President Yameen in Saudi Arabia on state visit

President Abdulla Yameen and First Lady Fathimath Ibrahim today departed Malé on a  state visit to Saudi Arabia on the invitation of King Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud.

The Saudi King received President Yameen and the First Lady on arrival at the King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh.

A state luncheon is to be hosted in honor of President Yameen, the President’s Office has said.

The President is to meet with Saudi Arabia’s Defense Minister, Petroleum and Mineral Resources Minister, Education Minister, Finance Minister, and Islamic Minister during his visit.

Maldives Development Alliance’s Leader MP Ahmed Siyam Siyam Mohamed, Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture Dr. Mohamed Shainee, and Minister of Islamic Affairs Dr. Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed accompanied the Maldives president.

King Salman assumed the Saudi throne after the King Abdulla Bin Abdulaziz al Saud died on January 23.

During a 2014 visit, then-Crown Prince Salman announced a US$1.2million grant for the construction of ten mosques. He also donated US$1million for the “Vaguf” fund and US$1.5 million for the health sector.


Updated Hajj regulation will help prevent fraud: Deputy Islamic Minister

Deputy Minister of Islamic Affairs Dr Aishath Muneeza has said that the updated regulations for Maldivian Hajj pilgrims would help prevent Hajj-related fraud cases in the future.

Muneeza told Minivan News that the new regulations published in the Government Gazette today would make the whole Hajj process more transparent and accessible.

“We have brought major changes to the existing Hajj regulations,” said Dr Muneeza, who also serves as Chair at the state owned Hajj Corporation – officially inaugurated last week (January 20).

Dr Muneeza said one of the biggest improvements to the regulation was the introduction of a new bank guarantee to be held at the Islamic ministry paid by the Hajj agencies, requiring the agencies to deposit 25 percent of the price per head when submitting proposals.

The regulation states that the deposited money will be used to cover any required expenses which have not been paid for by the agency such as airlines or hotel payments. It also states that the money will be taken to the ministry if it receives news that the agency has taken more customers than the quota assigned to the company.

While the Hajj Corporation is to handle 50 percent of the quota given by the Saudi Arabian government, the remaining slots are equally distributed to three private companies after a bidding process.

“We have also changed the requirements of agencies submitting proposals to the ministry,” explained Dr Muneeza. “The managing director of the company should now have five years’ experience of taking people to Hajj compared to the previous one year of experience”.

Under the new regulations, the license will not be released to the company if “anyone convicted or suspected fraudulent Hajj transactions are present in the board of directors or management,” requiring the companies to hand in the criminal records of all board members while submitting the proposals.

“The new law would also require the agencies to submit a timeline to the ministry giving itself deadlines such as the dates by when tickets are brought, money is taken from customers. This allows the ministry to keep track of the agencies while giving them some leeway to construct their own timeline,” said Dr Muneeza.

Speaking at the ceremony inaugurating Hajj Corporation last week, Islamic minister Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed – while pledging to reduce the cost of the pilgrimage  – said that the government has become more involved in the Hajj grips after the activities of unscrupulous Hajj companies.

Last year, the government covered the expenses of 121 defrauded customers of the Al-Fathuh Hajj Umra Group with an amount in excess of US$500,000.

Dr Shaheem revealed to the press that Al-Fathuh only informed the ministry that it would be not be able to take the customers to Mecca the day prior their departure.

Related to this story

Government sends defrauded pilgrims to Mecca

Hajj corporation inaugurated, Shaheem pledges to reduce cost of pilgrimage

Police arrest al-Fathuh Hajj group managing director for fraud

Hundreds queue to submit forms to Hajj Corporation


Controversial Dutch convert to give religious lecture in the Maldives

Controversial Dutch convert Arnoud van Doorn, one of the people associated with distributing the anti-Islamic short film ‘Fitna’ is due to give a religious lecture in the Maldives, Minister of Islamic Affairs Dr Mohamed Shaheem has revealed

Van Doorn was formerly a politician with the far-right Dutch Freedom Party (PVV) and had assisted PVV leader Geert Wilders in distributing the short film ‘Fitna’, which argues that Islam promotes terrorism, anti-Semitism, and violence against women.

The film received international condemnation, being branded anti-Islamic by a number of organisations including the Muslim World League and the United Nations.

Speaking to Minivan News, Shaheem said today that van Doorn is due to give a lecture on his conversion to Islam sometime during this year, adding that “a man’s past cannot be questioned after he converts to Islam”.

Meanwhile, van Doorn tweeted his gratitude towards Dr Shaheem for the invitation.

