More than seven Maldivians fighting in foreign civil wars, reveals home minister

More than seven Maldivians are currently fighting in foreign civil wars, Minister of Home Affairs Umar Naseer revealed at the People’s Majlis today.

Responding to a query during minister’s question time from former police commissioner and Jumhooree Party MP Abdulla Riyaz about the ministry’s efforts to prevent Maldivians joining civil wars in foreign nations, Naseer said police were monitoring persons with extremist religious views.

“In such cases, persons attempting to leave abroad with the intention of joining civil wars have been stopped with court orders and prohibited from leaving,” he said.

“And the passports of some people have been withheld for a period determined by the court.”

Maldivian jihadis have also been brought back to the country with help from foreign law enforcement agencies, he added.

However, police faced difficulties in proving guilt at court of persons intending to join foreign civil wars, he continued, suggesting that the evidentiary standard should be lowered for terrorism cases.

Police were also working with the Islamic ministry to provide religious counselling and advice to discourage Maldivians from flying overseas to fight in civil wars, Naseer said.

Efforts were meanwhile underway to establish an efficient mechanism for taking action based on intelligence information, Naseer said.

While neighbouring countries provide assistance in returning Maldivians intending to travel for jihad, Naseer said the government was unable to bring back Maldivians who have made their way into Syria.

The government is studying a recently-approved UN security council resolution on foreign terrorist fighters, Naseer said, and would comply with obligations.

A strategic action plan is also being implemented to combat religious extremism, he added, which involved prevention of radical views in public schools.

Asked about efforts to prevent recruitment in the country, Naseer said the government has banned independent prayer congregations across the country.

Naseer denied claims by opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik that Maldivian students who went to Sudan through the Islamic ministry in 2012 are involved in violent conflicts.

He also denied MDP MP Abdul Bari Abdulla’s allegation that government ministers were involved in a “network” for recruiting Maldivian jihadis with help from foreign terrorist organisations.

Police intelligence officers were constantly monitoring alleged recruitment efforts, Naseer said, insisting that foreign terrorist organisations or religious extremists would not be able to interfere in domestic affairs.

“The number of Maldivians participating in foreign wars would be proportionately much lower than large European nations,” he said.

Islamic State

Last month, a jihadist media group called Bilad al-Sham – which describes itself as ‘Maldivians in Syria’ – revealed that a fifth Maldivian had died in Syria.

Earlier in the month, 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 the island of Madduvari in Raa atoll and were released from custody upon being brought back to the Maldives.

The incident followed reports of a couple from Fuvahmulah and a family of four from Meedhoo in Raa atoll traveling to militant organisation Islamic State-held (IS) territories to join the fighting in Syria and Iraq.

A UN report obtained by the UK’s Guardian newspaper earlier this month observed that foreign jihadists were now travelling to Syria and Iraq on “an unprecedented scale”.

The report mentioned the Maldives as one of the “unlikely” places from which IS supporters have emerged.

Meanwhile, a protest march took place in the capital, Malé, in September, with around 200 participants bearing the IS flag and calling for the implementation of Islamic Shariah in the Maldives.

In late August, Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon issued a press statement condemning “the crimes committed against innocent civilians by the organisation which identifies itself as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.”

Dunya’s remarks followed Minister of Islamic Affairs Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed’s declaration that the ISIS would not be allowed to operate in the Maldives.

“ISIS is an extremist group. No space will be given for their ideology and activities in the Maldives,” Shaheem tweeted on August 24.

Shaheem had also appealed for Maldivians to refrain from participating in foreign wars and has recently defended the government’s record on extremism before the Majlis.

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), however, promptly put out a statement questioning Shaheem’s sincerity, suggesting that the words had not been backed up with concrete action by the government.

Former President Mohamed Nasheed has claimed that up to 200 Maldivians are on jihad, alleging that a vast majority of them are ex-military – a claim vehemently denied by the security services.

“Radical Islam is getting very very strong in the Maldives, their strength in the military and in the police is very significant. They have people in strategic positions within both,” Nasheed said in an interview with UK’s Independent newspaper.



