Parliament to consider mandatory Shariah punishments

Anara Naeem MP; Haa Dhaal Makunudhoo; Adhaalath1

An amendment to make Islamic Shariah punishments mandatory in the new penal code was accepted for consideration at today’s sitting of the People’s Majlis.

Proposed by Adhaalath Party MP Anara Naeem, the amendment to article 1,205(a) (Dhivehi) reads: “If a person is found guilty of a crime with qisas [retaliation in kind] or hadd [a punishment fixed in the Quran or teachings of the Prophet], the sentence must be the penalty prescribed in Islamic Shariah.”

Introducing the amendment, the MP for Haa Dhaal Makunudhoo referred to Article 10(b) of the Constitution, which states, “No law contrary to any tenet of Islam shall be enacted in the Maldives.”

The new penal code is due to come into force on April 13. Anara noted that the law currently states that Islamic Shariah punishments must be meted out only for crimes with a punishment fixed in the Quran.

The purpose of her amendment is to “further improve” the provision in line with the constitution, Anara said.

The six crimes with punishments fixed in the Quran are theft (amputation of the hand), illicit sexual relations (death by stoning or one hundred lashes), making unproven accusations of illicit sex (eighty lashes), drinking intoxicants (eighty lashes), apostasy (death or banishment), and highway robbery (death).

The only one of these punishments that is currently implemented is the flogging punishment for illicit sexual relations, normally enforced on women. However, the home minister last year established a death chamber at Maafushi jail, ending a six-decade moratorium on the death penalty.

The amendment bill was unanimously accepted for consideration with 44 votes in favour and sent to the National Security Committee for further review.

Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Ibrahim Riza also proposed several amendments to the penal code on behalf of the government to correct minor errors and problems noted during the preparations for implementing the new law.

The government-sponsored legislation proposes amending issues of conflicting interpretations and confusing provisions as well as reordering sections.

Riza’s bill was accepted with 40 votes in favour and two abstentions.

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Comment: Afrasheem, Rilwan, and the future of the Maldivian community

Writing in the 1970s, anthropologist Clarence Maloney remarked that religion in the Maldives was limited to “washing, fasting and praying”.

What he meant is similar to what MB Hooker observed in the Southeast Asian Muslim populations – Islam was characterised by “a ‘non-literally’ Muslim culture”, limited largely to practice without much theorisation and philosophising.

However, since the 1980s – and especially since the year 2000 – the most spectacular change in our culture has been the conscious appropriation and questioning of received religious doctrines and practices. Processes associated with modernisation and mass education have enabled this never-ending fragmentation of discourses, interpretations, and different visions at a larger scale.

This is what Eickelman and James Piscatori described as the “objectification of Muslim consciousness” that has now swept the whole Muslim world. Maldives is no exception to this.

Fragmentation

It was in this emerging context of fragmented religious discourses and different religious interpretations that the regime of President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom suppressed both those who embraced Salafi interpretations of Sharia and those drawn toward more pluralist Sharia.

It is in this context – now characterised by extreme political and social uncertainties – that one of the most prominent Maldivian religious scholars, Dr Afrasheem Ali, was murdered in October 2012. It was also in this same context that my friend, journalist, and human rights activist Ahmed Rilwan disappeared six weeks ago.

None of us yet knows the truth about those tragedies. But what we know is that both have significant religious context. Afrasheem had faced harassment and assault on several occasions because of his religious views. Similarly, Rilwan – once a Salafist – received threats because of his criticisms of certain understandings of Sharia.

More importantly, the murder and disappearance sends a chilling message to the rest of us – religious disagreements cannot be tolerated.

The fact of the matter is that, however small and homogenous, ours is now a society characterised by pluralism. We cannot wish away these disagreements on deep questions of what the good life is.

In need of a new moral order…

But ethical and religious disagreements do not mean there is no possibility of a moral order for collective life that we could come to agree upon.

Such a moral order must be based on political and moral principles that we all can – or should – value, i.e. liberty, equality, and peace. These are also among the higher values that Islam stands for.