Van Doorn – who now serves as the President of European Dawah Foundation – converted to Islam in 2013, performing the Hajj pilgrimage shortly afterwards. He has also apologised for his attempts at spreading hatred against Islam.

Meanwhile, Shaheem tweeted last week (January 2) that the majority of religious speakers invited to give out public sermons during 2015 would be brought in from Western countries.

Shaheem told Minivan News that such a decision was made because a lot of the Islam related issues are also prevalent in Western countries and because the “western scholars encourage practicing moderate Islam”.

Yesterday (January 3), US Islamic scholar Yasir Qadhi announced he will be visiting the Maldives, with the Islamic ministry confirming that he will be both lecturing and delivering the Friday sermon during March.

“I will be coming down to your beautiful islands in a few months insha Allah! I will be delivering some lectures in Male and giving the khutbah,” explained the Saudi-trained scholar via his Facebook page.

Qadhi – currently teaching in Memphis, Tennessee – has been described by the New York Times as “one of the most influential conservative clerics in American Islam”.

Recent months have also seen Canadian scholar Dr Bilal Phillips and Turkish author Harun Yahya travel to the Indian Ocean archipelago to deliver religious lectures.

Related to this story

US Islamic scholar Yasir Qadhi to visit Maldives

Muslim World League to establish Islamic Centre in Hulhumalé


Police urge citizens to be wary of rising cyber-crime and fraud

The Maldives Police Services (MPS) has urged all citizens to be wary of cyber-crimes and the increasing prevalence of money-grabbing scams.

Speaking at a press conference today, MPS Drug Enforcement Department head Superintendent Ahmed Shifan said that cyber-crime has become an “emerging and trending” issue, with a separate police unit tasked with dealing with the problem.

Local media reported yesterday (December 30) that the Minister of Islamic Affairs Dr Mohamed Shaheem was claiming his official twitter account had been hacked and that all tweets posted after 11pm on December 29 were not posted by him.

Shaheem’s account showed one post after 11pm which reiterated his previously expressed discontent towards the Tourist Arrival Countdown Show which, at the time, was to feature Jamaican dancehall artist Sean Paul.

Sean Paul has since cancelled his appearance in the show, citing security concerns after a death threat appeared on Youtube last week. Religious religious groups within the country also called for the performance to be stopped.

In a press statement released today, the police also urged citizens to be more vigilant towards scams and embezzlement.

While revealing that two or three such cases are filed every week, the statement also said that such cases were difficult to proceed with because such criminals are often hard to trace.

The statement said that some of the most commonly reported cases were those where customers put in more money than was paid when getting mobile phone reload or ‘raastas’ services, and when scammers promised to provide gifts for money.

Police requested that people not hand money to anyone communicating through unknown phone numbers or individuals who promise monetary profits in return. They also urged shop keepers to dial in mobile phones of customers themselves.

People were asked to report any suspicious requests and to carry out monetary transactions more carefully.

Statistics provided by the police show that 374 embezzlement cases have been reported this year, compared to 391 in 2013.

Related to this story

Sean Paul cancels New Year’s appearance, citing security concerns

Police commissioner expresses concerns over 2012 cyber crime surge


President makes creative arts optional after pressure from religious conservatives

President Abdulla Yameen will make creative arts – including music and dance – optional subjects in the next year’s school curriculum after pressure from religious conservative organisations and political parties.

Islamic Minister Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali tweeted his gratitude towards the president, though he was unavailable to comment on the news at the time of publication. President’s office spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz also tweeted about the decision.

Local media reported that religious NGO Jamiyyathul Salaf had met with the president to voice concerns as well as sending a letter identifying ‘anti-Islamic’ aspects in the new curriculum.

Speaking to after the meeting, Jamiyyathul Salaf President Abdulla Mohamed said government ministers at the meeting denied the fact that creative arts was compulsory saying that it seemed unlikely that there would be any amendments to the curriculum.

The NGO Jamiyyathul Salaf put out a press statement last month describing the decision to make music and dance compulsory as an “insult to Islam”, contending that music is prohibited in Islam.

The meeting in question was also attended by the Islamic minister, education minister Dr Aishath Shiham, and the Adhaalath Party leader Sheikh Imran Abdullah.

The education minister had previously stated at a press conference of the Cabinet’s Social Council last week (October 23) that the whole curriculum was based on Islamic values and codes of behavior.

The religious conservative Adhaalath Party declared last week that it had been working ceaselessly to ensure that music and dance are not included as compulsory subjects in the new curriculum.

