MNDF marks ‘Victory Day’ with special ceremony, unveiling of memorial monument

The Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) marked ‘Victory Day’ with a special ceremony, a parade, the unveiling of a new monument and a silent drill on Friday (November 2).

The special ceremony commemorated the events of November 3, 1988 – when an attempted coup by Sri Lankan mercenaries led by a group of Maldivians was foiled with Indian military assistance .

As part of the event, a memorial monument at the southwestern side of Bandaara Koshi, the main military headquarters, was unveiled by President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan.

The southwestern corner of the military headquarters was blown up during the attack in the early hours of November 3, 1988.

The ceremony meanwhile included the screening of an animated video showing the attack on the military headquarters, a seven-gun salute, 30 seconds of silence in memorial of the fallen, a performance by the military’s ‘Pipe’ band and the launching of a book about the 1988 coup.

Military officers performed a silent drill after the ceremony.

In his address at the ceremony, Chief of Defence Forces Major General Ahmed Shiyam said that although the Maldives might not come under military attack in modern times, the “effects of ideological attacks to poison the minds of our youth and destroy our nationhood are evident all around us.”

A parade meanwhile took place across the capital this morning following dawn prayers in a large congregation of military officers.

MNDF Captain Hussain Ali told newspaper Haveeru on Thursday that an event at the Republic Square including fireworks that had originally been planned for tonight was now postponed until after November 12 due to adverse weather.


Addu City Council begins taking down “idolatrous” SAARC monuments

Addu City Council has begun removing monuments gifted to the Maldives by SAARC member countries during the “Building Bridges” summit in November 2011.

Bhutan’s monument, a wooden sign, was taken down on Friday following a demand from demonstrators at the opposition-sponsored ‘Defend Islam’ protest on December 23 that all monuments be removed as they were “idolatrous”.

Councillor Hussein Hilmee told Minivan News that a small group of people had been vandalising the monuments and that police had needed to provide 24 hour security, which was unfeasible.

The leaders of Bangladesh, Pakistian, India, Bhutan, Nepal and Sri Lanka unveiled their national monuments to commemorate the Maldives’ hosting of the SAARC Summit.

The night before the unveiling of Pakistan’s monument a small group of protesters knocked it over, contending that carvings detailing the history of the Indus valley civilisation and a bust of the country’s founder Mohamed Ali Jinah were idolatrous. The monument was removed by Addu City Council and replaced on its plinth prior to the unveiling ceremony.

That evening a group of opposition MPs, including MP Ahmed Mahlouf from former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM), were arrested attempting to take down SAARC banners at the airport which they claimed featured Christian imagery.

The Pakistani monument was subsequently set ablaze by demonstrators, after the Adhaalath Party issued a statement claiming that “no Maldivian of sound mind” would allow idols or iconography of other religions to be erected in the country.

The Pakistani monument was “part of efforts by adversaries of Islam to turn the faith that Maldivians embraced 900 years ago upside down,” the party said at the time.

The fate of the monuments quickly became a political football in the wake of the SAARC Summit, as the government began to juggle the perceptions of its regional neighbours with antagonistic public sentiment triggered by opposition-led demands that the monuments be removed.

Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani unveils the contentious monument

Meanwhile, the wave of vandalism continued. The head of Sri Lanka’s lion statue monument was decapitated, and police were deployed to provide protect the surviving structures.

A month after it was unveiled Nepal’s monument, a metal plaque with a coat of arms resembling the country’s national symbol, was stolen during a police shift change.

“We regret what has happened,” Addu City Mayor Abdullah Sodig told Minivan News following the theft of the Nepalese monument. “It was not a religious monument. There is some political motive behind this theft,” he emphasised, citing “opposition party members” as likely suspects.

Islamic Minister Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari subsequently requested that government authorities remove the SAARC monuments that conflicted with Islam, although he did not specify which.

State Minister for Islamic Affairs, Sheikh Hussein Rasheed, was more muted, telling Minivan News that he did not believe that the monuments contradicted Islam.

“The Pakistan monument showed how Pakistan became an Islamic country from its Buddhist origins,’’ he said, but added: ‘’Although the monument does not contradict Islam, it should not be kept there if Maldivian citizens do not want it to be there.’’

Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair observed at the time that taking down the monuments would diplomatically be very difficult for the government, “especially where it was handed to us by another Islamic country.”

Removal of the contentious monuments was one of the five demands of the December 23 protesters, who also demanded that the government apologise for a statement to parliament by UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay concerning a moratorium on flogging for extra-maritial sex.

Today, Addu City Councillor Hilmee said the council had sent a letter to the Foreign Ministry requesting that it inform SAARC member countries that it was taking the monuments down.

