Islamic Ministry to seek opinion of religious scholars on Maldivians joining Syrian civil war

The Ministry of Islamic Affairs has decided to hold a forum on Tuesday night (June 17) for local religious scholars to discuss Maldivians leaving to fight in the Syrian civil war.

Islamic Minister Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed revealed on social media yesterday that the ministry decided to consult scholars following inquiries and concern from the public regarding the issue of jihad.

“The ministry’s opinion will be shared with the public after consulting scholars. Insha Allah,” he tweeted.

Shaheem told local media that discussions at the forum – which will take place at the Islamic Centre – will focus on the question of jihad from a Shariah perspective.

Scholars are expected to determine whether fighting in Syria could be considered a religious obligation or jihad.

In May, an online media group called Bilad Al Sham Media (BASM) ostensibly run by Maldivians in Syria – revealed that two Maldivians had been killed in the war-torn Arab nation.

While the first Maldivian was killed in a suicide attack, the group claimed a second Maldivian was killed shortly thereafter in a gunfight with soldiers loyal to Syrian President Bashar Al Assad.

Moreover, in October 2013, local media reported that two Maldivian men – aged 25 and 35 years – were apprehended from Ibrahim Nasir International Airport on suspicion that they were leaving to join the Syrian civil war.

The reported deaths of two Maldivian militants last month prompted investigations by both the Maldives Police Service (MPS) and the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF).

Responding to police attempts to locate the group last week, BASM stated in a Facebook post that they could be found at the Jabhat al-Nusra (al-Qaeda in Syria) base in Idlib, northwestern Syria.

“Now lets see whether they can bring us back,” read the post.

Government stance

Islamic Minister Shaheem had previously stated that he personally did not believe it was right for “any Maldivian youth to join another country’s war in the name of Islam.”

Vice President of the Fiqh Academy Sheikh Iyaz Abdul Latheef meanwhile told Minivan News that the academy has no official view on the matter. Iyaz has however blogged about the issue in his personal capacity.

Writing on ‘MV Islam Q&A’ last month, Iyaz contended that it was unacceptable ‘jihad’ to fight in a war without seeking prior permission from the leader of the nation and from one’s parents.

He also said that another issue arising from such ‘jihad’ is the unforgivable error of killing another Muslim.

Asked by reporters about Maldivian militants in Syria, President Yameen said Maldivians were not departing to Syria with either the government’s knowledge or consent.

Responsibility for criminal activity must be borne by the individual who committed the crime, Yameen said.

“If any Maldivian – regardless of where they are, or for what reason, even if not for war – notifies us that they are unable to come back to the Maldives, the government will offer any possible financial assistance to them. However, there is no way we can bring back anyone forcefully against their will,” Yameen told the press on his return to an official visit to India last month.

A former senior police officer who spoke to Minivan News at the time on condition of anonymity described  the government’s response as “highly irresponsible” and called for immediate preventive measures.

“It has previously been alleged that there are terror cells here, and that the Maldives is also somehow involved in financing terrorism activities,” he noted.

“In fact, the government must have been aware of this way before it was discussed in mainstream media. In light of these events, it is a likely danger – and a far more serious threat – that such actions may start operating here on our own land.”

Speaking to Minivan News following BASM’s threats against the police, the ex-officer questioned both the capacity and the desire of authorities to prosecute such activities.

The former officer pointed to the lack of comprehensive anti-terror laws in the country and questioned the decision to have controversial Sheikh Adam Shameem speak at the police’s recent master parade.

“For the police to invite these people validates the accusations made by some that police and the security services are quite supportive of extremist elements and extremism in general,” said the former officer.

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has also claimed there is a prevalence of extremist ideologies within the Maldives security forces.

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Reported increase in practice of female circumcision raises alarm

Claims that female circumcision is rising in practice in the Maldives have triggered alarm across the government and NGO sector.

“We are beginning to hear reports of this occurring, and I have heard on radio and television people justifying the practice. It is quite disheartening,” said Vice President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan, speaking at a UN event last week.

Then-Attorney General Husnu Suood raised concern in December 2009 that female circumcision in the name of Islam had been revived in Addu Atoll, claiming that religious scholars “are going around to midwives giving fatwas that girls have to be circumcised. They’re giving fatwas saying it is religiously compulsory. According to my information, the circumcising of girls has started and is going on with a new spirit.”

