Islamic ministry raises concern over religious divisions

Expressing concern over religious and social divisions in the Maldives, the Islamic ministry has warned the public against “words and actions that upset social and religious customs.”

In a statement on Thursday, the ministry stressed “age-old Maldivian unity” and said any act that may disrupt religious unity is an offense under the Religious Unity Act of 1994.

“The ministry has noted a spread in words and actions that create social and religious divisions and ideological differences. This has disrupted age-old social order and social customs. Such actions that are contrary to Maldivian customs and public interest facilitate divisions, quarrels and social unrest,” the statement read.

“We take this opportunity to remind and advice [the public] that any actions that undermine religious unity, sovereignty and independence of the Maldives is prohibited under Article 4 of the Religious Unity Act.”

The Islamic ministry’s media official, Ibrahim Abdulla Saeed, declined to reveal details of actions or words that have caused concern.

“This is just a reminder,” he said.

The religious conservative Adhaalath Party, which was controlled the Islamic affairs portfolio in successive governments, split from the ruling coalition in March and launched an antigovernment campaign over the imprisonment of ex-president Mohamed Nasheed and ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim.

Several scholars have since condemned what they call President Abdulla Yameen’s growing authoritarianism and warned of Allah’s wrath over “injustice and brutality.”

Islamic minister Dr Shaheem Ali Saeed resigned in early May shortly after Adhaalath president Sheikh Imran Abdulla’s arrest hours after he led a historic antigovernment protest on May 1.

Imran remains in police custody.


Mosques to be brought under Islamic ministry on November 1

All mosques in the country will be brought under the purview of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs on November 1, Islamic Minister Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed has said.

“The ministry is working to change mosques, Imams, muezzins, workers to the ministry from November 1 onward,” Shaheem tweeted on Sunday (September 28).

Responsibility for the maintenance and management of mosques was transferred from the Islamic Ministry to local councils by the landmark Decentralisation Act of 2010.

However, in April, President Abdulla Yameen ratified amendments to the Religious Unity Act of 1994 that would bring mosques under the Islamic ministry and outlaw independent prayer congregations. The amendments came into effect in mid-July.

In April 2012, Shaheem called for mosques to be returned to the ministry’s care following the refusal of some island councils to allow scholars to preach in mosques, most recently in the island of Innamaadhoo in Raa atoll.

The Innamadhoo island council filed a complaint with the Islamic Ministry in March against Sheikh Ibrahim Shameem Adam after the NGO Salaf preacher allegedly delivered a sermon in the island’s mosque without permission from the council.

In May 2013, Sheikh Imran Abdulla and Sheikh Ilyas Hussein – senior members of the religious conservative Adhaalath Party – were obstructed from preaching in Vaikaradhoo, in Haa Dhaalu atoll, whilst the Kamadhoo island council in Baa atoll prevented Sheikh Nasrulla Ali from preaching in the island’s mosque.

In Vaikaradhoo, the Adhaalath sheikhs were provided police protection in the face of unruly opposition protesters.

“Broadening the role of mosques” was among the eleven key policy objectives unveiled by the Islamic ministry in February.


Amendments to religious unity law brings mosques under Islamic Ministry, outlaws independent congregations

A first amendment to the Protection of Religious Unity Act of 1994 bringing mosques under the Ministry of Islamic Affairs and outlawing independent prayer congregations was ratified by President Abdulla Yameen yesterday.

The amendments (Dhivehi) – passed with 33 votes in favour and 10 abstentions at the sitting of parliament on March 31 –  brings all mosques and prayer houses in inhabited islands back under the purview of the Islamic Ministry.

Responsibility for the maintenance and management of mosques was transferred from the Islamic Ministry to local councils by the landmark Decentralisation Act of 2010.

In April 2012, Islamic Minister Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed called for mosques to be returned to the ministry’s care following the refusal of some island councils to allow scholars to preach in mosques, most recently in the island of Innamaadhoo in Raa atoll.

The Innamadhoo island council filed a complaint with the Islamic Ministry last month against Sheikh Ibrahim Shameem Adam after the NGO Salaf preacher allegedly delivered a sermon in the island’s mosque without permission from the council.

