Anti-government campaign takes religious turn

The opposition’s campaign against President Abdulla Yameen’s “authoritarianism” has taken a religious turn, while Minivan News has learned the government is labeling the campaign as one that promotes Islamic radicalism.

On Friday night, the religious conservative Adhaalath Party’s Sheikh Ilyas Hussein held a sermon attended by thousands, where he warned of a calamity if brutality becomes common, and appealed to the security forces to be compassionate towards citizens.

“If there’s one group of people I respect in Maldivian society, it is the police officers and soldiers, because I believe they are carrying out a religious and national duty. I know the burdens they have to bear.

“But do not harm anyone without a just cause. No matter how high up the order comes from, do not harm anyone without just cause. Allah is watching. On the days He switches on his CC cameras, there will be nothing you can do,” he said.

Ilyas’ sermon comes amidst a crackdown on the opposition with the arrest of opposition leaders including Adhaalath president Sheikh Imran Abdulla, Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) chairperson Ali Waheed and Jumhooree Party deputy leader Ameen Ibrahim.

The three were arrested after a 20,000 strong rally on May 1. Nearly 200 people were arrested and scores were injured in violent clashes.

Protesters were calling for the release of ex-president Mohamed Nasheed and ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim, who were jailed on terrorism and weapons smuggling charges, respectively.

The Adhaalath Party had played a key role in Nasheed’s ouster in 2012, but formed an alliance with Nasheed’s MDP in March when Nazim was sentenced to 11 years in jail.

Opposition aligned Raajje TV is now broadcasting clips of Ilyas’ sermon with scenes of police arresting, beating, and pepper spraying protesters on May 1.

Ilyas and nine other Islamic scholars from the Adhaalath Party and the MDP also held a press conference on Saturday, where he said the majority of religious scholars are now against the government.

“We are announcing today that we do not accept the ongoing tyranny in the Maldives. We especially cannot tolerate such brutal acts from our leaders,” he said.

President Abdulla Yameen has refused to listen to the citizen’s concerns, he said, adding it is now obligatory on Muslims to protest.

Former state minister for Islamic affairs Dr Mohamed Didi said brutality is haram or forbidden in Islam and urged the government to review the “politically motivated trials” of Nasheed and Nazim.

“We call on all the Maldivian citizens to work together to stop this tyranny. If we are unable to do so, if tyranny continues, it will damage all of us, our entire nation and society.”

Sheikh Shuaib Abdul Rahman, a former member of the judicial watchdog, says citizens could pray for a curse on tyrants and unjust judges. Prayer is a powerful weapon, he said, adding that police officers will have to bear responsibility for any acts of brutality, even if they are committed on their superior’s orders.

President Yameen had previously turned down calls for dialogue, saying he will not release Nasheed and Nazim. Instead, the pair must seek an appeal at the high court, he said.

An information brief from the Maldivian mission in Geneva on May 1, obtained by Minivan News, claimed that the organizers of the protest had “mobilized people known to have radical connections in the Middle East and elsewhere, and paid for their travel to Malé and join the demonstration with the explicit purpose of creating violence.”

“The police have intelligence that some of the hardcore radicals Sheikh Imran has paid for were activists who took part in the incident on the island of Himandhoo in 2007,” read the brief.

Dozens, including police officers, were injured in clashes in Himandhoo when police attempted to enter a mosque in search of evidence related to a bombing in Malé.

Ambassador-at-large at the ministry of foreign affairs Mohamed Naseer has also told Sri Lanka’s The Sunday Leader that the May Day protesters had attempted to promote Islamic radicalism through the protest march.

Meanwhile, an anonymous video surfaced on YouTube today warning senior officials in the government of a suicide attack if they do not release Sheikh Imran.

“We came up like this cause we don’t have other option left. We will never let this country become a Mafia gang,” says a masked individual, against the backdrop of the Maldivian flag.

“We call on immediate release of Sheikh Imran Abdulla and stop mistreating him. We assure we will never let Sheikh Imran be dealt like Nasheed and Nazim,” said the individual in the video.

“If you sentence Sheikh Imran falsely, as our religious scholars said, we can have your life and blood. We will stop this! If necessary we do not hesitate to go for a suicide attack!”

A police media official said they have now started looking into the video.

 

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Innamaadhoo island council asks Islamic Ministry to take action against Sheikh Shameem

Innamaadhoo island council, in Raa Atoll, has filed a complaint with the Islamic Ministry against Sheikh Ibrahim Shameem Adam after he allegedly preached inside the island’s Friday Mosque without first obtaining permission.

Speaking to Minivan News today Council President Ibrahim Fayaz said that Sheikh Shameem went to the island last Saturday and requested the council’s permission.