Deputy Sri Lankan High Commissioner Shaanthi Sudusinghe said the Sri Lankan government had not yet been informed of any decision.

“We have requested that if [the government] is unable to preserve the monument that they hand it over to us,” she said.


Intolerance growing in the Maldives: Asia Times

The rising tide of religious intolerance in the Maldives is threatening the country’s young democracy, writes Sudha Ramachandran for the Asia Times.

Monuments donated by Pakistan and Sri Lanka were vandalised last week as they were seen to be “idolatrous” and “irreligious”.

Member-countries of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) donated monuments to mark the just-concluded 17th summit of the regional grouping that the Maldives hosted.

The monument gifted by Pakistan consisted of an image of its founder, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, and also featured figures, some of them drawn from seals belonging to the ancient Indus Valley Civilization. Historians have argued that these figures of animals and human beings point to early religion. The Sri Lankan monument was of a lion, the country’s national symbol.

On the eve of the unveiling of the Pakistan monument, a mob reportedly led by the opposition Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), the party of former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, toppled the bust of Jinnah. A day later, the monument was set ablaze and the bust stolen. The Sri Lankan monument was found doused in oil with the face of the lion cut off.

Sources in the Maldivian government told Asia Times Online that the vandalisation was driven by political motivations rather than religious beliefs. “This is the opposition’s way of damping the success of the SAARC summit,” a member of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) said.

The PPM has hailed the vandals as “national heroes” and promised to “do everything” it can to secure the release of the two men arrested over the incidents.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Islamic Affairs has ordered the government to remove the monuments as they “breach the nation’s law and religion”. Islamic Affairs Minister Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari told the local media that the Pakistan monument was “illegal” as it “represented objects of worship of other religions”.

Adhaalath Party president Sheikh Imran Abdulla told Minivan News that the monument “should not be kept on Maldivian soil for a single day” as “it conflicts with the constitution of the Maldives, the Religious Unity Act of 1994 and the regulations under the Act” as it depicted “objects of worship” that “denied the oneness of God”.

Sunni Islam was declared the official state religion of the Maldives under the 1997 constitution. This was retained in the 2008 constitution. Article 9-d says that “a non-Muslim may not become a citizen of the Maldives”. While the constitution allows non-Muslim foreigners to practice their religion privately, they are forbidden from propagating or encouraging Maldivians to practice any religion other than Islam.

The island nation in the Indian Ocean is formed by a double chain of 26 atolls has a population of about 314,000. It is the smallest Asian country in both population and land area. With an average ground level of 1.5 meters (4 foot 11 inches) above sea level, it is the planet’s lowest country.

Although religion plays an important role in the daily lives of Maldivians, the kind of Islam practiced here has never been puritanical or rigid and it is suffused with local cultural practices. Faith in Islam has co-existed with belief in spirits and djinns. Traditionally, Maldivian women did not veil their faces or even cover their heads and men did not grow beards. That is now changing with a puritanical version of Islam taking root.

Religious conservatism has grown dramatically in recent years, as has intolerance. A small but vocal group of religious radicals espousing Wahhabi or Salafi Islam has campaigned for inclusion of sharia law punishments like flogging and amputation in the penal code, used intimidation to force women to veil themselves and declared listening to music as haram (forbidden).

Maldivians who are atheist, agnostic or profess the milder Sufi Islam have been hounded by radicals. In May last year, 37-year-old Mohamed Nazim, who professed in public to be non-Muslim, was threatened by the Islamic Foundation of the Maldives, a non-governmental organisation.

Three days later, he went on television and asked for forgiveness. Two months later, 25-year-old Ismail Mohamed Didi, who admitted to being an atheist and had sought political asylum abroad, was found hanging at his workplace.

Some blame the recent spurt in religious radicalism on the country’s nascent democracy. A Maldivian political analyst who Asia Times Online spoke to in 2009 pointed out that “unlike Gayoom, who jailed people like [controversial religious preacher] Sheikh Fareed for their views, under the new democratic government extremists are able to advocate their version of Islam without fear of being arrested and detained.”

Others blame what they describe as President Mohamed Nasheed’s “appeasement of religious elements”. Indeed, not only did Nasheed create a Ministry of Islamic Affairs but he also put it in under the control of the Adhaalath Party, a party of religious conservatives.

Although Adhaalath parted ways with the ruling MDP in September, Nasheed has retained Bari, who is a member of Adhaalath, as his minister of Islamic affairs.

Nasheed’s reluctance to take on religious radicals has eroded his support among young Maldivians who voted for him not only because they wanted to see the end of four decades of Gayoom’s authoritarian rule but also because they expected him to put in place real freedom, including the right to religious freedom. Their hopes seem to have been dashed by the government’s flirting with the fundamentalists.