Shameem was also prevented from delivering a sermon by the Omadhoo island council in December last year on the grounds that it might “disrupt the stability and social harmony of the island”.

In May 2013, Sheikh Imran Abdulla and Sheikh Ilyas Hussein – senior members of the religious conservative Adhaalath Party – were obstructed from preaching in Vaikaradhoo, in Haa Dhaalu atoll, whilst the Kamadhoo island council in Baa atoll prevented Sheikh Nasrulla Ali from preaching in the island’s mosque.

In Vaikaradhoo, the Adhaalath sheikhs were provided police protection in the face of unruly opposition protesters.

“Broadening the role of mosques” was among the eleven key policy objectives unveiled by the Islamic ministry in February.

Other provisions

The amendments ratified today also prohibit “sowing religious discord” in the community and outlaws independent or unauthorised prayer congregations.

Friday prayers must be conducted in mosques designated by the Islamic ministry while the Friday sermon must be delivered at a time determined by the ministry.

Religious sermons delivered at mosques must meanwhile adhere to rules set by the government.

In February this year, the Malé City Council shut down the Dharumavantha mosque at the request of the Islamic Ministry to stop unauthorised Friday prayers by a group described as “extremist” by Islamic Minister Shaheem.

Among other offences specified in the amendments were the construction of places of worship for other religions, the sale, possession, or advertisement of expressions or slogans of other religions and the importation, display, advertisement and sale of books of other religions.

Moreover, seeking financial assistance from foreigners to propagate other religions is prohibited while permission must be sought in writing from the Islamic Ministry before accepting a salary, funds, or a gift from a foreign party for conducting religious activities in the country.

Similar provisions were included in the religious unity regulations enforced in September 2011 to crack down on extremist and unlicensed preaching of Islam in the country.

The penalty for violations of either the law or the regulations is a jail sentence of between two to five years.

The new amendments also stipulate that permission must be sought in writing from the Islamic Ministry for preaching or delivering sermons, offering religious advice or publishing books concerning religion.

Other amendments brought to the religious unity law include a provision requiring Islam to be taught as a compulsory subject in all public and private schools from grade one to 12.

Additionally, the Education Ministry and other relevant state institutions must revise the Islamic curriculum to “instil love of religion among students” and discourage involvement in sectarian disputes.

Islam teachers will also be required to possess qualifications from Islamic universities or centres accepted by the Maldives Qualification Authority while expatriate teachers must belong to the Sunni sect.

In February, the government introduced Arabic language as an optional subject for grades one through 12.

The new amendments will come into force three months after ratification.

The amendment bill was submitted in June 2010 by the late Dr Afrasheem Ali, a moderate religious scholar and Progressive Party of Maldives MP who was was brutally murdered in October 2012.

The legislation was first put to a vote in October 2012 following review by parliament’s social affairs committee. The bill was however rejected and returned to committee after only 16 MPs out of 66 in attendance voted in favour.


Bill of amendments to Religious Unity Act returned to committee

The bill of amendments to the Religious Unity Act has been sent back to the Social Affairs Committee on Monday for further revision after a mere 16 out of 66 MPs in attendance voted for it to be passed.

Late MP Dr Afrasheem Ali, who was brutally murdered at the beginning of this month, had submitted the bill proposing a total of 11 amendments to the Religious Unity Act on June 7, 2010. The Social Affairs committee had completed its research into the bill on June 20, 2012.

The bill had been presented to the parliament floor for discussion on October 9, 2012. Members had submitted an additional 11 recommended amendments to the bill at that time, some of which were passed during Monday’s voting session.

The passed amendments include submissions by Adhaalath Party member and Fares-Mathoda MP Ibrahim Mutthalib. One of these amendments stated that only those who have been educated in a university approved by the qualification board or educated to a level deemed acceptable by the government could teach Islam in local schools. It also states that if a foreigner is to teach Islam, he has to be a Sunni Muslim.