Related to this story

Islamic minister defends government policy on extremism

Police detain Maldivian jihadis caught in Sri Lanka

Police arrest Imam of unauthorised independent prayer congregation

Islamic Minister advises Maldivians against participating in foreign wars

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Independent prayer congregations “unacceptable,” says Islamic minister

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.

Jihad

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.

Achievements

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.

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HRCM raises concern over growing religious conservatism in Universal Period Review

The Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) has submitted its Universal Period Review (UPR) report to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), raising concerns over a growing tide of religious conservatism.

“There are roughly 400 children being withheld from attending school by their parents due to religious beliefs,” revealed the report made public yesterday, referring to an estimate from the education ministry in a 2011 assessment by the HRCM on child participation.

In a section titled ‘religious extremist ideologies,’ the HRCM referred to “reports of unregistered marriages encouraged by some religious scholars claiming that registering marriages with the courts are un‐Islamic and unnecessary.”

“State institutions acknowledge this information and raised concerns that children born to such marriages could face serious legal issues. Similarly women in such marriages are bound to face social and legal consequences,” the report stated.

“Conservative beliefs that promote women as inferior to men are being spread at an alarming level. Many women believe that their role in society is to be submissive wives and in raising children.”

In addition to outlining 18 thematic areas, the report provides updates on implementation of recommendations of the first UPR review in 2010, the HRCM noted.

The UPR is a state-driven process that reviews the human rights records of all 193 UN member states every four years, based on submissions by the government, the UN, NGOs and human rights commissions. The Maldives’ review is scheduled to take place in April or May 2015.

Conservatism

Increase in religious conservatism, cultural norms and stereotypical roles depicted by society inhibit women’s equitable participation in public life,” reads the section on women’s rights.

“Women remain under represented in all branches of the state and efforts to secure legislative quotas remain unsuccessful.”

The enforcement of the anti-Domestic Violence (DV) Act was meanwhile hampered by absence of procedures, inconsistencies in application by institutions, and “lack of sensitivity among law enforcement and judiciary”.

The police also failed to meet a legislative deadline on submitting a report to the family protection agency (FPA), the report noted.

“Limited capacity of investigators and their belief that such cases are family matters inhibit victims from getting redress,” it continued.

“FPA with a mandate to combat DV is not provided with necessary financial and human resources. Reporting of DV cases remain low as a result of lack of confidence in the system, fear of intimidation by perpetrators, stigmatisation and inadequate information on protection measures. There is no proper reintegration mechanism.”

Despite reports to the contrary from the state for the mid-term assessment of implementation of UPR recommendations, the HRCM said there were “no strict punishments to perpetrators of DV”.

The report observed that children born out of wedlock faced discrimination.

Paternity testing is not admissible evidence in court and such a child would be denied father’s name, inheritance and child maintenance,” it stated.

While most reported cases of child abuse did not result in convictions, victims often “remain re‐victimized due to systemic failures” including “delays in obtaining evidence and overly strict evidentiary requirements.”

“The legal age of consent, along with societal attitudes to treat child abuse as private matter or to force child abuse victim to deny testimony in court to protect family honour as perpetrator is usually a family member providing financial support are factors that cannot be disregarded,” it explained.

“Moreover, state has fallen short to publish child sexual offender‘s registry. Additionally, overall functioning of victim support system is effected due to a weak child protection system that is under resourced, with inconsistencies in capacity and coordination.”

The report also noted that child marriages were registered in some cases as “the Family Act allows marriage of minors under specific conditions.”

Children were also “involved in commercial sex work,” the report noted.

“Many children migrate to Malé from atolls for education, remain vulnerable to domestic servitude and sexual harassment by host families,” the report stated.

Civil and political rights

The report noted the absence of laws to guarantee freedom of expression despite its assurance in the Constitution.

“Parliament Privileges Act can be used to force journalist to reveal their source, which could undermine the constitutional protection that journalists currently enjoy,” the report observed.

“There have been many reports of death threats to media persons and parliament members. State is yet to take realistic action to address these threats. The recent disappearance of Ahmed Rizwan Abdullah, a journalist and human rights advocate is of critical concern.”

The HRCM also raised concerns regarding the Freedom of Assembly Act, including “provisions of geographical limitations, lack of guidance on control of counter assemblies and requirement to accredit reporters.”

