Anti-government campaign takes religious turn

The opposition’s campaign against President Abdulla Yameen’s “authoritarianism” has taken a religious turn, while Minivan News has learned the government is labeling the campaign as one that promotes Islamic radicalism.

On Friday night, the religious conservative Adhaalath Party’s Sheikh Ilyas Hussein held a sermon attended by thousands, where he warned of a calamity if brutality becomes common, and appealed to the security forces to be compassionate towards citizens.

“If there’s one group of people I respect in Maldivian society, it is the police officers and soldiers, because I believe they are carrying out a religious and national duty. I know the burdens they have to bear.

“But do not harm anyone without a just cause. No matter how high up the order comes from, do not harm anyone without just cause. Allah is watching. On the days He switches on his CC cameras, there will be nothing you can do,” he said.

Ilyas’ sermon comes amidst a crackdown on the opposition with the arrest of opposition leaders including Adhaalath president Sheikh Imran Abdulla, Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) chairperson Ali Waheed and Jumhooree Party deputy leader Ameen Ibrahim.

The three were arrested after a 20,000 strong rally on May 1. Nearly 200 people were arrested and scores were injured in violent clashes.

Protesters were calling for the release of ex-president Mohamed Nasheed and ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim, who were jailed on terrorism and weapons smuggling charges, respectively.

The Adhaalath Party had played a key role in Nasheed’s ouster in 2012, but formed an alliance with Nasheed’s MDP in March when Nazim was sentenced to 11 years in jail.

Opposition aligned Raajje TV is now broadcasting clips of Ilyas’ sermon with scenes of police arresting, beating, and pepper spraying protesters on May 1.

Ilyas and nine other Islamic scholars from the Adhaalath Party and the MDP also held a press conference on Saturday, where he said the majority of religious scholars are now against the government.

“We are announcing today that we do not accept the ongoing tyranny in the Maldives. We especially cannot tolerate such brutal acts from our leaders,” he said.

President Abdulla Yameen has refused to listen to the citizen’s concerns, he said, adding it is now obligatory on Muslims to protest.

Former state minister for Islamic affairs Dr Mohamed Didi said brutality is haram or forbidden in Islam and urged the government to review the “politically motivated trials” of Nasheed and Nazim.

“We call on all the Maldivian citizens to work together to stop this tyranny. If we are unable to do so, if tyranny continues, it will damage all of us, our entire nation and society.”

Sheikh Shuaib Abdul Rahman, a former member of the judicial watchdog, says citizens could pray for a curse on tyrants and unjust judges. Prayer is a powerful weapon, he said, adding that police officers will have to bear responsibility for any acts of brutality, even if they are committed on their superior’s orders.

President Yameen had previously turned down calls for dialogue, saying he will not release Nasheed and Nazim. Instead, the pair must seek an appeal at the high court, he said.

An information brief from the Maldivian mission in Geneva on May 1, obtained by Minivan News, claimed that the organizers of the protest had “mobilized people known to have radical connections in the Middle East and elsewhere, and paid for their travel to Malé and join the demonstration with the explicit purpose of creating violence.”

“The police have intelligence that some of the hardcore radicals Sheikh Imran has paid for were activists who took part in the incident on the island of Himandhoo in 2007,” read the brief.

Dozens, including police officers, were injured in clashes in Himandhoo when police attempted to enter a mosque in search of evidence related to a bombing in Malé.

Ambassador-at-large at the ministry of foreign affairs Mohamed Naseer has also told Sri Lanka’s The Sunday Leader that the May Day protesters had attempted to promote Islamic radicalism through the protest march.

Meanwhile, an anonymous video surfaced on YouTube today warning senior officials in the government of a suicide attack if they do not release Sheikh Imran.

“We came up like this cause we don’t have other option left. We will never let this country become a Mafia gang,” says a masked individual, against the backdrop of the Maldivian flag.

“We call on immediate release of Sheikh Imran Abdulla and stop mistreating him. We assure we will never let Sheikh Imran be dealt like Nasheed and Nazim,” said the individual in the video.

“If you sentence Sheikh Imran falsely, as our religious scholars said, we can have your life and blood. We will stop this! If necessary we do not hesitate to go for a suicide attack!”

A police media official said they have now started looking into the video.



Other religions will not be allowed under MDP government, says Nasheed

Religions other than Islam will not be allowed in the Maldives under a Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) government, former President Mohamed Nasheed reiterated on Friday (November 1).

Speaking at a campaign event in the island of Velidhoo in Noonu atoll, the MDP presidential candidate said Islam has always been accorded “the highest place” in the hearts of the Maldivian people who “hold sacred the noble principles of Islam.”

“There will be no room for another religion in this country under an MDP government. This is very clear,” Nasheed asserted.