In this moral order, there should be a maximum and genuine role for religion. It is not a secularist moral order where religion must be privatised, or religion is seen as something that will just disappear with the rise of ‘rationality,’ science, or modernisation.

In my view, both the Maldivian Democratic Party and the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party/Progressive Party of Maldives have failed to articulate a vision of democracy that genuinely respects the place of religion in democracy.

Officials of both governments have characterised religious people as somehow irrational or pre-modern. Both governments have tried to control or co-opt religion in their instrumentalist and ideological narrowness.

A democracy based on such a moral order does not make a fetish out of ‘secularism’ or ‘separation of religion from the state’. Secularism is not about separation as such. It is about certain moral ends, including liberty and equality.

Sometimes separation and at other times accommodation will promote those values. There is no a priori fixed solution (such as “a wall of separation”) to the relationship of religion to the state in order to achieve those ends.

Context is everything. And contextual reasoning is the way forward.

Thus the moral order the Maldives need is not that of the mainstream secularism we find in France, Turkey, or sometimes even the US – where the value of religion and the rights of religious people are not fully recognised.

In this new moral order, religious parties and religious scholars must have an equal place in the public sphere as their secular counterparts. Laws and policies based on religious values must have a place too. How else could it be, unless we think we can simply separate our religious selves from our political selves?

Only a ‘thin’ liberal conception of citizenship based on a ‘thin’ understanding of epistemology would think moral truth is somehow ‘secular’.

…for a new imagined community

To be sure, in concrete terms, this moral order means freedom of religion cannot be denied – citizenship cannot be denied on religious grounds. How can anyone of us in all religious honesty deny this basic and God-given right?

Even Gayoom, who was the architect of the prevailing insular nation-identity based on ‘sattain satta muslim quam/100 per cent Muslim nation’ had to acknowledge that the denial of religious freedom in the Maldives was in spite of Islam:

The real essence of Islam…is that it is non-discriminatory. Its tolerance of other beliefs and religions is clearly established in the Holy Quran…

We Maldivians…hold freedom of belief as sacred and we abhor discrimination…on any grounds whether of creed, colour or race. It is only that we are such a homogenous…society based on one national identity…that we are convinced that the preservation of this oneness in faith and culture is essential for the unity, harmony, and progress of the country.

Gayoom, Address at the Opening Ceremony of the Seminar on ”The Calls for Islam in South and South East Asia’, 1983

In other words, a universal precept of Quran was overridden by his attempt at creating a homogenous ‘imagined community’. While this imagined community had been homogenous, the real community has undergone fragmentation of religious discourse.

As a result, the national self-understanding that Gayoom – still leader of the country’s ruling political party – created is now being subjected to vigorous contestation from all fronts – both religious and secular. That is why we are in need of a new moral order for a new imagined community.

Why Afrasheem and Rilwan matter

Perhaps one of the biggest immediate challenges for a new moral order in the Maldives is related to the tragedies of Afrasheem and Rilwan.

Besides our human concern for them, the need for a new moral order is the long-term reason why we all must be concerned to find truth about them. That is why everyone should be calling for greater accountability of the government in these cases.

That is why I support the #suvaalumarch taking place tomorrow afternoon (September 19) in Malé.

For the future of democratisation in the direction of this new moral order is contingent on seeking truth and justice for Afrasheem and Rilwan.

Azim Zahir is a PhD candidate at the Centre for Muslim States and Societies, University of Western Australia.

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Fiqh Academy advises against importing kosher meals

The Fiqh Academy of Maldives has issued a fatwa (legal opinion) stating that the importation and sale of kosher meals – foods that conform to Jewish dietary laws – is not advisable under Islamic Shariah.

Following its research of kosher foods, the academy however found that neither its ingredients nor production process involved elements forbidden by Shariah.

While consuming kosher meals was therefore not forbidden for Muslims, the fatwa stated that it was not advisable to introduce a Jewish product to an Islamic nation such as the Maldives.

The fatwa was signed by the academy’s President Sheikh Mohamed Rasheed Ibrahim – former chief justice and head of the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs under President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom – and ten other members of the academy.

