The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has condemned insinuations by religious NGO Jamiyyathul Salaf preacher Sheikh Adam Shameem Ibrahim suggesting that the party was behind the brutal murder of moderate scholar and MP Dr Afrasheem Ali.
The MDP in a press release on Wednesday (September 18) expressed concern with what it contended was the Salaf preacher’s “incitement of hatred among the public with the intention of influencing the [presidential] election.”
“We assert resolutely that the party had no involvement whatsoever in the brutal murder of late Dr Afrasheem Ali,” the press release stated.
“The party calls upon all parties not to use such a tragic atrocity in the name of religion and out of political rivalry in efforts to mislead the public.”
The MDP warned that NGOs “sowing discord in society for the undue political benefit of another party” could see the “increasing freedom of expression, economic development and civilisation of the present turn into the brutality and fear of the past.”
A religious sermon titled “Andalus” organised by Salaf – attended by senior members of the Adhaalath Party – was broadcast live on all local television channels except the MDP-aligned Raajje TV on Tuesday night. The MDP has since contended that Sheikh Shameem’s sermon amounted to negative campaigning against its candidate, former President Mohamed Nasheed.
In his lengthy sermon, the Salaf preacher criticised the MDP’s guest house policy and youth policy and accused the party of planning to introduce religious freedom in the Maldives. Sheikh Shameem also claimed that the 800-year-old Islamic faith of Maldivians was under threat and attempted to draw parallels between the Islamic empire’s loss of Andalus in the fifteenth century and present day Maldives.
Meanwhile, speaking at a Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) rally last night (September 18), former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom reportedly said that the PPM and Salaf shared the same ideology and claimed the NGO would participate in the party’s campaign activities after endorsing PPM candidate Abdulla Yameen.
The late Dr Afrasheem
Dr Afrasheem Ali was found stabbed to death near the stairwell of his residence in Male’ on October 1, 2012. Soon thereafter, police arrested two MDP activists – Mariyam Naifa and Ali Hashim ‘Smith’ – in connection with the murder. Both suspects were however released without charge.
The MDP at the time accused the government of attempting to frame the party with “politically-motivated arrests” of its members. In November 2012, former President Mohamed Nasheed accused the government of negligence in its efforts to bring the perpetrators to justice.
On the night of his murder, Dr Afrasheem had made his last public appearance on a live talk show on state broadcaster Television Maldives (TVM) titled “Islamee Dhiriulhun” (Islamic Living).
In the programme, Dr Afrasheem said he was deeply saddened and asked for forgiveness from citizens if he had created a misconception in their minds due to his inability to express himself in the right manner.
Minister of Islamic Affairs Sheikh Shaheem Ali Saeed was meanwhile quoted in local media as saying that the Islamic Ministry had not forced Dr Afrasheem to offer a public apology for anything in his last television appearance.
Dr Afrasheem’s moderate positions on subjects such as listening to music had drawn stringent criticism from more conservative religious elements, who dubbed him “Dr Ibilees” (“Dr Satan”).
In 2008, the scholar was kicked and chased outside a mosque after Friday prayers, while more recently in May 2012, the religious Adhaalath Party released a statement condemning Afrasheem for allegedly “mocking the Sunnah”.
NGO Salaf had meanwhile released at least a dozen statements against the late Dr Afrasheem at the time of his death. In a three-page press release (Dhivehi) on July 10, 2008, Salaf listed Dr Afrasheem’s alleged transgressions and advised the moderate religious scholar to “fear Allah, stop talking any way you please of things you do not know of in the name of religion and [stop] twisting [Islamic] judgments to suit your personal wishes”.
The NGO also called on the public not to listen to “any religious fatwa or any religious talk” from the scholar.
MDP and Islam
The MDP press statement meanwhile reiterated that the party would protect Islam and not allow other religions to be introduced to the Maldives.
Referring to its track record in government, the party noted that a Ministry of Islamic Affairs was established for the first time in the country by the MDP government upon taking office in November 2008.
Local scholars were allowed the freedom for the first time to preach and conduct sermons and lectures, the press release continued, while 42 mosques as well as a number of prayer rooms in schools were built and 150 Islamic teachers were trained during the MDP’s three years in government.
It added that the National University’s faculty of shariah and law was strengthened with foreign assistance and a new government-funded building was constructed for Arabiyya School in Male’ by the MDP government.
An Islamic Bank was opened in the Maldives in March 2011 with MVR 22 million (US$1.4 million) spent out of the state budget in 2010 together with an investment of MVR 127 million (US$8.2 million) secured by the MDP government from the Islamic Development Bank, the press release noted.
Moreover, the MDP government began state-funded annual symposiums for local scholars to facilitate academic discussions of pressing religious and social issues, the press release stated.
“We note with pride that as a result of these measures, the stature of religious scholars in society was raised and opportunities opened up for scholars to be academically active and serve at a national level,” the MDP said.
The party’s 2013 manifesto meanwhile includes the construction of an “Islamic Knowledge Centre” in Male’ for MVR 200 million (US$13 million) that would include a library, lecture halls and a mosque with a capacity 5,000 worshippers.
Among other policies for the next five years include conducting an international Islamic conference in the Maldives at an estimated cost of MVR 25 million (US$1.6 million) with the participation of renowned foreign scholars, training 300 Quran teachers to first degree level, and allocating MVR 36 million (US$2.3 million) for renovating mosques across the country.
“We note that all these projects are costed and budgeted and the manifesto includes details for implementation,” the press release stated.