High level delegation to pay last respects to late Saudi King Abdullah

A high level delegation from the Maldivian government has travelled to Saudi Arabia to pay respects and offer condolences to the royal family and people of Saudi Arabia on the passing of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.

The delegation includes Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed, Minister of Islamic Affairs Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed, and Minister at the President’s Office Abdulla Ameen and is scheduled to meet the new Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz.

Meanwhile President Abdulla Yameen described King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz as “a leader of exceptional quality and courage” following the monarch’s passing on January 24, after a lung infection.

“With the King’s passing away, a light on enlightenment in the world has gone. His demise would be a great loss to his people, to the Muslim Ummah, and to the entire world,” said Yameen.

King Abdullah has been succeeded by his 79-year-old brother Salman bin Abdulaziz, who visited the Maldives in February last year before donating MVR18.4 million (US$ 1.2 million) for 10 new mosques in the islands.


Islamic minister dismisses rumour of President Yameen not performing Hajj

Minister of Islamic Affairs Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed has dismissed rumours of President Abdulla Yameen not performing the Hajj pilgrimage despite traveling to Saudi Arabia in September.

Asked to address the speculation during minister’s question time at yesterday’s sitting of parliament by opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Ibrahim Shareef, Shaheem suggested the rumours were being spread by former President Mohamed Nasheed, who he said was unable to make the pilgrimage while in office.

“The president of the Maldives made the Hajj [pilgrimage]. As you know, he was supposed to go the UN assembly but went to Hajj after cancelling it,” he said.

He claimed that former President Nasheed declined an opportunity to perform the pilgrimage during his tenure and had sent the first lady instead.

Shaheem was state minister for Islamic affairs under the Nasheed administration.

Nasheed’s remarks concerning President Yameen’s Hajj pilgrimage “opens the door for others to talk further about the things they have done,” Shaheem said.

“So I think it would be better to stay quiet without going around talking about such personal matters,” he said.

In an interview with Minivan Radio last week, Nasheed repeated calls for President Yameen to publicly address speculation concerning the trip to Saudi Arabia and his health.

The opposition leader referred to former President Mohamed Ameen informing the public about his health in a letter sent from Sri Lanka to the Maldivian parliament.

Nasheed claimed that according to close associates President Yameen was unable to perform rituals at Arafat due to poor health.

He implied that the source of the rumours was government-aligned Maldives Development Alliance (MDA) Leader Ahmed Siyam Mohamed, who accompanied the president to Saudi Arabia.

The public deserved to know the truth about the president’s health as speculation creates fear and doubt, he added.

Following numerous unofficial trips to Singapore by President Yameen this year, President’s Office Spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali denied rumours that the president underwent brain surgery in Singapore.

“Rumours being spread about the president’s health are false,” he tweeted on October 23.

Nasheed meanwhile contended that President Yameen was ruling “in absentia” or away from the public eye.

If the president is “incapacitated” and could not execute the duties of his office, Nasheed said the Constitution requires the vice president to assume the president’s powers.

In late October, an anonymous senior government told newspaper Haveeru that the MDP were using areca palm trees planted in Malé by the city council for black magic to curse President Yameen with ill health.

A close associate of President Yameen told the newspaper that the president did not seek treatment for a brain tumour.

Instead, the associate claimed, the president sought treatment for infections caught during his Hajj pilgrimage and had to be admitted at a Singapore hospital.

The anonymous government official said the president’s close associates believe that black magic or sorcery using the palm trees were responsible for the president’s ill health.

“[They] believe that [President Yameen’s] health worsens with every palm frond that falls off the areca palm trees. And that his health would worsen further with every tree that blossoms,” the anonymous official was quoted as saying.

Related to this story

Palm trees used by MDP to curse President Yameen, alleges senior government official

Public should be informed about president’s health, says Nasheed


Adhaalath Party objects to compulsory creative arts subject in new curriculum

The Adhaalath Party is working ceaselessly to ensure that music and dance are not taught as compulsory subjects with the introduction of the new education curriculum next year, Sheikh Imran Abdulla has declared.

“Adhaalath will take all necessary measures against this,” the religious conservative party’s president said on his Facebook page on Thursday (October 23).

Music and dance have reportedly been included in the new curriculum as part of a compulsory creative arts subject from pre-school to grade three.