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Humam sentenced to death for murder of Dr Afrasheem

The Criminal Court has today sentenced the prime suspect in the murder of Dr Afrasheem Ali , Hussain Humam Ahmed to death.

The verdict said it was proven beyond doubt that Humam assaulted Dr Afrasheem with a sharp object and intentionally killed him. Humam was found guilty for the crime of intentional murder and sentenced to death as a penalty for the crime.

Dr Afrasheem –  then MP for Ungoofaaru Constituency and a moderate Islamic Scholar – was found brutally murdered at the his apartment building on the night of October 1 2012.

Maldives Police Service launched an investigation immediately and found it to have been a politically motivated and premeditated murder.

Suspicion had been cast upon various political groups including Maldivian Democratic Party, religious conservatives and even President Abdulla Yameen –  though current Home Minister Umar Naseer recently discarded his earlier comments as “political rhetoric”.

Humam’s Trial

Humam was arrested within hours and was accused of murder on 20 January 2013. On 6 May 2013 Humam denied the charge of murdering Afrasheem, while admitting to many other crimes including several stabbings.

Contradicting his previous statement on 22 May 2013 Human confessed to the murder and said that he wished to apologise to the victim’s family and repent. At the hearing he requested that the judge not to sentence him to death.

On that day Humam gave a detailed account of the planning and execution of the crime, involving Ali Shan of Male’s Henveiru Hikost (also charged with murder), and the juvenile suspect in the case – identified only as ‘Nangi,.

Also said to have been involved were Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) officer Azleef Rauf,  and Abdulla ‘Jaa’ Javid (son-in-law of opposition Maldivian Democratic Party Chairperson ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik) and his brother Jana and another person identified only as ‘Spy’.

According to Humam, Jana promised to give him MVR 4 million for carrying out the murder, and Azleef provided him with an identity card and money to buy SIM cards and mobile phones. He said that ‘Spy’ worked with Azleef in organising the crime and ‘Nangi’ provided Shan and himself with a machete, a bayonet knife, jeans, t-shirts and gloves.

Humam said he attacked Afrasheem with the machete when he entered the apartment building that night and when he fell on the ground Shan attacked him with the bayonet knife.

At that hearing state prosecutors told the court that Dr Afrasheem’s DNA was found on the jeans Humam was wearing on the night of the murder.

Again, on 1 June 2013 Humam changed his narration by retracting the earlier confession saying that it was obtained by police through coercive means.

His defence lawyers said the Police had assured Humam that he would not be sentenced to death should he confess to the crime and that if he didn’t, they would charge him with other crimes of which he was accused.

Humam’s Father Ahmed Khaleel also alleged his son was psychologically traumatized and under coercion by the police when he confessed. He wrote to Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed and the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives requesting them to “ensure [my] son is granted a fair trial devoid of coercion and undue influence.”

In the letter sent to the Criminal Court, Khaleel said that he observed during the trial that Humam displayed signs of mental instability, including staring upwards, placing his handcuffs against his mouth, and laughing, and requested an assessment Humam’s mental stability.  The same request by his lawyer and was rejected by the judge.

In his letter, Khaleel alleged that police officers intimidated Humam even at the hearing and called upon the court to review video footage of the hearing to confirm his claims.

On 19 August 2013, two police officers testified in court stating that they stopped and searched Humam’s person on the night of the murder, with one officer saying that he saw a text message sent from Humam’s mobile phone talking about failing to receive promised money.

They said Humam was behaving unusually, by failing to resist arrest, behaving scared, sweating, shaking and was under the influence of an illegal substance. The officer said Humam was arrested and taken to Atholhu Vehi police custodial. On 11 July 2013 Police forensic experts testified that Dr Afrasheem’s DNA was found on Humam’s jeans.

During the trial period, Humam was sentenced to seven years imprisonment in a drugs related case (28 January 2013 ) and to three years imprisonment for cannabis use (7 July 2013). He was also charged with assaulting a police officer on 18 March 2013.

