Contentious religious unity regulations polarise religious factions

Press Secretary for the President Mohamed Zuhair has denied that the President’s Office brought any changes to the religious unity regulations drafted by the Islamic Mnistry, refuting allegations made by the Islamic Minister Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari.

Islamic Minster Bari had told local media that the religious unity regulations were sent to the President’s Office and changed “the way they want it”, and that the ministry was now revising the regulation.

He also said that the Ministry would not give consent for the regulations to be gazetted before revising it thoroughly.

Zuhair said that Dr Bari had made his remarks not in the capacity of a cabinet minister, “but more as an ally of the Adhaalath Party.”

“We did not bring any changes to the religious unity regulations,” he said. “The first half of it was drafted by the then State Islamic Minister Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed and the other half by current State Islamic Minister Sheikh Hussein Rasheed.”

He said there were rules in the regulation that were inconsistent with the government’s policy and had asked the Ministry to comply with that policy.

“It is a responsibility of all the government ministries to uphold the government’s policy,” he said. “There should be no ministry that has to go against the policy.”

Minivan News understands that certain high-profile persons met with the President prior to the commencement of drafting the regulations and requested the President support the drafting of the regulations in a way that would stop the Maldives National Broadcasting Commission (MNBC) from broadcasting live sermons of Sheikh Ibrahim Fareed.

The President reportedly stated that freedom of speech was vital in a democracy and dismissed the idea.

Recently local religious NGOs Jamiyyathul Salaf and the Islamic Foundation of the Maldives requested the President not to gazette the religious unity the way it was drafted, citing concerns that the new regulations could be employed to silence religious NGOs.

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

“How can a regulation enacted under an unlawful Act be valid, there is a case we have filed in the High Court to invalidate the Act,” said Ibrahim Fauzee, president of the NGO. “We call on the government to wait until the case in High Court reaches a conclusion.”