Before receiving a response from authorities, however, Shameem held a sermon on the island, said Fayaz.

“They announced that there will be a sermon that night on the topic of sports and entertainment and held the sermon without our permission and we did not do anything about it because then they say Innamaadhoo council had obstructed religious activities and that we are anti-Islamic,’’ he said.

He said that the first 50 minutes of the speech was very good before beginning to resemble a political campaign meeting.

“He started talking about politics and the upcoming parliament elections and people inside the mosque came out, only a few were waiting inside,’’ Fayaz said.

“More than 200 people gathered outside the mosque in protest to the speech he was giving because it was supposed to be a religious sermon and not a political rally.’’

Fayaz said that islanders came and complained to the council, warning that if the council was not able to stop him the islanders might have to do it.

“So I then went inside and turned the loudspeaker and microphone off, but he did not stop,’’ he said.

“I asked him who gave him the permission to conduct a sermon inside the mosque and he replied by saying that the ‘Higher Authorities’ gave him permission. I do not know who higher authorities were.’’

Political sermons

Fayaz said that Shameem indirectly criticised both Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and the Progressive Party of Maldives’ parliamentary candidates.

“He criticised them in a way that everyone knew who he was talking about, but did not mention the names,’’ he said. “We even called the police that night because there might have been unrest on the island – and five councilors will not be able to stop the islanders.’’

He said that police asked the council to take a statement from Sheikh Shameem, but that Shameem refused to come to answer questions.

Furthermore, Fayaz alleged that the Islamic Ministry would not take any action against him because he was sent by the Adhaalath Party.

Islamic Minister Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed today told Minivan News that he had not received any information of the incident.

In December last year Omadhoo island council stopped Sheikh Shameem from delivering a religious lecture at the local mosque, fearing it might “disrupt the stability and social harmony of the island”.

At the time, Haveeru reported that when the council asked for a formal request for permission, the organisers sent a text message to the council president saying the lecture would go on with or without the council’s permission.

In May 2013 Sheikh Imran Abdulla and Sheikh Ilyas Hussein were obstructed from preaching in Vaikaradhoo, in Haa Dhaalu atoll, whilst Kamadhoo island council in Baa atoll prevented Sheikh Nasrulla Ali from preaching.

In Vaikaradhoo the sheikhs continued with police protection in the presence of local opposition activists.

In September 2013, Maldives Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) Chairman Ibrahim Umar Manik told a parliamentary sub-committee that the commission had stopped religious sermon ‘Andhalus’ conducted by Sheikh Shameem for violating the state broadcaster’s guidelines.

The MBC chairman,along with members of the commission, were summoned before the independent institutions committee following complaints by MDP MPs that the sermon by Sheikh Shameem infringed the rights of the party’s presidential candidate.

“We definitely do not consider [televising the sermon] as anti-campaigning against a particular candidate using religion. [But] around 11:35pm, because his talk was changing a little, we stopped the live [broadcasting],” Manik told the parliament committee at the time.

Current laws and regulations require religious preachers to obtain permission from local councils in order to preach at mosques in their administrative areas.

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Police escort Sheikh from Maafushi after protesters accuse him of “distorting religion”

Police have escorted a sheikh from the island of Maafushi in Kaafu Atoll on Sunday, after 300 protesters gathered outside his private Quran and Tawhid classroom and demanded that he leave the island.

Multiple sources from the island previously expressed concerns about a Sheikh Ibrahim Rasheed, originally from the island of Thulhaadhoo in Baa Atoll, who has been preaching in Maafushi for just over a year.  He is alleged to have been “spreading hatred and strife on the pretext of preaching Islam”.

The Maafushi School and Pre-School voiced concerns that a number of students had been pulled from school by their parents over the playing of nursery rhymes and the lack of gender segregation. School officials have since said that some of these students had been made to attend the Sheikh’s private Quran and Tawhid classes instead.

After recent wide coverage of the issue in local media, residents of Maafushi staged a protest in front of Sheikh Rasheed’s private class “Thahseenul Quran” on Sunday evening.

Vice President of the Maafushi Island Council, Majdha Ibrahim said that approximately 300 people had joined the protest, demanding that the Sheikh “immediately leave Maafushi and stay away.”

According to Majdha, some of the chants the protesters shouted included “Stop creating strife with your twisted words”, “Stop distorting religion to take away our unity” and “Our daughters have a right to education”.

“Yesterday, the council received letters from both the preschool and the school, expressing concern that this man’s preaching was leading to parents who abide by him to take their children out of school. We haven’t received any official complaints about him previously, though we have heard residents voicing concern and disapproval about how his actions are leading to strife in a previously peaceful community,” she said.

Majdha confirmed that the Sheikh had been removed from the island around midnight on Monday with the assistance of a police response team from the capital Male’. Images on social media showed Rasheed wearing a helmet and police body armour.

