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.”


Religious Unity Act in hands of Ibra, claims Adhaalath Party

The Adhaalath Party, led by State Islamic Minister Sheikh Hussein Rasheed, has claimed that the Religious Unity Act is in the hands of the leader of the Social Liberal Party (SLP), Ibrahim ‘Ibra’ Ismail.

”The Religious Unity Act, which the government has obstructed from being [published in the gazette] was drafted with the assistance of three Attorney Generals,” the Adhaalath Party said.

”According to the information we have, the Act was first drafted with the full assistance of former Attorney General Dhiyana Saeed, during the former administration.”

The Act was refined by Islamic Minister Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Baari, Sheikh Hussein Rasheed, Head of Fiqh Academy Sheikh Ali Zahir Bin Saeed Gasim, Sheikh Ahmed Zahir, Sheikh Ahmed Saleem, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) Religious Council’s former leader Sheikh ‘BA’ Naseem and Deputy Islamic Minister Mohamed Farooq before sending it to the President’s Office.

After receiving the draft Act, President Mohamed Nasheed held a meeting with Commissioner of Police Ahmed Faseeh, Sheikh Shaheem, Dr Baari and Sheikh Hussein Rasheed and recommended that the Act should be sent to then-Attorney General Husnu Suood before publishing in the gazette, said Adhaalath Party.

”Suood referred to the Act and brought some amendments, and removed many articles. He then said it was fine and sent it to be published on the gazette,” Adhaalth said. ”But then the President said there were some policy issues, discussed the matter in the cabinet, and sent it back to the Islamic Ministry requesting they solve those policy issues.”

After amending the draft, the Islamic ministry sent it to the current AG, Dr Ahmed Ali Sawad. The Ministry held a meeting with Sawad and again sent the draft to be published in the government’s gazette after adding his comments.

”While we were waiting for it to be published in the gazette, Ibra called from the President’s Office and said that he was now in charge of the Religious Unity Act, and that there were some amendments that should be brought to it,” the party said. ”Except for a few, he proposed amendments to all the articles in it.”

”This is now the status of the Religious Unity Act that was drafted by many religious experts and three attorney generals of the state.”

Press Secretary for the President, Mohamed Zuhair, said today that the new regulations would be published in the gazette ”hopefully by next week.”

”Ibra is now discussing the draft with the Islamic Ministry and other concerned authorities,” said Zuhair. ”There are many government authorities that are related to the new regulations.”

The government have to research whether there will be any obstacle in implementing any regulation in three ways, Zuhair said.

”We have to study whether there will be any legal, social or economic obstacles to its implementation,” he said, insisting that Ibra was not deliberately delaying publication of the Act in the government’s gazette.


DRP proposes amendments to Religious Unity Act

Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Dr Afrasheem Ali has proposed amendments to the religious unity act.

Presenting the bill, 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,” Dr Afrasheem.

He proposed that the Shafi sect be enshrined 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.

People’s Alliance (PA) Party MP Abdul Azeez Jamal Abubakuru said that the bill was necessary for the country.

”The Maldives used to be a country which was an example of social unity, but now we see cracks in that fort,” said Jamal.

Independent MP Ibrahim Muthalib also supported the bill.

”This is a very important bill,” said Muthalib, recommending several amendments to article 2(d) and article 2(e), after observing that the bill could potentially narrow the opportunity for foreign scholars to preach in the Maldives.

DRP MP Ahmed Mahloof also supported the bill.

”I recall during the last presidential elections, the Adhaalath party – which claimed to be promoting and protecting religion – tried to make (people believe) that former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom was a Christian,” said Mahloof. ”This is the situation of our country today.”

He said that it was very important to resolve disputes among people.

Chairperson of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and MP Mariya Didi thanked Dr Afrasheem for presenting the bill to amend the Religious Unity Act, observing that “our forefathers have protected the religion for 800 years.”

In May the Islamic Ministry announced that it had completed the new religious unity act, and has sent it to the government’s gazette for publication.

However when the new regulations were completed many organisations expressed concern over the regulations and it was held by the president’s office for amendments.