Allegations suggesting otherwise by rival political parties “to play with the hearts and minds” of the public were sowing “discord and division” in Maldivian society, Nasheed added.

Last week, a group of local religious scholars from the Maldives Society for Islamic Research released a 48-page book titled “The word of religious scholars concerning Nasheed,” calling on the former president to “repent” and “return to the true path.”

The scholars claimed that Nasheed demeaned the Prophet’s Sunnah (way of life prescribed as normative for Muslims on the basis of the teachings and practices of Prophet Mohammed), rejected tenets of Islamic Shariah, and tried to foster public debate over the enforcement of compulsory Shariah punishments.

Regardless of the winner in the upcoming presidential election, Nasheed assured that there was no possibility of other religions being introduced to the Maldives.

“That is not something that we should doubt. But the doubt is created because our rivals are constantly using these words. Something that does not exist will exist when you continually talk about it. A lie becomes the truth when you keep repeating it. It enters our hearts as the truth,” he said.

The religious faith of Maldivians was actually threatened by the MDP’s political opponents, Nasheed contended, because they were “creating suspicion and doubt.”

Addressing the people of Hinnavaru in Lhaviyani atoll earlier in the day, Nasheed reportedly said faith should not be “shaken so easily” because of what one hears or sees, adding that it was the five pillars rather than “backbiting” (gheeba), spreading rumours, and defaming others that were needed to uphold Islam.

Nasheed’s remarks follow persistent accusations by the MDP’s political opponents concerning the party’s alleged “securalisation agenda” and anti-Islamic policies, contending that the 100 percent Muslim status of Maldives would be threatened under an MDP administration.

Political record

Among Nasheed’s alleged transgressions, the scholars listed the “idolatrous” monuments placed in Addu City, efforts to legalise sale of alcohol in inhabited islands, remarks suggesting addicts should be able to use drugs, and a speech in Denmark in which he allegedly criticised the Sunnah.

On December 23, 2011, a coalition of eight political parties and an alliance of NGOs rallied at a mass gathering to “defend Islam” from Nasheed’s allegedly liberal policies and conveyed five demands to the then-MDP government.

The mass gathering followed the release of a pamphlet titled “President Nasheed’s devious plot to destroy the Islamic faith of Maldivians” alleging that the MDP was working with “Jews and Christian priests.”

Meanwhile, the religious conservative Adhaalath Party – presently allied with the Jumhooree Party and backing its presidential candidate business tycoon Gasim Ibrahim – released a press statement on Thursday (October 31) claiming that the MDP would amend the constitution to allow religious freedom if the party gained a majority in parliament.

The Adhaalath Party referred to an amendment to the Drug Act recently proposed by an MDP MP to shorten the jail sentence for the offence of refusing to provide a urine sample to police from one year to 15 days.

“Therefore, in the ‘Other Maldives’ that Nasheed wants to bring, the punishment for a person caught redhanded using drugs is only a 15-day detention. Drug use cannot be encouraged any more than this,” the press release read.

The Adhaalath Party contended that, with a larger majority in parliament, the MDP would not hesitate to “decimate” Islam in the Maldives and “open up the country to other religions.”

With the provisional support of nine Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party MPs, the MDP currently has a simple majority of 39 votes in parliament. However, a two-thirds majority or 52 MPs is needed to amend the constitution.

In the face of religion-based attacks, the MDP has maintained that rival parties were using Islam as “a political weapon to sow discord.”

In a press statement in September, the MDP reiterated that the party would not allow other religions to be introduced in the Maldives.

The statement referred to the MDP’s achievements in government: establishing a Ministry of Islamic Affairs, allowing freedom to preach for local scholars, building 42 mosques as well as a number of prayer rooms in schools, training 150 Islamic teachers, strengthening the National University’s faculty of Shariah and law with foreign assistance, opening of an Islamic Bank and the construction of a new government-funded building for Arabiyya School in Male’.

The party’s 2013 manifesto meanwhile includes the construction of an “Islamic Knowledge Centre” in Male’ for MVR 200 million (US$13 million) that would include a library, lecture halls and a mosque with a capacity 5,000 worshippers.

Among other policies for the next five years include conducting an international Islamic conference in the Maldives at an estimated cost of MVR 25 million (US$1.6 million) with the participation of renowned foreign scholars, training 300 Quran teachers to first degree level, and allocating MVR 36 million (US$2.3 million) for renovating mosques across the country.

“We note that all these projects are costed and budgeted and the manifesto includes details for implementation,” the press release stated.


Religious advice should not involve political interest, says Nasheed

The Maldivian public are often misinformed of authentic Hadiths (sayings of the Prophet) because some local scholars offer religious advice with the intention of serving their political interests, former President Mohamed Nasheed said last night (June 23).

