Singapore Islamic authority approve Maldives halal certificates

Singapore has become the first country to accept the Maldives’ Halal certification, the Ministry of Islamic Affair has revealed.

Local media have reported the ministry’s announcement that the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore has accepted the certification, currently used by three Maldivian fisheries firms.

“After the approval of the certificate by Singapore, the market is looking forward to an even bigger expansion,” Islamic Minister Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed told Haveeru.

The move to award Halal certification followed the EU’s decision to refuse the extension of duty-free status to Maldivian fish imports late last year due to the Maldives’ failure to adhere to international standards regarding freedom of religion.

The EU represents the single largest export partner for the Maldives.

The government promptly formed a Fisheries Promotion Board in order to target new markets, with Felivaru Fisheries, Maldives Industrial Fisheries Company (MIFCO), Horizon Fisheries all awarded Halal certificates in April.

Deputy Minister at the Ministry of Islamic Affairs Dr Aishath Muneeza told Sun Online that the certification had been approved for three years by the Singapore authority, expressing confidence that the development would open up international markets.


Saudi Prince pledges mosques and aid for Islamic, health, and education sector

Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Salman bin Abdulaziz has pledged to build ten “world-class” mosques in Maldives, Saudi news agency Arab News has reported.

Quoting Maldives’ Islamic minister Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem, the agency stated the prince donated US$1million to the ministry for “various projects” and another US$1.5million for health projects.

Prince Salman pledged to provide aid in the education sector, and Shaheem explained that an invitation was extended to him to visit Saudi Arabia and discuss way to bolster ties in “matters related to religion and education”.

Yesterday Shaheem left for Saudi on an official trip.

Other areas in which Saudi cooperation was sought during the prince’s visit include the ministry’s mosque ‘Waqf‘ fund, Center for Holy Quran, and in Hajj pilgrimage affairs.

The report said that “it was not immediately known” if the the Maldivian proposal seeking US$300 million credit facility was discussed during the meeting. The credit facility – to finance the Maldives budget deficit – was pledged by the prince during former President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s visit to Saudi in July 2013.

At the time DrWaheed told local media that it would be a 5-8 year loan with an interest rate of 1-2 percent.

Saudi Arabia has already agreed to donate seven mosques this year, with MVR28.8 million allocated for six of these mosques in the Islamic Ministry programmes for 2014.

Fifty Scholarships to study in Saudi Arabia were also announced recently, with just fourteen applications being received by the initial deadline. In January, a group of Saudi Islamic Scholars visited the country to conduct religious education ‘dawra’ program for local scholars.

Haveeru reported that female Islamic scholars were excluded from these discussions, while the Saudi scholarships also require female students to be accompanied by a male ‘guardian’ or mahram during their time studying in the country.

Islamic scholars from Saudi also conduct religious education ‘dawra’ programmes annually in the Maldives as a selection process for the Saudi funded Islamic education programs for a selected number of students.

Prince Salman is expected to spend some time in the Maldives on holidays before returning to Saudi Arabia. During his official meeting with President Abdulla Yameen he discussed economic and diplomatic cooperation between the two countries.


Resort tycoon unveils “Religion and Nationalism Policy”, promises to strengthen Islamic faith

The Jumhoree Party (JP) has unveiled its “Religion and Nationalism Policy” – a set of objectives focusing on strengthening Islamic faith and national identity in the Maldives – as part of party leader Gasim Ibrahim’s bid for presidency in the upcoming elections.

Both the religious conservative Adhaalath Party (AP) and Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) recently defected to Gasim from President Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s coalition, forming the ‘Jumhoree Alliance’ – a coalition consisting of the three parties.

DQP Leader Hassan Saeed was subsequently appointed as Gasim’s running mate.

In a rally held to unveil the policy on Tuesday, Gasim stressed his “personal efforts” defending national identity and the religion, claiming to have been the mastermind behind the constitutional prerequisite that in order to be a Maldivian, one must be a Muslim.

During the constitution drafting process Gasim claimed that, despite a small group of people objecting to the mandatory requirement, it was he who forced the article into the constitution by invoking his power as Speaker of the Assembly. As a result, Article 9(d) of the constitution states “a non-Muslim may not become a citizen of the Maldives”.

“I made the proposition to include the article demanding that every Maldivian citizen must be a Muslim. I did this by invoking the powers vested to the Speaker of the Constitutional Assembly under the previous constitution,” Gasim said. “Despite opposition from a few, I carried out my religious and national duty courageously believing in Allah. By the will of Allah, I was able to succeed.”