“Sheikh calls us “ladhini” if we are not like him”

Maafushi Women’s Development Committee President Badurunisa Ibrahim alleged the Sheikh was creating a rift among the island’s citizens, claiming that he was converting more and more people to join his “more extreme version of religion” and forcing them to abide by rules he defined.

“He has been preaching to those who listen to him that playing nursery rhymes in preschool is the same as playing music, which he claims is haram. He has been advising parents to not let girls and boys mix together in school, saying it is anti-Islamic. This is leading to parents taking their kids out of school, which is so very worrying,” she said.

“He initially came to teach Quran at the Children’s Centre here, and then when he got fired, he started teaching private Quran and Tawhid classes. It seems ridiculous that he convinces parents to take children out of school as they are not gender segregated, and then himself proceeds to hold mixed classes for all ages,” she alleged.

Confirming that hundreds of angry protesters had gathered last night, Badurunisa asserted that people were voicing out against the Sheikh only because he was preaching a “twisted and misleading version of religion” and aiming “to create unrest” by forming factions among the people.

“Had he been just here teaching in his private Quran class or preaching actual Islam, none of us would have a problem with him. But when he is outright lying and distorting Islamic values, and brainwashing some people of our island, our community will not simply stand by and watch,” she said.

Stating that the protest had not been against “Islam”, but against abusing religion as a tool for discord, Badurunisa detailed some of what Sheikh Rasheed has been preaching on Maafushi.

“You’ve heard of his hypocritical stance against gender segregation. Besides that, he says that a man’s prayers will not be acceptable unless they are dressed in the Arabian style, salwar kameez. He also preaches that only kafirs do not grow their beards long, that it is haram to wear a necktie, and other such things which I don’t believe are in accordance with actual Islamic values,” Badurunisa said.

“When it comes to females, he speaks strictly against educating girls, or women having careers. He has also said that girls should not be able to participate in our local Quran recitation competition as a female’s voice itself is ‘aurah’ [Islamic term for parts of the body required to be concealed in order to maintain modesty],” she continued.

“He calls any of us who do not dress like him or act like him to be ‘ladini’ [irreligious] or kafir,” she said.

Meanwhile, Kaafu Atoll Council member Ali Shaheen has said that it is of utmost importance that the state finds a solution for similar problems.

“I think a solution for this can be found only when the State begins to take action against people like this Sheikh through the Religious Unity Act. This Act says, in no uncertain times, that it is against the law to create disunity by using religion as a tool. I call upon all relevant actors to view this as a serious issue and take meaningful action to prevent further incidents of this kind,” he said.

“Not a Sheikh, we brought the teacher to safety”: police

“He is not a Sheikh, he is just a teacher who runs a private Quran class in Maafushi,” said a police media official, requesting to not be named.

“All that the protesters demanded was that the teacher be removed from the island. Keeping in mind the recent violent act against a teacher, we responded to the matter and safely brought him to Male’. He was not taken under our custody as such. Upon reaching Male’ we left him to his own resources,” the official stated.

“It’s his own words, we do not endorse them”: Ministry

Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Islamic Affair Mohamed Didi confirmed that they had knowledge of a sheikh creating problems in the island of Maafushi, and that the ministry had advised him against doing so.

“However, we cannot take official action against someone after hearing just one side of the story. We will need to find out what exactly he has been saying. This causes delays in taking action,” Mohamed Didi said.

“In the end, every Sheikh himself must take responsibility for the words he says. I don’t think anyone would have spoken against a Sheikh had they been preaching along Islamic principles. These preachings are his own words, and we do not endorse them,” he continued.

“For example, the issue of gender segregation. There are mixed co-ed schools across the country, even in Male’. The education system is under the Education Ministry. That is how things are and we do not involve ourselves in this,” he stated.

“Our ministry’s policy is to avoid any actions which may cause disputes.”

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Indian Prime Minister calls for “free, fair and credible” elections in the Maldives

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has highlighted “free, fair and credible” elections as the “best course” for overcoming political uncertainty in the Maldives.

In a statement, Singh – referring to last year’s controversial transfer of power –  noted that “there have been unfortunate problems in the Maldives after the February 2012 event.”

“We believe that the best course is to have elections to the office of the president, which are due in September, 2013,” Singh said.

“There should be free and fair elections, with an inclusive process, with all people participating in the process of electing the new President. I sincerely hope that the government and people of Maldives will overcome this atmosphere of crisis and uncertainty,” he said.

Singh’s comments follow the arrest last week of former President Mohamed Nasheed by masked police, acting on a court order issued by the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court.

