Attack against “moderate” Afrasheem an “attack against Islam”: Gayoom

Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has alleged the murder of Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Dr Afrasheem Ali, whom he claimed was a leading local advocate against Islam being seen as an “extremist religion”, was an attack on the country’s religious identity.

Gayoom, acting head of the PPM, made the claims at a memorial ceremony held for Dr Afrasheem on his birth island of Raa Atoll Ungoofaaru, alleging that the MP’s murder this week was an attempt by unidentified figures to eradicate Islam from the nation, local media has reported.

Under the Maldives Constitution, it is illegal for anyone to openly practice any faith other than Islam in the country, with nationality tied to following the faith.

According to newspaper Haveeru, former President Gayoom was quoted as acknowledging Dr Afrasheem’s efforts to educate the public on “moderate Islam”, while also raising questions over potential “benefits” to the nation in the significant number of local religious scholars being trained abroad.

“The attack on Afrasheem wasn’t just an attack on him. It wasn’t an attack on his family or his island. It’s an attack against Islam. It’s an attack against the nation. It’s an act by some people who doesn’t want to see Islam prevail in this country,” Haveeru reported Gayoom as saying.

Also speaking during the memorial were PPM MP Ilham Ahmed and the party’s interim Deputy Leader Umar Naseer.

Ilham reportedly told the crowd that he was personally aware of “people” who were discontented with Dr Afrasheem.  The MP added that his fellow party member had ultimately not been afraid to “sacrifice himself in the name of Islam.”

Meanwhile, Umar Naseer reiterated Afrasheem’s view that efforts to strengthen the word of religion in the country could only succeed with political authority.

Umar Naseer, Ilham Ahmed and PPM MP and Spokesperson Ahmed Mahlouf were not responding to calls from Minivan News.

Maldives Islamic Affairs Minister, Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed, and State Minister for Islamic Affairs Mohamed Didi could also not be reached for comment at the time of press.


Dr Afrasheem was found murdered near his home on Monday (October 1) after returning from an appearance on the “Islamee Dhiriulhun” (Islamic Life) programme broadcast on state television. He had appeared on the show alongside Deputy Minister of Islamic Affairs Mohamed Qubad Aboobakuru.

Four suspects are presently being held by police in connection to the murder, with the country’s Criminal Court extending their detention for an additional 15 days from Thursday (October 4) as investigations continue.

Authorities have yet to reveal the identities of the four suspects, however the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has alleged that two of its “front-line activists” are among those being detained.

The MDP additionally  expressed concern that the “brutal murder of a respected and elected member of the Parliament” was potentially being used to frame political opponents.

Police have yet to establish a motive for the murder.


Comment: Extreme times…extreme measures?

Are you familiar with the game of ‘chicken’? It’s when two testosterone (and probably alcohol) fueled teenagers, egged on by their often scheming and cowardly friends, challenge each other to get into a car and drive towards themselves at high-speeds to see who will back-down or steer-away from certain collision and probably death. The first person to do so is then regarded as a ‘chicken’, with subsequent consequences on pride, relationships and social standing.

Over the last fortnight in the Maldives, we are witnessing the silliest, but most high stakes game of chicken being played by politicians who really should know better. From both sides of the political spectrum, rational individuals who should know better are getting into their respective cars – that on which the entire country relies on – and simply revving up their engines and let go of the brake.

By their side, we have the bearded Islamists, egging them on and waiting for the entire foundations of the Maldivian economy to self-destruct – so that the atoll caliphate can be reborn in all its glory.

In the old days (i.e. the time right after Maumoon forgot his criticism of Nasir for allowing alcohol to be sold), we were told that a central tenet of islam was : to each, his own. If you wanted to be a Christian, Buddhist, Shinto, Scientologist – that was your right and we will not try to change that. It conveniently allowed an ideological space for our tourism sector to grow.

However, according to the new religious authorities of the Maldives, this is no longer the case. A Maldivian economy that relies on the money of Kafir’s drinking and sleeping with their unmarried partners in our hotel rooms is hypocritical and should be overthrown.

These are extreme times we are living in. However, it is perhaps becoming slowly but abundantly clear that the existing status quo is slowly disintegrating. History has shown that when there are two parties of people living on the same area with wildly different ideas of what society should be like – the only sad solution is separation. Think India and Pakistan, West and East Germany, North and South Korea, South and North Sudan…etc.

Or perhaps take a more domestic metaphor – for many years, the relationship between the tourism industry and moderate Islam in general, and the firebrand conservatism of the current Islam in the Maldives, was like a marriage of convenience. Like any partners in a marriage, they each had their idiosyncrasies. However, for the sake of a young growing nation, both sides simply put their differences aside and tried to work it out. Today, both sides argue that the other are simply not playing fair and making unreasonable demands on each other. For the sake of the children (and future generations), isn’t it time now to consider a divorce and go their own separate ways?

Now, I’m not saying that a separation is not going to be a messy affair – what separation is not? However, in our case, it does not have to be.  The Islamic conservatives do not want to have anything to do with the tourism industry. So naturally Male’ atoll and Ari Atoll will be part of the Liberal Maldives – where most of the existing resort infrastructure are. Male has also been built on money ill-gotten from trading in alcohol, adultery (not all tourists who stay in resorts are married), and generally haram behavior. Every single aspect of the existing economy has been tainted with it, so surely they cannot in good conscience live in Male’.

So for the Islamic conservatives we provide them with a part of the country and call it the Islamic State of Maldives (or the Arabic name for Maldives) – say North or South – they can choose – and they will give up their existing land in Male’ so that people from that part of the country can come and stay there. Now I am not so certain quite what they will base their economy on – but surely they must have ideas (fisheries, agriculture, Islamic banking hub, Islamic tourism) And to be frank, good luck to them. I value diversity, and I hope they are successful and show us an alternative way to live to the western dominated environment destroying globalised economy.

