Obstruction of religious sermons across the country by supporters of the ousted Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) amounts to “a great war to destroy religion”, the religiously conservative Adhaalath Party has claimed.
In a strongly-worded statement released on Sunday, the Adhaalath Party condemned MDP-led protests against visiting Sheikhs in several islands as “lowly and secular acts” allegedly intended to “sow discord in society” and “lead the people astray from Allah’s path.”
In recent weeks, city and island councils controlled by the former ruling party have refused to authorise sermons in mosques by prominent religious scholars of Adhaalath Party, on the grounds that it could “disrupt the peace and create unrest”.
Under the landmark Decentralisation Act enacted in 2010, permission to preach in mosques and other public places must be sought from local councils.
In the past month, attempts by Sheikh Ilyas Hussein, head of the Adhaalath Party’s scholar’s council, to preach in Addu City, Male’ City, Baa Atoll Thulhaadhoo and Haa Dhaal Vaikaradhoo were met with refusals by MDP-dominated local councils and angry protests by the party’s supporters.
On May 18, police arrested five people from a group of MDP supporters protesting outside al-Furqan mosque in Male’ during a sermon by Sheikh Ilyas, which saw clashes between rival supporters outside the mosque.
Prior to the unrest, Male’ City Council had asked police to stop the sermon from proceeding. The disturbance in the capital followed a similar dispute between the Adhaalath Party and the MDP-controlled Addu City Council, which had also refused to authorise Sheikh Ilyas to preach.
Local media reported violent clashes between MDP and Adhaalath Party supporters in the southernmost atoll following the Addu City Council’s decision.
Vaikaradhoo Island Council Chair Ahmed Waheed told Minivan News last Thursday that the council denied permission to the Sheikh because “we are certain that we could not control any unrest that might be created if Sheikh Ilyas is allowed to preach here.”
A number of MDP supporters meanwhile protested at the Vaikaradhoo jetty with chants of “traitor” when the Adhaalath delegation arrived, forcing the party leaders to disembark under police protection.
“An effort to eradicate Islam”
“What [the protesters] are saying is that they do not want to listen to religious counsel from scholars sent by the present government,” reads the Adhaalath statement.
“But they have no problem accepting salaries and services provided to citizens by the current government, such as healthcare, electricity, water and other services. Therefore, it is certain that their action is a great war to destroy religion in the guise of political activity.”
As the Maldives is “a 100 percent Muslim country,” the statement continued, religious scholars should not face any obstacle to preach and raise religious awareness among the public.
The Adhaalath Party called on the government to impose “harsh measures” against persons who obstruct religious sermons.
Meanwhile on its official twitter account, the party contended that “the ongoing harassment of scholars is nothing but an effort to eradicate Islam here in Maldives and open up the country to other religions.”
Islamic Minister Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed – who represents the Adhaalath Party in President Mohamed Waheed’s cabinet along with Housing Minister Mohamed Muizz – told Sun Online today that obstruction of religious sermons was carried out to show the outside world that there were Maldivians “opposed to Islam.”
Councils that refuse to permit religious sermons should be dissolved, the Islamic Minister said, adding however that some MDP-controlled councils had welcomed religious scholars and were cooperating with the ministry.
In September 2011, following frequent clashes with President Mohamed Nasheed’s administration over various issues— selling alcohol on inhabited islands, making Islam an optional rather than a compulsory subject in secondary school and introduction of ‘religious unity regulations’ – the Adhaalath Party voted to sever its coalition agreement with the former ruling party.
In late 2011, Adhaalath Party teamed up with a coalition of eight political parties and religious NGOs to stage a ‘mega-protest’ on December 23 to ‘Defend Islam’ from an alleged “securalisation agenda” pursued by the deposed president.
Responding to the religious conservative party’s charges today, MDP Spokesperson and Maafanu North MP Imthiyaz Fahmy argued that “the coup itself is the war to destroy the religion, civilisation and democracy in the Maldives.”
“The coup-sheikhs and their partners in crime are the real culprits to blame and no one else,” MP Imthiyaz said. “People of those islands or the vast majority of citizens of the Maldives do not consider them Sheikhs anymore but rebels and traitors. So certainly people will protest against such rebels and coup-sheikhs wherever they go.”
On the role of local councils denying permission to preach “politicised” sermons, Imthiyaz said the party’s councils would “act in conformity with laws and regulations.”
“MDP is an advocate and promoter of a decentralised system of governance,” he continued. “But this coup government has been trying to destroy the system. [Plans to bring] mosques directly under the [Islamic] ministry is such an attempt, thus back to the old days.”
Imthiyaz further argued that the MDP government “freed Sheikhs from jails and allowed them to freely delver speeches and sermons.” Under the 30-year rule of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, a number of religious scholars were reportedly detained and tortured. A number of scholars claimed they had their beards shaven with chili sauce.
“We are the only party which does not use religion as a political tool or exploit religion for that purpose,” Imthiyaz said, adding that the party accorded “the highest degree of respect to religion.”