Missing Maldivian pilgrim found after four days

A 75-year-old Maldivian pilgrim who went missing in Mecca has been found after four days, local media reports.

The government-owned Hajj Corporation said Ali Mohamed, from Haa Alif Baarah, was found this morning at the Masjid al-Haram or sacred mosque in Mecca that surrounds the Kaaba (House of God).

Mohamed had been praying at the mosque for the past four days and was unable to find his way out, Hajj Corporation managing director Yameen Idhrees told Haveeru.

Idhrees said Mohamed is in good health and that the corporation is making arrangements to send the pilgrim to join the rest of the group in Medina.

A total of 1,396 Maldivians are in Saudi Arabia to perform the Umra pilgrimage during the holy fasting month of Ramadan. Some 315 pilgrims are under the care of the Hajj Corporation while others are traveling with private Hajj groups.


Hundreds queue to submit forms to Hajj Corporation

Additional reporting by Ahmed Naish

Hundreds of would-be pilgrims have been queuing outside Dharubaaruge since last night to submit forms to the Hajj Corporation.

The corporation began accepting application forms at 9:00am this morning.

Of the 800 pilgrim quota afforded to the Maldives by the Saudi Arabian government, 400 were reserved by the Hajj Corporation. The remaining 400 pilgrim quota are to be divided among local Hajj groups selected through a bidding process.

The bidding process for the remaining allocations was halted last week, however, as the Anti-Corruption Commission last week ordered the Ministry of Islamic Affairs to revise the criteria for awarding quotas.

As of this morning, the number of people queuing outside Dharubaaruge reportedly exceeded 400 people.

The government-owned corporation announced last week that its rates for the pilgrimage were MVR69,965 (US$4,537) per person. Maldivians who have performed the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca in the past would not be eligible.

Chairwoman Dr Aishath Muneeza told the press that the corporation will accept application forms for a one week period. The selected individuals will be announced after processing the forms and verifying information, she said.

Muneeza said the corporation’s goal was to provide quality service for the 400 pilgrims.

The corporation signed an MoU with the Maldives National Defence Force earlier this year for officers to assist pilgrims during their trip to Saudi Arabia.

According to the corporation, the hotels chosen for accommodating pilgrims will have ATM machines, internet, hot and cold water, coffee and tea at all times and room service at least once every day.

Other amenities and services include loading and unloading of luggages, 24-hour religious lectures, and laundry services. The corporation said it would allow a maximum of four people in each room.

For those with long-term Hajj plans, the corporation has introduced a “saving package” which can be purchased with an initial payment of MVR500.

The clients of this package will be allowed to make the Hajj pilgrimage when 75 percent of the total payment is completed on an installment basis.

Performing the Hajj pilgrimage at least once in a lifetime is one of the five pillars of Islam.


President Waheed, former President Nasheed announce trip to Saudi for Umra pilgrimage

President Mohamed Waheed departed on an official visit to Saudi Arabia today (July 10), a day after local media reported that former President Mohamed Nasheed’s request to perform Umra was rejected by Saudi authorities.

Nasheed, along with Parliamentary Speaker Abdullah Shahid and former Attorney General Dr Ahmed Ali Sawad, are currently in Sri Lanka waiting for their visas to Saudi Arabia to process. They will be conducting Umra, a pilgrimage to Mecca that can be undertaken at any time of year and is highly recommended but not compulsory in Islam.

Local media in the Maldives reported that Nasheed was denied a visa by the Saudi Arabian government, however former Foreign Minister Ahmed Naseem, who is currently in Sri Lanka with Nasheed, Shahid, and Sawad, refuted the claims as inaccurate.

“I’ve been in constant touch with Saudi [Arabian government] Royal Protocol officials and Nasheed’s visa has not been rejected. They have not said anything like that,” the former Foreign Minister told Minivan News today.

“Nasheed’s visa to Saudi Arabia is being processed, it’s just a matter of time. The Foreign Ministry visa application was submitted very late, I don’t think even two weeks have passed,” said Naseem.

He believes there are a number of possible explanations for the delay in visa processing, but emphasised that there was absolutely no information coming from the Saudi Royal Protocol that Nasheed’s visa had been rejected.

“It’s taking awhile because so many presidents and former presidents [from all over the world] are traveling for Umra,” said Naseem. “[Although] it’s very likely Saudi Arabia doesn’t want Nasheed and Waheed there at the same time.”

“The whole thing has been blown out of proportion. Someone from the [Maldives] ‘baghee’ (‘traitor’) government is spreading misinformation to try and gain political capital. However, this will backfire because it’s not good to do things like this,” he declared.

“President Nasheed is a very religious person, he knows [Islam] well. Because he practices the tenets of Islam, [he knows] that going for Umra is also important,” he noted.

“If anyone is trying to prevent Nasheed from Umra it’s very bad, [fellow] Muslims should not be doing anything to obstruct any Muslim [from Islamic worship],” he continued.