Minivan News subsequently traveled to Addu to investigate the matter and meet with sources, but was unable to determine if the practice was indeed occurring.

Speaking last week, Dr Waheed did not pinpoint a specific area where female circumcision was taking place, but attributed the “general trend” to “rising conservatism and traditional values imported from other parts of the world.”

“Mostly this is a failure of education – there are not enough opportunities for higher education and many students receive free offers to go to madrassas in places like Pakistan, where they learn very traditional values,” Dr Waheed said.

A source from the Health Ministry’s Department of Gender and Family Protection told Minivan News that while female circumcision was widely known to have occurred in the Maldives, it stopped in the 80s and 90s but “now we are hearing media reports that it is happening again.”

The Ministry was not aware where the practice was occurring, but said it intended to investigate.

“There is no formal reporting happening in the islands,” she said. “We have been trying to get reports but health facilities are not aware of the situation.”

Deputy Health Minister Fathimath Afiya meanwhile confirmed that the Ministry was sufficiently concerned to launch a study seeking to identify where female circumcision was occuring.

“There are no reports but NGOs have been talking about it,” she said, stating the Ministry had held a series of meetings on the subject after it received a letter voicing concern from NGO ‘Hope for Women’.

Interim President of that NGO, former Gender Minister Aneesa Ahmed, confirmed to Minivan News today that “some Islamic organisations are advocating this and people are having girls circumcised. I don’t know where and when, but I have heard people say on various programs including Raajje radio.

“I heard two Islamic scholars speaking, and this woman called the radio station and asked two Islamic scholars on the program what Islam said about [female circumcision], and the scholar said yes, that the Prophet Mohamed advocated that girls be circumcised. My concern is that scholars are advocating this has to be done according to Islam, people will not question it and start circumcising girls.”

Aneesa said a representative from the NGO had met with State Minister for Islamic Affairs, Sheikh Hussein Rasheed, who said there was “no question about it: that girls had to be circumcised.”

When Minivan News spoke to Sheikh Rasheed today, he said he did not wish to comment on the matter as he had a meeting scheduled with the Health Ministry regarding the issue.

”If I say anything people might assume it was said on behalf of the Islamic Ministry, or that it was the ruling of the Ministry, so I will not say anything for the time being,” he said.

According to Aneesa, the concern was not whether female circumcision was indeed Islamic.
“I am not a scholar, I am not arguing whether it is right under Islam. If that is the case, we should not stop talking about it. We must undo conventions to which the Maldives is party.
“I don’t want girls to go through the negative complications such as infections and bleeding. I am not questioning whether it is Islamic, but if it is, then people need to be properly trained to do it. Some people are asking if boys are circumcised, why not girls? I am not questioning Islam, my concern is the negative [health] impact.”

According to information from the World Health Organisation (WHO), female genital mutilation is divided into four types: “clitoridectomy, the partial or total removal of the clitoris; excision, partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora; infibulation, the narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal by cutting and repositioning the inner or outer labia, with or without removal of the clitoris; and all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes.”

Dr Akjemal Magtymova of the WHO’s Maldives country office told Minivan News that from her limited research into the practice in the Maldives, “it looks like this is not a very intrusive form practiced here. It is more just a following of tradition, a show to a higher power that something has been done about it and the responsibility has been fulfilled.”

Unlike male circumcision there was, she said, “no health benefit to female circumcision.”

“There are risks including infection, infertility, and complications during pregnancy and birth when the wounds are not healed or where there is scar tissue,” she explained.

According to the WHO, girls undergoing the procedure also risk cysts and recurrent bladder and urinary tract infections, as well as more immediate complications including severe pain, shock, haemorrhage, tetanus or sepsis, urine retention, open sores in the genital region and injury to nearby genital tissue.
It was, observed Dr Akjemal, an ethical dilemma around whether to train doctors to perform the operation safely.

“I am not sure about it – if you train doctors to perform the operation, you open it up to business and supply-induced demand. Rather than a practice isolated to traditional healers, it becomes a lucrative business,” she suggested.

