Comment: I’m not wearing white

Adhaalath and their NGO minions are asking all “those who love Islam” to wear white and meet up at the Artificial Beach today. By all means, go. Women and men, Maldivian citizens – go to this gathering, but do not wear white.

Do not support the degradation of our society, the proposed harm to our economy, and the manipulation of our religion for purely political purpose. Go to the rally, but do not wear white.

The Legislation Will Work

I have now met with over 100 current and recovering addicts in Maldives, and even over the course of this last year it was clear that the costs of alcohol was going through the roof as a result of effective police sweeps. This legislation gives the police the authority and means to ensure that resorts and hotel companies are held accountable for every single drop of alcohol that is brought into this country.

Daily logs, thorough accounting, security cameras and a whole host of other measures are made mandatory by this legislation. The Economic Development Ministry has found an ingenious compromise between progressive development – which will benefit our entire nation – and reinforcing stringent control over alcohol. The very notion that this legislation makes getting alcohol easier, just because it is now on the same island as many of us, is completely ludicrous and neglects every provision stipulated in the legislation.

Alcohol Based Economy

The Maldivian economy cannot be maintained without alcohol. This is the bottom line. Tourism is the largest sector of our economy, accounting for more than 28 per cent of our GDP. Without maintaining the strength of this industry, our nation will fail.

If we look into the industry itself, the three leading nationalities of tourists (Italians, Britons, and Germans) are all groups with traditionally high alcohol consumption rates. But if we go beyond that to look at marketing strategies, every single tour operator emphasizes the idyllic image of lying on a beach with a tropical alcoholic drink by one’s side. This is not unique to the Maldives, but inherent to every single tropical island paradise.

There is no difference between an island resort and a city hotel. The average resort will have around 150 staff members at any given time. 150 people are enough to call an island inhabited, and therefore if alcohol is banned because of Maldivians’ reside on the island, then they should be banned in resorts as well. But while we run around calling for bans on alcohol, we are simultaneously calling for more Maldivians to be employed by the tourism industry – instead of Bangladeshis, Indians, and Nepalis. We have soaring unemployment rates, and if we were to ban Maldivians from the largest economic provider in the country, how will we progress as a nation? How will we progress as a people, while destined to be eternally impoverished?

The answer to these problems is not greater exclusion, but rather inclusion of the Maldivian people in our largest and fastest growing industry. The Ministry of Economic Development and Trade is taking the first steps to ensure that all Maldivians can benefit from tourism. Imagine entire islands whose local economies are vibrant and sustained by a perpetual inflow of tourists. Imagine a nation where 40% poverty rates were a thing of the past and everyone has equal access to education and adequate healthcare. The answer is not more separatism, but rather integration.

Disunity in Government

The best way to develop is through promoting tourism and integrating it with our communities, and this piece of legislation is the first step. However, it has led to great disunity in the government. We have Adhaalath breaking away and GIP (Gaumee Itthihaad Party) being hung out to dry.

In the past few months, Mohamed Rasheed – Minister for Economic Development (and a GIP member) – has come under significant pressure to put forward this legislation. Unlike myself, the GIP general membership’s will is firmly against legalizing these restricted alcohol sales in inhabited islands. However, because GIP has an active policy of supporting the government and being a “good coalition member,” Rasheed was determined on working within the current development framework for the overall betterment of this nation.

If the President’s Office decides to do a turn around, and hang him out to dry – the Government’s most steadfast coalition supporter will be slighted. Though the party has only 4,000 people in its membership – GIP has remained unwavering in its support of the government, even while its center left policy was neglected and its Island and Atoll councilors were sacked for supporting two GIP candidates during the Majlis election. At every step GIP has defended government policy and will continue to do so till the 2013 election.

Adhaalath, on the other hand, is already maneuvering for the Presidential election in 2013. That is what this demonstration is about. It is not about religion, it is not about alcohol. It is only about political gain. While State Minister of Islamic Affairs – Shaheem has said he will not call for anyone’s resignation, Adhaalath has said explicitly that any government that allows for economic growth through alcohol on inhabited islands needs to be removed. As State Minister, Shaheem is actively organizing dissent and a fully fledged demonstration against the government he is supposed to represent.

In spite of the government reaching out to Adhaalath, giving them autonomy, allowing them to lead in all Islamic affairs, and placating conservative trends, Adhaalath is not satisfied. They are not willing to meet the government half way, and are now actively working to destabilize it and flex their political power. This gathering is about both flexing that power and measuring it. It is a traitorous action, and against the developmental framework of this government.

New Islamic Leadership

They have drawn the battle lines, taken action against their coalition partner, and now Adhaalath needs to be expelled from this government. We need new Islamic leadership in the country. One that is moderate, willing to promote dialogue and not repress anyone (yes, even the conservatives). We need to promote balanced view points.