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Mosque, SAARC monument vandalised in Addu

Sri Lanka’s SAARC monument has suffered further vandalism and a mosque door was damaged in an ongoing spate of vandalism in Addu City.

On his own website, Islamic Minister Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari claimed that the attack on the mosque was in retaliation for the vandalism of the Sri Lankan statue, which protesters in Addu have criticised as idolatrous. Earlier last week, Pakistan’s monument was set ablaze and later stolen.

Bari referred to the Quran 6:108, which reads “And do not insult those they invoke other than Allah , lest they insult Allah in enmity without knowledge. Thus We have made pleasing to every community their deeds. Then to their Lord is their return, and He will inform them about what they used to do.”

Bari said he told the state broadcaster MNBC that as the monuments were gifted by neighbouring countries, bilateral relations should be considered for the removal of the offending monuments.

“Therefore, this can be solved by talking to the nations that erected [the monuments] and taking them down with their cooperation,” he wrote, adding that he had asked the Foreign Ministry, President’s Office, the Addu City Council and police to discuss the matter with the embassies.

In his interview with MNBC One, Bari said that citizens taking the law into their own hands was not the solution.

In an earlier post on his website, Bari revealed that he had suggested to the Pakistani High Commissioner that the “peaceful and proper way” to resolve the issue was for Pakistan to remove the monument.

The High Commissioner had assured him that Pakistan would do so after the summit was over, Bari wrote.

Bari has maintained that the engravings of pagan symbols on the Pakistani monument are unlawful under the Contraband Act, Religious Unity Act and the Anti-Social Behaviour Act, and should not be displayed publicly in the Maldives.

Meanwhile, the door to a cupboard containing a sound system in a mosque was reported vandalised.

Abdulla Sodiq, Mayor of Addu City, disputed that the mosque had been damaged in retaliation for damage to Sri Lanka’s lion statue, as claimed by Bari.

”I heard the media reports and sought clarification on the incident, and found out that the door to the cupboard containing the mosque’s sound system was damaged with the intention of stealing the microphone and sound system,” he said. ”It is very common in all parts of the Maldives.”

He claimed Dr Bari may have related the two incidents because he had been misled by whomever he had received the information from.

The SAARC monument was damaged on Thursday morning around 1:00-2:00am, Sodiq said, with the face of the statue being smashed.

He said that the lion was the national symbol of Sri Lanka and was not an idol of worship. Police are investigating both incidents.

Deputy Sri Lankan High Commissioner Shaanthi Sudusinghe meanwhile told Minivan News that the Maldivian government had said it would repair and relocate the monuments from Addu City to the convention centre, where they could be given security.

“There is not much we can do,” she said. “This was a gift to the Maldives and it is up to them to look after it. If it is repaired and relocated we will be satisfied.”


Vandalism of Pakistani monument damaging to Maldives’ image: Foreign Ministry

The Foreign Ministry has issued a statement expressing regret over the vandalism and theft of the SAARC monument designed and gifted to the Maldives by Pakistan.

The monument, which protesters contend is idolatrous, was first knocked off its plinth during the SAARC Summit on the evening prior to its unveiling by Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Yousaf Raza Gillani.

It was subsequently set ablaze and on Monday night, stolen. Two men have been arrested in connection with the incident.

The religious Adhaalath Party and the party of former President of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM), have declared those responsible for destroying the monument to be “national heroes”, and vowed to fight for their release in court.

In a statement, the Foreign Ministry said the incident had “affected the Maldives’ long time relationship with the Islamic Republic of Pakistan”.

The attacks on the monument were “undemocratic” and the type of behaviour that would damage the image of the Maldives to the outside world, the Foreign Ministry said.

Following the first attempt to damage the monument during the SAARC Summit, a member of the Pakistani delegation told Minivan News that it had approached the Foreign Ministry over the incident and was told by an official that it was a rumour spread by the opposition.

In today’s statement, the Ministry said that the monument represented the culture and traditions of the Indus Valley Civilisation, and was not intended to be idolatrous. However because of public concerns the Pakistani government had already agreed to redesign the monument prior to its destruction and theft, the Ministry said.

“There are ways that people can citizens can solve these issues within the principles of democracy and religion,” the Ministry statement read.

Adhaalath Party President Sheikh Imran Abdulla this week told Minivan News that the monument “should not be kept on Maldivian soil for a single day” and “should be removed immediately.”

“We believe it conflicts with the constitution of the Maldives, the Religious Unity Act of 1994 and the regulations under the Act,” he said, because it depicted “objects of worship” that “denied the oneness of God.”

Gayoom’s lawyer Mohamed Waheed Ibrahim ‘Wadde’ claimed that the arrest of those who toppled and vandalised the monument were “unlawful,” as they were opposing “something the government did in violation of the constitution.”