Islamic ministry flags publication of religious books without permission

The Islamic ministry has raised concern over publication of  books on Islam in Dhivehi without official approval.

In an announcement, the Islamic ministry noted that the 1994 religious unity law requires written permission from the ministry to preach, deliver sermons, and publish books concerning religion.

The ministry said it has learned that books on Islam and Dhivehi translations of verses and parts of the Quran have been published without authorisation.

The ministry appealed for compliance with the law in publishing religious literature.

The requirement was introduced through amendments brought to the Protection of Religious Unity Act in March 2014. The amendments prohibited “sowing religious discord” in the community, outlawed independent or unauthorised prayer congregations, and required Islam to be taught as a compulsory subject in all public and private schools from grade one to 12.

The changes also criminalised the construction of places of worship for other religions, the sale, possession, or advertisement of expressions or slogans of other religions and the importation, display, advertisement and sale of books of other religions.

Seeking financial assistance from foreigners to propagate other religions was prohibited while permission must be sought in writing from the Islamic ministry before accepting a salary, funds, or a gift from a foreign party for conducting religious activities in the country.

Similar provisions were included in the religious unity regulations enforced in September 2011 to crack down on extremist and unlicensed preaching of Islam in the country.

Meanwhile, in September last year, the national bureau of classification enacted new regulations that subjected the publication of prose and poetry in the Maldives to government approval.

The regulations were enforced to ensure that books and other material adhere to “societal norms” and to reduce “adverse effects on society that could be caused by published literature.”

The Maldives High Commission in the UK told the Guardian newspaper at the time that the regulations would not “limit or interfere with freedom of expression derived from the Constitution, or constructive new thoughts.”

The regulations “only formalise an approval process that has been in operation for a number of years”, the high commission insisted, adding that the “most significant development of the new regulations is that they have reduced the amount of time for books and poetry to be approved”.

“The regulations were made public to ensure that all poetry and books published in Dhivehi [the Maldivian language] are published in accordance with the societal norms of the Maldives, and in accordance with the laws and regulations governing the Republic of Maldives. This is intended to protect the 2,000-year-old history of our unique language,” said the commission.



More than 50,800 eligible for Zakat

More than 50,800 people across the country are eligible for Zakat (alms for the poor) this year, the Islamic ministry has revealed.

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

Deputy minister for Islamic affairs Dr Aishath Muneeza told the press on Monday that more than 13,000 people in Malé and 37,800 people in other islands are registered as poor.

Muneeza said the ministry plans to distribute MVR20 million (US$1.2 million) before Ramadan at a rate of MVR400 (US$26) per person, noting that the sum was the highest so far.

The ministry collected a record MVR52 million (US$3.3 million) as property Zakat last year. The registered number of poor in 2014 was more than 53,000.

Muneeza noted that Zakat payments can also be made through Dhiraagu and Ooreedoo.

Newly appointed Islamic minister Dr Ahmed Ziyad said at the press conference that renovation work on several mosques across the country will begin next week with a target of completion before Ramadan.



Fiqh academy reconstituted without Adhaalath Party scholars

The ministry of Islamic affairs has reconstituted the Fiqh academy and excluded senior members of the Adhaalath Party.

Former members, Sheikh Ilyas Hussain, Sheikh Iyaz Abdul Latheef, and MP Anara Naeem were not included in the reconstituted academy. Ilyas is the president of the Adhaalath Party’s religious scholars’ council while Iyaz was the vice president of the Fiqh academy.

The religious conservative withdrew its support for the government in March and joined the opposition ‘Maldivians against tyranny’ coalition.

Former Islamic minister Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed meanwhile resigned from the cabinet earlier this month following the detention of Adhaalath Party president Sheikh Imran Abdulla.

Imran was arrested in the wake of the May Day anti-government demonstration and accused of inciting violence. He remains under police custody.

