Muslim World League to establish Islamic Centre in Hulhumalé

The Muslim World League (MWL) is to establish an Islamic centre in the Maldives, Minister of Islamic Affairs Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed has announced.

The Makkah-based NGO’s Deputy Secretary General Dr Adil bin Ali met with Shaheem today, with the minister telling local media that the Islamic Centre was to be based in Hulhumalé.

Haveeru reported that Shaheem had praised President Abdulla Yameen’s efforts to enhance ties with fellow Islamic states, calling the establishment of an MWL office in the country “a great achievement”.

The world league – founded in 1962 – currently operates centres in 21 countries throughout the world with the aim of “propagating the religion of Islam, elucidating its principles and tenets, refuting suspicious and false allegations made against the religion”.

The organisation currently has an office in the Islamic Centre in the Maldives capital, Malé.

Shaheem was reported as telling Haveeru that Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz had ordered Saudi institutions to work with the Maldives following his trip to the country earlier this year.

While the prince donated MVR18.4 million (US$ 1.2 million) to a mosque project with plans to build 10 mosques in the Maldives in October, a delegation of Saudi officials and businessmen visited the country last week to assess the means through which the kingdom can assist in developing the Maldivian economy.

“Maldives does not just want Islamic projects, but wants investment from Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries,” said Shaheem during the visit.

After being invited by Shaheem in January, the Saudi Arabian Muslim Scholars Association agreed to provide a grant of MVR1.6 million to assist in the provision of Islamic education in the Maldives. The Yameen administration has pledged to enhance Islamic education during its term, introducing Arabic lessons in some schools this year.

Haveeru reported today the MWL deputy secretary general will meet with President Yameen during his visit, and will also give a lecture in Malé’s Islamic Center about lessons learnt from Prophet Mohamed’s life on the occasion of Eid Milad-un-Nabi – the festival of the birth of the Prophet.

In his message to mark the occasion today, President Yameen urged the people to emulate the life and teachings of Prophet Muhammad.

Former President Mohamed Nasheed tweeted a message saying “we must visit the teachings of Prophet Mohamed (pbuh) on discourse and respect for diversity in Islam”, while former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom said “we must rededicate ourselves to follow his sublime teachings”.

Related to this story

Saudi crown prince greeted with ceremonial welcome

Saudi delegation visit Maldives to assess investment opportunities

Government introduces Arabic lessons as part of Islamic education drive


Police arrest 37 year-old man in connection with pregnant 11 year-old

Police have confirmed that a 37 year-old male is being held in custody in connection to an investigation into the case of an 11 year-old girl who gave birth to a premature baby on Thursday, November 1.

The confirmation was made as high-profile politicians, public figures and NGOs have launched a wider debate on child abuse and responsibility towards the welfare of young people in the Maldives.

Both government-aligned and opposition figures have called for authorities to properly investigate the pregnancy and alleged abuse of the girl, a stance backed by the Maldives’ Ministry of Islamic Affairs, which has labelled the matter a “very serious” and “dirty crime”.

The 11 year-old girl, who cannot be identified due to her age, gave birth to her child two months prematurely on Thursday.

Her child later died early morning on Friday (November 2), after being taken to Feydhoo regional hospital in Seenu Atoll for further treatment, with medical officials telling local media at the time that the girl had said she had been the victim of multiple cases of child abuse.

Police Spokesperson Sub Inspector Hassan Haneef told Minivan News today that a 37-year old male was presently being held in custody in relation to the case, but could not confirm if the 11-year old girl herself was presently under observation by authorities or was back with her family.

Islamic Affairs Minister Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed told Minivan News he was aware of the ongoing investigations into the matter, which he labelled “a very big crime,” adding that the young girl should not herself take any blame or punishment.

“Personally I can’t say any word to punish a small girl in grade six. This may be a rape or sexual abuse case,” he said.