All of our new media regulations require fair and balanced coverage. This principle needs to extend to religion as well so that it is not only the radical conservatives who gain the airwaves.

What do I mean by moderate? Well, someone like President Gayoom. Now, I believe Gayoom’s administration to be responsible for the arrest and torture of eight of my thirteen uncles (as well as countless others), but there is no denying that his version of Islam is far more moderate than the conservatives we have running around.

It is time we stop skirting around the issue of religion. Stop living in fear of speaking our minds. We need to revolutionize the Ministry for Islamic Affairs with moderate sheikhs who will promote greater religious understanding, instead of only Salafi based conservative dogmatism.

As the result of a policy of appeasement during the First and Second World Wars, action came too late for many and millions died. For us, it’s not too late. We need to protect the security and economic prosperity of our nation. We need to save its soul from losing that which makes us inherently Maldivian.

Defiance of Tyranny

It is time to expel them from this government as one would poison from fatal wound. They have shown themselves to be uncompromising, unyielding, and unwilling to work with this government. Adhaalath is using these events and Islamic preaching to try and gain momentum that will bring them a 2013 Presidential victory, or at the very least, a Parliamentary one.

As they strut today, to and fro, albino peacocks on the stage of public Islamic opinion, remember their political motive. Go witness the spectacle, and do not wear white. If you must have white in your clothing, wear another color as well. Wear blue or turquoise. Pink or magenta. Wear green for Islam (though green and white is GIP’s colors). Wear yellow for our government. Black for the death of freedom and justice. Just do not wear white alone.

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Protesting feminists send underwear to Sheikh

A group of self-styled “underground feminists” calling themselves the ‘Rehendhi’ movement claim to have bombarded Sheikh Ibrahim Fareed with women’s underwear on Valentine’s Day, in protest “against misogyny in Maldivian society.”

A statement from the group was accompanied by pictures of underwear scrawled with statements such as “Make love not war”, “Undies for Fundies”, and “Happy Valentine’s Day Sheikh Fareed”.

The statement condemned the speech ‘With Loved Ones’ given by Sheikh Fareed at the artificial beach in Male’ on 12 January, and stated that “while we do not necessarily promote Valentine’s Day, we will not tolerate messages that [infringe] on our right to celebrate the good things in life like love.”

“We especially will not tolerate the unnecessary framing of women as inherently evil. For example, in his speech Sheikh Fareed criticised men contributing to household chores by ‘running home to buy a fish every time a woman calls’ and implicated them of loving their women more than God.”

The group claimed it wished to remain anonymous “not because we are cowards, but because at the end of the day, we live in a society where the majority is not ready to accept equality between the sexes” and “because we want to be criticised for the issues we take rather than the length of our hijabs.”

undies2The group estimated that between 10-12 women participated in the protest campaign, and said they would continue to “fight the erosion of already scarce liberal attitudes towards women in our society” and “reject overarching and untrue labels such as ‘Americansed’ or ‘Westernised’.”

“We look at our own society and deduce that the suffering of women is directly linked to the strong patriarchal system that breeds harmful prejudices against women, such as their inferiority and servitude to men,” the statement said.

“Sometimes, due to upbringing, formal education and mainstream predominant societal views, women themselves internalise such unfounded and unjustified views of inequality and ‘inherent inferiority’ of women compared to men. We refuse to tolerate any discrimination against women based on Islam and diffuse concepts such as ‘culture.’”

“Our goal is not to negate Quran, Hadith or Islamic principles, but to find women’s rightful place in society in which they can flourish and realise their true potential. We emphasise the fact that many feminists are Muslim women. Working for women’s rights does not mean that one is not a pious and good Muslim.”

Spokesperson for the Islamic Ministry Sheikh Ahmadulla said he would not comment on the issue, as he did not have the authority to give religious advice, but noted that ”according to the law, people have the right to express their opinion.”

undies3President of religious NGO Jamiyyath-al-Salaf, Sheikh Abdullah Bin Mohamed Ibrahim, also said he did not wish to comment as he had not heard Fareed’s speech, but emphasised that Muslims were not allowed to celebrate Valentine’s Day.

”Valentine’s Day is celebrated by Christians,” he said. ”It is a day connected to a god of Christians named cupid.”

Sheikh Abdullah Jameel also said he did not want to comment on the issue directly because he had not heard Sheikh Fareed’s speech.

”Women and men are not equal if you look how they are created,” he said. ”[For instance] only a few women go fishing or do construction work.”

He emphasised that celebrating Valentine’s Day is prohibited under Islam “even if some group tries to deny it.”

Sheikh Ilyas Hussein said he had not heard of the group or their press statement, but also explained that ”celebrating Valentine’s Day is not part of Islamic culture.”

“It’s a day Christians celebrate saying it was the birthday of someone named Valentine,” Sheikh Ilyas said.