Deputy Islamic minister Ibrahim Ahmed told local media today that the ministry decided to reconstitute the academy because the previous council was not functioning properly.

Former chief justice under President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Sheikh Mohamed Rasheed Ibrahim, was re-elected as president of the academy, and Islamic college rector Ibrahim Rasheed Moosa was elected vice president.

Rasheed and Moosa were elected at the first meeting of the reconstituted 16-member academy on Wednesday with nine votes in favour out of the 12 members present.

The academy was instituted during the administration of former President Mohamed Nasheed in 2010. His successor, President Dr Mohamed Waheed, reconstituted the academy with a Sharia council and advisory council in December 2013.

The academy’s mandate includes resolving differences of opinion and disputes on religious issues.

The academy has issued fatwas on abortion, kosher meals, marriage of inmates, Muslims visiting temples, taxation, and life insurance.

The other members on the reconstituted academy are Dr Gubad Abubakuru, Sheikh Mohamed Latheef, Sheikh Ali Zahir, Sheikh Adam Shameem Ibrahim, Mohamed Easa, Abdul Sattar Abdul Hameed, Sheikh Ali Najeeb, Sheikh Ishaq Mohamed Fulhu, Samir Zakariyya, Sheikh Ibrahim Ahmed, Sheikh Hassan Thaufeeq, Dr Aishath Muneeza, Mariyam Shabana, and Hassan Saeed.


Islamic Ministry unveils special prayer garb for women

The ministry of Islamic affairs has unveiled special prayer garb for women today, following alleged complaints over women failing to wear the appropriate clothes at the mosque.

The new garb consists of a white burka with a large white underskirt. An un-named individual donated the first 50 pieces of clothing to the Islamic Center today.

“Sometimes, when women who go to the mosque to pray they do not wear appropriate clothes, which leads them to reveal awra. That’s why the individual donated the garbs on his own accord” said deputy minister Mohamed Ali today.

The islamic ministry plans to place similar pieces of clothing at mosques throughout the country. The mosques will be responsible for washing and laundering the prayer clothing.

Women usually pray in a separate area at mosques. At many mosques, the women’s quarters are walled off by wooden walls.

Speaking to Minivan News, deputy Islamic minister Dr. Aishath Muneeza said that the ministry had been considering placing prayer garb at mosques before the donation from a private individual.

“We receive a lot of complaints, mostly from tourists. In other countries, a lot of mosques provide prayer garbs and socks so that there is easy accessibility into the mosque,” she said.

Dr. Muneeza said it will not be compulsory for women to wear the new clothing, but said it is provided for women who may not have clothing suitable for prayer when they enter the mosque.

“For example, now very busy women can also pray at a mosque, instead of going all the way home to pray,” she said.

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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.


Akon arrives in the Maldives

American R&B artist Akon has arrived in the Maldives this morning to perform tonight in the second show of the ‘Tourist Arrival Countdown Music Festival’ upon the invitation of Tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb.

Minister Adeeb and event organisers Chopart received Akon at the airport alongside a team of youth leaders who had shown support for Akon’s concert amid continuing opposition to the show from religious leaders.

Haveeru reported Akon as asking his fans to “get ready to party” before coming to the show, assuring a good time for all who attend.

Akon’s performance was announced during the ‘Tourist Arrival Countdown Show’ on December 31, which eventually featured a host of Indian artists after the cancellation of Sean Paul’s performance.

Adeeb also confirmed yesterday (January 7) that Bollywood actress Priyanka Chopra will appear alongside Akon in tonight’s show. Priyanka is due to arrive sometime this evening.

In 2010, a show featuring Akon was organised before organisers cancelled, citing a lack of technical support and security. As with the Sean Paul concert, both the Islamic ministry and local religious NGO Jamiyyathul Salaf had spoken out against the show.


Saudi delegation visit Maldives to assess investment opportunities

Minister of Islamic Affairs, Dr Mohamed Shaheem has said Saudi Arabia will be informing other Arab nations about the many investments opportunities in the Maldives.

