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.