Naseem said he did not believe that despite the coincidental timing of President Mohamed Waheed’s trip to Saudi Arabia, the President was intentionally obstructing Nasheed’s trip.

“Waheed is not fully informed of Islamic things, it is unlikely, but you can never know. He’s a traitor to the country and could be up to anything,” said Naseem.

Waheed’s visa to visit Saudi Arabia was issued at 5:00pm yesterday, according to Naseem.

He also noted that the Maldives’ government should be enabling and assisting its citizens to undertake religious pilgrimages.

“Infidels within the government of Maldives are not doing enough to facilitate these types of trips,” Naseem asserted.

However, an official statement from Nasheed’s spokesperson Mariya Ahmed Didi contended there had been deliberate obstruction by the Maldives’ government to obstruct Nasheed’s Umra pilgrimage.

“As we are hearing that some politicians are trying to obstruct the President’s Umra trip, the President is very saddened by this,” said Didi. “One Muslim trying to obstruct the worship of another Muslim is not something that should be done under any circumstances. We appeal for an end to this hassling.”

Meanwhile, President Waheed departed for an official visit to Saudi Arabia today to meet with top government officials, expedite some of the requests the Maldives has made to the Saudi government, and likewise perform an Umra pilgrimage.

Prior to his departure, Waheed stressed that it was difficult for him to comment on why Nasheed has not yet been issued a visa to Saudi Arabia.

“If I say anything it will just lead to speculation. How can I know something that they even don’t know?” said Waheed.

Additionally, he insisted that the government would not stymie Nasheed’s Umra pilgrimage.

“We will do everything we can to get a visa for him,” said Waheed.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs responds

Amid the conflicting reports about Nasheed’s visa obstruction and subsequent denial, the Maldives’ Consular Service Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement today detailing the visa application protocol.

“1 – Upon receiving an SMS from the Minister to the Consular Department, informing that former President Mohamed Nasheed and Speaker of Parliament Abdulla Shahid were to take part in Umra this year, the Department contacted the parliament secretariat and inquired as to how Speaker Shahid wanted to obtain the visa to Saudi Arabia,” reads the statement.

“Also, the visa application form required by Saudi Arabia was shared with the protocol department in order to send the form to the office of former President Nasheed. In the meantime, discussions were carried out between the Ministry and the Maldivian High Commission in Colombo regarding the procedures involved in obtaining Umra visas for state dignitaries.

“The Ministry also on repeated occasions requested the speakers bureau of the parliament secretariat to return the filled visa application as soon as possible.

“2 – The Ministry received the completed visa application forms on July 1, 2013. On the very same day, the forms were sent in mail packets to Colombo. Also the details of persons seeking the Umra visa were also shared with Maldives High Commission in Colombo via email.

“3 – The Maldives High Commissioner in Colombo had discussion with Saudi Arabian Ambassador to Maldives about the visa. The Saudi Ambassador said that visas for VIP persons are processed after receiving permission from the Saudi Royal Palace. Therefore, he said that permission must be sought through the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Saudi Ambassador to Maldives is currently working on obtaining the stated permit from the Royal Palace. The Maldives High Commission had informed the [Foreign Affairs] Ministry on July 3, 2013 that Saudi Ambassador will inform them as soon as permission is received.

“4 – The information given by the Maldives High Commission in Sri Lanka to the Ministry was shared with the Saudi Embassy on the same day. A request was also made to the Embassy to speed up the process to obtain the permit. In response, the Embassy informed the Ministry that it was working on to speed up the process and said that Saudi Foreign Ministry was waiting for the word from Saudi Royal Palace,” the statement concluded.


State produces evidence and witnesses against Maleesha Hajj Group owner

The Prosecutor General has produced witness and evidence obtained through police investigation against Ismail Abdul Latheef, the owner of the ‘Maleesha Hajj Group’.

Latheef is accused of fraudulently obtaining funds from Maldivians who paid his company to go to Mecca last year to perform the obligatory Hajj pilgrimage.

According to the local media, the prosecution produced the evidence of 87 persons who were defrauded, two persons who worked for Maleesha who collected the funds from people, and bank statements belonging to Latheef.

Latheef’s lawyer told the court that the Maleesha Hajj Group was not on the list of local Hajj Groups selected by the Islamic Ministry to send people to Mecca, and said it had not up to date explained why the Maleesha Hajj Group was not permitted this time while it had been the previous two years.

The lawyer told the judge that the Maleesha Hajj Group did try to take the people through Sri Lanka because the Maldives did not allow it, and said Latheef and his family was still trying to find a way to send those people who had paid the company.

Latheef’s lawyer also said he would explain how the funds collected from the people were used.

Police began searching for the 42 year-old in late September after it was alleged that he had defrauded 175 people of MVR 12 million (US$778,000), after they made payments to the company.

Latheef was reported to police after people who had made payments realised that the group’s office had been closed for days without any response or notification.

