Saudi Prince donates MVR18.4 million to build mosques in the Maldives

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud has donated MVR18.4 million (US$ 1.2 million) to a mosque project with plans to build 10 mosques in the islands.

Islamic Minister Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed confirmed that the money was transferred to ministry’s bank account yesterday (October 15) and that work on the mosques is scheduled to start in the next couple of months.

“This is just the first donation of a US$4 million full amount from the Saudi Prince. We are told that we would receive the rest of the amount as construction of the mosques goes forward,” said Dr Shaheem.

The Saudi Prince – who pledged to build 10 world class mosques in the Maldives in his visit to the Maldives earlier this year – told Shaheem he is willing to help the Maldivian government to preserve the Islamic identity of the nation and that Saudi Arabia sees the Maldives as a country of ‘special importance.’

For his visit in March, the prince – who also serves as the defense minister of Saudi Arabia – booked out three resort islands for nearly a month, reportedly leaving tourists unhappy as bookings were cancelled.

Hajj issues

Dr Shaheem also shared with Minivan News concerns brought forward by agents from Mecca who say that they have large amounts of money owed to them by Maldivian private Hajj companies.

“An agent from Mecca came to the Maldives and shared information about two Hajj groups who owes money in excess of US$300,000 to the agent not paid in over a year now,” said Dr Shaheem.

Recently, the government covered the expenses of the 121 defrauded customers of Al-Fathuh Hajj Umra group with an amount in excess of US$ 500,000.

“We have given the company one month to reimburse the government for the expenses and the company has informed the government via police that they are currently in the process of paying back the government,” explained Shaheem.

While speaking to local media after coming back from the Hajj pilgrimage, Shaheem said that the ministry had decided implement a policy which would require private Hajj companies to keep a deposit at the Islamic Ministry in order to acquire the permit from the government in order to prevent a repeat of this type of fraud.

Haveeru also reported the story of ten Maldivian students who were on their way to the pilgrimage from Medina when they were stopped at a checkpoint near Mecca and denied access being told that the permit was invalid.


Government sends defrauded pilgrims to Mecca

The government has sent the 121 victims of the al-Fatuh Hajj and Umra group frauds on the Hajj pilgrimage under the care of the Hajj Corporation.

According to local media, the people sent today were those who had paid al-Fatuh and obtained their visas before the company pleaded bankruptcy to the Islamic Ministry explaining that it would not be able send the pilgrims to Saudi Arabia.

Haveeru reported that the government has spent MVR9 million (US$584,036) to cover the expenses of the defrauded pilgrims.

At a press conference on Friday, Islamic Minister Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed said that the government was covering the expenses of the victims because the Saudi Arabian Government might reduce the quota to the Maldivians if the full quota is not fulfilled.

The 1000 pilgrims quota provided by the Saudi Arabian Government is split into two, with 500 reserved for the Hajj Corporation and the rest divided into private corporations chosen after a bidding process.


Hundreds queue to submit forms to Hajj Corporation

Additional reporting by Ahmed Naish

Hundreds of would-be pilgrims have been queuing outside Dharubaaruge since last night to submit forms to the Hajj Corporation.

The corporation began accepting application forms at 9:00am this morning.

Of the 800 pilgrim quota afforded to the Maldives by the Saudi Arabian government, 400 were reserved by the Hajj Corporation. The remaining 400 pilgrim quota are to be divided among local Hajj groups selected through a bidding process.

The bidding process for the remaining allocations was halted last week, however, as the Anti-Corruption Commission last week ordered the Ministry of Islamic Affairs to revise the criteria for awarding quotas.

As of this morning, the number of people queuing outside Dharubaaruge reportedly exceeded 400 people.

The government-owned corporation announced last week that its rates for the pilgrimage were MVR69,965 (US$4,537) per person. Maldivians who have performed the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca in the past would not be eligible.

Chairwoman Dr Aishath Muneeza told the press that the corporation will accept application forms for a one week period. The selected individuals will be announced after processing the forms and verifying information, she said.

Muneeza said the corporation’s goal was to provide quality service for the 400 pilgrims.

The corporation signed an MoU with the Maldives National Defence Force earlier this year for officers to assist pilgrims during their trip to Saudi Arabia.

According to the corporation, the hotels chosen for accommodating pilgrims will have ATM machines, internet, hot and cold water, coffee and tea at all times and room service at least once every day.

Other amenities and services include loading and unloading of luggages, 24-hour religious lectures, and laundry services. The corporation said it would allow a maximum of four people in each room.

For those with long-term Hajj plans, the corporation has introduced a “saving package” which can be purchased with an initial payment of MVR500.