Addressing the press after a meeting with a special Saudi delegation, Shaheem stated the country was assessing means through which it can assist in developing the Maldivian economy.

“The delegates will have a meeting with officials from the Ministry of Economic Development tomorrow where they will discuss potential investment opportunities in the Maldives and how to increase outreach regarding investment,” he added.

The 16 strong delegation arrived from Saudi Arabia this morning consisting of seven Saudi government officials alongside representatives from private sector Saudi enterprises who have shown an interest in pursuing business in the Maldives.

Speaking at the meeting, Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Minister for Foreign Trade at the Ministry of Commerce and Industry Dr Abdullah A. Al-Obaid said the visit signifies his country’s intention to enhance the bilateral relationship through trade, investment, and Islamic affairs.

“We are so proud to hear that Maldives is keeping with its Aqeeda [faith], its religion and trying to stick with it even though we have globalism effecting all countries,” said Dr Abdullah.

Shaheem said that the delegation arrived after a request made to the Saudi King by President Abdulla Yameen. He also said that the delegation was due to meet with President Yameen during this visit.

In October, Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud donated US$1.2 million to a mosque project, with further plans to build 10 new mosques in the islands.

The Saudi Prince reportedly told Shaheem that he was willing to help the Maldivian government in preserving the Islamic identity of the nation and that Saudi Arabia sees the Maldives as a country of ‘special importance’.

During the recent Malé water crisis – caused by a fire at the capital’s only desalination plant, unnamed Saudi donor pledged to assist the Maldives by providing US$1 million to the government’s water crisis fund.

Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed visited Saudi Arabia earlier this year, meeting with the Imaam of the Grand Mosque of Makkah.

The vice president stressed the importance the government placed on enhancing ties with the Arab world and in strengthening religious unity in the Maldives.

Shortly after Jameel’s return, the government initiated its pledge to introduce Arabic lessons in schools as part of a drive to increase Islamic learning in the country.

After signing an MoU to permit flights between the Maldives and Saudi Arabia earlier this year, Mega Maldives has this week begun flights between Malé and Jeddah.

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Independent prayer congregations “unacceptable,” says Islamic minister

Independent or unauthorised prayer congregations are “unacceptable” and legal action will be taken against its members if they refuse to accept advice from scholars, Islamic Minister Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed has said.

Speaking at a press conference yesterday about the ministry’s achievements during the first year of President Abdulla Yameen’s administration, Shaheem stressed that it was not the government’s policy to violate the sanctity of mosques by entering with force and stopping the congregation.

“The Islamic ministry met the people who were praying in an independent congregation and advised them over a long period and instructed them to stop,” Shaheem said, referring to a separatist congregation at the Dharumavantha mosque in Malé.

The ministry’s scholars later advised members of the congregation for one month in the presence of police officers, he said.

“However, they refused to stop. So legal action has to be taken against them,” Shaheem said, adding that there was no Islamic state in the world where such congregations were allowed.

The government would not allow practices outside the bounds of the law and religious strictures, he declared.

On September 30, police arrested a 34-year-old man for leading prayers and delivering Friday prayer sermons at the Dharumavantha mosque. The suspect was arrested on charges of “attempting to incite religious strife and discord,” said police.

Independent congregation in Madduvari

In recent days, Shaheem continued, the ministry was informed of an independent prayer congregation on the island of Madduvari in Raa atoll.

“Our scholars visited that island as well with officers of the Maldives Police Service. But when we requested to meet with those senior among them, they didn’t come to the meeting,” he revealed.

Prayers were being conducted in Maldivian mosques in accordance with Islamic principles and the Prophet’s (pbuh) Sunnah.

Independent prayer congregations were not supported by learned religious scholars either in the Maldives or elsewhere.

The people involved in the congregation in Madduvari were not academically qualified or well-versed in religious matters, he claimed.