Amendments prohibiting the establishment of prayer houses for any religion besides Islam; creating, selling or using anything depicting other religions, and seeking external assistance for spreading other religions were also passed.

Additionally, the amendment by Mavashu MP Abdul Azeez Jamaal AbuBakr of Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) stating that there should be no attempts to instill love for a religion other than Islam in the hearts of school children and that no lessons involving other religions should be included in the school curriculum, was also passed.

Among the amendments which were rejected were a proposition to replace the existing Fiqh Academy with a ‘Fatwa Centre (Lecture Centre) and a proposition to appoint imams for all mosques and place them under the direct authority of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs.

At Monday’s parliament session, 45 of the 63 members in attendance voted against passing the proposed Bill of Amendments to the Religious Unity Act, with two members abstaining from the vote.

Meanwhile, Kaashidhoo MP Abdulla Jabir expressed concerns regarding the act in Monday’s parliament session. He said that enforcing such “strict religious penalties’ were not suited to a country as small as the Maldives.

Jabir went on to say that “all ministries in this 100 percent Muslim country are Islamic Ministries”, adding that the ministry being controlled by Adhaalath Party was leading to religious issues getting politicised.

He added that although the Adhaalath Party was based on religious values, it was nonetheless a political party with political aspirations.

Speaking to Minivan News today, Jabir said “What I am repeatedly saying is that the Maldives is too small a country for the implementation of these issues highlighted in this bill.”

The Religious Unity Act has been in effect since 1994 and has been previously criticised as being against the spirit of the 2008 Constitution.

The Islamic Foundation of the Maldives had also filed a case in the High Court in February 2011, claiming that the Religious Unity Act of 1994 was inconsistent with the constitution of the Maldives and should be invalidated.

In September 2011, the then-government had brought into force Religious Unity Regulations, enforcing the existing Religious Unity Act, with a penalty of 2 to 5 years’ imprisonment for violation.


New religious unity regulations crack down on extremist preaching in Maldives

New religious unity regulations have been published in the government’s gazette cracking down on extremist and unlicensed preaching of Islam in the Maldives.

The regulations reflect the enforcement of the Religious Unity Act and were originally put forward by the Islamic Ministry, but have undergone numerous drafts and revisions over the past year. The penalty for violating the regulations under the Act is 2-5 years imprisonment, banishment or house arrest.

Under the regulations – the government’s interpretation of the Act – scholars foreign or local must be licensed to preach in the Maldives by the Islamic Ministry, and have received at least a first degree at one of 36 listed universities.

None of these are Maldivian institutions, although the regulations stipulate that new institutions would be evaluated on a case by case basis, and the list reviewed every three months.

The regulations contain general principles for the delivery of religious sermons. These include an emphasis on specifically referencing the Quran when statements are made, and clarifying the authenticity of Hadith.

Preachers are instructed not to express anything “against general agreement” reached among Islamic scholars, or provide any information “ about issues disputed among Islamic scholars that serves to create disunity among the people and result in internal conflicts.”

The regulations also require preachers to refrain “from passing off as Islam one’s personal stand – that may result in obstruction of human progress and development and hinder modern findings and intellectual advancements.”

Controversially, preachers are also asked not to preach in a manner that flaunts human dignity, that may be interpreted as racial and gender discrimination, prevent people from education or health services in the name of Islam, or demeans the character or creates hatred towards people of any other religion.

Foreign scholars preaching in the Maldives “should not talk against Maldives’ social norms, nor should they criticise Maldives’ domestic policies and laws,” the regulations state.

It remains illegal to propagate any other religion other than Islam, and to carry or display in public books on religions other than Islam, “and the translation into Dhivehi language such books and writings on other religions.” Proselytising by foreigners remains punishable by deportation.

Articles involving comparisons between Islam and other religions, “and description of sayings and expressions about Islam by people of other religions, and dissemination of Muslim expressions on other religions”, are exempt, according to the regulations.

Media is banned from producing or publicising programs, talking about or disseminating audio “that humiliates Allah or his prophets or the holy Quran or the Sunnah of the Prophet (Mohamed) or the Islamic faith.”