Human rights NGOs have faced intimidation from the state, it continued, while worker’s association perform the role of trade unions.

“Union members face numerous difficulties in exercising collective bargaining, tripartite consultations and work stoppage, as proper legal mechanism is not in place for dispute resolution,” the report stated.

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Deputy PG calls on authorities to take religious extremism more seriously

Deputy Prosecutor General Hussein Shameem has called on authorities to take terrorism issues more seriously, noting the most common source comes from religious extremism.

”We should become more proactive and stop complaining about the missing laws,” he told Minivan News today. ”There are things we can still do to curb crimes although some of the necessary laws are still not passed.”

Shameem noted that the current Terrorism Act was adequate, but the lack of laws such as the Evidence Act was an issue.

Speaking at a ceremony held to commence a police terrorism-training course last night, Shameem told attendees that past incidents of terrorism occurred in the Maldives due to a lack of discussion on the issue of religious extremism.

While the absence of  laws to stop some types of crimes was a problem, Shameem stated that it was not a reason for police to stop work on combating them. He advised authorities to follow international best practice in a manner that respects suspects’ constitutional rights.

He also said that the police must be two steps ahead when laws pertaining to the issue come into existence in the Maldives.

Shameem’s comments echoed those of the Minister for Islamic Affairs Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed,who has also suggested that religious differences in the country could be solved “if we sit down and share religious information”.

The minister’s comments followed Malé City Council’s closure of the Dharumavantha Rasgefaanu mosque after the council received complaints from the Home Ministry that the mosque was being used by an extremist congregation who had been advocating for the destruction of the current government.

The congregation were praying that Allah would give victory against the “irreligious” government which attempts to obstruct the spreading of Allah’s message and to shut down mosques. Requesting victory, they also asked Allah to destroy and send his wrath upon military and police officers implementing the government’s orders.

In August 2013, Sheikh Shaheem had expressed concern that Friday prayers conducted in the mosque were not conducted by state authorised Imams.

Terrorist risk

In May 2013, the then-Chief of Defence Force Major General Ahmed Shiyam warned of a rising risk of terrorist attack in the Maldives, during a joint local and US military inauguration to establish a level of alerts for terrorism in the country.

Shiyam cautioned against assuming the country was completely safe from terrorist attacks simply based on the fact that no major terrorist activities have been uncovered in the country to date, warning there was an increased risk attacks stemming from “religious extremism and political turmoil”.

“Some [Maldivian] youth have already joined up with terrorist organisations. They are now travelling to various war zones and locations and enrolling in a number of terrorist training camps,” said Shiyam.

“Although some of these youth have managed to travel back to this country, the whereabouts of others remain unknown. This is a warning sign of how terrorism is spreading across our country,” Shiyam said at the time.

He also said that it was immensely important for the security forces to be well-trained in counter-terrorism measures and to ensure the forces remain ready to respond should such an incident occur.

In April 2013, an article published by the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) entitled ‘The Threat from Rising Extremism in the Maldives‘ stated that in April 2006, a Maldivian national, Ali Jaleel, and a small group of jihadists from the Maldives attempted to travel to Pakistan to train for violent jihad in Afghanistan or Iraq.

The only incident of a terrorist attack on Maldivian soil was the Sultan Park bombing in September 2007.

A bomb exploded in the Malé’s park, wounding 12 foreigners. The three men arrested and later jailed for the bombing confessed that their goal was to “target, attack and injure non-Muslims to fulfill jihad,” noted the CTC report.

After the investigations of security services led to Darul-Khair mosque on Himandhoo Island, police were confronted by 90 islanders, who had armed themselves with batons and knives, vowing to defend the mosque to the last man.

In the ensuing skirmish, a soldier was taken captive and another’s hand was severed. Shortly afterwards a video discovered on an Al Qaeda forum was found to contain footage taken inside the Dhar-al-khuir mosque moments before it was raided by police.

Evidence suggests that three Maldivian jihadists planned to establish a terrorist group in the country around 2007-2008 and send members for military training in Pakistan.

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“Not extremist”, says Adhaalath Party in response to President’s AFP comments

The religious conservative Adhaalath Party (AP) has issued a statement slamming claims by President Mohamed Waheed to AFP that the party included “extremists”.