On October 2, Interpol issued a red notice to locate and apprehend Latheef. He was arrested by Sri Lankan police while he was in the Mount Lavinia Hotel in Colombo.

Attending the Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam. Clients of the company were not able to go to Mecca this year to perform the religious obligation.


Maleesha Hajj Group owner denies fraud charges in court

Maleesha Hajj Group owner Islmail Abdul Latheef ,who is being accused of fraudulently collecting funds from Maldivians who wanted to perform Hajj in Mecca last year, has denied charges against him in the Criminal Court.

Chief Judge of the Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed today asked Ismail Abdul Latheef to state the reasons as to why he had denied the charges. Latheef requested he be given time to respond.

Judge Abdulla Mohamd asked Ismail Abdul Latheef to state his reasons during the next hearing held.

At today’s hearing the state was given the opportunity to produce evidence against him, however the state attorney refused to produce the evidence before Ismail Abdul Latheef stated his reasons as to why he was denying the charges.

The PG has alleged that Latheef had fraudulently obtained MVR 8 million (US$519,000 ) from many people after they made payments to the Maleesha Hajj Group to travel to Mecca to perform Hajj.

Latheef was arrested in Colombo, Sri Lanka in November 2012, a month after police issued an Interpol red notice to locate and apprehend him. Authorities were reported to have arrested Latheef while he was in the Mount Lavinia Hotel in Colombo.

Hajj groups are authorised by the government to provide transport and accommodation for pilgrims in Mecca, as well as offering guidance in helping them complete the religious rituals.

At the time, Sri Lankan police told local newspaper Haveeru that Abdul Latheef was suspected of being involved in a Sri Lankan money laundering ring as well, and that he was also suspected of collecting money from Sri Lankans.

Latheef’s father is the head of the Athama Hajj Group.


Civil Court orders Islamic Ministry to reconsider Hajj group selection

The Civil Court has ordered the Islamic Ministry to reevaluate the proposals of four groups it previously rejected from arranging Hajj pilgrimages to Saudi Arabia this year for Maldivians.

The court ruled that the tenders of Al-manasik Private Limited, Al-fathuh Hajj And Umra Group, Al-Safa Private Limited and Classic Hajj And Umra Private Limited, should all now be reviewed by the country’s religious authorities.

The case was filed at the Civil Court by the four Hajj groups, which claimed that the Islamic Ministry had failed to comply and follow the correct procedures in selecting local companies to take Maldivians to Saudi Arabia.

The Civil Court ruled that the Islamic Ministry had followed the correct procedures in its decision to reject the tender proposals submitted by the four groups.

State Islamic Minister Mohamed Didi today confirmed to local media that a decision had already been taken to appeal the ruling at the High Court.

Didi also claimed that the Islamic Ministry had already divided the Hajj quota among eight groups, adding that any changes would create more problems for pilgrims.

On Sunday (April 14), Didi expressed concern to Minivan News that Maldivians might not be able to make the Hajj pilgrimage this year if the court case contesting the ministry’s choice of eight groups was not resolved in time.

The Civil Court issued a stay order or temporary injunction (Dhivehi) on Thursday (April 11), instructing the Islamic Ministry not to proceed with the chosen Hajj groups pending a ruling on the legality of its selection process.

Didi said at the time that the Islamic Ministry would soon have to sign an official agreement with the Saudi Arabian government to finalise the approved Hajj Groups.

“We have already sent the names of Hajj Groups that we have allowed and the Saudi government will call us to sign the agreement any moment now.  If we had to say no we can’t sign the agreement because we are not sure these Hajj Groups would be able to take people to Saudi Arabia this year as planned, then the Saudi government might not give us another chance,” Didi explained.


Waheed to address Organisation of Islamic Cooperation

President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan is to address the fourth extraordinary session of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Mecca.

The session, which began on Tuesday night, will focus on the situation in Syria, issues faced by people in Palestine, the problems confronting the Muslim community in Burma, and the situation in Mali.

Before departing from Male’ on Sunday Waheed also stated his intention to secure funds for the Ministry of Islamic Affairs’ mosque fund.

Local media last week reported an Algerian businessman as having donated MVR3.1 ($US200,000) to the fund.


Over 1000 Maldivians set for Umra pilgrimage

An estimated 1,120 Maldivians are expected to take part in a pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, later this month in celebration of the Islamic holy month of Ramazan, according to local media.

Miadhu reports that 10 different organisations within the country are said to be involved in providing Umra packages that include transportation to Saudi Arabia, as well as accommodation and food. Each year, around two million people are said to take part in the Ramazan Umra pilgrimage.

According to the report, packages are believed to cost around Rf30,000, though these costs are thought to have increased by 15 percent since changes imposed to the fixed US dollar exchange rate came into effect earlier this year.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Islamic Affairs was unavailable to confirm the figures when contacted by Minivan News at the time of going to press.