“This also includes the broadcasting of material (on other religions) produced by others and recording of such programs by the local broadcaster, and broadcasting such material by the unilateral decision of the local broadcaster,” the regulations stipulate.


At a press conference today, the Islamic Foundation of Maldives (IFM) contended that the regulations conflicted with both the Maldivian constitution and the Quran.

In February this year, the IFM filed a case at the High Court requesting that outdated provisions in the Protection of Religious Unity Act of 1994 be abolished.

Article 2(b) of the Act states that permission to preach or offer instruction in religious matters must be sought in writing with the President.

Islamic Foundation Lawyer Shaheem Ahmed argued today that the Act conflicted with article 27 of the constitution, which states that, “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought and the freedom to communicate opinions and expressions in a manner that is not contrary to any tenet of Islam.”

“Sadly however no hearings have been conducted in this case so far. We don’t know why this is so,” he said.

In addition, Shaheem argued, the Ministry of Islamic Affairs did not have the legal authority to enact regulations that restricts or limits fundamental rights and freedoms enumerated in chapter two of the constitution.

Article 16 states that the rights and freedoms contained in the chapter could be restricted “only to such reasonable limits prescribed by a law enacted by the People’s Majlis”.

“After this regulation was approved, from this day onward no one without a degree could teach Islam in any school in the country,” he said, adding that imparting knowledge of Islam by a person without a degree would also be illegal.

As provision 5(l) of the regulations prohibits speech that could “incite hatred among the public, demean or undermine the human dignity of followers of another religion,” Shaheem noted that the Quran described Jews as “evil people and liars” and cautioned against “taking Jews as your friends.”

“Would expressing something like this from the Quran incite hatred or love towards us from Jews?” he asked. “The people who formulated this regulation should consider that the basis of Islam is the Quran.”

Quran 2:120 states that, “Never will the Jews or Christians be pleased with you till you follow their religion” while 5:51 reads, “Take not the Jews and the Christians as Auliya’ (friends, protectors, helpers, etc.), they are but Auliya’ to one another. And if any amongst you takes them as Auliya’, then surely he is one of them. Verily, Allah guides not those people who are the Zalimun (polytheists and wrong-doers and unjust).”

Sheikh Ibrahim Fareed Ahmed meanwhile called on Islamic Minister Dr Abdul Majeed Bari to “repent” for approving a regulation that conflicted with the Quran.

“[The regulations] obstruct the freedom granted by Almighty God to spread Islam. It is therefore completely void,” he claimed.

Fareed called on the government to review the regulations and reconsider enforcing the new rules, urging Islamic Minister Bari to consult religious scholars who were not Adhaalath party members and “not make such decisions on your own.”

“We urge very respectfully and with affection, to reconsider this and change [the regulations] so that it does not conflict with the Quran,” he said. “And don’t try to narrow Islamic matters in the country.”

IFM President Ibrahim Fauzee meanwhile revealed that the foundation was preparing to mount a legal challenge to the regulations at the Supreme Court.

Adhaalath Party condemns regulations

The Adhaalath Party, which controls the Islamic Ministry, issued a press statement today criticising the removal of “very important principles” from the original draft, and distanced the party’s religious scholars from the regulations.

The statement notes that the regulations were drafted by a legal team from police and 11 prominent religious scholars and approved by three Attorney Generals.

“We would like to inform the beloved Maldivian people that the party condemns [the changes] in the harshest terms and the party’s religious scholars and members renounces the gazetted regulations,” it reads.

“We note that provisions from English law have been added that were not in the regulations before and are not suited to a 100 percent Islamic community. We also note that other dangerous changes have been made to the regulations,” reads the statement signed by Sheikh Ilyas Hussein, vice-president of Adhaalath party’s council of religious scholars.

“While the Minister of Islamic Affairs [Dr Bari, president of the religious scholars council] was requested to not agree to publishing the regulations in the gazette without consultation with the party’s
scholars, we want to reveal that the regulations were brought out in the form it is in the gazette without any discussion at all with Adhaalath party’s council of religious scholars.”

