Protests over anti-Islamic movie spread to the Maldives

Crowds of protesters gathered in front of the UN building on Friday, protesting against the movie “Innocence of Muslims”, perceived as offensive to the Prophet Mohamed.

Similar protests have erupted across the Arab world following the release of video offensive to Muslims on the the video-sharing website, YouTube. The UK’s Guardian newspaper reported that the video was promoted by radical Islamophobic Christians in the US and then broadcast in Egypt by Islamic activists.

Protests have occurred in Iraq, Iran, Bahrain, Afghanistan, Yemen, Egypt, Jerusalem and the West Bank, Kashmir, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Nigerian city of Jos. The most serious incident was in Libya, where demonstrators killed US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three embassy employees by firing a rocket-propelled grenade at their car. British and German embassies have also been attacked.

On Friday in Male’, a leaflet was distributed inviting persons to the protest at 4:00pm, titled “In Protection of Prophet Mohamed”. The leaflet did not specify who the organisers of the protest were.

Police had cordoned off the area ahead of the time, and protesters initially gathered opposite Billabong International School. Placards were mostly in English, and had a range of messages expressing their anger against the movie and the US in general.

Some of the placards in the front row read: “Behead those who insult our Prophet”, “Our prophet is dearest to us than our mother”, “May Allah curse America”, and “Maldives: Future graveyard of Americans and Jews”.

In less than an hour protesters broke through police barricades, shoving police away angrily and approached the UN headquarters. The few police officers present cleared the entrance of the building, but let protesters remain right in front of it.

Female protesters remained at the far end of the road, near the Billabong school.

A US flag was set on fire, with protesters surrounding it chanting “Allah Akbar”. A number of speeches were made, accompanied with chants. Some of the most repeated chants include asking President Waheed to return America’s US$20,000 contribution to restore the historical Buddhist artifacts in the museum, which were destroyed by a mob of vandals during February’s political turmoil. Some protesters stated loudly that if the idols were restored, they would promptly destroy them again.

At one point, protesters demanded the resignation of Minister of Islamic Affairs, Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed.

A lecturer at the Maldives University, Sheikh Mohamed Thoyyib, was given protection by the police after his speech asking protesters to show patience and compassion like the Prophet enraged some of the people gathered there.

Young children accompanied some of the protesters, with some children and their parents holding toy guns in their hands.

The protest was adjourned in time for maghrib prayers, at around 6:30pm.

The Ministry of Islamic Affairs released a statement on Thursday condemning the movie. It stated that the enemies of Islam had always used tools of the times to insult the Prophet, but that such efforts would not at all harm the character of the Prophet, as he was held in high regard all over the world. The statement called on people to show restraint and to offer prayers for the Prophet.

The Islamic Foundation of the Maldives also issued a press release today, stating that “Countless numbers of Muslims all around the world intensely revere the person of Mohamed, in fact they revere him more than their own lives, and therefore it is extremely offensive for them to defame Prophet Mohamed (PBUH).”

The Maldives’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs has meanwhile officially condemned the attacks on the US Embassy in Cairo and the US Consulate in Benghazi.

In a series of Tweets last night, the Maldives’ Islamic Adhaalath Party (AP) condemned the video, whilst urging Muslims not to resort to violence.

“AP strongly condemns the anti Islamic video ‘Innocence of Muslims’ which is highly provocative and highly insulting to Muslims,” said the party, before adding, “Islam forbids resorting to violence against innocents. We should not attack our foreign guests and/or foreign diplomatic offices.”

The protests come at the end of a week that has seen two visits from to the Maldives from both the US Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Michele J. Sison, and US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake.

Local media reported that threats were made against Sison during the protest.

There were also reports that the crowd had issued warnings against Commonwealth Special Envoy Sir Donald McKinnon who also visited the country this week to discuss the recently completed Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) with leading politicians.


Pillay controversy a missed opportunity to demonstrate nobility of Sharia: President

The Maldives missed an opportunity to demonstrate “the nobility of Islamic Sharia” to the world by reacting in “a Jihadi spirit” to controversial statements made by visiting UN human rights chief last month, President Mohamed Nasheed said at a rally Friday night.

A call for a moratorium and public debate on flogging as a punishment for fornication by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay in an address to parliament on November 24 was unequivocally condemned by the Islamic Ministry, religious groups and political parties as an unconstitutional challenge to a Quranic precept.

“That the punishments and rulings of Islamic Sharia are not inhumane is very clear to us,” Nasheed said. “We have the opportunity to show the whole world how noble and civilised Sharia is. That is because we are the only Islamic nation with a democratically-elected government.”