Sheikh Ibrahim Fareed declined to comment.

Correction: An earlier version of this article mistakenly attributed comments made by Sheikh Abdullah Jameel to Sheikh Azmath Jameel. Minivan News has rectified the error and apologises for any confusion caused.


Religious scholars dispute government’s healthcare scheme

The vice president of religious organisation Jamiyyath-al-Salaf, Sheikh Hassan Moosa Fikry has claimed the government’s ‘Madhana’ healthcare scheme resembles an insurance program and is against the principles of Islam.

Sheikh Hassan said that the Madhana health insurance scheme “was not a balanced system” and represented
”a loss for both the people and the government.”

He also claimed that the Madhana scheme was not organised according to the Islamic banking system.

‘Madhana’ is a scheme run by the government that provides up to Rf100,000 (US$7782) of medical treatment for members, in return for an annual fee of Rf2000 (US$155).

”For example, I pay the government Rf2000 to take part in the Madhana program, and if I do not get ill that year, wouldn’t that be a loss of Rf2000 for me?” Sheikh Hassan said.

He claimed that the State Minister for Islamic Affairs Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed once wrote a religious article about insurance, which on the first paragraph stated that health insurance was not allowed for Muslims.

However President of the Adhaalath Party Sheikh Hussein Rasheed Ahmed said that all health insurance programs were allowed under Islam, with the exception of self-insurance, and that Madhana was “a help” offered by the government to its people.

”I’m not saying this in response to what Salaf has said,” he added.

Religious scholar Sheik Ilyas Hussein also claimed that only self-insurance was prohibited for Muslims.

“If the Madhana health scheme was done as business then it might be a problem,” he said. “If it is done as charity it would be allowed.”

Spokesman for the Islamic Ministry Sheikh Ahmadhulla said he could not comment on the issue at the moment “because this is a religious matter” and he did not have the right to give religious advice.

Permanent secretary for the Health Ministry Sheena Moosa said that she was also unable to comment as the issue was a religious matter, but claimed the Madhana scheme was not modelled on health insurance.

”We do it as charity for the benefit of people,” she said, adding that the government did not invest any of the money received it received through the scheme.

”We keep all the money as a separate fund,” she explained.


Salaf condemns plans to revive “unIslamic” cultural traditions

Islamic NGO Salaf Jamiyyah has condemned plans to revive bodu maaloodh (big feast) in Thaa atoll Kadoodhoo, a tradition that was banned under the previous government.

Bodu maaloodh was traditionally celebrated on the Prophet’s birthday as a social event where people from neighbouring islands get together for a feast.

“Salaf believes it should not be revived and that it is a bidah (innovation),” said Abdullah bin Mohamed Ibrahim, president of the association.


Bidah refers to innovations within Islam that are not part of the religion. In Sunni Islam, innovations in religion are believed to sinful and blasphemous.

In April last year, the government announced it planned to end the segregation of tourists and locals by introducing community-based tourism and establish seven cultural centres in the seven provinces to promote cultural tourism.

Abdullah added reviving such rituals in the name of promoting cultural tourism could have “dire consequences” on society as they were in conflict with Islam.

“If all such practices are to be brought back, they might even revive old Buddhist traditions,” he said.

Abdullah said celebrating the Prophet’s birthday was an innovation because it was not practiced either by the Prophet’s companions or during the three centuries that followed his death.

Moreover, it was not prescribed in the Prophet’s Hadith (sayings) or Sunnah (practice).

Cultural tourism, a website that posts Islamic literature and writings of local Sheikhs, scholars and associations, reported yesterday that Ahmed Mujthaba, state minister for home affairs, met the people of Kadoodhoo and encouraged the revival of the practice.

“At the meeting where a lot of men and women of the island were invited, the state minister said he will make sure islanders are able to do it and that the province office will cover all the costs,” reads the news statement.

It adds that the state minister told that it would be revived under the government’s policy of introducing cultural tourism.

The statement calls on the government to stop the “spread such irreligious practices” and advise those intent on reviving it.

Such bidah were discontinued in the country due to the efforts of many scholars, it reads, as it had been practiced as part of religious worship in the past.

Social bonds

Speaking to Minivan News today, Yousuf Nizar, Kadoodhoo councilor, confirmed the state minister encouraged people to organise a bodu maaloodh at the meeting.

Nizar said the tradition was discontinued over five years ago when the previous government refused to give permission.

While there might have elements of unIslamic traditions in the practice, such as in some of the Arabic chanting, he said, it was celebrated as a cultural ritual or a gathering intended to strengthen social bonds.

“I don’t believe it conflicted with Islam even back when it was stopped,” he said. “It is a cultural practice, not a religious festival.”

The councilor stressed that the feast would be planned this year only if islanders wanted to resume the practice.