Gasim also he had worked to include the article because 99 percent of Maldivian people did not want any other religion allowed in the Maldives, although he admitted that a few individuals did not share the same view as he did.

Meanwhile as head of the Villa resort chain Gasim remains one of the country’s single largest importers of alcohol, with customs records for 2011 revealing that his hotels – including the Royal, Paradise, Sun, and Holiday Island resorts – imported approximately 121,234.51 litres of beer, 2048 litres of whiskey, 3684 litres of vodka and 219.96 kilograms of pork sausages annually, among other haram (prohibited) commodities restricted to ‘uninhabited’ islands.

Focus on Islamic education and an Islamic University

The Chairman of Villa Group also promised that in his future government he would make the subjects Islam and Quran mandatory in all schools up to grade 10. He said he was promising this because people wanted it to be that way and that no one can “challenge” the wishes of the people.

“I do not wish to rule upon you as a king, but rather as your servant,” he claimed.

Gasim also said that the Jumhoree Party intends to establish an Islamic University in the country that would teach Arabic and Islamic Studies. He also promised to establish Islamic education centres in other regions of the Maldives as part of his government’s bid to strengthen people’s faith in Islam.

Speaking during the rally, Minister of Islamic Affairs Shaheem Ali Saeed – who is the Chair of Adhaalath Party’s Foreign Relations Committee – said the Jumhoree Alliance was the only political group with the technical people required to defend Islam.

He claimed there was no other political party or political group able to overpower the strength of the coalition in academic merit or experience.

Strengthening Islamic faith among youth

Shaheem meanwhile claimed a Jumhoree government’s educational focus was the establishment of an Islamic University. He promised that within the first year of government, legislation would be proposed to parliament to upgrade the current Islamic College Kulliyath’ Al Dhiraasath al Islamiyya to an Islamic University.

He also promised that schools teaching in the Arabic medium will be set up in four regions of the country other than in Male’, claiming that a lot of people had complained to him over a lack of Arabic teaching schools.

“These things will turn out to be a defining step in renewing our Islamic identity. These policies are important steps that will be taken for the benefit of this country. The most prestigious promise made by our leader Gasim Ibrahim is to keep this country as an Islamic state,” Shaheem said.

Shaheem claimed that making Quran a mandatory subject for students was part of Jumhoree party’s belief in strengthening Islamic faith among young people.

“The result will be that young people will have stronger faith in Islam and a renewed spirit of nationalism,” he said.

The Islamic Minister said under a Jumhoree government, efforts would be made to strengthen ties with Islamic states that would help other Muslims living in difficult situations – such as Maldivians.


Political parties bill designed to “eradicate” Islamic ideology: Adhaalath Party leadership

Leaders of the religious conservative Adhaalath Party have claimed legislation passed by parliament last week requiring political parties to have a minimum of 10,000 registered members was a direct attempt to dissolve the party.

If the political parties bill passed on Thursday is signed into law, parties without 10,000 members would have three months to reach the legally required number or face being dissolved.

At a press conference on Saturday, Adhaalath Party Leader Sheikh Imran Abdulla said he suspected that “black money” from Indian infrastructure company GMR was behind the decision to insert the clause requiring 10,000 members.

Imran said the bill was intended to “eradicate” Islamic ideology from Maldivian politics and “defeat” the party’s efforts to oppose alleged attempts to secularise the country.

Imran claimed that “a person with a brain would not deny” that the decision by parliament’s Independent Institutions Committee to raise the prerequisite to 10,000 members from 5,000 at a late stage was made “because Adhaalath Party would be disqualified at that number.”

He further contended that the party’s recent campaigns to “reclaim the airport” from the GMR-led consortium and “reform parliament” was also “connected to passing that bill.”

“This is a big political and legal challenge [they] placed before Adhaalath Party. The way the political sphere in the country is shaped today, it is very important for a political party like Adhaalath Party to exist,” he said.

Imran also argued that the bill also violated the constitutional principle of equality.

Following preliminary debate in early 2010, the political parties bill was reviewed and finalised by the Independent Institutions Committee on December 10, 2012.

Writing in his personal blog (Dhivehi) in October, Independent Institutions Committee Chair MP Mohamed ‘Kutti’ Nasheed revealed that “a clear majority” voted in favour of requiring parties to gain 5000 members before it can be officially registered, and 10,000 members before becoming eligible for state funds.

“When the law is passed, the current registered parties with less than 5,000 members would be given a six month period to reach the figure. If a party fails to reach that figure by the end of the period, the particular party would be dissolved,” Nasheed explained.

However, the minimum number of members was later raised to 10,000 and the period shortened to three months before the draft legislation was presented to the Majlis floor for Thursday’s vote.