Islamic Minister Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed – a senior member of the Adhaalath Party – has also officially requested the education ministry to make the creative arts subject optional.

Asked about the issue at a press conference of the cabinet’s Social Council on Thursday (October 23), Education Minister Dr Aishath Shiham said the whole curriculum was based on Islamic values and codes of behaviour.

“There will not be anything that conflicts or differs with Islam anywhere in the curriculum,” she insisted.

Islamic Minister Dr Shaheem meanwhile criticised the media for reporting the issue in a way that prompts concern from the public.

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

“We value [the education ministry’s] efforts. Along with that, I believe that we can discuss together in a friendly manner to solve the [dispute over compulsory creative arts],” he said.

Shaheem added that he did not wish to comment further on the issue at present.

However, Shaheem told newspaper Haveeru last week that “hundreds of citizens” were concerned about plans to teach music and dance as compulsory subjects.

Shaheem also denied claims by State Minister for Education Adam Shareef’s that the cabinet has approved the new curriculum, which is currently being implemented in a few schools.

While the social council has discussed the curriculum, Shaheem said the issue has not been deliberated by the full cabinet.

He noted that former President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s administration had decided to make music and dance optional subjects.

Several religious NGOs have also objected to the creative arts subject, claiming that music is haram (prohibited) in Islam.

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

Shaheem meanwhile warned that forcing children of parents who consider music haram to study the subject could worsen extremism in society.

The education ministry should accept the Islamic ministry’s advice on the issue, he said, expressing confidence that President Abdulla Yameen would amicably resolve the dispute.


Mosques to be brought under Islamic ministry on November 1

All mosques in the country will be brought under the purview of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs on November 1, Islamic Minister Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed has said.

“The ministry is working to change mosques, Imams, muezzins, workers to the ministry from November 1 onward,” Shaheem tweeted on Sunday (September 28).

Responsibility for the maintenance and management of mosques was transferred from the Islamic Ministry to local councils by the landmark Decentralisation Act of 2010.

However, in April, President Abdulla Yameen ratified amendments to the Religious Unity Act of 1994 that would bring mosques under the Islamic ministry and outlaw independent prayer congregations. The amendments came into effect in mid-July.

In April 2012, Shaheem called for mosques to be returned to the ministry’s care following the refusal of some island councils to allow scholars to preach in mosques, most recently in the island of Innamaadhoo in Raa atoll.

The Innamadhoo island council filed a complaint with the Islamic Ministry in March against Sheikh Ibrahim Shameem Adam after the NGO Salaf preacher allegedly delivered a sermon in the island’s mosque without permission from the council.

In May 2013, Sheikh Imran Abdulla and Sheikh Ilyas Hussein – senior members of the religious conservative Adhaalath Party – were obstructed from preaching in Vaikaradhoo, in Haa Dhaalu atoll, whilst the Kamadhoo island council in Baa atoll prevented Sheikh Nasrulla Ali from preaching in the island’s mosque.

In Vaikaradhoo, the Adhaalath sheikhs were provided police protection in the face of unruly opposition protesters.

“Broadening the role of mosques” was among the eleven key policy objectives unveiled by the Islamic ministry in February.


Police arrest al-Fathuh Hajj group managing director for fraud

Police have arrested the managing director of the al-Fathuh Hajj and Umra group for fraud after the company accepted payments from would-be pilgrims in excess of the quota provided by the Islamic ministry.

Musthafa Mohamed, 68, from Maafanu Excel, was taken into custody on Friday (September 12) around 6pm from his residence in Malé.

Police also searched the residence as well as the al-Fathuh office with a search warrant. The Criminal Court has since extended the remand detention of the suspect to 15 days.

The government has announced that the state Hajj Corporation will now make arrangements for the defrauded persons to travel to Saudi Arabia.

The group was provided a quota of 125 by the government, but charged a 100 additional people, most of whom reportedly paid significantly higher than the normal rate of MVR69,000 (US$4,475) under a ‘VIP package.’

The al-Fathuh company had said arrangements would be made for the additional pilgrims under a quota from a foreign country.

Last week, about 25 families protested outside the al-Fathuh office in the capital after 76 expectant pilgrims were told they would not be able to depart for Mecca as scheduled on Monday (September 15).

Police have urged persons who have made payments to the group to contact the economic crime department as soon as possible on 9790048.