Meanwhile, Shaheem noted that Quran was included as a compulsory subject in the new curriculum and declared his support for efforts to “broaden Islamic education and Arabic language”.

Earlier this year, Islamic ministry unveiled its policies and plans for the year, placing great emphasis on strengthening Islamic education by focusing on schools and the youth population. The ministry has also revealed plans for an Islamic University in the Maldives.

Plans included sermons at school assemblies, special Islamic workshops, and a monthly Islamic magazine which is to be distributed to all schools and public libraries.

Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed said the government will mainstream Arabic education in the Maldives, focusing particularly on Islamic education and the study of Quran.


Minister of Islamic Affairs calls for “restraint” over anti-Islamic film

The Ministry of Islamic Affairs has held a public meeting to condemn the tarnishing of the Prophet Mohamed’s character in anti-Islamic films.

“This meeting was organised to condemn the making of anti-Islamic movies which attempt to tarnish the Prophet Mohamed’s character,” explained Head of the Department of Religious Affairs, Moosa Anwar Hassan.

“We had a number of Islamic scholars speak at the meeting. They each covered one aspect of Prophet Mohamed’s exemplary character,” Hassan said.

Speakers at the meeting included Minister of Islamic Affairs Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali, Deputy Minister Mohamed Qubad AbuBakr, and State Minister Mohamed Didi, among others.

At the meeting, Shameem said although anger at the Prophet being mocked was justifiable, it had to be expressed in a calm manner through productive action. He shared an anecdote about American Muslims refraining from burning bibles even though an American priest had burned the Quran. He said they had instead distributed 1000 free copies of the Quran.

Shaheem said that this was a better cause of action in times of anger, calling it “a strategic and sensible decision.”

A crowd of protesters gathered in front of the UN Building last week, expressing anger after the release of the controversial movie ‘Innocence of Muslims’.

Speaking on the issue, Moosa Anwar Hassan told Minivan News today that the ministry would on no account encourage unrest, rioting or causing damage to property. He said the ministry calls on everyone to show restraint and control anger.

The National Bureau of Classification has announced that it is an offence to own or watch the offending movie on Tuesday, while the Communications Authority of Maldives has previously said it is working on blocking the offending video from being viewed in the country.


President Waheed appoints housing, environment ministers

President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan has appointed Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed as Islamic Minister, and Dr Mohamed Muiz as Environment Minister.

Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s daughter, Dhunya Maumoon, was also appointed State Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Sheikh Shaheem was ranked one of the world’s top 500 most influential Muslims in 2010 by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre (RISC) in the Kingdom of Jordan.

He resigned from his post as State Minister of Islamic Affairs under former President Mohamed Nasheed’s government, in December 2010.

His resignation followed the burning of the Israeli flag in Republic Square over opposition to a visiting delegation of Israeli eye surgeons, whom Islamic NGOs had accused of coming to the Maldivies to illegally harvest organs. Shaheem was one of the speakers at the event, along with current Vice President of Gayoom’s Progressive Party of he Maldives (PPM), Umar Naseer, voicing anger at the acceptance of aid from Israel.

Former Press Secretary for Nasheed, Mohamed Zuhair, told Minivan News at the time that in light of a recent number of protests against government policy allegedly involving Shaheem, “it was possible that the State Minister may have decided his position was untenable”.

Sheikh Shaheem was subsequently employed as a lecturer at Villa College, owned by Jumhoree Party (JP) MP and resort tycoon Gasim Ibrahim.

Shaheem has been an outspoken proponent of the study of comparative religion at higher secondary level, stating that “it is important for both Muslims and non-Muslims to compare their religions and cultures, and to compare philosophies.”

However he also warned against a move by the Education Ministry to make Islam and Dhivehi optional at higher secondary level.

Presenting himself as the face of moderate Islam in the Maldives, in early 2010 he became the first Islamic scholar from the Ministry to visit the UK with a government delegation.

He attended discussions on counter-terrorism with a range of relevant authorities, including the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Cabinet Office, Home Office and heads of counter-terrorism in the Justice Ministry, and met with Abbas Faiz of Amnesty International.

“The main objective was to discuss rapidly growing concerns around extremism and terrorism with relevant stakeholders in the UK,” Shaheem told Minivan News at the time: “There was a lot of discussion on ideas, such as how to fight ideologies and radical ideas. It was a very nice trip.”

More recently, he was accused of sexual misconduct in a video broadcast by Raajje TV, although the allegations were never clarified as Raajje TV claimed the station could not release further footage “in the interest of public decency”.