“We must find the man who did this dirty crime and he must be punished. I believe this to be a very serious case and have this morning talked with the Human Right’s Minster and Attorney General regarding the [issue].”

The Minister for Gender, Family, and Human Rights is presently is mandated to deal with the matter.

Gender Minister Dhiyana Saeed referred Minivan News to Dr Aishath Rameela, State Minister for Gender, Family, and Human Rights.

Dr Rameela was not responding to calls at time of press.

Twitter debate

Debate over the case has raged on social media over the last few days.  Political figures including MP Rozaina Adam of the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) stressed via Twitter that investigations conducted by both the police and the Maldives Gender Ministry of were proceeding at “top speed”.

Rozaina, who labelled the case as both “unacceptable” and “shocking”, demanded on social media that police make the case a high priority and find the person responsible for fathering the child.

“An 11 year-old doesn’t get pregnant by herself! This is child abuse we are talking about here n authorities need  to find out who is responsible,” she wrote on the social media service.

Rozaina was not responding to calls from Minivan News at the time of press.

Meanwhile, Ali Rameez, a famous singer who gave up music and now heads the Islamic NGO Jamiyyathul Salaf, tweeted on Friday: “All you people who claim to be Muslims! In Allah’s Shariah [law], a child grows up when he or she reaches puberty. Not when they turn 16, 18, 25.”

Rameez, who also hosts a religious program on private radio station SunFM, tweeted earlier that he was “not aware that children could get pregnant.”

The comments were criticised by some social media users including former Environment Minister Mohamed Aslam, who tweeted: “Where are the children’s right groups… Where is HRCM.. Horrified with the preaching of people like Ali Rameez.”

Outside of the political sphere, local NGO, Advocating the Rights of Children (ARC) yesterday issued a statement calling on the government, civil society organisations and the general public to step up efforts to combat child abuse in society.

“ARC strongly condemns the recent case of child abuse resulting in the pregnancy of an 11 year-old child. ARC calls upon the authorities to utilise all necessary resources to ensure the safety and protection of the child,” the statement read It is an obligation for us as responsible citizens to protect our children, and it is the Maldivian government’s obligation as a signatory to the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC) that all international commitments to protect the rights of all children are adhered to fully.”

ARC also highlighted the importance of respecting the child’s privacy, while urging parliament, the government and the nation’s judiciary to take “action urgently” over the case.

“We also call on the relevant state institutions, civil society and other international entities in the country to take all precautionary measures to prevent violations of children’s rights, protect their safety and well-being, and to maximize their efforts to address comprehensively the issue of the violations of children’s rights in the Maldives,” the statement added.


Alms Act to increase zakat contributions

The Ministry of Islamic Affairs has said that a separate institution for the administration of zakat funds would result in increased payments as public confidence was enhanced, reports Sun Online.

State Minister for Islamic Affairs Sheikh Shaheem Ali Saeed said that the new Alms Act, for which drafting began earlier this year, would describe how much people were to pay based on their assets and income.

The giving of a fixed portion of ones’ income to charity is one of the five pillars of Islam.

Shaheem told Sun that the practices of other countries such as Kuwait, Qatar, and Malaysia had been studied when drafting the new legislation, which he is hopeful will be enacted when parliament resumes.

He said that the new institution will include a council and supervisory council.

Earlier this week, Shaheem told local media of his concern that recent changes to the country’s tax system had negatively affected contributions to the zakat fund.


CAM working to block controversial ‘Innocence of Muslims’ Trailer

The Communications Authority of Maldives (CAM) has said today that it is working to block the trailer of a film titled ‘Innocence of Muslims’ from being viewed in the Maldives.

The controversial film has been at the centre of perceived anti-American protests across the world. International media has reported that in certain cases, these protests have descended into violence, resulting in the deaths of a number of US nationals at certain embassies in Africa and the Middle East.