The other part of the country will form the Liberal Democratic Maldives. The nature of that liberal democracy is one that puts individual freedom at heart – and runs an economy on the basis of that. The role that religion plays in this society is clearly complex – as it is in any society. It could be a moderately religious place (i.e. like Malaysia) or it could be one where religion has no place in public life but only in private life. It could for example be a dual economy – where a different set of rules apply to visiting tourists than to locals in terms of what they can and cannot do. Or it could (Allah forbid) be one where people are free to practice whatever religion they please.

As you may be able to tell from my tone, I have a small bias towards the liberal viewpoint and my preference is to live in the LDM. However, I truly and genuinely respect that you may have a conservative viewpoint. Your idea of Islamic banking and Islamic tourism hub may work like a charm – I mean they do say that Europe is now a dead economy. And who knows, as I grow older and as my wife grows uglier, I may be convinced of the joys of a second younger wife – and then, I’ll be on the first boat to your side.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


Protests leave government and coalition awaiting next move

In the wake of the December 23 protests, coalition members who defended Islam and ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) members who called for a continuation of the nation’s moderate tradition await each others’ next move while attempting to articulate the differentiate between religious and political motives.

At an MDP rally held on Saturday night, party Chairperson ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik claimed that he would not let President Mohamed Nasheed listen to the any of the demands without party approval.

“If you note down the demands and submit it to MDP, we will look into it and forward any demands we see worthwhile to send to the President,” Moosa noted.

He claimed that MDP is well aware of the Islamic history and government will not be forced into doing anything whenever a person says something or protest.

On Friday night, Moosa led an enervated crowd at Haruge in a protest against the demands and those calling for them.

The demands have not been formally presented to the government, President’s Office Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair confirmed. He added that Moosa’s demand for a party review was in keeping with standard protocol.

Meanwhile, Adhaalath Party chief spokesperson and former State Islamic Minister Sheik Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed hopes the President “will accept the people’s voices.”

Furthermore, religious coalition spokesperson Abdullah Mohamed said no deadline has been set for the government to meet the protestor’s demand, however the coalition will meet this week to discuss the government’s reaction and next steps.

“We will observe very closely how much the government is doing to meet our demands. We will try to peacefully resolve the issues by discussing with the government,” he said, warning of another mass protest should the talks fail.

Meanwhile, no party has said it will formally submit the demands as requested.

The coalition of opposition parties and religious groups made five key demands of the government at Friday’s protest: to formally condemn UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay for her comments on Shari’ah law; to deny El Al and other Israeli airlines service to the Maldives; to remove the SAARC monuments in Addu; to reverse the decision on declaring areas of inhabited islands uninhabited in order to permit alcohol sales; and to close Male’ brothels.

In a significant shift from the Maldives’ tradition of moderate Islam protestors also called for the full implementation of Shari’ah law, including hand cutting and stoning. These requests have not been officially endorsed by any party.

While all demands stem from Islamic principles, Zuhair believes they have been made “for political gain and recognition by political leaders, not by religious scholars and for religious purposes.”

“This is actually deceit on a grand scale. We are all Muslims, and as such share that part of our identity. But each and every political party can compete politically under separate identities.

“Then, the opposition takes a side and calls on all Muslims to come over. It’s political trickery, and the people will be aware of it.”

Zuhair suggested that financial advantage was also part of the mix, pointing out that the religious scholars who accused former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom of not being a Muslim during the 2008 Presidential campaign were the “same people now speaking on the same platform as the former president.”

He claimed that the end goal was political and financial profit.

“The sheiks have been brought to the public as a people who say one thing for political gain during one period, and then change during another. Everyone has an agenda. The mullahs are taking the businessmen for a ride, Gayoom is taking the mullahs for a ride, it’s a win-win situation,” Zuhair said.

The loss, Zuhair suggested, could come on the international platform.

“In today’s interconnected world, information is disseminated by foreigner partners and concerns are raised beyond the government’s reach,” he said.

Foreign Minister Ahmed Naseem noted that few foreign reporters were sent to cover the protest due to its collision with the holiday season, but that foreign media outlets had picked up the event. “All governments are concerned,” he said. “I don’t believe this was good publicity for the country.”

However, the peaceful execution of both protests had reassured many, he concluded.

Minivan News asked DRP leader and MP Ahmed Thasmeen whether the protest was religious or political.

“It was organised by religious and civil society groups for issues concerning them, it was not a political event,” he said. He added that the protest would have no bearing on the 2013 presidential election, but said that the demands made must be discussed by political parties.

The purpose of the protest, according to Thasmeen, was to point out that the government’s habit of pursuing policies which “undermine religion” have created a “growing fear among the Maldivian people.”

Minivan News asked whether a distinction could be made between religion and politics. “The protest was organised by a variety of groups,” he responded, “and has achieved its goal of showing that the Maldivian people are deeply concerned.”

Minivan News inquired of Thasmeen, a resort owner, whether the demand to recall the resolution over selling alcohol on uninhabited islands would damage the tourism industry.

If approved, Thasmeen said the demand “would only impact tourism in a few locations. We are requesting that the government stop using technical loop holes to sell alcohol on these islands.”

Meanwhile, MDP party members spoke out against Thasmeen and Gassim at an impromptu party rally late Friday evening, calling for their arrest as well as the execution of former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

Thasmeen today accused the government of labeling the protest as “radical–which is not a label that fits in with the people who attended.”

Officials agree on one thing: the December 23 protests brought significant issues to the table, which both sides will be hard-pressed to ignore.