Company told ministry of bankruptcy

Meanwhile, at a press conference on Friday, Islamic Minister Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed revealed that the al-Fathuh group had informed the ministry that it would not be able to take the 125 pilgrims it was authorised to take to Mecca.

The 125 pilgrims were due to depart for Saudi Arabia tomorrow when the company told the ministry that it was “bankrupt”.

The ministry also discovered that the company had not made payments to the airline and the hotel, Shaheem said.

After the company requested assistance, Shaheem said the ministry arranged for an extension from the airline to make payments as the reservations would have been canceled at 12pm on Thursday (September 11).

“However, the company was unable to do it when the deadline elapsed,” Shaheem said.

Shaheem said a task force had been formed at the request of President Abdulla Yameen to make arrangements to send the 125 pilgrims to Mecca. Yameen himself will also conduct the Hajj pilgrimage later this month.

Expenses for the pilgrims in Mecca and Medina would be covered by the government’s Hajj Corporation, he said.

“Tickets have been taken for everyone who had decided to go to Hajj with the company and had obtained visas,” Shaheem said.

At a meeting with the defrauded pilgrims on Friday night at the Islamic ministry, Shaheem reportedly said that the Maldives was getting “a bad name” as a result of Hajj groups failing to make payments on time to agents in Mecca.

An agent came to the Maldives last week and told the Islamic minister that one Hajj group owed him 1.2 million Saudi riyals, Shaheem revealed.

The money had been owed for years, Shaheem said, noting that it amounts to about MVR5 million (US$324,254).

Quota not reduced

Shaheem said the government to decided to cover the expenses of the defrauded pilgrims because the Saudi Arabian government could reduce the 1,000 person quota provided to the Maldives next year if the full quota was not used.

While the Saudi government had reduced quotas for other countries by 20 percent, Shaheem noted that the Maldives quota was not lowered.

Of the 1,000 pilgrim quota afforded to the Maldives by Saudi Arabia, 500 were reserved by the government’s Hajj Corporation while the rest were divided amongst Hajj groups chosen after a bidding process.

In February, the Civil Court and the Anti-Corruption Commission ordered the Islamic ministry to halt the bidding process and revise the criteria for awarding quotas.

The government-owned corporation meanwhile charged MVR69,965 (US$4,537) per person. Performing the Hajj pilgrimage at least once in a lifetime is one of the five pillars of Islam.

Hajj Corporation Chairperson Dr Aishath Muneeza told reporters that the corporation would attempt to provide the same quality of service to the 125 pilgrims defrauded by al-Fathuh as it would to the 500 pilgrims who would perform the pilgrimage under the corporation’s care.

Muneeza revealed at Friday night’s meeting that the additional pilgrims would cost the corporation MVR9 million (US$583,658).

In a similar case of fraud involving a Hajj group, the owner of the Maleesha Hajj Group, Ismail Abdul Latheef, is currently on trial for defrauding 175 people of MVR12 million (US$778,000), after they made payments to the company in 2012.


Protesters march with IS flag calling for enforcement of Islamic Shariah

A protest march took place in Malé yesterday with participants bearing the militant organisation Islamic State’s (IS) flag calling for the implementation of Islamic Shariah in the Maldives.

‘We want the laws of the Quran, not the green book [Maldivian constitution]’, ‘Islam will eradicate secularism’, ‘No democracy, we want just Islam’, and ‘Shariah will dominate the world’, read some of the placards, which were all written in English.

‘To hell with democracy’, ‘Democracy is a failed system’, ‘Shariah gave you the rights, not democracy”, ‘Shariah is the only solution’, and ‘No Shariah = no peace’, read others.

Some 200 people, including about 30 women in black niqab and 10 children, took part in the march across the capital.

Shortly after the march began near the social centre on the western end of Majeedheemagu – the main thoroughfare of the capital – police reportedly stopped the protesters near the Nalahiya Hotel and demanded they stop using the black IS flag.

Police told the protesters they have been previously informed that the flag of a particular organisation could not be used.

“The call has been made, the flags have been raised,” read one of the placards.

However, the protesters reportedly insisted that the flag did not represent IS but was the seal of Prophet Mohamed (pbuh) and contained the phrase of the Shahadha (the declaration of belief in the oneness of God and Mohamed as the messenger).