Addressing the availability of the trailer in the Maldives, CAM Chief Executive Ilyas Ahmed has said that the usual course of action in dealing with cases of offensive on-line content in the country was to block an entire website found to be hosting the material. However, since the trailer in this case was hosted on public video-sharing website YouTube, Ilyas said he was trying to find a way to block the video alone.

“Since YouTube is a popular site used by many people, it is not practical to block it. So instead of blocking YouTube, we are instead talking to Google first and trying to have this trailer alone blocked,” has was reported as telling local media.

Ilyas stated that this is the first time in the Maldives that content was being sought to be blocked in this manner. He added that the CAM had taken up the work after receiving a formal written request from the Ministry of Islamic Affairs.

The ministry had previously released a statement on Thursday (September 13) which called on people to show restraint, while condemning the movie.

Meanwhile, Adhaalath Party, the religious conservative party to which Islamic Minister Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed belongs to also released a press statement the same day.  In the release, the party stated that the objective behind people being offensive to Islam was to drive millions of Muslims over the world to create unrest and do wrong.

The statement also asked protesters to refrain from causing harm to innocent people and damaging government or public property.

Crowds of people protested against the offensive movie ‘Innocence of Muslims’ in front of the UN Building on Friday.

Minister of Islamic Affairs Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed was not responding to calls at the time of press.


Nasheed government “failed to combat extremism”: Islamic Minister Sheikh Shaheem

The Maldives’ Islamic Affairs Minister has said religious scholars have not been politicised by the rhetoric of various parties since February’s controversial transfer of power, as his ministry had sought to counter the “ideological problems” of extremism in the country.

Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed told Minivan News that since President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan came to power on February 7, scholars representing the government-aligned, religiously conservative Adalaath Party had been “calling for peace” in the country between rival political factions. He said that he did not believe scholars were taking sides in the current political deadlock.

However, Shaheem did contend that his party was “much more comfortable” working with the present government addressing potential concerns about the nature of the country’s faith.  He indicated that the threat of home-grown terrorism was a key issue needing to be addressed in the Maldives – something he alleged the previous government had neglected to assist through funding.

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), which contends that it was ousted from governance back in February through a “coup d’etat” sponsored by opposition politicians, businessmen and mutinous section of the police and military acting on a platform of extremist Islamic rhetoric, has since seen some of its local councils refuse to authorise sermons in mosques by prominent scholars of the Adhaalath Party. The party claimed its elected councils had refused certain scholars over fears allowing them to speak could “disrupt the peace and create unrest”. The action led Shaheem’s Adhaalath Party to criticise such protests as “lowly and secular acts”.

While both Shaheem and Sheikh Ilyas Hussein, head of the Adhaalath Party’s scholar’s council, both participated in protests against the government of former President Mohamed Nasheed on December23 in order to “defend Islam”, the Islamic Affairs Minister stressed he was not in the country during the events of February 7.

Shaheem claimed that having not taken part in the transfer of power, he did “not think there was a concern” about some scholars being politicised among party lines for taking positions under the new government.

Pointing to other nations like the UK, where serving monarch Queen Elizabeth II was both the head of state and the church, Shaheem said that political leaders in the Maldives focusing on religion was no different.

Shaheem himself previously served under the Nasheed government as Islamic State Minister before resigning back in December 2010 over differences of opinion with the administration over issues such as claims it was strengthening links with Israel.

Shaheem added that in working in line with a coalition government of former opposition parties and President Waheed, he was “much more comfortable” and confident that religious issues raised on December 23 would be addressed – particularly funding of religious programmes.

“At present, we follow a moderate view of Islam here in the Maldives. We are requesting a comfortable amount to oversee our work from next year’s budget,” he said, adding that he was confident that the present government would be able to address the issues raised on December 23.

Extremism and terrorism

Shaheem claimed that amongst the present challenges facing the Islamic Ministry, a need to focus on addressing social issues and improving the manners of young people were needed, as well as “ideological problems” linked to religious extremism.

