Hithadhoo Court orders removal of SAARC monuments on religious grounds

Following two months of theft and vandalism, Hithadhoo Court Magistrate Abdullah Farooq has ordered the removal of monuments gifted by the SAARC nations at the 2011 SAARC Summit “Building Bridges” held in Addu City.

This week, Addu City Council removed Bhutan’s monument – a wooden sign – following a demand from demonstrators at the nation-wide opposition-sponsored ‘Defend Islam’ protest on December 23 to that effect.

The council reported that the police surveillance necessary to preserve the monuments  in the current political climate had become unreasonable.

Certain interpretations of the Quran prohibit images of living beings. The Maldives Constitution, itself based on Islamic Shariah, states that no action which violates Islam can be upheld by the courts.

Farooq identified the monuments as “idols of worship” used by non- Muslims which could allow for the growth of other religions in the Maldives.

Farooq further argued that the monuments conflict with the regulations within the Religious Unity Act and were accepted into the country unlawfully according to the Contraband Act.

“No one has the authority to import anything prohibited under the law”, he said in the court ruling. Farooq has requested the Prosecutor General to take legal action against those responsible for setting up the monuments in Addu.

The monuments were unveiled by the leaders of Bangladesh, Pakistian, India, Bhutan, Nepal and Sri Lanka to commemorate the Maldives’ hosting of the SAARC Summit. The evening prior to Pakistan’s unveiling ceremony, its monument was knocked from its pedestal by protestors.

Although individuals were not detained over the matter the Islamic Ministry issued statements claiming that the monument’s illustration of the history of the Indus valley civilisation and a bust of Pakistan’s founder Mohamed Ali Jinah were idolatrous, and requested the government to remove those SAARC monuments which conflicted with Islam.

Addu City Council returned the monument to its mount prior to the ceremony, however it was subsequently set on fire by demonstrators when religious 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.

Opposition parties including Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) voiced their support for the vandals, and the ensuing months Sri Lanka’s monument of its national lion was decapitated, Nepal’s monument stolen and Afghanistan’s miniature minaret of Jam was sunk in a nearby harbor.

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.

Meanwhile, State Minister for Islamic Affairs Sheikh Hussein Rasheed pointed public opinion to the historical value of Pakistan’s monument.

“The Pakistan monument showed how Pakistan became an Islamic country from its Buddhist origins,’’ Rasheed has previously stated, noting that, ‘’Although the monument does not contradict Islam, it should not be kept there if Maldivian citizens do not want it to be there.’’

Removal of the contentious monuments was one of the five demands of the December 23 protesters, who also demanded that the government prohibit Israeli airlines from operating in the Maldives.

Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair observed at the time that taking down the monuments would diplomatically be very difficult for the government, “especially when it was handed to us by another Islamic country”, however he said the decision belonged to Addu City Council.

Following the removal of Bhutan’s monument three days ago, Addu City Councillor Hussein 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 at the time, “We have requested that if [the government] is unable to preserve the monument that they hand it over to us.”