Implementing Death Penalty

Islamic Shariah as interpreted in the Maldives allows families of murder victims to seek death penalty as Qisas (retaliation), however it is a requirement for all ‘warith’ (heirs in Shariah law) to agree upon it. Dr Afrasheem’s heirs have approved of executing Humam.

While many people have been sentenced to death over the years, the Maldives maintains a longstanding unofficial moratorium on the death penalty. Death sentences are currently commuted to life imprisonment under the power vested to the president in Clemency Act.

The parliament has accepted an amendment to the act in order to force the president to implement such sentences. This presidential authority has been challenged in the high court as well, arguing that it is in violation of Article 10 of the constitution which states no law contrary to a tenet of Islam shall be enacted.

No ruler has implemented the death penalty since 1953 when Hakim Didi was executed by firing squad under President Mohamed Ameen Didi’s authority.

President Abdulla Yameen has expressed his support to implement death penalty while his Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed – who was President Dr. Mohamed Waheed’s Home Minister – has said he would “not hesitate” in implementing death penalty and pushed for parliament to decide on an implementation procedure.

In order to facilitate implementation of death penalty, Dr Waheed’s government proposed a bill to the parliament with lethal injection as the preferred method – however, it was rejected.  Religious conservatives have demanded implementation of the death penalty and proposed beheading as the preferred method.

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Comment: Islamic Scholarship and Maldivian Women – My swim against the tide

This article first appeared on Manzaru. Republished with permission.

As a Maldivian woman, and as a pursuer of Islamic scholarship, the issue of how Islamic scholarship relates to the women of this country is one that I have been faced with at various points of my academic and personal life. One thing, I found, is undeniable – there are huge challenges for women in the field of Islamic scholarship in our country.

In the Maldives, Islamic scholarship – at least on the level of public discourse – is a field almost completely monopolised by men. In Maldives, an Islamic scholar must have a beard, at least the potential to have one. A Maldivian Islamic scholar must wear his pants short, or at least must be able to do so without uncovering part of his awrah. Women, by their very nature, are unable to fulfill these conditions.

It is true that as a principle, Islam does not prevent women from studying Islamic sciences or from preaching Islam based on their knowledge. Aisha, my namesake – I have always been proud to say – and the Prophet’s wife (Peace be upon him and may Allah be pleased with her) is an Islamic scholar, who is shown as a role model to Muslim women. It is also true that many women, including myself, have been issued licenses to preach Islam by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, and previously by the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs. One must ask, however, how often these women do, or are given the opportunity to, address an audience at all, not to mention one comprising both genders. One cannot help but wonder whom among these women is given the opportunity to be at the forefront of the Maldivian stage of the eternal strife to promote Islam.

Thus, all issues relating to women are given but a rather reluctant and half-baked coverage – women’s education, women’s employment, marital responsibilities, family commitment, etc, are all discussed only from a man’s perspective.

The current discourse of Maldivian scholars on women’s education and employment is impractical, if not illogical. It is their stand that Islam does not prevent women from pursuing higher education. Women, in fact, are encouraged to pursue a degree in professional fields such as medicine, education, law, psychology, etc. After all, women do need the services of doctors, educators and lawyers. Who better to provide these services to women than female professionals? Thus, Maldivian women are encouraged by Islamic scholars to build dreams upon dreams of a professional career along side those of love, husband, children, family and home.

The oxymoron presents itself once these women – after having spent several years toiling away under thick volumes of reports and case studies, being trainee teachers under the supervision of stricter than hell supervisors, dissecting dead bodies, attending to injuries, and assisting surgeons in operation theatres – choose to fulfill the Sunnah of marriage and forming a family. Now, there’s no denying that the primary role of a woman upon marriage is that of a wife – and upon having a child is that of a mother. But if women are encouraged to train as professionals, should women also not be encouraged to work as professionals? Should women not be provided with suitable circumstances where they can pursue a career without undermining their roles as wives and mothers?

Unfortunately, all that I’ve heard to this day from Maldivian scholars is that women should be content to be housewives, and that being a mother is the biggest honour of all.