Nasheed is being charged over detaining Chief Judge of the Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed, charges his party contend are a politically-motivated effort to prevent him contesting the 2013 presidential elections. Nasheed evaded an earlier court summons by seeking refuge inside the Indian High Commission for 10 days.

The Hulhumale’ court was created by the Judicial Services Commission (JSC), which also appointed the three-member panel of judges overhearing the Nasheed trial. The JSC’s members include several of Nasheed’s direct political opponents, including rival presidential candidate and resort tycoon, Jumhoree Party (JP) leader Gasim Ibrahim.

JSC member Sheikh Shuaib Abdul Rahman this week spoke out against the judicial watchdog, revealing that they had openly discussed in meetings their intent to ensure the elimination of the Maldivian Democratic Party and presidential candidate Nasheed from the upcoming elections.

Sheikh Rahman alleged that Chair of the Commission, Supreme Court Judge Adam Mohamed, had abused his post and powers as the chair to try and eliminate Nasheed from contesting the elections, and alleged that Adam Mohamed had “used the commission as a political tool”.

“The politics of the majority control the commission, hence the rule of law, due process and due diligence do not exist in the JSC,” Sheikh Rahman stated. “The commission has no amount of respect for constitutional principles.”

Nasheed was released from custody after the judges panel conceded to a four week delay before the next hearing. Nasheed’s legal team had requested the trial be delayed until after the September 2013 elections, a prospect to which the state prosecution said it had no objection, however the judges would only concede to a month’s delay.

The UK reacted to Nasheed’s release from police custody following the hearing, urging “all parties to remain calm and to act responsibly.”

Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister Alistair Burt called for a “fair and transparent trial”.

“Unless the chosen candidates of all parties are permitted to participate in the Presidential election scheduled for 7 September, the credibility of the outcome will be irreparably damaged,” Burt warned.

“We urge all involved to work together to find a solution which would allow for genuinely free, fair and inclusive elections and ensure all are able to campaign without hindrance,” he stated.

The UK Conservative Party’s Human Rights Commission (CHRC) meanwhile expressed “grave concern” over Nasheed’s arrest, echoing the former President’s concerns that “court proceedings against him were without any legal basis and were aimed at barring him from running in the presidential elections that have been scheduled for September this year.”

“Concerns have been raised by a range of organisations about whether Nasheed can expect a fair trial, with his supporters asserting that the whole process is politically motivated. The court that he will face has been specially constituted for the purpose, implying strong political interference. Human rights organisations across the world see this as another instance of selective justice being carried out by the current Maldivian administration,” the Commission stated.

Chair of the CHRC, MP Robert Buckland, said that the commission was “ deeply concerned about the safety of former President Nasheed, and urges the Maldivian authorities to postpone legal proceedings against him and to allow free and fair elections to take place.”

“Such instances of selective justice are just one of a number of serious breaches of human rights in the country. The Commission has previously heard evidence from a number of experts who share concerns about this action being politically motivated,” the CHRC stated.

“It is vitally important that all candidates of political parties are able to participate in the upcoming elections if the Maldives wants the international community to see it as a free, fair and inclusive election. Targeting of MDP members and their families will seriously undermine their ability to fight the upcoming elections on an equal footing and the CHRC will put pressure on the government to call for the release of falsely accused MDP supporters,” the CHRC stated.

Despite now widespread international criticism of the politicisation of the JSC, and calls from Home Minister Mohamed Jameel that the case against Nasheed be concluded “before the approaching presidential elections, in the interests of the nation and to maintain peace in it”, President Mohamed Waheed has persistently denied government interference in the judicial process.

“My government has upheld the rule of law and respected all independent institutions. I am pleased to note that unlike in the past, within the last year, the President has not interfered in the work of the judiciary, the police, or the independent commissions,” Waheed said, in a recent statement.

“Upholding the rule of law means nobody is above the law. I would like to assure the people of Maldives that the law and order will be maintained.”

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“Be courageous; Today you are all mujaheddin”: President Dr Waheed

The following is a speech given by President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan at the pro-goverment ‘National Symposium” at the artificial beach on February 24.

In the name of Allah, the Most Compassionate and the Most Merciful… Assalaam Alaikum.

All praise and thanks are due only to one: Allah Subahanahoo Wata-aalaa.

All praise and thanks be to Him for brining the Light of Islam to the Maldives and for sustaining the Maldives as an Islamic nation. All praise and thanks be to Allah for protecting till now the Maldivian nationhood, customs and Maldivianness.

Why are you all here today, coming from various places? You have come here because you love the nation; in order to maintain Islam in the Maldives; in order to maintain its nationhood and customs; and to overcome strife in the nation.

We can’t allow strife in the Maldives. Anyone who loves the Maldives will not incite strife in the Maldives. Anyone who loves this nation will not torch public places and destroy them. There is no place for such people in this nation. There is no place in this land for those who cause strife.