The clients of this package will be allowed to make the Hajj pilgrimage when 75 percent of the total payment is completed on an installment basis.

Performing the Hajj pilgrimage at least once in a lifetime is one of the five pillars of Islam.


President Waheed returns from Saudi Arabia visit

President Dr Mohamed Waheed today returned to Male’ after departing on an official visit to Saudi Arabia last week.

During his visit, Dr Waheed held meetings with Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and United Arab Emirates (UAE) Vice President Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum to discuss bilateral relations between the Maldives and their respective nations, according to the President’s Office.

President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad confirmed that President Waheed had also performed an Umra pilgrimage whilst in Saudi Arabia.

The president’s visit followed reports that his predecessor, former President Mohamed Nasheed, last week had his own request to perform Umra rejected by Saudi authorities.

However, local media reported yesterday (July 14) that Nasheed had now been granted a visa, allowing him to conduct an Umra pilgrimage.

Parliament Speaker Abdulla Shahid and former Attorney General Ahmed Ali Sawad have also been granted visas, according to local media.


Former President Nasheed granted Saudi visa for Umra pilgrimage

Former President Mohamed Nasheed has been granted a visa to visit Saudi Arabia to conduct an Umra pilgrimage, reports local media.

The Saudi Embassy in Sri Lanka requested Nasheed ‘hand over’ his passport for visa processing and the request has been forwarded to the former president’s office, said State Foreign Minister Hassan Saeed.

Parliament Speaker Abdulla Shahid and former Attorney General Ahmed Ali Sawad have also been granted visas, according to local media.


President Waheed, former President Nasheed announce trip to Saudi for Umra pilgrimage

President Mohamed Waheed departed on an official visit to Saudi Arabia today (July 10), a day after local media reported that former President Mohamed Nasheed’s request to perform Umra was rejected by Saudi authorities.

Nasheed, along with Parliamentary Speaker Abdullah Shahid and former Attorney General Dr Ahmed Ali Sawad, are currently in Sri Lanka waiting for their visas to Saudi Arabia to process. They will be conducting Umra, a pilgrimage to Mecca that can be undertaken at any time of year and is highly recommended but not compulsory in Islam.

Local media in the Maldives reported that Nasheed was denied a visa by the Saudi Arabian government, however former Foreign Minister Ahmed Naseem, who is currently in Sri Lanka with Nasheed, Shahid, and Sawad, refuted the claims as inaccurate.

“I’ve been in constant touch with Saudi [Arabian government] Royal Protocol officials and Nasheed’s visa has not been rejected. They have not said anything like that,” the former Foreign Minister told Minivan News today.

“Nasheed’s visa to Saudi Arabia is being processed, it’s just a matter of time. The Foreign Ministry visa application was submitted very late, I don’t think even two weeks have passed,” said Naseem.

He believes there are a number of possible explanations for the delay in visa processing, but emphasised that there was absolutely no information coming from the Saudi Royal Protocol that Nasheed’s visa had been rejected.

“It’s taking awhile because so many presidents and former presidents [from all over the world] are traveling for Umra,” said Naseem. “[Although] it’s very likely Saudi Arabia doesn’t want Nasheed and Waheed there at the same time.”

“The whole thing has been blown out of proportion. Someone from the [Maldives] ‘baghee’ (‘traitor’) government is spreading misinformation to try and gain political capital. However, this will backfire because it’s not good to do things like this,” he declared.

“President Nasheed is a very religious person, he knows [Islam] well. Because he practices the tenets of Islam, [he knows] that going for Umra is also important,” he noted.

“If anyone is trying to prevent Nasheed from Umra it’s very bad, [fellow] Muslims should not be doing anything to obstruct any Muslim [from Islamic worship],” he continued.

Naseem said he did not believe that despite the coincidental timing of President Mohamed Waheed’s trip to Saudi Arabia, the President was intentionally obstructing Nasheed’s trip.

“Waheed is not fully informed of Islamic things, it is unlikely, but you can never know. He’s a traitor to the country and could be up to anything,” said Naseem.

Waheed’s visa to visit Saudi Arabia was issued at 5:00pm yesterday, according to Naseem.

He also noted that the Maldives’ government should be enabling and assisting its citizens to undertake religious pilgrimages.

“Infidels within the government of Maldives are not doing enough to facilitate these types of trips,” Naseem asserted.

However, an official statement from Nasheed’s spokesperson Mariya Ahmed Didi contended there had been deliberate obstruction by the Maldives’ government to obstruct Nasheed’s Umra pilgrimage.