“Wasting that opportunity in a Jihadi spirit” with the claim of “defending Islam” was unacceptable, Nasheed told supporters at the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) rally at Dharubaaruge, which saw the launching of a ‘Plus One’ campaign to double party membership ahead of the 2013 presidential election.

“Opposition parties will always attack us by using religion as a weapon,” he said. “[But] believe that this country is the only Islamic nation where Islamic Sharia has been practiced uninterrupted for 700 years.”

Islamic chief justices and principles of Sharia law had “a sacred place” in the Maldives’ long history, Nasheed observed, which “will not be shaken.”

“Maldivians are not a people who will allow the slightest harm to Islam,” he said. “We know how civilised the religion of Islam is.”

MDP understood that Islam “brought the world out of jahiliyya [ignorance] onto the path of civilisation,” he continued, adding that the party was committed to protecting the culture and traditions of the country.

In the past three years, he noted, the government spent Rf1.2 billion on “the protection of Islamic faith” (page 200 of the MDP manifesto), including the construction of 40 new mosques across the country.

Nasheed said he had been writing about the decay of the Gemmiskiy in Fuvahmulah, an ancient coral stone mosque, since 1990.

Meanwhile in a press conference on Thursday, seven opposition parties announced it would be joining the coalition of NGOs for a nationwide mass protest planned for December 23 “to protect Islam” against the MDP government’s alleged “anti-Islamic agenda.”

Speaking at the Friday night rally, MDP Vice-President and MP for Feydhoo, Alhan Fahmy, strongly criticised opposition parties and religious groups for objecting to the Pakistani SAARC monument, which contained pagan symbols of the Indus Valley civilisation and a bust of the country’s founder Mohamed Ali Jinah topped by the Islamic crescent symbol.

“The time when people worshiped idols, when people worshiped people and the public worshiped rulers in this country is over and done with,” he said.

Alhan accused religious groups and scholars of the Adhaalath Party for employing “religion as a shield” for political purposes.

“Instead of bringing people from Egypt for Ramadan revival programmes, we gave the opportunity for Maldivian scholars to speak and deliver sermons,” he said, in contrast to the former regime “jailing them and shaving their beards with chili sauce.”

Alhan also argued that accusing senior officials of the MDP government as well as the party’s members of kufr (disbelief) went against Islamic principles in a Muslim society.

He urged the Adhaalath Party to cease “sowing discord” with accusations against fellow Muslims and suggested the religious conservative party “talk about something else if you want to come to power.”

President Nasheed meanwhile suggested that “the people today are too aware and enlightened” to believe the charges laid against the government.

“We know what the people of the Maldives want. We don’t have to watch TV stations to find it out,” he said, referring to the opposition-aligned privately-owned broadcasters DhiTV and VTV.

Nasheed observed that the MDP received 53 percent of the total votes cast in the by-elections for vacant council seats in Alif Alif Himandhoo, Faafu Bilehdhoo and Gnaviyani Fuvahmulah on November 19.

“In 2013, I have not the slightest doubt in my mind that we will take 60 percent of the vote in the first round,” he asserted, claiming that there was “no other party in the country yet” that could meaningfully compete with the MDP.


“Ideology of Adhaalath party and DRP is very close”: Gayoom

The ideology of the main opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) and religious conservative Adhaalath party “is very close,” former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom said at a rally Thursday night.

“Adhaalath party’s ideology and DRP’s ideology is very close,” he said. “That is because Adhaalath party’s main priority is securing Islam in the country, promoting Islam, reviving the spirit of Islam in the Maldives and ensuring that the country remains a 100 percent Muslim nation.”

Addressing supporters at the rally held to launch the Z-faction’s celebratory activities to mark the party’s sixth anniversary, Gayoom congratulated the party’s newly-elected leadership with Sheikh Imran Abdulla as President and Sheikh Mauroof Hussein as Vice-President, which had “embarked on a hopeful new stage.”

Gayoom added that DRP members “always wished Adhaalath party well.”

The Adhaalath party is currently part of the government under a coalition agreement with the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), which gives the Islamic Ministry and its functions to the religious conservative party.

In the buildup to the 2008 presidential election, the party supported Jumhooree Party (JP) Leader Gasim Ibrahim’s candidacy and clashed with the DRP and then-President Gayoom over a number of religious issues, including the veiling of women and Gayoom’s treatment of local scholars.

Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali SaeedMeanwhile at the recently concluded Adhaalath party four-day national congress, former State Minister for Islamic Affairs Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed told members that remaining in a coalition with the ruling party would be “a betrayal of the nation” if the government did not take “reform measures” suggested by Adhaalath.