Shaheem responded at the time that he did “not wish to comment on matters regarding my private life while I am waiting for evidence. I will issue my comment when the time is appropriate.”

Cabinet appointments

All but a few of the cabinet ministers remain to be appointed by President Dr Waheed, and will need approval from parliament when it resumes on March 1.

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has accused Dr Waheed of replacing the cabinet with mostly Gayoom supporters and senior opposition figures, particularly to the positions of Defence Minister (Mohamed Nazim), Police Commissioner (Abdulla Riyaz), Youth/Human Resources Ministry (Mohamed ‘Mundu’ Shareef, Gayoom’s spokesperson), Attorney General (Azima Shukoor, Gayoom’s lawyer), and Home Minister (DQP member Dr Mohamed Jameel).

Dr Waheed has dismissed the claims as misleading, saying that “Anything other than President Mohamed Nasheed’s government is now being painted as the old government, as a return to the old regime. In this country most of us grew up and got education during the last 33 years, and most of the well educated people in this country worked in government. The government was the biggest employer in the country and continues to be so.

“Therefore don’t be surprised that some people served in President Gayoom’s government. That doesn’t mean that anyone seen in the last 33 years has allegiance to a particular person. This is a very narrow way of looking at it. If you look at cabinet you can see I have been very careful in my selections.”


DQP requests action against President, Tourism Minister as Maldives image shifts from glam to grit

Minority opposition Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) has requested Maldives Police Service to take immediate action against President Mohamed Nasheed and Minister of Tourism Mariyam Zulfa for ordering all resorts to close down health spas.

In a letter, DQP alleged that the government officials were conspiring to damage the Maldives’ image as a popular holiday destination.

The party’s statement added that the government’s “irresponsible” action is making headlines in the international media.

Police confirmed that they had received the letter, and would deliberate the matter.

DQP officials had not responded to inquiries at time of press. DQP Leader Hassan Saeed told local media this week that the government’s actions were causing “irreparable damage” to the tourism industry, from which “it would not be easy to come out of even after 25 years.”

An official at the President’s Office however argued that the opposition should bear responsibility for the fallout from December’s mass protest to ‘Defend Islam.’

“The opposition has been whipping up, and in some cases financing, extremism for months and spreading lies saying the government wants to introduce other religions. They can’t now complain about the economic damage they are ultimately responsible for.”

While resort reviews and booking services still make the first page of a Google search on the Maldives, headlines noting spa and resort closures amidst religious extremism and political turbulence have lately joined the mix.

Today’s Google searches for “Maldives”,”Maldives spa” and “Maldives resort” pulled a news feed exclusively addressing the political-religious whirlwind of the last week in which the government announced it was closing resort spas and considering a ban of pork and alcohol in response to popular demands favoring Islamic policies.

Over 229 articles are listed from leading outlets including UK’s The Guardian, India’s The Hindu, global Agence France Presse (AFP), and the BBC.

In keeping with the Maldives’ fame as a tourist destination, the headlines are eye-catching.

Global feed Associated Press (AP) ran the headline “Maldives closes hundreds of luxury resort spas,” while Sydney Morning Herald vigorously announced that “Sex claims force luxury resorts to close spas”.

Zimbabwe Metro simply stated “Maldives bans all spas after religious protests”, and Argophilia Travel News sardonically wrote, “Maldives spa ban: ulterior motives perhaps?”

Clicking beyond the headline, readers worldwide find content ranging from skeptical to sensationalist.

In their reports, America’s CNN today reported that “honeymooners and international hotel owners” were caught in “an acrimonious showdown over religious between the government and opposition parties”, while Mail & Guardian Online pointed out that the Maldives “reputation as a paradise holiday destination has come under pressure from a minority of religious fundamentalists who are growing in influence.”

Rather than ignoring the demands of the ‘Defend Islam’ demonstration on December 23, CNN observed that “the government raised the stakes” by issuing an order to close all massage parlors and spas.

Tourism accounts for approximately 70 percent of the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP) indirectly; a significant portion of resort profits are earned from spa services.

Although the stories do not always present an accurate picture of the situation, they are ubiquitous.

Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI) Secretary General Sim Ibrahim Mohamed said the industry “has serious problems with people not understanding what is going on.”

Sim said that the situation was generally “murky, with one thing leading to another and another”, and added that “most of our communication is in Dhivehi–press conferences, press releases, notifications, debates. It’s very difficult for the international community to report accurately because they don’t understand our language.”