During a two day official visit to Sri Lanka President Waheed told the news agency that it was “better to work with” with the self-claimed Islamist party despite some elements within the party holding “extreme views”, since excluding the party from mainstream politics risked marginalising it. This, he said, would have a “negative long-term effect”.

“We believe we can work with [Adhaalath], we believe we must work with them, because not working with them would be to marginalise them,” Waheed told the AFP.

“Rejecting them would have a more negative long term effect. Inclusion is better than exclusion. It is better to take them on board. Better to work with them,” he added.

In a statement (Dhivehi) published on the party’s website on Tuesday, the Adhaalath Party said that it had been offended by the remarks and that such comments from the President would affect its relationship with Waheed’s party Gaumee Iththihaadh Party (GIP).

The party also denounced the claim that it held extreme views.

“The Adhaalath Party does not by any means hold extremist views. The party is working to introduce Islamic principles to the country, to protect the Islamic faith of the country and the country’s sovereignty,” read the statement.

“Therefore, the party leadership and its members are deeply disappointed by such allegations,” it added.

The Adhaalath Party is a member of the President’s ‘Forward with the nation’ coalition, backing Waheed’s bid for election in September. The coalition also includes the government-aligned Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) and the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP), although several key members of the latter have since defected to the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM), while DRP leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali was recently taken to court by a series of creditors.

Local media meanwhile reports that the two parties have had a falling out with each other after the Adhaalath Party expressed concern over a lack of campaign activities.

The recent exchange is likely to worsen already strained ties between the parties, while unconfirmed reports suggest Adhaalath is considering the possibility of entering into coalition with resort tycoon Gasim Ibrahim’s Jumhoree Party (JP).

However President Waheed in local media has maintained he is confident the Adhaalath Party will remain in his coalition.

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Police escort Sheikh from Maafushi after protesters accuse him of “distorting religion”

Police have escorted a sheikh from the island of Maafushi in Kaafu Atoll on Sunday, after 300 protesters gathered outside his private Quran and Tawhid classroom and demanded that he leave the island.

Multiple sources from the island previously expressed concerns about a Sheikh Ibrahim Rasheed, originally from the island of Thulhaadhoo in Baa Atoll, who has been preaching in Maafushi for just over a year.  He is alleged to have been “spreading hatred and strife on the pretext of preaching Islam”.

The Maafushi School and Pre-School voiced concerns that a number of students had been pulled from school by their parents over the playing of nursery rhymes and the lack of gender segregation. School officials have since said that some of these students had been made to attend the Sheikh’s private Quran and Tawhid classes instead.

After recent wide coverage of the issue in local media, residents of Maafushi staged a protest in front of Sheikh Rasheed’s private class “Thahseenul Quran” on Sunday evening.

Vice President of the Maafushi Island Council, Majdha Ibrahim said that approximately 300 people had joined the protest, demanding that the Sheikh “immediately leave Maafushi and stay away.”

According to Majdha, some of the chants the protesters shouted included “Stop creating strife with your twisted words”, “Stop distorting religion to take away our unity” and “Our daughters have a right to education”.

“Yesterday, the council received letters from both the preschool and the school, expressing concern that this man’s preaching was leading to parents who abide by him to take their children out of school. We haven’t received any official complaints about him previously, though we have heard residents voicing concern and disapproval about how his actions are leading to strife in a previously peaceful community,” she said.

Majdha confirmed that the Sheikh had been removed from the island around midnight on Monday with the assistance of a police response team from the capital Male’. Images on social media showed Rasheed wearing a helmet and police body armour.

“Sheikh calls us “ladhini” if we are not like him”

Maafushi Women’s Development Committee President Badurunisa Ibrahim alleged the Sheikh was creating a rift among the island’s citizens, claiming that he was converting more and more people to join his “more extreme version of religion” and forcing them to abide by rules he defined.

“He has been preaching to those who listen to him that playing nursery rhymes in preschool is the same as playing music, which he claims is haram. He has been advising parents to not let girls and boys mix together in school, saying it is anti-Islamic. This is leading to parents taking their kids out of school, which is so very worrying,” she said.