Among the clauses that were removed were provisions outlining criteria for issuing preaching licenses, and prohibitions on broadcasting “un-Islamic” material.

These included provisions that preachers must be Sunni, and according to the Adhaalath Party, a provision requiring that religious fatwas (edicts or rulings) must be issued in accordance with the Sunni sect
was also removed, and so-called ‘blasphemy’ laws appeared to be toned down.

Laws forbidding independent prayer congregations were also scrapped.

The amendment regulations published in the government gazette yesterday was made up of 12 provisions, whereas previous drafts contained 40 provisions and a number of sub-clauses.

A more ‘academic’ approach

Former member of the Special Majlis and the new Constitution’s drafting committee, Ibrahim ‘Ibra’ Ismail, who was involved in redrafting the regulations, told Minivan News that they set out a more “academic” approach to preaching Islam in the Maldives, and were targeted at curbing the spread of extremism.

“[The regulations] do not impinge on freedom of expression, compared to the first draft, and I believe we have taken out those elements,” Ibra said.

“We have observed in this country and elsewhere that there are people who misquote the Quran and twist it around to propagate their agenda. These provisions curb that,” he explained.

“What in effect we are ensuring is that preachers should not say whatever comes to their mind. We say that if those preaching religion must refer to sources – the Quran and the Prophet’s sayings – so someone can independently verify if they wish.

“Where scholars deliver sources on areas and issues that are in dispute, these regulations require that they should state that,” he said.

“We put in a provision that prohibits hate speech, such as no one should propagate xenophobia or negative sentiments towards other religious.”

The criminalisation of those who violated the Act was not stipulated by the regulations, but in law, he explained.

“Currently the parliament is reviewing the relevant legislation (the Religous Unity Act), what we are doing is simply setting out how this can be enforced,” Ibra said, confirming that 2-5 years sentences was “more or less” what was in the Act.

Enforcement would ultimately be a court decision, he explained, with the Islamic Ministry only having the right to temporarily suspend preaching license pending the outcome of the court decision.

Ibra suggested that religious groups active in the Maldives – such as the Islamic Foundation of the Maldives and Jamiyyath-al-Salaf – should welcome the regulations, “as until now there has been a move by some people to silence them. These regulations do not silence them, but ask them to engage and follow procedures in their work. There are no ramifications for any particular group – again this different to what was originally proposed.”

He disputed that outlawing extremist preaching would drive the practice underground, and lead to a repeat of the 2007 Himandhoo incident, in which islanders donned red motorcycle helmets and armed themselves with batons and knives to defend the Dhar al Khuir mosque from a police crackdown.

In the ensuing skirmish, a policeman 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.

“Himandhoo  was not based on religion – those where highly politicised times,” Ibra said. “What I believe is that this will allow liberal-minded thinkers to convince people of the middle ground. Initially there may be some reactions, but I’m optimistic.”

Download an unofficial translation of the new regulations (English)


Charges against Sheikh Fareed “political matter, not a religious issue”

The President of the Islamic Foundation of the Maldives (IFM) Ibrahim Fauzy has called on the authorities to withdraw charges against Sheikh Ibrahim Fareed Ahmed, after he appeared in the Criminal Court charged for violating the former Religious Unity Act.

The Court alleged that Sheikh Fareed had preached on some islands without permission from the government authorities in 2007.

Sheikh Fareed was summoned to the Criminal Court today and was given the chance to respond to the charges.

”The former Religious Unity Act is contradictory to the new constitution, it is not acceptable to charge Sheikh Fareed over this issue,” said Fauzy. ”It is all related to politics. The former government confiscated his permission to preach, and later he only spoke at political rallies when he was in the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).”

Sheikh Fareed was arrested alongside many MDP delegates while he was aboard a boat traveling from Thinadhoo in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll in the year 2007, said Fauzy.

”Perhaps he sometimes gave advice to people at political rallies, but that cannot be considered preaching,” he said. ”It is a political matter, not a religious issue.”

Sheikh Fareed told Minivan News today that he was not sure about the nature of the charges against him.

”They are saying that I preached without the permission of authorities,” said Sheikh Fareed. ”I have requested the Criminal Court provide me details of the case.”