We are steadfast… to defend the nation and to protect Islam and nationhood. Till the last drop of our blood, we will defend this nation. We are not afraid. We are not afraid to die as martyrs. We are not afraid of the enemies we face.

We must be sad that the enemies and traitors of the Maldives are spreading lies in various places of the world to tarnish the country’s image. They are the real conspirators. Those who defame the Maldives to destroy its industries and tourism are enemies of this country. Such people have no place in the Maldives.

You all be courageous. This is no longer the age of colonialism. Today no foreign country can influence the Maldives. Today we will maintain our sovereignty with bravery.

Be courageous. We will not back down an inch. Today, the change [in power] in the Maldives is what Allah has willed. This did not happen because of one or two people coming out into the streets. Nobody had been waiting for this. Nobody even saw this day. This change came because Allah willed to protect Islam and the decent Maldivian norms.

Be courageous. Today you are all mujaheddin [those who fight jihad] who love the nation. We will overcome all dangers faced by the nation with steadfastness.

Today’s government will be kind to the people and love the people. It will bring justice to the people. This government will do everything possible to ensure that the people would enjoy all rights enshrined in the Constitution. It is the duty of every government to provide housing, healthcare and education. We will also do that.

Be courageous. Never be frightened. Never be swayed. We are fulfilled. We are brave. We are steadfast. Two or three people who want to cause strife in the Maldives can’t sway us. When [they] see all of you who are gathered here, [they] will feel nervous. With your help and God’s will this nation will advance forward. [Gasim Ibrahim: “Be careful…”]

Our government will be a lawful government. We are upholding the Constitution and obeying the laws. We are ready to maintain justice. We will be steadfast in continuing the journey of democracy that we started.

Never step back. Be brave. We are with you. If you remain determined, we will be too.

My prayer is for the Light of Islam to shine in the Maldives forever, and for all Maldivians to have good health and well-being. I pray there be sense of brotherhood in the hearts of all Maldivians and there be the spirit of unity and oneness. I pray the Maldives be a prosperous, peaceful and harmonious place. May Allah bless all Maldivians. Wasallaamalaikum…

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) response:

In response to Dr Waheed’s speech, the MDP issued statement expressing “alarm at the use of extremist Islamic rhetoric at the heart of the governing regime, including on the part of Mohamed Dr Waheed who appears increasingly beholden to religious groups and known extremists.”

“There is now a clear pattern whereby supporters of the former autocratic president, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, are using claims of internal and external threats against Islam as a means of reasserting political control. There is now a very real threat of the democratic gains of the last few years being rolled back,” the party stated.

“Sheikh Imran, President of the religious Adhaalath Party and a man who has in the past called for a jihad against the MDP Government and its supporters and for “the slaughter of anyone against Islam”, said: ‘They are [now] on their knees in front of their constitution as a result of their attempt to get rid of Islam from the Maldives’; while Gasim Ibrahim, a leading financial backer of the new regime, called MDP supporters ‘mentally disabled’, and said ‘we are ready to sacrifice everything for Dr Waheed’,” the MDP claimed.

Other figures addressing the crowd on February 24 included the leader of the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) Dr Hassan Saeed, Attorney-General under former President Gayoom and now Nasheed’s political advisor, and Deputy Leader of DQP, Dr Mohamed Jameel, former Justice Minister under former President’s Gayoom’s administration and now Home Minister.

Saeed, Jameel and their DQP party were the authors of a political pamphlet entitled “President Nasheed’s devious plot to destroy the Islamic faith of Maldivians”, in which they invoked perceived attacks against Islam in the Maldives, especially by “Christians and Jews”.

“Never has the dividing line been clearer between those who believe in democracy and tolerance, and those who believe in power through force and religious dogma,” said MDP’s spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor.

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Sheikh Ilyas delivers sermon to MNDF in lead-up to Ramadan

Famous religious scholar Sheikh Ilyas Hussein delivered a sermon to the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) yesterday entitled ”those who desire compassion.”

The object of the sermon was to spiritually prepare the MNDF officers for the upcoming holy month of Ramadan.

In his sermon, Sheikh Ilyas highlighted the importance of praying, faithfulness and remaining on the rightful path. He also highlighted noble habits in the religion of Islam.

”There is no policy on this land that is profitable and valuable other than the religion of Islam,” said Sheikh Ilyas. ”As Allah (SWT) wants nothing from us, yet has provided us these privilege after announcing to believe in the perfect policy.”

“The holy quran has stated that Satan is our enemy, and Satan’s aim is to appear as our allies and to drop us into the house of punishment from the house of compassion,” Sheikh Ihyas said.