The political parties bill was passed with 64 votes in favour and four against.

According to figures from the Elections Commission (EC), Adhaalath Party has 5,881 as of December 27. In October 2011, the party had 6,140 members.

Only four parties out of 16 registered in the country have more than 10,000 members, including the formerly ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and government-aligned Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) and Jumhooree Party (JP).

Speaking at yesterday’s press conference, Islamic Minister Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed, chief spokesperson of the party, dismissed the notion that the minimum requirement of 10,000 members was approved for economic reasons as political parties were provided funds from the state budget.

Shaheem criticised provisions in recently-passed legislation on MPs’ privileges guaranteeing retirement pensions after one term as well as overseas medical treatment for MPs’ family members as untenable expenses by the state.

“When a MP serves a five-year term, the state has to pay him till he goes to the grave. And [the state] has to take care of him and his family,” Shaheem said.

If state funding for small political parties was too costly, Shaheem argued that a monthly pay of more than MVR 12,000 for island councillors was excessive as well.

Five-member councils in islands with very small populations had “nothing at all to do,” he claimed.

Housing Minister Dr Mohamed Muiz meanwhile said that the membership clause was intended to get rid of the religious conservative party due to its efforts “on behalf of Islam” in recent years.

Muiz referred to the Adhaalath Party’s successful campaign against proposed regulations to authorise sale of alcohol in city hotels as well as its opposition to making Dhivehi and Islam non-compulsory subjects in higher secondary education. He claimed that the party also put a stop to former President Mohamed Nasheed’s attempts to strengthen ties with Israel and “bring Jews” to allow them to “exert influence in the country”.

Muiz, who also serves as the Adhaalath Party’s secretary general, called on “all citizens who love Islam” to sign up for the party.

Sheikh Ilyas Hussain, head of the party’s religious scholars council, meanwhile claimed that efforts to get rid of Adhaalath Party were intended to “erase” Islam from the Maldives and “spread secular activities in society.”

Following the parliament’s vote on the political parties bill, Adhaalath Party Sheikh Mohamed Iyash wrote on the party’s website last week that it was “essential for religious people to have political power given the state of the Maldives.”

“Religion and politics cannot be separated. Calls by some secular individuals to separate religion and politics are dangerous,” he wrote in response to a purported question regarding the “Shariah judgment” on signing for Adhaalath Party.

“Their [secular individuals’] intention is for religious scholars to not criticise any affairs of state and just stay in mosques praying and giving religious advice,” he wrote, adding that it was compulsory upon all Muslims to “enjoin good and forbid evil.”

A “religious political party” in the Maldives was therefore “necessary and obligatory,” he contended.

“Adhaalath Party is the only party formed to protect religion in the country. To say that all other political parties were formed for worldly purposes would not be demeaning them,” he added.

Sheikh Iyash wrote that it was “a big responsibility of every Maldivian citizen to find a way to maintain Adhaalath Party in existence.”

The Adhaalath Party has announced that it would hold a rally on Thursday night to launch a recruitment drive to increase membership.


Broadcasting Commission condemns barring of Raajje TV crew from government press room

The Maldives Broadcasting Commission has condemned an incident on Thursday where a crew from private broadcaster Raajje TV was forced out of a press conference by Islamic Minister Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed.

The commission said it has written to both the President’s Office and Islamic Ministry seeking clarification “at the earliest possible opportunity”, following media reports that the station’s crew was forced out from the Velaanage press room on orders from the President’s Office.

“The commission believes that regardless of whomever it is committed by, such acts hinder the fundamental principles of democracy, freedom of expression and freedom of the press, and [the commission] condemns it,” reads the letter from the commission.

“The commission also believes that all state institutions must provide equal opportunity for media in a free and democratic environment.”

Article 28 of the constitution states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of the press, and other means of communication, including the right to espouse, disseminate and publish news, information, views and ideas. No person shall be compelled to disclose the source of any information that is espoused, disseminated or published by that person.”

Moreover, article 29 states, “Everyone has the freedom to acquire and impart knowledge, information and learning.”

The letter from the Broadcasting Commission noted that the President’s Office had previously assured that it was “the government’s policy to continually provide all information that it is legally obliged to provide to all parties”.

The statement was made in a reply to the commission on August 28 after it had written to the President’s Office regarding media reports claiming that the government was refusing to provide information to Raajje TV.

Government Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza was not responding to Minivan News at the time of press.

Riza however told newspaper Haveeru on Thursday that Raajje TV crew had repeatedly breached codes of conduct inside the President’s Office.