The same goes for the issues of marital responsibilities and family commitment. I heard a Sheikh recently speaking on radio of men who work all day and return home only to find an unwelcoming wife at home. It was his claim that this is one of the main contributors to the breakdown of marriages in our society. While I do not deny that many men do in fact grind daily to earn a good living for their families, I can’t help but wonder whether women do nothing at all. The way I understand it, it is a division of labour – women ought to take care of the family, men are the bread-winners. Neither task is more important than the other – neither can be considered harder, or easier than the other. In the end, both partners of the marriage are supposed to provide each other with support.

When a man returns from office, returns from work and spends all his time going out with friends, reading the news, or watching television, is he not neglecting part of his responsibilities? Could it not be that a woman whose emotional needs and expectations from her husband is more likely to be unwelcoming to him wheh he comes home from work to change and go meet with his friends?

The half-bakedness of the scholarly address applies even to the issue of Hijab. This age-old issue, discussed, re-discussed, and then discussed yet again has been focused only on women. The focus of the Hijab issue is so much on the female gender that one cannot help but wonder that perhaps an awrah is defined in Islam only for women. I recently watched a televised sermon of a Maldivian Islamic scholar in which he recited verses 29 and 30 of Surah Al-Nur which translate as follows:

Tell the believing men to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts. That is purer for them. Indeed, Allah is Acquainted with what they do. (29) And tell the believing women to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts and not expose their adornment except that which [necessarily] appears thereof and to wrap [a portion of] their headcovers over their chests and not expose their adornment except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands’ fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers, their brothers’ sons, their sisters’ sons, their women, that which their right hands possess, or those male attendants having no physical desire, or children who are not yet aware of the private aspects of women. And let them not stamp their feet to make known what they conceal of their adornment. And turn to Allah in repentance, all of you, O believers, that you might succeed. (30)

Unfortunately, although the Quran first commands men to lower their gaze from viewing Haraam and to protect themselves from committing illicit deeds, the Sheikh only translated the verse that relates to women’s Hijab. Allah’s Command to believing men was purposely ignored.

Such oversight may perhaps be excused if Maldivian men do generally follow the Command to lower the gaze and guard the chastity. This, sadly, does not seem to be the case. Allah is Most Gracious, Most Wise – he limited man’s awrah to what is comprised between the navel and the knees – as opposed to the whole body of the woman, with a few body parts being the exception. Even so, many men – especially, many young men – seem unable even to cover this small area. In order to follow pop fashion – or, hip hop fashion (you name it) – many young men deem it necessary to let their pants fall way below their waist, not to mention that they deem it unnecessary to wear undergarments. The result – I’d rather not divulge in.

Another issue not to be forgotten is that of pornography. Maldivian Muslim men, like their brothers all around the world, seem to be acting under the impression that as long as you don’t view the awrah of a Muslim woman, it is permissible to view the awrah of other women in general. In the end, the general effect of dehumanising and objectifying women has been unavoidable. Reports of sexual crimes against the female gender, including crimes against children and the elderly, have been on the rise in Maldives – it is impossible to say whether the rise is in the number of crimes or the amount of reports (it in all probability is both) – and all that Maldivian scholars have been able to say is that women should cover themselves better and the government should implement Hudud.

It is my belief that Maldivian scholars find it easy to speak the same words and to address the same issues in the age-old manner without looking at them from any different angles. And this, I  believe, is the ultimate wrong.

I do realise that I am only raising issues here – I have not proposed any solutions.

I have, however, started my own personal swim against the tide. I have chosen to have a child and to work. I have decided that I, as the mother of my child, will take the primary responsibility of feeding, bathing, playing with and rearing my child. I will not delegate these pleasures to a maid or babysitter. I have also decided that I, as a graduate of Shari’ah and law, will practice the law. I will pursue a career, but on my own terms. I work from home. And because my child is a toddler now – who rarely sleeps during the day and refuses to leave me and the laptop alone –  I work when he, along with the rest of the world, sleeps.