“So making independent congregations, marrying outside of court – such things are prohibited in religion,” he said.

Last week, Sri Lankan police detained three Maldivians who were allegedly preparing to travel to Syria through Turkey.

The three – two men aged 23 and 25 and a woman aged 18 – were from Madduvari and have since been released from custody upon being brought back to the Maldives, Home Minister Umar Naseer told the press on Thursday (November 6).

Meanwhile, asked if there were religious extremists in the Maldives, Shaheem said the definition of religious extremism in the Maldives was “very different” from its meaning internationally.

In the international community, he explained, religious extremism referred to “killing people, blowing places up and attacking civilians.”

Extremism in the Maldives has not reached that level, Shaheem said.

However, he added, there were religious ideologies in the country that needed to be corrected and moderated, which required religious scholars to provide counsel and advice.

Shaheem said the problem of extremism in the Maldives was not as bad as some reports suggested.


Shaheem referred to the ministry’s public stand earlier this year on the issue of Maldivians traveling to Syria for ‘jihad’ in the ongoing civil war.

“The Islamic ministry does not support Maldivians leaving to fight in foreign wars, especially sectarian conflicts,” he said.

A large number of  Muslims were being harmed in conflicts between Sunnis and Shias, he said, including “innocent children, the elderly, and women”.

The ministry has been appealing to youth across the country against travelling abroad to fight, he added, saying that Muslims in other countries should pray for their well-being and offer humanitarian assistance.

According to a jihadist media group, a fifth Maldivian man recently died in Syria.


The minister revealed that projects to build 20 new mosques across the country would commence in 2015, including ten projects to be financed by US$1.2 million donated by Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz al Saud.

Among the ministry’s achievements during the past year, Shaheem referred to Dhivehi translations of works of Islamic fiqh, 500 pilgrims taken to Mecca by the government-owned Hajj Corporation, and the construction and renovation of mosques.

Additionally, Singapore approved the ministry’s halal certification, strengthening the waqf system, and numerous Quran courses were conducted in the atolls, he added.

Religious unity has been established during President Yameen’s first year in office, Shaheem insisted, while closer ties have been maintained with Islamic nations.


President makes creative arts optional after pressure from religious conservatives

President Abdulla Yameen will make creative arts – including music and dance – optional subjects in the next year’s school curriculum after pressure from religious conservative organisations and political parties.

Islamic Minister Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali tweeted his gratitude towards the president, though he was unavailable to comment on the news at the time of publication. President’s office spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz also tweeted about the decision.

Local media reported that religious NGO Jamiyyathul Salaf had met with the president to voice concerns as well as sending a letter identifying ‘anti-Islamic’ aspects in the new curriculum.

Speaking to after the meeting, Jamiyyathul Salaf President Abdulla Mohamed said government ministers at the meeting denied the fact that creative arts was compulsory saying that it seemed unlikely that there would be any amendments to the curriculum.

The 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.

The meeting in question was also attended by the Islamic minister, education minister Dr Aishath Shiham, and the Adhaalath Party leader Sheikh Imran Abdullah.

The education minister had previously stated at a press conference of the Cabinet’s Social Council last week (October 23) that the whole curriculum was based on Islamic values and codes of behavior.

The religious conservative Adhaalath Party declared last week that it had been working ceaselessly to ensure that music and dance are not included as compulsory subjects in the new curriculum.

Meanwhile, 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”.

Earlier this year, Islamic ministry unveiled its policies and plans for the year, placing great emphasis on strengthening Islamic education by focusing on schools and the youth population. The ministry has also revealed plans for an Islamic University in the Maldives.

Plans included sermons at school assemblies, special Islamic workshops, and a monthly Islamic magazine which is to be distributed to all schools and public libraries.

Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed said the government will mainstream Arabic education in the Maldives, focusing particularly on Islamic education and the study of Quran.