The spokesperson said that the President’s Office would not allow to “do as it pleases.”

The local daily reported that during his press conference Islamic Minister Shaheem had asked a President’s Office employee at the press room if the Raajje TV crew had been expelled.

When the staff confirmed that it was done on orders from the President’s Office, Shaheem reportedly told the employee not to refuse entry to any media crew to an Islamic Ministry press conference without his approval.

“The Islamic Ministry does not have any problems with any TV [station] in the country. I am asking because I’m the one who has to answer for this. I just got an SMS asking me why I forced them out. I didn’t. I thought they left because it was our office,” Shaheem reportedly said after his exchange with the President’s Office staff.

Invitations only

Deputy CEO of Raajje TV Abdulla Yamin told Minivan News that Raajje TV has not faced any “obstruction” from the Islamic Ministry.

“But the press room at Velaanage is managed by staff from the President’s Office,” he explained. “When our crew went to the press conference, [the President’s Office staff] said Raajje TV was not invited and told them to get out.”

Media officials from the President’s Office also refused entry to a Raajje TV crew to a press conference later in the day by the Maldives Ports Limited (MPL), Yamin said.

“But MPL senior officials said they would provide us any information and invite us to their press conferences and events,” he said. “So this issue is between Raajje TV and the President’s Office media staff.”

Yamin added that he was told by President’s Advisor on Political Affairs Ahmed Thaufeeq ‘Topy’ that he was unaware of the apparent non-cooperation policy, suggesting a “difference of opinion within the President’s Office concerning Raajje TV.”

Attempts to contact President’s Office Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza were unsuccessful, Yamin said.

In September, Raajje TV sued the President’s Office at the Civil Court for effectively boycotting the station from press conferences and official functions.

Yamin told Minivan News at the time that “the whole issue began with the government’s Media Secretary Masood Imad excluding RaajjeTV in all invitations to media to cover their press events.”

“Initially, Abbas Adil Riza held a different opinion. But then it became a norm for the government to block us from events, even refusing access and turning us away when we took the initiative to find out about events and attempt to cover them with or without invitation.”

The Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) released a statement at the time stating that it would neither encourage nor accept the boycotting of any media outlet by either state institutions or political parties

Raajje TV had also filed a lawsuit against the Maldives Police Service (MPS) at the Civil Court, following their decision to not to cooperate with the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)-aligned TV station.

The station had earlier accused police of targeting, assaulting and harrasing its reporters during MDP’s protests.

The lawsuit followed an announcement by the police claiming that the opposition-aligned TV station was broadcasting false and slanderous content about police, which had undermined their credibility and public confidence.

Yamin said today that the cases were ongoing at the Civil Court.

In previous hearings, Yamin said, the government argued that it was within its rights or discretion not to invite certain media to press conferences and events.

“But what we are saying is that it is a constitutional right of media to gather information and we are ready to fight for that right,” he said.


Media telethon launched for mosque fund

Local television and radio stations along with online newspapers launched a telethon yesterday to raise money for the Islamic Ministry’s mosque fund.

Speaking at a ceremony at the Islamic Centre to inaugurate the fund, Islamic Minister Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed said proceeds from the fund would go towards building and renovating mosques in the atolls.

The purpose of the telethon is to raise funds to purchase equipment and begin renovations before the holy fasting month of Ramadan, which begins in July. The telethon is set to continue until next Saturday.

Shaheem added that funds raised so far have been budgeted for the renovation of 17 mosques and proposals have been made to renovate 31 mosques in as many islands.

A family from the capital Male’ donated Rf50,000 (US$3,243) upon request to add a veranda to the island mosque of Alif Alif Mathiveri, Shaheem revealed.

Over Rf2 million (US$129,702) has been donated to the mosque fund to date.


Islamic Ministry to formulate guidelines for alternative medicine centres, spas and beauty salons

The Ministry of Islamic Affairs is formulating rules and guidelines for registering and operating alternative medicine centres, spas and beauty salons to prevent the use of such establishments as a front for prostitution.

Shutting down spas and massage parlors doubling as brothels was a key demand of a ‘mega protest’ on December 23 organised by eight political parties and religious NGOs to ‘Defend Islam’ against the allegedly liberal policies of the ousted Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) government.

Briefing press yesterday on the first 100 days of the new government, Islamic Minister Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed claimed the ministry possessed a list of suspected brothels in inhabited islands, “most of which have already been shut down.”

“There are still suspected places on the list [in operation],” he added.

Seven beauty salons have been closed down by police since the controversial transfer of power on February 7.