”Nobody has the ability to alter a declaration of God, no one can play with it, it is a must for us to ask from the lord of the universe,” he said. ”Those who desire compassion will accept this principle.”

Sheikh Ihyas preached that the month of Ramadan is a month of piousness and self-restraint, and a month to reinforce faith.

”Today Muslims have become feeble because they isolated the words of God, and moved forward on the path of development according to their selfish desires,” he said. ”As long as we do not change our own situation, Allah will not change it either.”

He claimed that although Muslims around the world had come into great power, they did not have faith.

”If they had faith, Muslims will be powerful and all will stay united,” he added.

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Hanged air traffic controller sought asylum for fear of religious persecution

Ismail Mohamed Didi, the 25 year-old air traffic controller who was found hanged from the control tower of Male International Airport at 4:00am on Tuesday morning in an apparent suicide, was seeking asylum in the UK for fear of persecution over his lack of religious belief.

Islamic website Raajjeislam reported yesterday that Ismail “was a person inclined to atheism” and had “declared his atheism to his friends.”

The website alleged that Ismail had refused to follow religious sermons.

“This is an issue that a Muslim government should consider,” the website said. “Because when these types of people die, they are buried in the same [cemetery] where Muslims are buried. Their funeral prayers and body washing are also conducted as for Muslims. It is questionable as to whether this is allowed according to Islam.”

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

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

“A lot of my close friends and girlfriend have been prohibited from seeing me by their parents. I have even received a couple of anonymous phone calls threatening violence if I do not repent and start practising Islam,” he said.

“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 claimed he had been “trying for some time to seek employment abroad, but have not yet succeeded. I would already have left the country if I was sure I could meet the required burden of proof in an asylum claim.”

“I cannot bring myself to pretend to be I am 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.”

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: ismail mohamed <[email protected]l.com>
Date: 25 June 2010 09:30
Subject: a plea for help

Dear sir,

I’m a 25 year-old Maldivian living in Male’. I have been working as an Air Traffic Controller at Male’ International Airport for almost 7 years now.

I started becoming disenchanted with Islam around 5 years ago and am now an atheist. During my transformation, and even now, I am quite the idealist, and when i was confronted about two years back by a couple of my colleagues about my aversion from the daily practices of Islam, i somewhat foolishly admitted my stance on religion.

I had asked them to keep it a secret from the rest of our workforce at ATC, although i now realize i should have known better. It did not take long for everybody at work to find out and since then, i have faced constant harassment in my work environment.

An atheist is not a common feature at all among Maldivians and the word has spread like wildfire since then. It has now come to the point where everyone I know, including my family, have become aware of my lack of belief.

In a society that has always been proud of their religious homogeneity, you can imagine what i am being put through. I have been subjected to numerous consultations with religious scholars and even my closest friends are not allowed to see me.

My company has already begun investigating a complaint regarding me, collecting testimony from fellow workers about my apostasy.

Just 3 days ago, i received two anonymous phone calls threatening violence if i do not start openly practicing Islam.

I am at my wit’s end now. I have been trying for sometime to secure employment abroad, but have not yet succeeded.

The only other alternative i can think of is to flee the country to seek asylum elsewhere. I have already written an e-mail to your organization, and am anxiously waiting for a reply. I found your e-mail address on facebook. I am in dire need of assistance and know of no one inside the country who can guide me.

I would have already left the country if i was sure i could meet the required burden of proof in an asylum claim. I would like to know if you would be able to help me in anyway should i travel to the U.K to seek asylum and what my chances are of making a successful claim.

Thank you for your consideration
Ismail Mohamed Didi

Mohamed Ibrahim, Managing Director of the Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL), confirmed that Ismail was  the subject of an internal investigation last month regarding his professed apostasy.

“I believe his family were also concerned, and tried to give him counselling through religious leaders,” Ibrahim said.

“Management decided it was outside our mandate and referred the matter to the Ministry of Islamic Affairs – we haven’t got a reply. Professionally we took no action – he was a good worker.”

A colleague of Ismail’s told Minivan News on condition of anonymity that his colleagues had learned he was an atheist “more than a year ago”, and while they did not care whether or not he believed in God, “some became irritated at the way he openly insulted God.”

“A complaint was made to the airport company’s human resources department. Based on their report – I saw a copy of the final version a month ago – they found that although he was an atheist, he was not propagating his belief in the workplace and so no action would be taken.”

The source insisted that Ismail was never mistreated by his colleagues about his religious position, “although they were sometimes irritated by the way he addressed God. He was treated as a normal controller and suffered no discrimination,” the source said, explaining that the air traffic controllers were a close-knit bunch who “lived and played together. Everybody was crying and misses him.”