“The previous government did not give us the budget we needed to run programmes to address these issues,” he said. “There are problems here with extremism and terrorism, these are idealogical problems that need to be targeted through religious awareness campaigns.”

“Islamic upbringing”

Shaheem’s comments were made as Vice President Waheed Deen yesterday stressed the need to provide children with a “proper Islamic upbringing” based around laws and customs of the faith.

Speaking during the 27th National Quran competition held at the Islamic Centre in Male’, the vice president said that upholding Islam was vital to ensure nationhood, while also addressing “weak social standards” .

According to the President’s Office website, Deen claimed that the progress and prosperity of a nation was the satisfaction of its people; and the people will be content only when they are truly faithful and devoted to their religion.”

President’s Office spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza said that the vice president’s comments yesterday were based on wider government policy relating to economic reform, particularly within its aims to reduce the gap between the country’s richest and poorest people.

He added that Deen had raised the issues of a need for “good discipline” through Islamic principles.  However, Abbas said that the speech was  not outlining a specific government focus on Islamic developments across the nation.

“The Maldives remains a moderate country and will remain so.  We do not encourage acts of extremism here,” he said.

“Political control”

Without directly responding to Sheikh Shaheem’s comments regarding the former government’s commitments to try to eradicate religious extremism, the MDP said it wished to let the Islamic Affairs Minister’s own “ethics and comments” made during the December 23 protests speak for itself.

Increased diplomatic relations with Israel, including possible service of El Al airlines, and recent debates over Shariah law, were among examples given by speakers at the December 23 demonstrations as examples of the Nasheed government’s alleged attempts to undermine Islam in the Maldives.

Party Spokesperson and MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor claimed that with the MDP failing to recognise the legitimacy of the current government, the same was true for ministerial appointments like Sheikh Shaheem.

Ghafoor also alleged that issues such as Islamic fundamentalism were a well established tool used during the 30 year rule of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom to pit different factions in the country against each other, something he believed was once again happening with the present government.

“I see Shaheem as a just a little cog inserted into the larger machine of Gayoom’s political control,” he said.

December 23

Last year’s December 23 protest was established by NGOs and six political parties as part of a demonstration to “to defend Islam” in the nation amidst allegations the Nasheed government had sought to introduce freedom of religion and un-Islamic “idols” to the country – a charge it vehemently denied.

Speakers from various religious and political opposition parties addressed an estimated 5,000 men, women and children of varying ages and attire. Protesters were handed t-shirts and banners reading “Maldivians in defense of Islam” along with Maldivian flags.

Banners bearing slogans including “We stand united for Islam and the nation”, “No idols in this holy land”, “No to the Zionist Murderers”, “No to [Israeli transport group] El Al Airlines” and “We stand for peace” led participants to gender segregated areas across from the Tsunami Memorial area, where approximately 20 protest leaders spoke from a mounted podium.

“We don’t know there is a moderate, higher or lower Islam. We only know Islam, which is above all the religion. The only road we must follow is based of Allah’s callings,” said Jumhoree Party (JP) Leader and tourism tycoon Gasim Ibrahim during the protest.

Sheikh Shaheem also spoke on the day reiterating that his party does not support terrorism, adding that the security forces would know the actual people provoking such acts.

Meanwhile, the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Leader and MP Ahmed Thasmeen Ali said that he was there on behalf of his party to assure Maldivian citizens that the party will stand with the religion of Islam.

”We are gathered here to uphold Islam for the future of the next generations,” Thasmeen said, accusing the current government of trying to establish anti-Islamic policies such as non-islamic idols and strengthening relations with Israel.

“We are here to show that will not support those policies yet we are not extremist,” he said. ”We will stay forever as an Islamic nation.”

However, in a counter-protest held the same day, former President Nasheed called on then opposition leaders of political parties to explain their exact stance on religious issues to the public ahead of a 2013 presidential election.