In the past, he said, the island ended other practices such as putting up fire lights as it was believed to date back to the time when Maldivians worshipped the sun.

Protecting Islam

Izzudheen Adham, communications officer at the ministry of Islamic affairs, told Minivan News today that the practice was an innovation as scholars believed it was not in the sunnah or hadiths.

The Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs under the previous government campaigned to discontinue and ban various cultural traditions that were seen to be contrary to Islam, he said.

Izzudheen said bodu maaloodh was believed to have been introduced to the Maldives by Indian Borah traders, who borrowed it from a Sufi sect in India and Sri Lanka.

The ministry believes it should not be continued as it also involved prayer and supplications for blessings.

The ministry would be able to take measures against such practices when its new regulations were enforced, he said, as it would empower the ministry to stamp out unIslamic traditions.

“Our mandate is to protect religion in the Maldives,” he said. “If people are trying to revive it, we will take whatever measures we can to stop it.”

Izzudheen said the ministry will consult with the tourism ministry and other relevant authorities to ensure that the promotion of cultural tourism does not bring back traditions that conflict with Islam.

In a statement issued today, the Maldivian Detainee Network (MDN), a human rights NGO, said it views the call to ban bodu maaloodh as unconstitutional.

Article 39 of the constitution guarantees the right to participate in cultural life, while article 19 states, “A citizen is free to engage in any conduct or activity that is not expressly  prohibited by Islamic Shari’ah or by law. No control or restraint may be exercised by a person unless it is expressly authorised by law.”

“Given the fact that there is no law which expressly prohibits the practice of bodu mauloodh, MDN calls upon all parties to respect the constitution on this matter and allow the cultural event to go ahead,” reads the statement. “MDN further urges those opposed to the practice to publicly air their concerns, and partake in religious debate if necessary, to discourage the practice on a cultural level. Calling on the state to ban the practice without such debate and public consultation goes against the spirit of both the constitution and democracy, especially when it infringes on rights guaranteed in the constitution.”


American to be deported for alleged missionary activity

Maldives police have said they are seeking the deportation of a foreigner who allegedly sought to spread Christianity on the island of Kinbidhoo in Thaa Atoll.

Missionary activities are illegal under Maldivian law, as is the possession of non-Islamic religious materials beyond those ascribed for ‘personal use’.

Police sergeant Ahmed Shiyam said while no charges had yet been laid, it was normal practice “to send a person suspected of this to their country of origin while the case is under investigation.”

Shiyam declined to reveal specific details of the allegations “as the case is still under investigation”, but noted that “the whole community is very concerned about this.”

Kinbidhoo islanders identified the man as David Balk, and said he had been living on the island for the past several years with his wife and three children, aged 10-13 years old.

“They all speak fluent Dhivehi and generally keep to themselves, but are very helpful and involved in social activities like beach cleaning,” said Island Councillor Mohamed Naseem, adding that media reports describing the man as English “are wrong because he has an American passport.”

Naseem said the islanders believed he was the managing director of a travel agency in Male, and that “whatever they were doing must have been secret because nobody here has complained about him [spreading religion].”

He added that the police investigation had been going on for some time “and only now have the media picked it up.”

Another resident of the island, Ahmed Rasheed, said Balk’s neighbours had seen inside his house and claimed he had never spoken to them about religion. “I’ve mostly seen him out fishing,” Rasheed said. “He always helps out islanders and at times has even given financial help to people.”

Rasheed said he doubted many of the Kinbidhoo islanders “would even know what a bible looks like.”

“The day the police came David’s wife went to the neighbours house to ask them to take care of a plant. She told them police were there ‘saying we are spreading Christianity’, and that while they had a bible, it was for their personal use,” he said.

“The islanders’ attitude is that while [the Balks] never talked to them about religion, they are suspicious of why the family have lived on island for a couple of years without an ulterior motive. But they say the feeling is not enough reason to throw somebody off the island.”

Abdullah bin Mohamed Ibrahim, president of Islamic NGO Salaf Jamiyya, told Minivan News “we have been watching these people for a long time. We have known of them since 2003.”

He said Salaf’s investigation was still ongoing, but that the NGO was “certain” Balk was a missionary.

The missionary group has a “rotating membership” that comes to the country and settles, he said.

“They are working under a long-term plan. They have given their children Dhivehi names and some even have tattoos in Dhivehi.”

Ibrahim said Salaf was aware of missionary activity in the Maldives, and of missionaries approaching people to proselytise.

Permanent Secretary of the Ministry for Islamic Affairs, Mohamed Didi, said that so far there had been no involvement in the case by the Ministry and “officially we don’t know anything.”

“If anyone complains we would ask the police to investigate,” he said, and if suspicions were confirmed, “basically the foreigner would be deported.”

Minivan News tried to contact Balk but was only able to speak to him briefly, as he said he was “going to spend time with my kids.”