“As we are hearing that some politicians are trying to obstruct the President’s Umra trip, the President is very saddened by this,” said Didi. “One Muslim trying to obstruct the worship of another Muslim is not something that should be done under any circumstances. We appeal for an end to this hassling.”

Meanwhile, President Waheed departed for an official visit to Saudi Arabia today to meet with top government officials, expedite some of the requests the Maldives has made to the Saudi government, and likewise perform an Umra pilgrimage.

Prior to his departure, Waheed stressed that it was difficult for him to comment on why Nasheed has not yet been issued a visa to Saudi Arabia.

“If I say anything it will just lead to speculation. How can I know something that they even don’t know?” said Waheed.

Additionally, he insisted that the government would not stymie Nasheed’s Umra pilgrimage.

“We will do everything we can to get a visa for him,” said Waheed.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs responds

Amid the conflicting reports about Nasheed’s visa obstruction and subsequent denial, the Maldives’ Consular Service Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement today detailing the visa application protocol.

“1 – Upon receiving an SMS from the Minister to the Consular Department, informing that former President Mohamed Nasheed and Speaker of Parliament Abdulla Shahid were to take part in Umra this year, the Department contacted the parliament secretariat and inquired as to how Speaker Shahid wanted to obtain the visa to Saudi Arabia,” reads the statement.

“Also, the visa application form required by Saudi Arabia was shared with the protocol department in order to send the form to the office of former President Nasheed. In the meantime, discussions were carried out between the Ministry and the Maldivian High Commission in Colombo regarding the procedures involved in obtaining Umra visas for state dignitaries.

“The Ministry also on repeated occasions requested the speakers bureau of the parliament secretariat to return the filled visa application as soon as possible.

“2 – The Ministry received the completed visa application forms on July 1, 2013. On the very same day, the forms were sent in mail packets to Colombo. Also the details of persons seeking the Umra visa were also shared with Maldives High Commission in Colombo via email.

“3 – The Maldives High Commissioner in Colombo had discussion with Saudi Arabian Ambassador to Maldives about the visa. The Saudi Ambassador said that visas for VIP persons are processed after receiving permission from the Saudi Royal Palace. Therefore, he said that permission must be sought through the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Saudi Ambassador to Maldives is currently working on obtaining the stated permit from the Royal Palace. The Maldives High Commission had informed the [Foreign Affairs] Ministry on July 3, 2013 that Saudi Ambassador will inform them as soon as permission is received.

“4 – The information given by the Maldives High Commission in Sri Lanka to the Ministry was shared with the Saudi Embassy on the same day. A request was also made to the Embassy to speed up the process to obtain the permit. In response, the Embassy informed the Ministry that it was working on to speed up the process and said that Saudi Foreign Ministry was waiting for the word from Saudi Royal Palace,” the statement concluded.


Government to establish state-owned Hajj group

The government will establish the state-owned Maldives Hajj Corporation Limited following a recommendation by the Cabinet Economic Committee, the President’s Office has confirmed.

President Dr Mohamed Waheed on Thursday (May 16) opted to form the company with 100 percent government shares.

The announcement of the company’s foundation follows recent legal wrangling in the Maldives’ courts over whether the Islamic Ministry should be forced to reevaluate several unsuccessful bids by local Hajj groups wishing to offer pilgrimages.  

The case was filed on the back of concerns at alleged corruption within the current system.

Select Hajj groups are authorised by the government to provide transport and accommodation for pilgrims in Mecca, as well as offering guidance in helping them complete the religious rituals.


Government to form institution providing pilgrimage services

The Islamic Ministry has said it will form the “Maldivian People’s Hajj Fund”, an institution that will work to provide affordable pilgrimage services.

In a press conference Islamic Affairs Minister Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed said the purpose of the institution was to provide people with the opportunity to go on the hajj, by paying a smaller amount of money.

He also added that work was under way in preparing the documents needed to be presented to the cabinet to discuss the matter.

Shaheem added that he had already discussed about the proposal with President Mohamed Waheed Hassan and Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad.

Shaheem further said that even if a person deposited money to the fund, it would not necessarily mean that he would be granted with a placement from the quota of pilgrimages that the Maldives receives from Saudi Arabia.

According to the Minister, the institution would be formed on the principles of a similar institution set up in Malaysia.


November 16 to be Eid-Al-Adha

The Saudi Arabiya has declared November 16 as the day of Eid Al Adha following the sighting of the crescent moon, reports Ahlul Bayt News Agency.

The ABNA reported that the Saudi Supreme Court have also declared today is the first day of Dhul Al Hijja, the month of pilgrimage.

The annual Hajj pilgrimage to Makkah will begin on November 14, reported ABNA.