He added that as the MDP had not honoured the coalition agreement to date, Adhaalath party “would have no choice but to reconsider” the alliance if the situation was not remedied through dialogue and discussion “within a sufficient period of time.”

In the meantime, Adhaalath party should study the “discord and divisions” in the country’s religious and political spheres as well as problems in the health and education sectors, suggested Shaheem, after which “it should officially be brought to the attention of the President and relevant authorities.”

Adhaalath does not support “the loss of the economy’s main gate [Male’ International Airport to Indian infrastructure giant GMR] to influential foreign parties” or alleged interference with the judiciary and disregard of decisions by independent commissions.

Shaheem urged the government to enact new regulations under the Protection of Religious Unity Act of 1994, which had been “agreed upon by 11 religious scholars, a police legal team, the President himself and three Attorneys General.”

Islamic Minister Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari observed that disparaging Islam and “every kind of sinful behaviour forbidden in Islam” had become commonplace while political polarization and social ills multiplied.

Bari claimed that foreign parties were “working tirelessly” to introduce freedom of religion in the Maldives.

“We hear arguments of how non-Muslims should have the freedom to express their disbelief and how everyone should have the right to change religion,” he said.Adhaalath

Adhaalath party President Sheikh Imran Abdulla meanwhile stated that the party’s “main objective” would be to reform youth with Islamic teachings.

The incoming president also contended that the government did not honour its coalition agreement with Adhaalath, adding that “it would not be wrong to say that we alone are still with the government.”

Of the allied parties in the MDP-led coalition that defeated Gayoom in October 2008, only Adhaalath party, the Vice-President’s Gaumee Ihthihaad Party (GIP) and the Maldives National Congress (MNC) remain.


New regulations will defend Islam in the Maldives, says Islamic Ministry

The Ministry of Islamic Affairs said draft regulations under the Religious Unity Act will incorporate recommendations by Jamiyathul Salaf to “protect and defend Islam in an Islamic state like the Maldives”.

In a letter sent to the Islamic association yesterday, the ministry said recommendations made by Salaf earlier this month were already included in the regulations currently being reviewed by the attorney general’s office.

“The purpose of the regulations that have been drafted is to protect the country and Maldivian society from brutal and harsh practices, divisions and antagonism in the name of Islam and from practices that contradict Islam and Islamic culture,” it reads.

The 11 recommendations made by Salaf included removing anything that conflicts with Islam from the education curriculum or subject syllabuses, making it an offence to spread other religions and openly sell or possess any items that symbolise religious holidays of other religions, and specifying measures to be taken against expatriate teachers found to be promoting other religions or inciting hatred of Islam among students.

Moreover, the proposed regulations should empower the authorities to check printing presses and bookshops for material in conflict with Islam, and make it an offence to publish such opinions or views in the media.

Salaf also recommended obligating non-Muslim visitors to inhabited islands to adhere to a code of dress and conduct appropriate to an Islamic environment.

Furthermore, the regulations should ensure that photos and videos used in advertisements do not clash with Islamic codes of behaviour and make it illegal to introduce elements of foreign cultures that conflict with Islam.

Salaf’s recommendations further call for specifying penalties for those who openly “challenge or defy” God, his Prophet or Islamic shariah, and make it an offence to disrespect the Prophet or his companions.

Lastly, Salaf recommends the creation of a council to take measures against people who issue religious fatwas (edicts or decrees) without the requisite education or learning.

Unless these recommendations are incorporated in the regulations, Salaf’s letter states, it would be “meaningless” and could “open doors” to other religions and cultures.

Salaf claimed action was not taken against Christian missionaries under the old regulations, and were instead used to “punish, jail and torture” Maldivians who “loved Islam and tried to find the right path”.

The letter goes on to recommend that the proposed rules are put up for a public discussion among religious scholars.

In response the letter from the Islamic Ministry, signed by State Minister Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed, states that the president’s office, Maldives Police Service and experienced religious scholars were consulted during the drafting process, which spanned six months.

The letter goes on to say the ministry regrets that Salaf has been criticising the ministry and attempting to “mislead the public” about its policies instead of offering either assistance or constructive help.

Moreover, it reads, the ministry regrets that Salaf’s president Abdullah bin Ibrahim Mohamed refused an invitation to join the Fiqh academy or help draft Friday sermons.

“But ultimately, even if you do it from afar, we believe sharing such counsel is a good step for the future and we are grateful for it,” it reads.

Salaf responded to the letter today, thanking the ministry for assuring the association that its recommendations were already in the regulations.

“What remains now is the wait for the regulations to become enforced,” Salaf replied.