Speaking at a ceremony at the Male’ City Hall to launch a second volume of Dhivehi translation and interpretations of Sahih Muslim’s Hadiths by former State Minister for Islamic Affairs, Sheikh Hussain Rasheed Ahmed, Nasheed said genuine religious advice should not involve personal interest or a political “agenda.”

While a politician might present statistics in a way that would favour his party, “religious advice should not be given in a way that would benefit a political ideology.”

One of the biggest problems facing the country today was the “mixing up” of politicians and religious scholars, Nasheed added.

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) presidential candidate said Sheikh Hussain Rasheed’s book should be made widely available for the public so that Maldivians could distinguish between inauthentic and authentic Hadiths.

The Hadiths were compiled by Imam Bukhari and Muslim during the Abbasid caliphate, Nasheed observed, which was a “golden age” for Islam and the pursuit of knowledge.

“It is said that there were 700 libraries in Baghdad during that period,” he said.

Sheikh Rasheed’s second volume of Hadith translations are available for MVR 250 (US$16).

The former Adhaalath Party President explained at last night’s ceremony that the complete translations of the 5,263 sayings would be published in a planned 12 volumes.

Parts two and three of Sheikh Rasheed’s books on prayer instructions were also released last night by former Islamic Minister Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari and Speaker of Parliament Abdulla Shahid. 


Islamic Minister calls on state to withdraw all cases against religious scholars

Minister of Islamic Affairs Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali has called on the state to withdraw all court cases filed against Islamic scholars during past administrations.

“The cases filed against scholars during past administrations often involve charges for preaching religious advice without permits,” Shaheem told local media SunOnline.

“There are some charges previously filed against certain scholars, for example Sheikh [Ibrahim] Fareed. The charges against him are for preaching without a permit. I have spoken with Sheikh Fareed about this matter. In my capacity as Islamic minister, I call on the relevant authorities of the government to withdraw cases like this. These are very hurtful charges. Such charges should not be allowed to be levied against university educated, capable scholars, especially not under the current constitution,” Shaheem said.

Shaheem said that in a time where freedom to preach religion is exercised so freely, it is the duty of scholars to “invite people to religion to the extent of their capabilities” and that they should be granted that freedom as long as they do not make any statement which goes against Islam.

“Now, if they start giving out ‘fatwa’s, giving out judgements on what is ‘haram’ or ‘halal’ and speaking against the principles of Sharia, then action against them can be taken under the Religious Unity Act. I, however, cannot agree that there must be charges against someone for simple religious preaching, like asking people to go pray or pay alms,” Shaheem stated.

Speaking about scholars who held different views on religious matters, Shaheem said that such differences should be sorted through peaceful dialogue, and not through jail sentences and torture.

The Ministry of Islamic Affairs has previously held meetings to resolve dissenting opinions on religious matters, under the name of ‘Scholar’s Dialogue’.

Shaheem was travelling and unable to speak at the time of press.


Naifaru islanders protest council’s alleged invalidation of preaching license

Islanders of Naifaru in Lhaviyani Atoll gathered in front of the island council office to protest today after the island council invalidated all preaching licenses issued by the Islamic Ministry.

An islander told Minivan News that the council announced Thursday that all preaching licenses issued by the Islamic Ministry had been invalidated and scholars who wish to preach or give religious lectures would have to seek permission from the council.

“That is definitely a decision made against Sheikh Ibrahim Rasheed,” he claimed. “We know that because there is this one councilor named Mohamed Ali – who was a former fisherman and who does not have any educational background – holds a personal grudge against the Sheikh, this is his doing.”

He further claimed that the councilor had recently sent a letter to the Islamic Ministry complaining that the Sheikh has been showing young children pornographic pictures containing instructions for performing sexual intercourse.

“Today we gathered near the council office to meet with the councilors and a delegation of us met with them and the councilors have now withdrawn the decision,” he said. “We had 50 islanders gathered near the council, we are all very disappointed because the Sheikhs have said they will not preach unless they gave the permission, Sheikhs said it was obligatory to obey leaders.”

He said that islanders viewed the decision of the council as an attempt to prevent scholars from preaching.

However Naifaru Island Council Chair Ahmed Hussein claimed that the Adhaalath Party’s Naifaru Wing had politicised the issue to attack the council.

“We issued a notice to avoid usage of assets in the mosques, such as mics, speakers without the permission of the council,” Hussain said. “We did not say that all the licenses issued by the Islamic Ministry were invalidated.”

Hussain added that the councilors of the island were always available to the public but the protesters had issued false press releases and distributed flyers through the island to incite hatred against councillors.

“If they had an issue why had they not come to us and discuss it, we are on the same island and we are always available,” he said.

He explained that during the meeting with the delegation from protesters today, the council made it clear that licenses were not invalidated and that the notice was made regarding use of equipment at the mosque without permission.