Female genital mutilation is widely practiced in Africa with an estimated three million girls undergoing the proceedure each year, the WHO reports. Across Asia only Indonesia reports the practice although it is also believed to be performed in Malaysia.

In 1997, the World Health Organisation (WHO) issued a joint statement with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) against the practice, and in February 2008 received wider UN support to increase advocacy against it.

“Female genital mutilation is recognised internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women,” the WHO advises. “It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women. It is nearly always carried out on minors and is a violation of the rights of children. The practice also violates a person’s rights to health, security and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death.”

Former State Islamic Minister Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed, now the Dean of Villa College’s Faculty of Islamic Sharia, said he had studied the issue and determined that there was no valid hadith demanding females be circumcised.

”All scholars who say it is something that Muslim females should do are citing invalid hadiths,” Sheikh Shaheem said, calling for the practice to be stopped.

”Currently it is uncommon in the Maldives. When I was young I used to hear that it was something done, but now it is very uncommon and I think it was carried to this generation more as a cultural thing,” he said.

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Mother of self-declared Addu apostate launches media appeal seeking scholars’ help

The mother of a 22 year-old girl from Addu City who publicly declared her apostasy has launched an appeal in the local Maldivian media seeking the help of religious scholars to make her daughter repent.

“She’s been a bit odd ever since she was in the seventh grade, but at the  time she did not say the things that she says now,” the 49 year-old mother told Minivan News.

“Every time I try to advise her she shouts at me and asks me what I was trying to make her believe, and says that she cannot believe the existence of Allah,” the mother said.

The mother said her daughter was currently being held under house arrest while being investigated for allegedly giving birth to a child out of wedlock.

“She has misbehaved since she was young, and is saying things that should not be said in front of the children. She has even been calling me balhu (dog).”

The mother said that whenever she tried to inform her daughter about death, the afterlife and the punishments for apostasy, her daughter would reply that it was “not a problem for her, and not to worry.”

“I admit that it was our negligence as well that allowed her to come this far. We knew about this a while ago and we could have been more careful then,’’ the mother said. “I have been asking around my neighbors and everyone about what to do, but all I can do is remain in this grief thinking about her.”

The mother said she “had no solution” to her grief.

“There’s still some good inside her. I know that because she has been advising her younger sisters not to be like her,’’ she said. ‘’It’s because she can believe that she is not going the right way.’’

The mother said there “was a reason why this had happened to [her daughter],” but said it was “a long story”.

President of Islamic Foundation of the Maldives, Ibrahim Fauzee said the organisation had heard of the appeal and that its local branch was looking into the matter.

“For sure, we will provide her assistance,’’ Fauzee said.

The Islamic Ministry said it had not received official notice of the matter.

The Maldivian Constitution states that the Maldives is a “100 percent” Sunni Muslim country, and the country maintains a reservation to article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on freedom of religion.

The last Maldivian to publicly declare apostasy, Mohamed Nazim, did so in front of an 11,000-strong audience attending a lecture in May 2010 by well-known Islamic speaker Dr Zakir Naik.

Nazim was escorted from the venue by police for his own protection after members of the audience attempted to attack him, and was held in police custody. The Islamic Foundation of the Maldives subsequently issued a statement calling for Nazim to be stripped of his citizenship and sentenced to death if he failed to repent and return to Islam.

After two days of religious counseling in police custody, Nazim declared that his misconceptions had been clarified and gave Shahada – the Muslim testimony of belief – on national television during a press conference held at the Islamic Ministry.

In a later interview with Minivan News, Nazim said that he did not regret his actions.

“Somebody had to do it, it needed to be spoken about. The repression of thought, the lack of debate and a lack of a proper public sphere in which such discussion can take place, is dangerous,” he said.

The reaction, he said, was mixed – angry and supportive, superficial and profound. He lost 65 friends on Facebook, the social networking site to which almost every computer literate Maldivian subscribes. He did, however, gain 246 new ‘friends’.

His own friends and colleagues, he said, were uneasy talking about it, and very few actually discussed it with him. However, he told Minivan News he could feel the presence of the issue, “unspoken yet potent”, in every social interaction he had with another person.

In July 2010, 25 year-old air traffic controller Ismail Mohamed Didi hanged himself from the control tower of Male’ International Airport after seeking asylum in the UK for fear of persecution over his lack of religious belief.