“He initially came to teach Quran at the Children’s Centre here, and then when he got fired, he started teaching private Quran and Tawhid classes. It seems ridiculous that he convinces parents to take children out of school as they are not gender segregated, and then himself proceeds to hold mixed classes for all ages,” she alleged.

Confirming that hundreds of angry protesters had gathered last night, Badurunisa asserted that people were voicing out against the Sheikh only because he was preaching a “twisted and misleading version of religion” and aiming “to create unrest” by forming factions among the people.

“Had he been just here teaching in his private Quran class or preaching actual Islam, none of us would have a problem with him. But when he is outright lying and distorting Islamic values, and brainwashing some people of our island, our community will not simply stand by and watch,” she said.

Stating that the protest had not been against “Islam”, but against abusing religion as a tool for discord, Badurunisa detailed some of what Sheikh Rasheed has been preaching on Maafushi.

“You’ve heard of his hypocritical stance against gender segregation. Besides that, he says that a man’s prayers will not be acceptable unless they are dressed in the Arabian style, salwar kameez. He also preaches that only kafirs do not grow their beards long, that it is haram to wear a necktie, and other such things which I don’t believe are in accordance with actual Islamic values,” Badurunisa said.

“When it comes to females, he speaks strictly against educating girls, or women having careers. He has also said that girls should not be able to participate in our local Quran recitation competition as a female’s voice itself is ‘aurah’ [Islamic term for parts of the body required to be concealed in order to maintain modesty],” she continued.

“He calls any of us who do not dress like him or act like him to be ‘ladini’ [irreligious] or kafir,” she said.

Meanwhile, Kaafu Atoll Council member Ali Shaheen has said that it is of utmost importance that the state finds a solution for similar problems.

“I think a solution for this can be found only when the State begins to take action against people like this Sheikh through the Religious Unity Act. This Act says, in no uncertain times, that it is against the law to create disunity by using religion as a tool. I call upon all relevant actors to view this as a serious issue and take meaningful action to prevent further incidents of this kind,” he said.

“Not a Sheikh, we brought the teacher to safety”: police

“He is not a Sheikh, he is just a teacher who runs a private Quran class in Maafushi,” said a police media official, requesting to not be named.

“All that the protesters demanded was that the teacher be removed from the island. Keeping in mind the recent violent act against a teacher, we responded to the matter and safely brought him to Male’. He was not taken under our custody as such. Upon reaching Male’ we left him to his own resources,” the official stated.

“It’s his own words, we do not endorse them”: Ministry

Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Islamic Affair Mohamed Didi confirmed that they had knowledge of a sheikh creating problems in the island of Maafushi, and that the ministry had advised him against doing so.

“However, we cannot take official action against someone after hearing just one side of the story. We will need to find out what exactly he has been saying. This causes delays in taking action,” Mohamed Didi said.

“In the end, every Sheikh himself must take responsibility for the words he says. I don’t think anyone would have spoken against a Sheikh had they been preaching along Islamic principles. These preachings are his own words, and we do not endorse them,” he continued.

“For example, the issue of gender segregation. There are mixed co-ed schools across the country, even in Male’. The education system is under the Education Ministry. That is how things are and we do not involve ourselves in this,” he stated.

“Our ministry’s policy is to avoid any actions which may cause disputes.”

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Pro-Sharia march held in Male’

Men and women of various ages marched through the streets of Male’ yesterday (April 19), calling for Islamic Sharia to be fully implemented in the Maldives.

Yesterday’s march, which organisers claimed had no political backing, was said to have been led by a group of young people calling for Sharia to be fully implemented to protect the Maldives from “calamities” that it is presently facing, according to local media.

However, one local religious NGO has argued that Maldivian society was not presently ready to undergo such radical reforms to the nation’s legal system, arguing that any changes would need to be made gradually over a long period of time.

Commencing yesterday at 4:30pm by the social centre in the capital, the pro-Sharia march concluded just before 6:00pm at the artificial beach area.

A small number of demonstrators were in attendance, reported the Sun Online news website. Organisers have pledged that further pro-Sharia marches were anticipated in future.

Minister of Islamic Affairs Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed and State Islamic Minister Mohamed Didi were not responding to calls at the time of press.