“Should we ban music? Should we circumcise girls? Should we allow nine year-olds to be married; is art and drawing forbidden? Should we be allowed to have concubines? We have to ask is this nation building? Because [the government] won’t allow these things, we are being accused of moving away from religion,” he said.

Nasheed also urged MPs to discuss the inclusion of Sharia punishments in a revised penal code “without calling each other unbelievers.”

“At this moment we may not realise how important this gathering is, but years down the line we will look back and realise this was a crucial moment,” he said at the time.

“I asked you to come here in support of the middle, tolerant path. And I believe that most citizens want to continue our traditional form of Islam,” Nasheed said at the time.


Islamic Ministry has “no issues” with government despite Shaheem resignation: Mohamed Didi

The Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Islamic Affairs has claimed that both himself and Minister Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari have no “major issues” with the government despite today’s resignation of Islamic State Minister, Mohamed Sheikh Shaheem Ali Saeed.

The resignation, which has not yet been officially confirmed by the President’s Office, has been linked by figures within government to alleged differences of opinion between the State Minister for Islamic Affairs and President Mohamed Nasheed, particularly in relation to recent protests that have taken place in the country concerning the work of an Israeli NGO.

Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Mohamed Didi, said he had been taken by “surprise” this afternoon after being informed of the State Minister’s decision to resign by a colleague within the ministry.

“This is a complete surprise to me, I wasn’t aware of the decision until I saw some news reports and a member of staff here then told me,” he said.

Speaking to Minivan News this afternoon, Didi said that although he had yet to speak with Shaheem about his decision to resign, the Ministry of Islamic Affairs would continue to function as normal as Dr Bari remained in his position.

“I don’t see any differences as a result of the resignation while the Minister is still here,” he said.  “As part of the Ministry’s policy, there is no difference of opinion between us and the government.”

Dr Bari is a member of the religious Adhaalath Party along with Shaheem.

In looking to at the long term status of the Adhaalath Party in the Islamic Ministry, Didi said it was “a bit early” to tell what sort of action, if any, might be taken as a result of the resignation.

While the President’s Office confirmed that it had received a letter from Shaheem today, it was unable to disclose the contents of the document until they had been seen by the President himself, who is currently away on a visit to the country’s northern atolls.

Press Secretary for the President, Mohamed Zuhair, told Minivan News that in light of a recent number of protests against government policy that had allegedly involved Shaheem, “it was possible that the State Minister may have decided his position was untenable”.

Zuhair claimed that there had perhaps been concern that as both a prominent member of the Islamic Ministry and the religious Adhaalath Party, Shaheem had appeared to “overstep boundaries” by allegedly using his Friday sermons to incite “political protest” and “demonstrations” against the government he worked for.

“Things came to a head this morning when a group of parents from Arabiyya School came to the President’s Office over concerns about funding, a  political advisor then held a meeting with them about their concerns,” he said.  “Protests then took place outside containing a number of individuals considered to be members of the Adhaalath Party.”

Zuhair claimed that “well wishers” to the government, said to include members of the Adalaath Party, had suggested that some of these protestors may have “met last night with Shaheem”.  He claimed that if this was true, then this could have amounted to “provocation” against the government from one of its own state ministers, making Shaheem’s position difficult to maintain.

Both Dr Bari and Shaheem were unable to respond to calls from Minivan News at the time of going to press.  However, Shaheem last week spoke at a mass protest meeting gathered against eye surgeries being conducted in the country by an Isreali medical NGO called Eye from Zion, which had met with the president during their visit.

According to Haveeru, the speech given by Shaheem “warned of ‘direct action’ if the government continues with its ‘anti-religious’ policies.”

“The President’s Office sent me a letter giving a warning to not to speak about Islamic studies,” the paper quoted him as saying during his speech.  “Where is their shame? What is the meaning when they ask to keep quiet in response to the head of Islamic affairs in the Maldives?”

Correction: The article had originally incorrectly stated that Permanent Secretary Mohamed Didi was a member of the Adhaalath Party.  Minivan News apologises for the error.