After a brief exchange, police allowed the march to continue, which made its way down Majeedhee Magu to the tsunami memorial area.

On their way, participants reportedly handed out sweets to children with spectators on the street.

The march ended with a special communal prayer wishing success for Islamic ‘mujahidheen’ (holy warriors) fighting in conflicts across the world.


In late August, Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon issued a press statement condemning “the crimes committed against innocent civilians by the organisation which identifies itself as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.”

The ISIS or IS jihadist militant group – which has declared an Islamic caliphate in territory held across Iraq and Syria – has been accused by the UN of committing mass murders against prisoners, enemy combatants, and civilians.

“IS is using the veil of religion as a pretext for inflicting terror, and committing violations of human rights,” said Dunya, daughter of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and niece of current President Abdulla Yameen.

Dunya’s remarks followed Minister of Islamic Affairs Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed’s declaration that the ISIS would not be allowed to operate in the Maldives.

“ISIS is an extremist group. No space will be given for their ideology and activities in the Maldives,” Shaheem tweeted on August 24.

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), however, promptly put out a statement questioning Shaheem’s sincerity, suggesting that the words had not been backed up with concrete action by the government.

“We note with concern that neither the Islamic minister nor the government has taken any action while activities related to terrorism in different forms as well as extremism are carried out in the Maldives, religious strife and hatred is incited widely, and death threats are being made against various people over religious matters,” the main opposition party said.

The party noted that the ISIS flag was used in recent protests in Malé calling for a boycott of Israeli tourists.

While the protesters had gathered outside the residence of the Islamic minister in violation of freedom of assembly laws, the MDP noted that the government had not taken any action.

The Islamic ministry has also provided a meeting hall of the Islamic centre for a religious sermon which was advertised with the ISIS logo, the MDP claimed.

The party claimed to have learned that police and army officers were involved in putting up the banners across the capital.

Opposition-aligned private broadcaster Raajje TV reported last month that a Facebook group called Islamic State in Maldives was promoting IS in the country.

The group has shared photos of the protests calling for a ban on Israeli tourists.


MDP questions sincerity of Islamic minister’s stance on ISIS

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has questioned the sincerity of Islamic Minister Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed’s declaration that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) would not be allowed to operate in the Maldives.

“ISIS is an extremist group. No space will be given for their ideology and activities in the Maldives,” Shaheem tweeted on Sunday night (August 24).

The main opposition party contended in a press release yesterday that Shaheem’s statement was “duplicitous” and “insincere” as it was not backed up with concrete action by the government.

“We note with concern that neither the Islamic minister nor the government has taken any action while activities related to terrorism in different forms as well as extremism are carried out in the Maldives, religious strife and hatred is incited widely, and death threats are being made against various people over religious matters,” the statement read.

The party noted that the ISIS flag was used in recent protests in Malé calling for a boycott of Israeli tourists. While the protesters had gathered outside the residence of the Islamic minister in violation of freedom of assembly laws, the MDP noted that the government had not taken any action.

The Islamic ministry has also provided a meeting hall of the Islamic centre for a religious sermon which was advertised with the ISIS logo, the MDP claimed.

The party claimed to have learned that police and army officers were involved in putting up the banners across the capital.

Dr Afrasheem

The MDP also accused the government of not attempting to find the “real killers” of murdered MP Dr Afrasheem Ali, noting that the moderate religious scholar had faced harassment over his liberal views.

Referring to his last television appearance, the party said Dr Afrasheem’s remarks suggested he was “forced” to support radical religious ideology.

Appearing on a live talk show on state broadcaster Television Maldives, Dr Afrasheem had said he was deeply saddened and asked for forgiveness if he had created a misconception due to his inability to express himself in the right manner.

Islamic Minister Shahaeem was quoted in local media at the time as saying that his ministry had not forced Dr Afrasheem to offer a public apology in his last television appearance.

Dr Afrasheem’s moderate positions on subjects such as music had drawn stringent criticism from more conservative religious elements, who dubbed him “Dr Ibilees” (“Dr Satan”).

In 2008, the scholar was kicked and chased outside a mosque after Friday prayers, while in May 2012, the religious Adhaalath Party released a statement condemning Afrasheem for allegedly “mocking the Sunnah”.