Sheikh Fareed said that he could only be certain of the case when he received the documents from the court.

On January 25, 2007, local newspaper ‘Miadhu’ reported that Sheikh Fareed was arrested moments after he walked out of ‘Ibrahimi Mosque’ after concluding Isha preayers.

Miadhu then reported that he was arrested for allegedly taking part in a demonstration that took place in Male.

Later on March 17, 2007, Miadhu reported that he was released from house arrest, kept in Maafushi jail for a few days, and then returned to house arrest.

Furthermore, Sheikh Fareed was arrested several times during the former regime for his participation in anti-governmental protests.

According to the local media, he was also once charged with terrorism but was released after the court found him innocent.

In 2007 he was the former vice president of MDP religious council but resigned after alleging that the party was against Islam.


“People should be free to pray according to any sect of Islam”, says Adhaalath president

The Islamic Ministry and the Adhaalath party have expressed concern over certain amendments proposed in the religious unity act by Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Dr Afrasheem Ali.

The Islamic Ministry on its website said that while the amendment bill was useful, it was concerned about an article stating that the Shafi sect should be enshrined as the basis of Islam in the Maldives.

The Islamic Ministry described the article as “unIslamic”, and that it was against the constitution of the Maldives.

Furthermore, the ministry called on parliament to gather more information and to cite that information when amending the proposed bill during the committee stage.

The ministry said that “many scholars” were concerned over the amendment proposed to make the Shafi sect the main basis of Islam in the Maldives.

Sheikh Hussein Rasheed, President of the Adhaalath Party, refuted the article which making the Shafi sect the official sect of the Maldives.

”People should have the freedom to pray according to any sect [of Islam] they wish,” said Sheikh Hussein. ”There are many people in the Maldives who follows different sects when worshiping.”

Sheikh Hussein said that although the bill was passed, ”nobody will follow it.”

”Until 1997, on the island where Dr Afrasheem comes from, they did not perform the Friday prayers because according to the Shafi sect there should be a minimum of 40 people in order to conduct them,” he said. ”So if it becomes a law to follow the Shafi sect, again we are going back to those days.”

He said that Dr Afrasheem’s comment in parliament that in Malaysia people followed the Shafi sect was “a big lie.”

”In Malaysia people perform prayers according other sects as well,” Sheikh Hussein said.

He said that in many other Islamic countries there were no laws that specified which sect to follow.

”Laws can’t force people to follow a specific sect – people should be rather trained to follow a specific sect,” he said. ”I strongly refuse that part of the amendment bill.”

On May 21, Dr Afrasheem Ali presented a bill to amend the religious unity act.

Dr Afrasheem said that social unity among Maldivians was weaker than it had been in the past.

”One reason for this [disruption] is issues of religion, particularly disputes over worship and [scholars] criticising each other,” said Dr Afrasheem.

He proposed that the Shafi sect be chosen as the basis of Islam in the Maldives.

”I selected the Shafi sect because it is the sect most friendly, most accepted and most widely followed sect in Islam,” he said.


Islamic ministry concerned about some aspects of DRP’s amendments to Religious Unity Act

Making the Shafi sect the basis of Islam in Maldives is unIslamic, says the ministry of Islamic Affairs in a statement on the proposed DRP amendments to the Religious Unity Act in the Majlis.

The ministry’s scholars claim Islam is a religion which allows Imams to chose from the styles of various sects, for example in the selection of praying rituals.

Neither the Koran nor the Sunnah of Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) encourage a particular sect, and such an issue cannot be written into law, says the ministry.

The ministry welcomes the draft amendments to the Act, however, there are some elements about which its scholars expressed concern, according to a Miadhu Daily report, and the ministry calls on MPs to amend the draft proposals in committee.


Cabinet requests amendments on Religious Unity Act

The Religious Unity Act, proposed by the Islamic Ministry, was discussed at the Cabinet meeting yesterday.

It was noted that some provisions needed to be reviewed and some amendments required before publication in the government gazette.

The Attorney General has been assigned with proposing the necessary amendments.