

MATI’s Chairperson M U Manik and Vice Chair ‘Champa’ Hassan Afeef have made statements in the media urging the government to reverse its decision to shut down resort spas after considering the consequences for the economy.

Meanwhile the government has also announced that it is considering banning pork and alcohol across the country, in response to the large number of Maldivians who protested against the government’s current purported “anti-Islamic” policies.

Tourism Minister Dr Mariyam Zulfa told Haveeru yesterday that the circular was issued in response to demands made by the coalition of religious NGOs and opposition parties during the protest to defend Islam on December 23. These demands included the closure of places which support prostitution, namely spas and massage parlors.

Zulfa noted that a policy shift towards strict Islam would have a profound economic impact on the Maldives.

“We can only sustain our economy by following the moderate form [of Islam] which has been in the Maldives until now,” she told Haveeru. “We [ministers] are labelled anti-Islamic because we support the tolerant form [of Islam]. But that label is a disgrace to our parents as well.”

According to Zulfa, several resorts had raised concern over the circular, and while they “are aware of the reasons that led us to take the decision,” the ministry is investigating a compromise.

The Minister was unavailable for comment at time of press.

Minivan News understands that several tour operators have also been calling resorts to inquire if indeed their spas and massage services have been closed down. Hulhule Island Hotel, near Male’, has closed its spa indefinitely.

Maldives Association of Travel and Tour Operators (MATATO) earlier issued a statement condemning the government’s decision to close five Villa Hotels’ resort spas over allegations of prostitution. MATATO noted that local and foreign resorts, tour operators and travel associations had expressed concern over the decision and that the damage to the industry would be grievous.

“The spa and wellness concept is very popular among tourists,” read the statement. “We urge the government to keep politics away from Tourism and also advise various
Tourism stakeholders as well to do same, as majority of Maldivians depends on Tourism for their livelihood and is something to be dealt with extreme caution and care.”

Today, MATATO did not respond to phone calls.

Speaking at a press conference held the day before the circular was issued, President’s Office Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair justified the strong measure by saying that given the difficulty of distinguishing spas which endorse prostitution from those which do not, and that many high-profile Maldivians visit resort spas, it was important that strict measures be taken to protect those Maldivians’ good names.

Meanwhile, members of the coalition which made the demands have accused the government of “making a mockery of the demands” and “making excuses.”

Alleging that the government is targeting protesters, coalition spokesperson Abdullah Mohamed announced a sixth demand–that the government “stop causing harm to anyone who participates in the religious movement”.

The coalition has given the government until January 5 to fulfill the demands made on December 23, and has warned of further mass protests or direct action in the event that the deadline is not met.


Islamic professor contemplates Shariah “modernisation”

“There should be ‘modernisation’ of Shariah law to some extent,” claimed Shamrahayu A Aziz, a professor of criminal law and human rights from Malaysia’s International Islamic University, who visited the Maldives last weekend for a discussion on faith and legislature.

“However, Shariah cannot tolerate the denial of the basic teachings, especially when there is clear text in the Quran or sunnah,” she added.

Aziz made the claims to Minivan News this week after having been invited to speak in the country by the Justice Society of the Maldives for an academic discussion on the ‘Death Penalty in Law and Shariah’. The discussion was designed to provide a comparative approach between “traditional Islamic views” on corporal punishment and its contemporary use in certain jurisdictions, she added.

Under the Maldivian constitution, Shariah is turned to by the courts in areas where established law does not cover, though the number of people actually sentenced to sharia mandated punishments like the death penalty in the last few decades has been limited to three cases that have not been carried out to this date. The most recent call for the death penalty was issued just last month in relation to an alleged gang killing.

Aziz said that when considering the possible “modernisation” of Sharia concepts such as the death penalty, Islam has specific texts within the Quran relating to a “comprehensive system of life” that cannot be amended to better comply with external standards or humanitarian agreements.

“In analogy, [the] Islamic system is built in a chain or circle. There must not be any break in the chain. If a break happens, Islam therefore is not a complete chain and it cannot be a comprehensive system of life anymore,” she said. “In order to fit in the ‘modernisation’ process, the stringent requirement in [legal] proceedings and the conviction process is very helpful.”

According to Aziz, it remains a “misconception” to perceive Sharia solely as a form of justice built around corporal and capital punishment, particularly when Islam does not itself try to encourage violence.

However, Aziz claimed that particularly in consideration of international concepts and conventions on human rights, Sharia could play an important role in raising awareness “on the importance of protecting the general public.”

“No one can arbitrarily be killed by another without reason,” she said.

Taking the example of a hypothetical domestic violence case, Aziz asked that when a person is arbitrarily murdered, in order to respect the victim’s rights, should a murderer be liable for the arbitrary act that has been committed?

“I accept the fact that killing a person is cruel. But the Islamic punishment of death penalty is not something encouraged. As much as possible death penalty must be avoided,” she said. “That is the reason why the punishment can be imposed and the sentence may be carried out in some exceptional situations.”

Aziz claimed that these situations are outlined under stringent criminal law that requires specific procedural process, with only certain types of evidence being allowed to be used as a basis for proceeding with execution.

“The death penalty is not the first resort in the punishment list. It stands at the last, the bottom [of the list],” she said. “Islam encourages compassion and forgiveness. Islam does not teach Muslims to kill. There are various verses in the Quran which state the clear position on the prohibition of killing.”

In looking at how Sharia could and had been adapted in line with human rights, Aziz took the example of blood money as an indication of how Islamic law can be focused on benefitting victims.

In a case where a person in arbitrarily murdered and they may have a young family remaining, Sharia is said to call for provisions of financial support to ensure a more stable upbringing from the guilty party.

“At least, with the payment of the blood money the children can continue living. This is in line with human rights as the rights of the children for a living after the killing of a father and the only breadwinner of their family must also be taken care of,” Aziz said.

Aziz stressed that his lecture was not specifically meant to address the current situation and attitudes regarding the death penalty in the Maldives.

“I am not the right person to tell maldivians what is best for Maldives,’ she said. “It is left for Maldivians to address the issue and to tackle the sentiments of their [fellow countrymen].”

However, the issue of using the death penalty in Maldivian law was thrust back into public debate last month when the Criminal Court of the Maldives sentenced Mohamed Nabeel to death for the murder of Abdulla Faruhad, following a review of witnesses statements and finding him guilty of the crime.

The Judge said that article 88[d] of the penal code of the Maldives stated that murders should be dealt accordingly to the Islamic Shariah and that persons found guilty of murder ”shall be executed” if no inheritor of the victim denies the murderer to be executed, according to Islamic Shari’ah.

Correction: An earlier version of this article, sourced from an email interview, mistakenly referred to Aziz as a he. Minivan News regrets the error.


President speaks of Shari’ah law in the Maldives

President Mohamed Nasheed marked the occasion of the Prophet’s (PBUH) birthday and spoke of the history of Shari’ah law in the Maldives during his weekly radio address on the Voice of Maldives.

President Nasheed said Shari’ah law has a unique position in the Maldives, as it’s among the few countries that have practised Islamic law uninterrupted for a long period of time.

“Since the conversion to Islam about 900 years ago, the Maldives has continuously practised Shari’ah,” said President Nasheed.

He said other Muslim countries have practised limited Shari’ah, like Egypt, who adopted the Napoleonic Code after Napoleon’s invasion, and Malaysia, adopting English common law.

The president also mentioned the importance of Islamic scholars who served as chief justices in the Maldives. Historically, they have been the highest authority of Islam, and ensured the continuity of the practise of Shari’ah.