Is it easy? No. Is it a sustainable solution? Definitely not. By Thursday – weekends in Maldives are Fridays and Saturdays, and that’s when I sleep – I can’t wait for the week to end. I am always wishing for one more hour in the day and a few more minutes to the hour. But, for me, it is a start.

I also have chosen to start my journey, preaching and pursuing the values of Islam, by addressing issues that many other graduates of the Shariah are shying away from. I do this with the full understanding that this is a path filled with obstacles. Be it as it may, it is my belief, that if no one else will, I ought to do the hard – and perhaps the right – thing.

I am a Maldivian woman. I am a pursuer of Islamic scholarship. I swim against the tide.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]m

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Capital Market Authority and Islamic Ministry unite to promote Islamic finance

The Maldives Capital Market Development Authority (CDMA) has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Ministry for Islamic Affairs to further develop an Islamic capital market in the country.

Among the most prominent details of the agreement was a joint commitment to establish the ‘Maldives Centre for Islamic Capital Market and Finance’.

“This is going to help in promoting the various services available in Islamic financial services under one organisation,” read a press release from the CDMA.

Other features of the arrangement include the scheduling of meetings between the CDMA’s Capital Market Shariah Advisory Committee and the Ministry’s Fiqh academy, a program of training events on the practice, and the ministry’s endorsement of Shariah advisors registered with the CDMA.

The CDMA is an independent body charged with regulating the capital market and the pension industry in the Maldives, with statutory powers to license brokers, asset managers, and investment advisors.

“The vision of CMDA is to develop an Islamic capital market parallel to the existing conventional capital market in Maldives,” reads the authority’s website.

The country’s first shariah-compliant bank opened just over 18 months ago, when the Maldives’ Islamic Bank (MIB) first began offering services to the public after what the company’s head described as strong demand.

MIB is part owned by the Ministry of Finance and Ministry (15 percent), with the remaining 85 percent owned by the Islamic Corporation for the Development of the Private Sector (ICD) – a Saudi based multilateral organisation designed to promote Islamic finance globally.

2011 also saw the first public offering for a Shariah compliant company on the Maldives Stock Exchange – Amana Takaful (Maldives) Plc – for which shares were oversubscribed, report the CDMA.

Amana Takaful offers Shariah compliant insurance services, including third party vehicle insurance, which became mandatory in the country earlier this month.

Director of Amana Takaful Osman Kassim explained at the time that Islamic finance was “a phenomenon worth 1.4 trillion and growing at a rate of 20 percent annually,” which functioned through the prohibition of riba, or interest.

“Taking a return without participating in the risk of the return is not allowed, be it 1 percent or 99 percent. Any additional revenue is riba,” he said. “Even if you give a loan and he gives a gift, and is not in the habit of giving a gift, that is also riba.”

Islamic finance in its current form emerged 40 years ago, Kassim explained, first in Egypt and the Arab Emirates.

“It promises to be a just system. Interest is oppression – the charging of something where nothing is due,” he said, noting that in the wake of the global financial crisis, “All major banks now have Islamic financing products, and the more adventurous have their own Sharia Councils.”

Islamic finance and financial products also differ from conventional services in that they abstain from ‘Maisir’ and ‘Gharar’ – speculative transactions – considered akin to gambling under Shariah.

Minivan News was unable to gain further comment from the Ministry of Islamic Affairs at the time of press.

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Bill submitted to ban import of pork and alcohol

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Nazim Rashad has submitted a bill to the Majlis calling for the prohibition of pork and alcohol imports to the country.

When presenting the bill, Nazim argued that the import of these products violates article 10(b) of the constitution which states that “no law contrary to any tenet of Islam shall be enacted in the Maldives.”

“We often hear rumours that people have alcohol at home in their fridge, available any time. We’ve heard that kids take alcohol to school to drink during their break. The issue is more serious than we think, it should not be ignored,” Nazim told the house.

Consumption of intoxicants or pork products are prohibited under Islamic law, although these products are available to foreign tourists in the country’s resorts.

