Comment: Mosque, story of my country

This article was first published on Republished with permission. 

I feel the weight of a nation on my shoulders; a nation that is too often spoken of in the global community in terms of its natural beauty rather than in terms of its people. And I wonder whether my individual experience reflects the experiences of all those Maldivians, who share this fate of having their life experiences casually set aside whenever their country is mentioned. ‘Maldives has really beautiful beaches, right?’ I am often asked. ‘Yes, and very interesting people.’

Most of us are Muslims, living in about 190 of the 1200 islands that form our country. Islam is the state religion, and the constitution requires all laws made in the country to abide by Islamic principles and all Maldivian citizens to be Muslims. As young Muslims, growing up Maldivian is a privilege that few of us seem to appreciate. Our community is mostly Muslim; our education system, our laws, our traditions and ethos are loosely based around Islamic principles; we have historically been spared the sectarian disputes that have plagued many other Muslim communities worldwide; almost always, no matter where we are on an inhabited island, we have a mosque within walking distance.

That is not to say we don’t have our share of difficulties. Our rather reserved society has failed to respond to the spiritual, social, economic and other needs of our youth demographic, and we are suffering the consequences. Many young people are becoming either disillusioned with religion or radicalised by groups who promote sectarian violence and Takfiri ideologies among others. Faced with a general lack of everything: proper housing, jobs, educational opportunities, space for self-expression, and for many kids, even a stable family environment – Maldives has one of the highest divorce rates in the world -, many young people are turning to drugs and delinquency as outlets for their emotions and frustrations. To top it all, in an environment rife with corruption and political discord, the growing disillusionment of youth from the political process and social structures is resulting in young people becoming more sidelined from the general community.

In all of this, the failure of the Mosque – as an institution representing religion – becomes apparent. The sermons coming out of the Mosque almost always address matters relating to creed, never relating them to issues that are more directly connected to socio-economic problems. When such matters are addressed, often there is a huge disparity between the preachings of the religious scholar and the tested and proven principles of human sciences.

Moreover, the Mosque is often not a welcoming space for women. In the past year or so, I have carried out a project to photographically document the differences between the men’s and women’s prayer areas. Not all mosques have a women’s area. Of the mosques that do, some mosques have the rainwater drainage pipes coming from the roof ending right at the women’s entrance. Others have women’s prayer areas too small, especially for the number of women who come out to pray Tarawih in congregation at the mosque during Ramadan. And of all the mosques in the capital that I have been to, few have a women’s area that shares the general ambiance of the prayer area used by the men.

This general lack of consideration towards women is doubled by the lack women’s access to the lectures given by scholars (most importantly, perhaps, foreign scholars), in the men’s prayer areas of the mosques. Moreover, no female Islamic scholar in the country holds, or in fact has ever held, a public lecture in a mosque.

Despite the odds, though, Maldivians are inching their way forward. Young people are trying to beat the rising rate delinquency. Despite the failure of the mosque to address human rights, administrative justice and other important issues, the youth are filling the moral gap as they know how, with the help of international and local rights groups. Female worshipers are increasing at mosques, especially for Tarawih and Eid prayers.

Maldives is a country that is moving forward currently, perhaps, in spite of its mosques. The community, and often its most vulnerable, are suffering the consequences and compensating for the current failure of the Mosque. I hope that one day, the Mosque will be an institution that drives and contributes to our progress. For that to happen, the Mosque has a lot of catching up to do.

Aisha Hussain Rasheed is a Maldivian Muslim woman, who believes our Islamic heritage is the key to our future, if only we know how to use it. You can follow her on Twitter @ishahr and on Facebook.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


Eight arrested for eating during daylight hours

Eight people have been arrested on suspicion of eating during daylight hours in the first five days of Ramadan.

Four were arrested from Thaa Atoll Dhiyamigili today, while another four were arrested in Malé this week. The police say they have received seven complaints over eating during daylight hours.

A court in Thaa Atoll Veymandhoo has detained the four men for three days. Three of the four arrested were arrested previously for drug abuse, the police said.