Ismail was part of a large family from the island of Thinadhoo in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll, the source explained.

“The family is very humble and religious. His mother tried sending him to religious classes and a couple of months back he said he went to see Sheikh Illyas, but just argued with him about religion and stormed out. That’s what he said – I don’t know what was said in person. But it is possible his friends may have distanced themselves.”

Minivan News was unable to confirm whether Ismail visited Sheikh Illyas prior to his death, as the Sheikh was not responding to calls. However Islamic Minister Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari said he was aware that Ismail’s parents had sought religious counselling for their son “because of some problems he was facing in his religious beliefs.”

“They asked for counselling but I think they met a scholar while they were in our office. I was not at the Ministry – this was during the period of [Cabinet’s] resignation. I heard he was not a ministry scholar – I don’t think it was Sheikh Illyas this time. I think he saw [Sheikh Hassan] Moosa Fikry,” Dr Bari said.

Sheikh Fikry, who is the Vice-President of religious NGO Jamiyyathul Salaf, was not responding to calls at time of press. Salaf’s President, Sheikh Abdulla Bin Mohamed Ibrahim, also could not be contacted.

Last moments

Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam said Ismail’s body showed no sign of physical injuries.

“Police have taken samples for forensic investigation, we are seeking more information about him to try and determine how this happened,” Shiyam said.

Ismail’s colleague said the 25-year-old had returned from leave shortly before the day he died.

“It seemed like he came to work fully prepared to die,” he said. “Ismail normally took the 6:00am-8:00am shift, but on this day he requested the supervisor give him the 3:00am-5:00am shift.”

“During this time there are no air traffic movements and the tower can be staffed by one person, before operations begin at 5:30am. It seems he wanted the quiet time alone,” he said.

“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 Nasrulla signs with MDP

The Secretary General of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) Ahmed Shah has confirmed that Sheikh Nasrulla Mustafa has signed to join the party.

Shah said Sheikh Nasrulla was “a well educated and very capable person”, and that his decision to sign with MDP was a major progression for the party.

”He signed the application form last week and it has now been sent to Elections Commission (EC) for approval,” Shah said. ”Then he will officially be a member of MDP.”

Sheikh Nasrulla declined to comment on this story, instead recommending that Minivan News clarify his application with the EC.

”If I applied and if the EC approved [my application] then I will be a member of MDP,” said Sheikh Nasrulla, when asked to confirm his application.

Religious website Raajjeislam reported that Sheikh Nasrulla had recently declared that the purpose of forming political parties and NGOs was to create splits in a society, and these institutions were therefore against the principles of the as-salaf as-saliheen (the earliest converts to Islam).

The website also said that Sheikh Nasrulla has in his sermons claimed that voting was not allowed in Islam, and that it was an ‘enmity’.

Raajjeislam’s report claimed that the government was attempting to trying to displace the Islamic Minister Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari  and State Islamic Minister Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed from their posts.

According to daily newspaper Haveeru, the Islamic Ministry has recently restricted Sheikh Nasrulla from using microphones inside mosques to deliver sermons, which Sheikh Nasrulla claimed was preventing him from preaching.

Haveeru reported that the restriction was put in place by the Islamic Ministry because of “numerous complaints” the Ministry had received.

Sheikh Nasrulla  has reportedly disputed the lectures of other prominent Islamic scholars during his sermons, including Dr Zakir Naik, who recently visited the Maldives.

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Comment: Playing God’s Advocate

‘Ambiguities’ are stalling the speedy passage of The Regulations to Protect Maldivian Religious Unity. If this document does not get on the government gazette ASAP, this country will degenerate into religious chaos.

Evidence clearly shows Maldivian religious unity to be a perilous façade, having managed to endure without legal enforcement (apart from the small matter of the constitutional stipulation that every citizen be a Muslim for only 800 years).

As citizens who are so closely consulted in the open and democratic lawmaking process of the country, it is our duty to highlight the problem areas so the Ministry can move rapidly to pass The Regulations and pre-empt the imminent religious war.

What is unambiguous about The Regulations is that The Ministry of Islamic Affairs is The Supreme Entity. Omniscient, but not omnipresent, it will choose a learned group to act as its eyes and ears in society. This select group, or The Board, will report to The Ministry any utterances, actions and opinions expressed or held by unlicensed-scholars, citizens and/or visiting aliens/infidels deemed to possess the potential for creating religious disunity.

Recognising the gravity of The Board’s responsibility, The Ministry has set the appointment criteria very high indeed. Members must: (1) be at least 25 years old; (2) possess at least a first degree in Islamic Studies or law; and (3) should not have committed an act defined as a punishable crime in Islam.

Given how difficult it would be to find a 25-year-old graduate who has not fornicated, The Board has the potential to become one of the most exclusive gentlemen’s clubs in the world.