When in charge, the MDP government announced it was considering banning pork and alcohol product in response to the December 23 coalition‘s campaign to protect Islam.

After being asked in January for a consultative opinion over whether the Maldives could import pork and alcohol without violating the nation’s Shariah-based constitution, the Supreme Court unanimously rejected the case on the grounds that the matter did not need to be addressed at the Supreme Court level.

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Mother of deceased premature baby receives 100 lashes for fornication

Aminath Shaira, age 30 of Finolhu/Noonu atoll Manadhoo, was publicly lashed 100 times outside the Justice Building for committing fornication. Lashing is the standard punishment for intercourse outside of marriage under Maldivian law.

Shaira was sentenced to one years’ imprisonment after she was identified as the mother of a premature baby that was found on 19 May in a Coast Milk tin in the bushes near the Vilimale’ powerhouse.

Forensic experts at the time claimed the baby was dead upon birth, and had been aborted after a five-month pregnancy.

Shaira was also sentenced to 100 lashes and one year’s house arrest for fornication, the Criminal Court confirmed today. Officials said she would be transferred to a prison in the next few days.

Shaira had been charged with disobedience to an order under article 88(a) of the 1968 penal code as well as violations under the Child Protection Act.

Fingerprints belonging to Mariyam Rizna, 18, of Guraidhoo in Kaafu Atoll, had been found on the Coast Milk tin at the time. Rizna was sentenced to six months in prison for helping Shaira deliver the baby.

A third suspect, Aishath Aniya, 24, of Huraa in Kaafu Atoll, was released after the court determined that there was not enough evidence to prove that she had provided abortion pills to the defendant.

Police were unable to identify the baby’s father at the time, and Shaira did not reveal his name.

Abortion is illegal in the Maldives except to save a mother’s life, or if a child suffers from a congenital defect such as thalassemia. Anecdotal evidence, however, points overwhelmingly to a high rate of abortion and unwanted pregnancy.

Around the same time as Sharia’s arrest, a dead infant was found in a plastic bag in Male’s swimming track area. A medical examination later concluded that the baby had sustained cuts, bruises and other wounds, an indication of possible abortion practices.

In November 2010, an abandoned newborn was discovered alive in bushes near the Wataniya telecommunications tower in Hulhumale’.

In January 2010, Minivan News reported that many women unable to travel to Sri Lanka resort to illegal abortions performed by unskilled individuals in unhygienic settings.

Deputy Minister of Health and Family Fathimath Afiya told Minivan News that a meeting was held today to discuss reproductive services in the Maldives. While Maldivian and Shariah law criminalise abortion and intercourse outside of wedlock, Afiya said communication between relevant services and the judiciary made it difficult to fully address each case.

“There needs to be an appropriate legal framework for reporting these cases to the services that could help unmarried and teenage women in compromised positions,” said Afiya. “We are very concerned about the rising number of unwanted pregnancies and abortions by married and unmarried women. Today, we began formulating an action plan for short- and long-term improvements.”

The action plan, which will be finalised during a half-day workshop in November, aims to create awareness of the challenges that pregnant married or unmarried women face, and the comparative lack of appropriate services, among citizens and legislators.

“The situation is very serious, I was surprised at the work that needed to be done to improve the situation,” Afiya said.

Sexual education is not administered per se in the Maldives, and the only official study of reproductive health was done in 2004. Other unofficial studies have noted that very little information is available on the subject.

According to Afiya, up to three cases of abortion are reported by Indira Ghandi Memorial Hospital’s (IGMH) family protection unit–a scant slice of the real picture. Most abortions go unreported or are only brought to medical professionals when an unsafe abortion has damaged the mother.

The stigma of having a child out of wedlock appears to drive women to grave action. Some use abortion-inducing pills or receive injections from amateur abortionists; others turn to harmful vaginal preparations, containing chemicals such as bleach or kerosene. Although infrequent, some women insert objects into their uterus or induce abdominal trauma.

Afiya said the situation is not limited to abortions – an increasing number of women abandon their babies at the hospital after birth.