Over two emails sent to an international humanitarian organisation on June 23 and 25, obtained by Minivan News, Ismail confessed he was an atheist and requested assistance for his asylum application, after claiming to have received several anonymous threats on June  22.

In the emails, he said he “foolishly admitted my stance on religion” to work colleagues, word of which had “spread like wildfire.”

“Maldivians are proud of their religious homogeneity and I am learning the hard way that there is no place for non-Muslim Maldivians in this society,” Ismail said, in one of his letters.

“I cannot bring myself to pretend to be something I am not, as I am a staunch believer in human rights. I am afraid for my life here and know no one inside the country who can help me.”

A colleague of Ismail’s told Minivan News that it appeared the 25 year-old had sought the early 3:00am shift and “came to work fully prepared to die.”

“His mother said she called him in the morning at 5:30am to tell him to pray, but there was no answer. They found his cigarette lighter on the balcony.”

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Sheikh refuse to preach at MDP Religious Council

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) Religious Council’s Chair Al-hafiz Ahmed Zaki has said that many Maldivian religious scholars were invited last night to preach in a sermon organised by the council but the sheikhs refused to show up “because it was an MDP podium”.

“The scholars have decided not to preach to MDP members to try and let others believe that MDP members belong to another religion,” Zaki said, speaking last night. “However, MDP members are all Muslims and they do want to hear religious sermons.”

Zaki speculated that the scholars refused the invitation thinking that the series of religious sermons commenced by the MDP Religious Council was politically motivated.

“The religious sermons are not only targeted solely for MDP members but for all the Maldivians,” he said.

Zaki said the result of handing over the Islamic Ministry to another political party was that the party assigned to implement the MDP manifesto in upholding religion was not implemented.

“Despite the Maldives consisting of many religious scholars, it was a big challenge that there are many scholars that refuse to preach on MDP podiums,” he said.

He urged religious scholars to preach to everyone, from the President to normal citizens.

Former President of Adhaalath Party Sheikh Hussein Rasheed told Minivan News that the Adhaalath Party has always cooperated MDP in its religious sermons.

“I don’t have any information that anyone among us received an invitation to go preach at last night’s religious sermon,” Shaikh Hussein Rasheed said. “Last year also we went to Seenu Atoll with MDP to preach, so we have always cooperated MDP in that.”

Sheikh Rasheed said that the reason why scholars refused to preach on an MDP podium might be that scholars think it meant getting involved in politics.

“Now many of the scholars are independent and they are not involved in any political activity or political party, perhaps that’s the reason why they won’t go on sermons organised by political parties,” he said, adding that Adhaalath had “no issues” with MDP.

In November last year, former Chair of MDP Religious Council Sheikh Adam ‘B. A’ Naseem resigned claiming that he was unhappy with the party’s religious policy.

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HRCM lacks a religious scholar: Adhaalath party

The Adhaalath Party has called on parliament and President Mohamed Nasheed to include a religious scholar in the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives [HRCM], as stipulated in the constitution.

“HRCM is an institute established according to the constitution of the Maldives. The constitution very clearly states how to appoint members for the commission,’’ said a statement issued by the party. “According to the constitution, the Human Rights Commission should consist of people with different skills, [one of which] is that there should be a person educated in the field of Islam.”

The lack of such a person was a “constitutional absence”, the statement said. “Therefore, members are currently being appointed for the commission, we appeal to the president and parliament to focus attention on including persons from different areas in the commission.’’

The party also said it hoped parliament and president would endeavor to keep independent commissions, such as HRCM, free from people of partisan political background.

Press Secretary for the President, Mohamed Zuhair, said that the president would give due consideration to the Adhaalath Party’s request.

”I think it is a requirement mentioned in the constitution,” said Zuhair, “and of course the president gives high priority to requirements mentioned in the constitution.”

The parliament last week appointed three members for the HRCM, out of eight names proposed by the president.

The three members appointed for HRCM were Maryam Azra Ahmed of Maafannu Hukuradhige, Jeehaan Mahmood of Dheyliyage in Hinnavaru of Lhaviyani Atoll and Ahmed Thalal of Henveiru Adduge. Former President of HRCM Ahmed Saleem was not approved by the parliament.

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