The Regulations states as its raison d’être ever-increasing disputes between religious scholars that threaten to tear the country apart (Article 1.2). The Mullah to Mere-mortal ratio has not yet been tallied in the Maldives, but evidence suggests it could easily be 1:2.

In such a situation, The Regulations will prove invaluable in helping us distinguish the ersatz scholar from the genuine Sheikh. Besides, ‘the liberals’ have long agitated for the government to muzzle over-zealous Mullahs, so it is now time to make a gracious retreat on the issue, happy in the knowledge that your local Mullah is not just any Mullah, but a bona fide Mullah With a License to Preach.

Chapter 4 states that it is a requirement of every Maldivian citizen to actively protect Islam (Article 4.21). Is this a legal requirement? And what does the duty entail? What exactly is it that we need to peel our eyes and cock our ears for? And how do we go about reporting our suspicions and findings? Would there be a 24-hour Infidel Alert hotline manned by a Licensed Mullah?

The Regulations bans any religion other than Islam from all public discourse. Being citizens active in protecting Islam, should we from now on categorically deny other religions exist, or is it sufficient to regard Them with condescension and/or loathing whence acknowledgement is required? Article 6.32 bans any utterance or action that is insulting to Islam in any way. What is the definition of the term ‘insulting to Islam’? Would, say, leaving out the PBUH after Prophet Mohamed be deemed an insult? Or does it have to be material such as those published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2005 before it is found to be insulting? What is an utterance that constitutes an insult against a mosque? Would criticism of its architecture – say the suggestion that its dome would have looked better if elevated five inches more – amount to an insult, or would the criticism have to take in the state of its badly landscaped garden, too, before it is deemed an Offence Against a Mosque?

Non-Muslim expatriates in the Maldives – best wean yourselves off the habit of holding garage sales to sell religious memorabilia at discount prices like you invariably do every Sunday ‘back home where you come from’. Any such sale in the Maldives would flout The Regulations (Article 34.a), so resist the temptation to make a quick buck, and firmly turn away the Maldivians queuing outside, desperate to get their grubby apostate hands on your old rosary beads or your Krishna statue for a Bai Rufiyaa.

You should also be aware that even though religion is most likely to have been your favourite conversation starter and probably the source of your best pick-up lines back home, it will not aid your hectic social life on this island paradise in a similar manner. In fact, Article 34.b makes it safer to drop religion from your vocabulary altogether. As a precautionary measure, before The Regulations are passed, you should try and remove any reflexive exclamations that may have embedded themselves in your oral register over the years such as ‘Oh my God!, ‘Jesus!’, ‘Harey Raam!’, etc. If you are more accustomed to saying ‘Jesus [insert expletive] Christ!’, however, it might help your plea of mitigation. Remember, though, a precedent is yet to be set, so proceed with caution.

Article 6.35 is a veritable quagmire of ambiguity. What constitutes a television programme or a written publication that is offensive or insulting to Islam? Where do we look to for guidance? The Taliban? The Emirates? Saudi Arabia? Insulting to whose version of Islam? Can a woman be shown wearing a bikini, or should a burqa be superimposed on her image before she appears on our airwaves? Does every shot of a church, temple and/or synagogue have to be removed from any film that a Maldivian watches? What does it mean that all advertisements should be ‘respectful of the beautiful customs of Islam’ (6.35c)? Apart from beauty being an entirely subjective concept, does this mean that only veiled women can appear in advertisements now? What if she is selling shampoo? Will all Gillette advertisements have to be axed? Books, too, are to be screened by The Board before it is available for Maldivian consumption (Article 31). If this gives us some reprieve from ‘literature’ such as The DaVinci Code, such a regulation might not be entirely without merit, but hardly justifies a group of 25-year-old male graduate virgins deciding our choice of reading matter.

Can The Ministry please clarify why it is necessary to burn the house down to roast the pig?

It has been a surprisingly risky business highlighting the ‘ambiguities’ in The Regulations. This article contains the p-word; names someone whom over a billion non-Muslims regard as the Son of God; allows Lord Krishna a cameo appearance; speaks of women in bikinis; discusses an instrument of shaving for men; and mentions places of worship other than a mosque.

Would The Regulations be applied retrospectively? If Sheikh Shaheem of The Ministry is to be taken at his word, the consequences may not be too dire. Even if found guilty of the Offence of Mockery, he has assured, the author will not be imprisoned, but will receive ‘counselling’. Whether ‘counselling’ involves a psychiatrist’s couch, one-on-one preaching sessions with a Licensed Mullah, or water-boarding, remains undefined and open to interpretation. As is much of The Regulations.

Criminalising (dis)belief will never be free of ambiguities.

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]

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