“Long process”

Co-founder of the Islamic Foundation of Maldives (IFM) Ibrahim Nazim, speaking in a personal capacity, told Minivan News that he believed demonstrators may have been affiliated with fellow religious NGOs in the country.

Nazim said key figures behind the demonstration would have likely been religious conservatives, who in some cases may have held more “radical” views of Islam.

In addressing the key aims of the march, he added that from a personal perspective, Maldivian society was not presently an environment conducive for Islamic Sharia to be implemented outright.

Nazim argued that implementing Sharia law correctly would be a long process for the country. He took the example of other Islamic nations such as Pakistan that had sought to implement a complete adherence to Sharia law in a short period of time, resulting in power struggles and other political complications as a result.

“This is not something we can just implement overnight, we will require people to change their attitudes before we are ready for such a change,” he suggested. “It will be a long process for the country.”

When contacted about the implementation of Sharia in the Maldives, President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad today recommended Minivan News contact the Islamic Ministry over religious issues concerning the state.

“I think it would be best to speak to the Islamic Ministry on this,” Masood said.

Meanwhile, a senior figure serving within the current government of President Dr Mohamed Waheed – speaking on condition of anonymity – argued that any significant changes to the country’s faith would always have to be made gradually and could not be made in a short period of time.

The source argued that the previous government of former President Mohamed Nasheed – which claimed to favour what it called a “more moderate and tolerant” form of Islam – had attempted to bring changes to the country’s perception of faith and religious conservatism in too short a period of time.

While claiming to personally favour a “more tolerant” interpretation of Islam, the source argued that the resulting opposition to the former government’s religious stance had likely led to the controversial transfer of power that saw former President Nasheed resign on February 7, 2012.  His resignation came on the back of a mutiny among sections of the police and military.

Islamic Sharia in the Maldives

Under article 142 of the Maldives’ Constitution, the judiciary is presently required to looked to turn to Islamic Sharia in any matters where the Constitution or the law is silent.

To this end, the country’s courts have in certain cases granted the death sentence to severe crimes such as murder, while also using punishments like flogging in certain sexual offence cases.

However, the acting Head of State under each of the last three governments has commuted death sentences to life sentences in every single case.

The last person to be judicially executed in the Maldives was Hakim Didi, who was executed by firing squad in 1953 after being found guilty of conspiracy to murder using black magic.

Legal Reform

In December 2012, former Attorney General Azima Shukoor drafted a bill outlining how the death sentence should be executed in the Maldives as part of ongoing consultations on enacting such a punishment.

Lethal injection was identified as the state’s preferred method of capital punishment in the bill, while further consultations were being taken on possibly removing the serving Head of State’s right to commute death sentences upheld by the Supreme Court.

Earlier this year, the government of President Dr Mohamed Waheed had pledged to review the possibility of legal reforms to bring an end to the use of punishments like flogging in the country’s justice system.

Addressing the scale of these potential reforms, President’s Office Media Secretary Masood said last month that all authorities involved in the process would have to tread “a very fine line” in order to tackle long standing “traditions” and beliefs in the country.

“Reforms must be undertaken, but this must be done gradually considering we are dealing with a process embedded in society,” he said, discussing the government’s commitments to bring an end to sentences like flogging. “A certain amount of compromise may be needed.”

The wider Maldives legal system has itself been brought under the spotlight after former President Nasheed controversially detained the Criminal Court Chief Judge last year.

Nasheed’s government argued the decision was necessary as the judge in question had become a threat to “national security” after ordering investigations into his own alleged misconduct halted.

Nasheed is presently facing trial in the country over the abduction of the judge.

Following the commencement of the trial, Gabriela Knaul, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, earlier this year raised several concerns about the effectiveness of the wider Maldives legal system following a fact-finding mission.

Knaul stated back in February that upon conclusion of her mission meetings, she had found that the concept of independence of the judiciary has been “misconstrued and misinterpreted” by all actors, including the judiciary itself, in the Maldives.

Addendum: This article earlier attributed views of Co-founder of the Islamic Foundation of Maldives (IFM) Ibrahim Nazim to the organisation. He has subsequently clarified that his comments were made in a personal capacity.