NGO Salaf had meanwhile released at least a dozen statements against the late Dr Afrasheem at the time of his death. In a three-page press release (Dhivehi) on July 10, 2008, Salaf listed Dr Afrasheem’s alleged transgressions and advised him to “fear Allah, stop talking any way you please of things you do not know of in the name of religion and [stop] twisting [Islamic] judgments to suit your personal wishes”.

The NGO also called on the public not to listen to “any religious fatwa or any religious talk” from the scholar.

Extremist ideology

The MDP statement meanwhile noted that the US State Department’s 2013 country report on terrorism had stated that “Maldivian authorities believe that funds are currently being raised in Maldives to support terrorism abroad”.

While the report observed that “the Maldivian Central Bank believes that criminal proceeds mainly come from domestic sources, as a large percentage of Suspicious Transaction Reports (STRs) are related to Maldivians,” the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) denied it had any knowledge of such activities.

“The MMA has neither received nor communicated any information regarding confirmed operation of terrorist financing activities,” the central bank insisted in a statement.

The MDP said it believes such activities were aided and abetted by both foreign groups and Maldivians, adding that the activities were “well organised” and carried out with “funding and training”.

“There has been particular concern that young Maldivians, including those within the penal system, may be at risk of becoming radicalised and joining violent Islamist extremist groups. Links have been made between Maldivians and violent extremists throughout the world,” the US report stated.

The party also argued that extremism in the Maldives was encouraged by the mass gathering held on December 23, 2011 to “defend Islam” against the allegedly secularist policies of former President Mohamed Nasheed as well as a pamphlet issued by the party of current Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed.

Dr Jameel’s Dhivehi Qaumee Party had issued a pamphlet titled “President Nasheed’s devious plot to destroy the Islamic faith of Maldivians.”

Both the December 23 demonstration and the pamphlet were intended to sow discord and strife for political purposes, the party contended, and reiterated its claim that extremist ideologies were prevalent in the security services.

The party also referred to President Abdulla Yameen’s response when asked about Maldivians leaving to fight in the Syrian civil war following the death of a Maldivian militant in a suicide attack.

President Yameen’s remarks about the government not being involved in sending Maldivians to join militant organisations were “extremely irresponsible,” the MDP said.


Approximately MVR10 million spent on mosque renovation, says Islamic minister

The government spent about MVR10 million (US$648,508) on renovating mosques across the country ahead of Ramadan this year, Islamic Minister Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed informed parliament yesterday.

Responding to a question tabled by Addu Meedhoo MP Rozaina Adam concerning developments in her constituency, Shaheem said MVR1 million (US$64,850) was allocated in July for the renovation of 65 mosques in the southernmost atoll.

Plans for the construction of a large “modern” mosque in the Hithadhoo ward has been discussed with the Addu City Council, he revealed.

As the people of Addu City, however, requested the construction of an Islamic Centre with classrooms and a library, Shaheem continued, the project has been revised “in line with the people’s wishes.”

Funds have been allocated in this year’s budget to commence the project, he added.

The council was also informed earlier this year of plans to construct a waqf building to raise funds for Islamic affairs, he continued, noting that proceeds from leasing the building would be spent under the council’s supervision.

The funds would be used for mosque renovation and Quran classes, he explained, adding that the ministry was seeking finances from the Islamic Development Bank in Jeddah.


Donations made from Zakat fund to children’s home, centre for persons with special needs

The Ministry of Islamic Affairs has donated MVR100,000 (US$6,485) to the children’s home in Vilimalé and MVR140,000 (US$9,079) to the centre for persons with special needs in the island of Guraidhoo in Kaafu atoll from the Zakat fund, reports newspaper Haveeru.

Zakat is the obligatory alms tax collected from the accumulated wealth of all able Muslims.

Speaking at a ceremony to hand over the donations today, Islamic Minister Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed noted that this was the first time donations to the children’s home and the disability centre were made out of the Zakat fund.

The children at the Vilimalé home and persons with special needs were among the most deserving groups for financial assistance from Zakat proceeds, Shaheem reportedly said.

He added that details of expenditure would have to be submitted to the ministry.

Deputy Gender Minister Sidhatha Shareef meanwhile noted that the Islamic ministry has previously provided financial assistance to the children’s home and disability centre.

According to the local daily, MVR3.4 million (US$220,493) was collected as Zakat this year.