Islamic Ministry receives Rf14.8 million in public donations for mosque repairs

The Ministry of Islamic Affairs yesterday announced that Rf14.8 million (US$963,500) has been raised through public contributions to aid repairs of mosques across the country.

The ministry yesterday told media that Rf2,645,000 (US$171,530) had already been spent on repairs.

Minister of Islamic Affairs Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed stated that the ministry had already begun repair work at 60 mosques as part of wider plans to renovate some 100 mosques around the nation.

Sheikh Shaheem added that additional funds were already on their way, with the ministry expecting to raise over Rf 15 million for the proposed repair work.

Shaheem also stated that the ministry has completed draft legislation designed to regulate the collection of alms (Zakat) and urged the general public to keep paying these funds despite the introduction of taxes.

“I call upon the general public to engage in giving alms. I believe that the existing laws for taxation have a mechanism to deduct the amount from tax money that has been given to alms,” he said. He further added that he would try to ease the procedure of re-imbursement of the money by contacting the relevant authorities.

The Islamic Ministry also revealed that from money collected as alms, Rf26 million has been spent last year to help the poor and the needy.

Shaheem claimed that about 490 parties have been provided with financial assistance from alms money to cover accidental losses and medical costs for procedures such as dialysis.

Aside from the assistance given to the general public, Shaheem also stated that the money collected was used to provide funding for students pursuing higher education both in the country and abroad.

“Previously the funds were used to provide books and stationary for the needy, but now that government provides it free for all students, we have decided to spend that money for higher education. This practice has been carried out in several Islamic countries,” he said.

The ministry also announced that it had opened up opportunities to apply for grant aid for students pursuing higher education in the Maldives. Shaheem said there was already a “long queue of students that are present to apply for the aid”

Also speaking at the press briefing, Minister of State for Islamic Affairs Ahmed Abdulla Didi claimed that the ministry had worked hard of late to build religious awareness amongst the public – with a specific focus on young people.

“As you would know, there are several grievous crimes committed in the society, we have made it a priority to work more on building religious awareness amongst the youth,” Didi said.

He added that the ministry was working on publishing and distributing pamphlets to build religious awareness among the youths as well as translating several Arabic books to Divehi.

He further added that the Islamic ministry is also conducting sermons across the country on religious awareness, including at rehabilitation centres and schools.


Opening of premium lounge hints at airport’s future

The Plaza Premium lounge was inaugurated today at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA), a step in GMR’s wide-scale renovation of the airport terminal.

The renovation, which began approximately 10 weeks ago, was designed by Hong Kong-based Premium Port Lounge Management Company Private Ltd. A message from company founder and CEO, Song Hoi See, indicated that the company was eager to design the project and “add more flights to Male.”

The Plaza Premium lounge was opened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and a reading from the Qur’an. Among the officials who cut the ribbon were Tourism Minister Maryam Zulfa and GMR CEO Andrew Harrison.

“This is a proud moment,” said Zulfa. “It is sad that some of the resorts and institutions in the Maldives do not measure up to the standards of our premium customers. I am happy that GMR is setting an example for the Maldives as it moves forward.”

Zulfa, who arrived today from an international flight, described some fellow passengers who called a baggage delay “typical.”

“I said, ‘No, this is not typical. This is atypical. Because GMR is now taking care of us.’ It was a relief to know that a negative experience was not typical of how our airport works.”

Tourism Minister Maryam Zulfa surveys the Plaza Premium Lounge with GMR CEO Andrew Harrison

Baggage beltways were recently expanded, while eight check-in counters and two security lanes are being added. “We are de-bottlenecking departures, and things are running smoothly,” said GMR Chief Commerical Officer Prasad Gopalan.

Gopalan said the airport had seen an even higher increase in traffic this year than expected. “There is more traffic from Asia, and we are expecting Russian traffic to increase as well.”

Harrison said the renovation process had informed GMR of the higher standards that travelers now hold. He noted that washrooms and check-in counters were being refurbished “to make it a more ‘Maldives’ welcome for travelers,” and added that former staff had been re-trained to meet premium standards.

The lounge is open to first and business class passengers, and to economy class passengers for an undetermined fee. Services include a buffet and a la carte menu, computer and internet access, television, and spa-style foot rubs.

Harrison told Minivan News that “the quality of this lounge is a commitment to the quality of airport that the Maldives and its visitors can expect to see in the future. Even though this lounge is an asset with a short shelf life, it is appropriate that we demonstrate what the new terminal should be like.”

The new terminal at INIA is expected to be completed over the next three years, and will have a capacity of 5 million.

The renovation’s estimated cost is US$1 million. More renovations will be completed before the tourism peak season of November and December.