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Religious Extremism: Causes and Solutions

In ‘Religious Extremism: Causes and Solutions’ Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed repudiates violent Jihad and defines extremism as deviation from the authentic teachings of Islam and its cardinal value of moderation in favour of personal prejudices and arrogance, which leads to “excessive stringency” in religious matters.

Extracted below are the final chapters of the manuscript. Translated from Dhivehi by Ismail Nizam.

Characteristics of Extremists

1- Deficiency in the knowledge of Islam: This is the most recognizable feature of such people. In the least, they will not be converse in Arabic language. They will also not be to understand the meaning of an Arabic writing. Nevertheless, they will try to challenge the scholars of Ummah, issuing verdicts concerning Qur’an and Sunnah, producing CDs, publishing writings on Islam and lecturing on various topics.

2– Open denial of the belief of the Ummah: This is the second most distinguishable attribute of extremists. These people would refuse issues on which scholars have reached consensus, and would prioritize their personal judgments over the consensus. For instance, refusing to join prayers in congregations is something that they do against the belief of the ummah. Following a specific school of thought does not mean bowing to the thought and the leader of that school of thought. There are few differences among the four major schools of thought, yet the scholars of Muslims world have reached consensus and considered all these four school of thought as the Sunnah of the Prophet. Therefore, from a fiqh perspective, following a specific school of thought is not an issue. The problem is egoism and stubbornness, denial of Prophetic traditions and holding solely onto the school of thought. It is compulsory upon each and every believer to hold onto the book of Allah, Qur’an and the traditions of the Prophet. The basis of the schools of thought is also the same. It is not the words of the leaders of the schools.

3- Polytheistic labeling of people who commit major sins: According to the belief of the people of the Prophetic traditions, those committing the major sins cannot be regarded as Non-Muslims. The door of repentance is open for them. If they die without repentance, their case is for Allah to judge. If Allah wills, they will be pardoned. He is just in His judgments. Those sinners will not abide in the hell forever. Equating major sin committers to Non-Muslims is the way of extremist groups such as Khawarijun, Mu’tazilin and those have crossed the limits of Islamic principles. These groups of people believe that the hell is the eternal abode of such sinners. This kind of beliefs contradicts with the consensus of the Ummah. This is because the judgment of our deeds in the Hereafter is for Allah.

4- Breaking relationships with people and preferring isolation.

These are the four major characteristics of extremists.

How to Safeguard Society from Extremism

There are various alternative methods to safeguard society from extremism. The methods include religious solution, social solution and use of media.

A) Religious Cure

Ø  Educating the society about the contents of the Qur’an and Sunnah of the Prophet without any furnishing or censoring, and reforming the actions to match the Qur’an and Sunnah.

Ø  Increasing the awareness of the principles of moderation in Islam.

Ø  Instead of giving severe punishments to extremists, they must be debated intellectually and counseled to reach a solution.

Ø  Scholars who lecturer in the mosques should give their lecturers addressing these issues.

B) Social Cure

Ø  Teaching and practicing religion within the family from childhood.

Ø  Recognizing the effort to overcome extremism as a duty of everyone in the society, and standing together to achieve status of extremism free society.

Ø  Youths must be provided with facilities to engage themselves in something constructive during the free times.

Ø  Scholars must do a collaborated effort to teach the true teachings of Islam.

C) Media

Ø  Radio and TV stations can play a prominent role in overcoming extremism by airing programs about these issues with the help of qualified scholars and intellectuals in the society.

Ø  Increasing religious publications in magazines and newspapers to raise the awareness.  The most effective solution could be collaborated efforts of scholars in the community. One of the factors that lead to extremism is disputes among the scholars. A platform where all scholars can gather to debate and discuss religious issues can be arranged so that individual differences can be avoided and consensus can be made in the form of official fatwas.

D) Legal Cure: In the efforts to curb extremism, a legal cure is necessary. This means making laws concerning extremist activities, amending the Religious Unity Act and terrorism laws, and enacting laws that facilitate rehabilitation while in detention.

E) Establishing Rehabilitation Centers

In the international efforts to overcome extremism, the most successful method in overcoming extremism is rehabilitation. The experts also advise the use of knowledge and reason to change the belief of extremist. Therefore, establishing a Rehabilitation Center in Maldives is very important.

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