The criminal court in Malé on Friday extended the remand detention of three men arrested in Malé to seven days and one suspect to five days.

Some suspects were released after interrogation or with advice, a police media official said.

Consumption of food without a reasonable excuse during Ramadan is a criminal offence in the Maldives. The cases are usually proved with testimonies of eyewitnesses or the perpetrator. Those guilty are fined MVR150 for “disobedience to orders” under article 88 (a) of the 1968 penal code.

The criminal court has fined several people found guilty of eating or smoking during fasting hours.

In 2013, the police said they arrested on average two people a day for eating during daylight hours in Ramadan.


Ramadan hours set for restaurants and shops

Restaurants and cafés are to be open from dusk to 2am during the Islamic month of Ramadan, the economic development ministry has said.

Shops can be open throughout the day, but must close by 11:00pm at night.

The first day of Ramadan begins on June 18.

In March the economic ministry changed the closing time of shops and restaurants to 10:00pm and 12:00am, respectively, following a spike in gang violence in Malé.


Crime in Ramadan declined 40 percent, reveals police

The number of crimes reported in the capital Malé during the holy fasting month of Ramadan in 2014 declined 40 percent compared to the same period last year, police statistics have shown.

While a total of 1,476 crimes were reported in the capital during Ramadan 2013, police revealed that the figure declined to 884 this year.

Cases of theft decreased from 544 last year to 226 in Ramadan 2014.

Followed by theft, the second highest number of cases involved traffic accidents with 176 during the fasting month, which saw a slight increase from 163 last year.

While 131 drug cases were registered this year, the figure was 212 in 2013.


Studies to resume for students of grades nine and under

Studies will resume for students of grades nine and below when schools reopen tomorrow, reports local media.

In a controversial move in late June, the government decided to shut down schools during the holy fasting month of Ramadan for grades nine and under.

According to the education ministry, schools were instructed last week to resume studies on Monday under normal school hours.

The ministry had also made changes to the annual academic calendar, bringing forward the mid-term break for the second term from August 24-28 to July 20-24.

Additionally, schools have reportedly been instructed to conduct studies on an additional five days of its choosing between August 10 and 28.


Less people eating during day time this Ramadan, reveals police statistics

The number of individuals arrested from Malé city for eating during daylight hours in Ramadan has decreased by 83 percent when compared to 2013, reveals police statistics.

Only five were arrested in the first two weeks of Ramdan for eating while 31 cases were reported in the same period last year. According to the police, two cases of eating during daylight hours were reported every day last year.

Consumption of food without a reasonable excuse during Ramadan is prosecuted as a criminal offense in the Maldives.
The cases are usually proved with testimonies of eye witnesses or the perpetrator. Those guilty are fined with MVR 150 for “disobedience to orders” under article 88 (a) of the Penal Code.

Three men were arrested on the first day of Ramadan (June 29) for smoking cigarettes while fasting. All three had criminal records. One of them was caught inside a public toilet. That same week, another man was caught eating on the stairs of his apartment building and suspected drugs were also found on the latter.

On July 1, a 37-year-old man was arrested for eating dates from a breakfast table at a Male’ mosque, just before sunset. Police told local media he had also smoked a cigarette after eating from the mosque.

In April, a man who had been caught smoking a cigarette during Ramadan in Malé was fined and in July another man was fined for chewing arecanuts during daylight hours.

A police spokesperson told Minivan News that arrests are made based on reports or if police witness individuals eating in public spaces. The police will attend to cases where people are reported to have eaten in a private place.

Both the Maldives Police Services and Islamic Scholars are creating more public awareness in order to reduce such crimes, the police said.


Teachers Association condemn “overhauling of the academic calendar” for Ramadan

Following the government’s decision to close schools for grades 9 and under during Ramadan, the Teachers Association of Maldives had said the move will damage students academically.

“We cannot at all accept the way schools were shut down all of a sudden,” said President of the Teacher’s Association Athif Abdul Hakeem.

While teachers do not have a problem with the concept of closing schools for Ramadan, he said, the manner in which the decision was made had given rise to numerous problems.