Stepping back from the details, Sim explained that tourists trying to book a relaxing holiday are not soothed by a media storm at the destination, particularly when it involves certain hot-button words.

“Fundamentalism, radicalism, extremism–since 9/11 these have been very sensitive words. And they don’t go very well with tourism.” Sim added that the industry has suffered “many booking cancellations” in the past several weeks.

The media flurry is also being addressed by those inside resorts. The blog Maldives Resort Workers, which allows resort employees to express their opinions on a carefully-manicured industry, noted in the post “The media circus continues” that Maldives’ formerly polished profile is gradually becoming dark and contorted as the issue drags on.

“What is not so funny in these political manuevering is: the negative publicity this generated across the media despite the high value tourism we have. The administration clearly needs to dismiss their spin doctors who didn’t warn them about this media storm,” wrote one commentator.

Religious Adhaalath Party, one of the parties which had organised the mass protest against the alleged anti-Islamic agenda of the current administration, has also expressed concern that the media coverage is “damaging” the Maldivian people.

“I don’t want international media to treat Maldives poorly, I want them to do their job carefully and justly. You can’t see any country like Maldives in Islamic world, so why would we want to damage these people? These are Muslim people and they like moderate views,” said chief spokesperson Sheik Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed.

Shaheem yesterday told CNN, “We respect tourists…we are very happy with the tourism industry in the Maldives.”

Adhaalath Party previously released a statement inviting tourists to visit the Maldives and promising protection, after the UK released a travel advisory.


Security officials dismiss UK travel advisory

The United Kingdom’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office has maintained its December 13 travel advisory for the Maldives, cautioning tourists to be wary of spontaneous gatherings and warning of indiscriminate attacks in public areas.

Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) spokesperson Abdul Raheem did not believe there was cause for concern.

“We don’t think there is any security problem at the moment so far as MNDF is concerned, for tourists, guests or Maldivians,” he said.

Raheem added that it was unusual for a travel advisory to be issued against the Maldives, and said that the UK’s advisory was the first one, to his knowledge.

Police officials were similarly dismissive of the matter.

The advisory was issued with particular reference to the protests held on December 23 in defense of Islam.

“Maldives has been going through a period of political transition. Social unrest is possible and some past demonstrations on the capital, Male’, and other islands have resulted in violence. You should avoid demonstrations and beware of spontaneous gatherings,” reads the office’s travel summary.

“There is a general threat from terrorism and attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places frequented by expatriates, foreign travelers including tourists.”

The advisory was published on December 13 in anticipation of the December 23 protests. It is categorised as mild, and there are no travel restrictions.

Religious party Adhaalath today released a statement by party chief spokesperson Sheik Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed claiming that protest coverage by state media may have had a negative impact on Maldives tourism.

“It shows that the persons that determine the national foreign policy do not have good foresight because they are trying to show that Maldivians are extremists,” reads the statement.

Coverage of the events was censored by MNDF, which requested all television stations not to broadcast content that could disrupt national security and “encourage the toppling of the lawfully-formed government.”

Meanwhile privately-owned media outlets, DhiTV and Villa TV broadcast live coverage of the eight-hour long protest organised by a coalition of NGOs and seven opposition parties.

“Adhaalath Party calls on the international community to visit Maldives without any fear, assures that there is no terrorism in the Maldives, and that it will never give space to terrorism in this country.”

The statement further assures the international community that Maldivians are capable of protecting tourists.

A rumor on Friday claimed that resorts had been asked to halt all trips to Male’, in anticipation of the protests’ outcome. Security and tourism officials have denied the rumor, and resorts report no serious concerns among staff and guests over the situation on Male’.

Speaking to Minivan News yesterday, Foreign Minister Ahmed Naseem said that foreign governments are concerned, and that the recent protests were not “good publicity for the country.”

However, the peaceful execution of both protests had reassured many, he said.

The Commonwealth website notes the 2007 Sultan Park bombing as the only other instance of unrest in which foreigners were injured.

On September 29, 2007, 12 tourists from China, Britain and Japan were injured by a bomb triggered using a mobile phone and washing machine motor attached to a gas cylinder.

The incident received widespread publicity around the globe, damaging the country’s tourism industry.

Authorities were meanwhile prompted to declare a state of high alert and police arrested 12 suspects within 48 hours.

Terrorism charges were filed against 16 suspects, including ten who had fled the country.

Suspect Mohamed Ameen was apprehended in Sri Lanka in October of this year for his alleged involvement in the bomb plot.

Meanwhile, the National Security Committee continues to debate whether allowing Israel’s El Al Airlines would raise the domestic threat level.