The new regulations currently being drafted would expand the role of the Islamic Ministry in monitoring the businesses, Shaheem said.

Adhaalath Party President Sheikh Imran Abdulla had claimed during the December 23 demonstration that there were over 60 brothels in the Male’ alone, double the number of mosques in the capital.

Speaking at yesterday’s press conference, State Minister for Islamic Affairs, Mohamed Ibrahim Didi, explained that the ministry was working together with police as well as the tourism and health ministries to set up a monitoring mechanism.

Efforts were underway by a technical committee comprising of representatives from police and the relevant ministries to draw up a regulatory framework for registration and monitoring of the businesses, Didi added.

Under current regulations, said Didi, there was no institution or state authority responsible for monitoring alternative medicine centers and beauty salons.

“[Prostitution] is taking place in beauty salons as well,” Didi claimed. “For example, say barber shops. At the moment there is no guardianship for those places. Anyone has the opportunity to do it. Registration is not necessary either. So we’re looking for a way to get those places registered.”


Islamic Ministry requests MNDF, police officers be authorised to grow beards

The Ministry of Islamic Affairs has requested amendments to the uniform code of the security services to authorise army and police officers to grow facial hair.

A media official from the ministry confirmed that a letter was sent to the President’s Office this week officially requesting the policy change “to give permission to police and army officers to grow beards as in other Islamic countries, since our constitution is based on Islamic principles.”

Islamic Minister Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed told local media this week that a number of army and police officers had appealed with the ministry for the change.

Shaheem argued that in spite of disagreement among scholars regarding the issue, the Maldivian constitution provides the freedom to adhere to Islamic codes.

He noted that other Islamic nations such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Pakistan permitted beards in the military while Sikhs in the Indian army were allowed to wear beards.

Shaheem explained to local daily Haveeru this week that the Islamic Ministry was not advocating in favour of making beards mandatory for the uniformed bodies, but rather to allow those who requested permission to wear beards.

“While our constitution offers that right, why has it been forbidden by some in an Islamic country?” he asked, adding that he had complete confidence that President Mohamed Waheed “would not turn his back on the request.”

“Mocking the Sunnah

Dr Ibrahim Zakariyya Moosa and MP Afrashim AliShaheem’s religious conservative Adhaalath Party, part of the ruling coalition, put out a statement yesterday “condemning in the harshest terms” remarks made by two unnamed scholars in a lecture to police officers last week that the party contends “mocked” the Sunnah (way of life prescribed as normative for Muslims on the basis of the teachings and practices of Prophet Mohammed).

The press release did not identify the speakers by name. However, a police media official confirmed that the session was conducted by Dr Ibrahim Zakariyya Moosa and MP Afrashim Ali, a moderate scholar and council member of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM).

According to police media, the pair spoke in detail about sources of disputes among religious scholars, including on the issue of beards.

“In his speech, Dr Afrashim Ali mainly explained the importance of knowing how the Prophet’s Sunnah is ranked,” reads the police news item.

MP Afrashim argued that issues on which scholars have not been able to reach a consensus could not be declared either compulsory or heretical as “there cannot be a definite conclusion regarding such problems.”

According to Adhaalath Party, one of the scholars told police officers that there was no benefit to society from an individual wearing a beard “even if, for example, it was established from the Prophet’s Sunnah.”

The remarks implied that growing a beard was not mandatory in the Sunnah and cast doubt on its purpose, the Adhaalath party statement argued.

“As some officers of the Maldives police institution wanted to wear beards, he attempted in his talk to convince them that there was no need to do something that was of no benefit to society,” the statement reads.

Adhaalath Party noted that there was consensus among Islamic scholars that wearing beards was part of the Sunnah. Scholars however disagreed as to whether the practice was obligatory upon all Muslim males.

“This is as clear as the midday sun,” the statement claimed, citing authentic hadith purporting to show that the Prophet “ordered all Muslims to trim their moustaches and grow out their beards.”

In its statement, the Adhaalath Party’s scholars council also urged all government departments and state institutions to “amend all regulations in conflict with Islamic principles.”

Article 10 of the constitution states that the religion of the state is Islam while “no law contrary to any tenet of Islam shall be enacted in the Maldives.”

Religious NGO Jammiyathul Salaf meanwhile released a statement yesterday signed by the group’s President Sheikh Abdulla bin Mohamed Ibrahim, Sheikh Hassan Moosa Fikry and Sheikh Ahmed Sameer bin Ibrahim insisting that beards were compulsory in Islam.

The Salaf statement further claimed that regulations prohibiting beards in the military were unconstitutional as it was contrary to a well-established tenet of Islam.