“Some will just leave after giving birth. It does happen somewhat regularly,” she said.

In 2009, a young woman convicted of having extra-marital sex was also flogged. Amnesty International called for a moratorium on the “inhumane and degrading” punishment in the Maldives.

Although flogging is still a legal form of punishment in many Muslim countries worldwide, Amnesty officials claim that it specifically discriminates against women. Of the 184 people sentenced to lashing in 2006, 146 were female.

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Amana Takaful seeking to “kick start” Maldives stock market with landmark IPO

Sharia-compliant insurance company Amana Takaful will issue 800,000 shares in an initial public offering (IPO) on the Maldives Stock Exchange (MSE).

In a first for the country, 20 percent of the shares will be made available to expatriates and 15 percent to overseas applicants. The remaining 65 percent will be offered to Maldivians.

The Sri Lanka-based company hopes to generate Rf16 million (US$1.4 million) in proceeds through the IPO, by selling shares at a low issue price of Rf20 (bundled in packages of 25).

Amana Takaful’s board of directors announced the IPO on Monday afternoon at the Nasandhura Palace Hotel.

CEO of Amana Takaful Maldives, Hareez Sulaiman, said the IPO would “change the way the Maldivian Stock Exchange operates as this will be the first time that Maldivians, expatriates and foreigners will be able to purchase securities in a Maldivian listed company.”

The decision to price the shares low “at a price affordable to any average Maldivian” also promised to “be a kick starter for an active stock market which may benefit the entire economy at large,” the company said in an accompanying statement.

The company expects the Sharia-compliant nature of its business to be a key attraction in the market, it noted in its prospectus, with the “growing religious awareness within the domestic market further reinforcing [Amana Takaful Maldives’] decision to embark on expanding its shareholder base in the Maldives.”

Globally, Director of Amana Takaful Osman Kassim, also chairman of the first licensed Islamic bank in Sri Lanka, Amana Bank, explained that Islamic finance was “a phenomenon worth 1.4 trillion and growing at a rate of 20 percent annually.”

It functioned, he explained, through the prohibition of riba, or interest.

“Taking a return without participating in the risk of the return is not allowed, be it 1 percent or 99 percent. Any additional revenue is riba,” he said. “Even if you give a loan and he gives a gift, and is not in the habit of giving a gift, that is also riba.”

Islamic finance in its current form emerged 40 years ago, Kassim explained, first in Egypt and the Arab Emirates.

“It promises to be a just system. Interest is oppression – the charging of something where nothing is due,” he said, noting that in the wake of the global financial crisis, “All major banks now have Islamic financing products, and the more adventurous have their own Sharia Councils.”

Certain terminology used in Islamic finance was now routinely used in normal banking, he said, also observing a rise in financial offerings that were all but labelled Sharia-compliant.

In its IPO prospectus, the company predicted strong potential growth on the back of a higher disposable income as the rufiya eased against the dollar, brought on by a “significant” decrease in the cost of imports.

The key areas of the Maldivian economy – fishing and tourism – had shown strong growth, the company noted. Tourist arrivals grew 18 percent in 2010, while bed nights grew 13 percent even as capacity grew by almost 3000 beds to roughly 24,000.

Fishing was a key area of interest to the company given the high number of insurables. The industry had registered a slight decline in productivity in recent months, the prospectus noted, but nonetheless annual fish purchases had increased 29 percent and fish exports by volume had risen fourfold. Higher prices had led to 77 percent increase in monthly earnings.

The company has set a target of 30-40 percent growth in the Maldives, identifying a key market as the local, atoll and city councils following the government’s policy of decentralistion.

“Considering the current trends in religious conciousness, it is generally believed that the level of awareness and preference for investing in Sharia- compliant investments would be greater at the grassroots level,” the company noted.

It also indicated its intention to offer a micro-insurance product in the Maldives targeting the expatriate market.

The IPO will open on September 20 and close on October 19. The company has pegged a minimum subscription of Rf 2.4 million (US$156,000) or 15 percent to proceed with the IPO.

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