Independent or unauthorised prayer congregations are “unacceptable” and legal action will be taken against its members if they refuse to accept advice from scholars, Islamic Minister Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed has said.
Speaking at a press conference yesterday about the ministry’s achievements during the first year of President Abdulla Yameen’s administration, Shaheem stressed that it was not the government’s policy to violate the sanctity of mosques by entering with force and stopping the congregation.
“The Islamic ministry met the people who were praying in an independent congregation and advised them over a long period and instructed them to stop,” Shaheem said, referring to a separatist congregation at the Dharumavantha mosque in Malé.
The ministry’s scholars later advised members of the congregation for one month in the presence of police officers, he said.
“However, they refused to stop. So legal action has to be taken against them,” Shaheem said, adding that there was no Islamic state in the world where such congregations were allowed.
The government would not allow practices outside the bounds of the law and religious strictures, he declared.
On September 30, police arrested a 34-year-old man for leading prayers and delivering Friday prayer sermons at the Dharumavantha mosque. The suspect was arrested on charges of “attempting to incite religious strife and discord,” said police.
Independent congregation in Madduvari
In recent days, Shaheem continued, the ministry was informed of an independent prayer congregation on the island of Madduvari in Raa atoll.
“Our scholars visited that island as well with officers of the Maldives Police Service. But when we requested to meet with those senior among them, they didn’t come to the meeting,” he revealed.
Prayers were being conducted in Maldivian mosques in accordance with Islamic principles and the Prophet’s (pbuh) Sunnah.
Independent prayer congregations were not supported by learned religious scholars either in the Maldives or elsewhere.
The people involved in the congregation in Madduvari were not academically qualified or well-versed in religious matters, he claimed.
“So making independent congregations, marrying outside of court – such things are prohibited in religion,” he said.
Last week, Sri Lankan police detained three Maldivians who were allegedly preparing to travel to Syria through Turkey.
The three – two men aged 23 and 25 and a woman aged 18 – were from Madduvari and have since been released from custody upon being brought back to the Maldives, Home Minister Umar Naseer told the press on Thursday (November 6).
Meanwhile, asked if there were religious extremists in the Maldives, Shaheem said the definition of religious extremism in the Maldives was “very different” from its meaning internationally.
In the international community, he explained, religious extremism referred to “killing people, blowing places up and attacking civilians.”
Extremism in the Maldives has not reached that level, Shaheem said.
However, he added, there were religious ideologies in the country that needed to be corrected and moderated, which required religious scholars to provide counsel and advice.
Shaheem said the problem of extremism in the Maldives was not as bad as some reports suggested.
Shaheem referred to the ministry’s public stand earlier this year on the issue of Maldivians traveling to Syria for ‘jihad’ in the ongoing civil war.
“The Islamic ministry does not support Maldivians leaving to fight in foreign wars, especially sectarian conflicts,” he said.
A large number of Muslims were being harmed in conflicts between Sunnis and Shias, he said, including “innocent children, the elderly, and women”.
The ministry has been appealing to youth across the country against travelling abroad to fight, he added, saying that Muslims in other countries should pray for their well-being and offer humanitarian assistance.
According to a jihadist media group, a fifth Maldivian man recently died in Syria.
The minister revealed that projects to build 20 new mosques across the country would commence in 2015, including ten projects to be financed by US$1.2 million donated by Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz al Saud.
Among the ministry’s achievements during the past year, Shaheem referred to Dhivehi translations of works of Islamic fiqh, 500 pilgrims taken to Mecca by the government-owned Hajj Corporation, and the construction and renovation of mosques.
Additionally, Singapore approved the ministry’s halal certification, strengthening the waqf system, and numerous Quran courses were conducted in the atolls, he added.
Religious unity has been established during President Yameen’s first year in office, Shaheem insisted, while closer ties have been maintained with Islamic nations.