“It would have been alright if it had been planned ahead and included in the academic calendar,” he said. “The excuse that the Education Ministry gave for closing schools is also unacceptable. If students in Grades 10 and above can understand lessons in three hours, so can those in grade 8. It’s illogical to claim otherwise.”

Hakeem also refuted the ministry’s claims that attendance was lower during Ramadan, adding that students will face disadvantages as a result of the sudden closure.

Earlier in June, the Education Ministry announced the decision, saying that the reduced three-hour days during the month of fasting were insufficient time in which to take lessons.

It further claimed that the decision had been made after holding discussions with those in the education sector and parents – a claim Hakeem has denied.

Parents and teachers

“It is a horrible decision,” said Mariyam Maanaa – mother of a Grade 8 student. “It is making children lethargic. How will they cope when they start working and have to go to office during Ramadan if they get used to this being a vacation?”

Civil service working hours – also the subject of some controversy prior to the start of the holy month – are between 10am and 2pm throughout Ramadan.

“This is the first time school has been closed during Ramadan and I see no reason why it had to be done,” she continued

Parent Rahima Ali, meanwhile, feels that it was a reasonable decision to not hold sessions for youngest of students.

“Perfectly understandable that school is closed for pre-schoolers. It might have been okay to close them even for Grades 1 to 5. But over that, they are not so young anymore. They must be able to concentrate on lessons even if fasting.

“Fasting is not meant to be a break from life when all you have to do is sleep through the day. The ministry’s decision is ruining our children’s discipline.”

Teacher Aishath Inas stated that while they had been asked to provide handouts to students for the holidays, teachers did not have sufficient time to effectively do so.

“It will also be extremely hard to try to cover a full month’s syllabus later. Many teachers are unhappy with the fact that we have to work through Ramadan even when students are not here, and while we will also need to come out to work on every Saturday for the rest of the year,” she said.

Extra classes

Despite the government’s decision, some schools – especially those in the islands – have begun to take sessions under the name of holding extra classes.

The Teacher’s Association was informed today that the ministry had notified those schools to stop holding such classes.

“The fact that schools are taking the initiative and holding classes shows just how concerned teachers are that we may not be able to complete the syllabus on time,” he said.

On July 3, the Ministry announced that the mid-term break would now be rescheduled to fit in into the last days of Ramadan.

Hakeem stated that this would once again pose problems as it may interfere with travel and other plans that parents may have already made in accordance with the annual academic calendar.

“The gist of the matter is we cannot accept the overhauling of the academic calendar in the middle of the year. There is no formula that will allow us to complete the syllabus on time now. As for working on Saturdays, it will be a burden on the state budget to have teachers work then as according to the law, teachers will need to be paid double the rate if they are working on an official holiday,” he continued.

Minivan News was unable to contact Ministry of Education Media Officer Maina Latheef at the time of press.


Labour Relations Authority voices concern over failure to pay Ramadan allowance

The Labour Relations Authority has announced that it has discovered a number of employers who have failed to pay the Ramadan allowance in accordance with the law.

According to the authority, the matter is mostly found in companies doing construction work, hotel managers, and retail businesses.

The authority further confirmed that it is in the process of taking due action against businesses that fail to comply with the law.

According to the law, every Muslim employee must be paid one third of their salary as Ramadan allowance. If the amount is below MVR2000, employers must pay a minimum of MVR 2000. The amount cannot, however, exceed MVR10,000.


Three arrested for smoking in public during fasting hours

Three men were arrested yesterday (June 29) in the capital Malé for smoking in public during fasting hours on the first day of Ramadan, police have revealed.

While a 23-year-old man was caught smoking near the Raanbaa restaurant around 10:20am, a second 23-year-old was caught smoking near the Redwave Plaza around 11:50am.

The third suspect, aged 34, was caught smoking inside the public toilets near the fish market around 5:45pm.

Police noted that all three men had criminal records for drug abuse, assault, and robbery.

In January, the Criminal Court fined a man MVR150 for drinking a Coca-cola in public during fasting hours in the month of Ramadan in 2011.