President defends traditional Maldivian Islam as parliament endorses Bari as Islamic Minister

The parliament has approved the reappointment of Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari as Minister for Islamic Affairs, in a narrow vote 38 in favour 35 against.

Dr Bari was first appointed to the position under a coalition agreement made between the government and the religious Adhaalath Party, resigned on the party’s request after it made the decision to break the agreement t over the government’s religious policy.

Opposition parties have earlier said their MPs in the parliament would  not vote in favor of Dr Bari and that he would be dismissed. A parliament committee that looked into the issue has meanwhile dismissed his reappointment and will submit a report on the matter.

Adhaalath made a further move today to sever its connection with the government, dismissing its former President and current State Islamic Minister Sheikh Hussein Rasheed. Sheikh Hussein had been also asked to resign by the party following its split with the MDP, but had elected to remain in the government.

Speaking to Minivan News, Sheikh Hussein said that he had received a letter from the Adhaalath Party yesterday informing him that he had been dismissed from the party for acting against the party’s ideas.

”The people will know the work I have done for Adhaalath Party,” he said. “When the party was first established there was no one that had the courage to take the lead so I did. No one had the courage to go and take the party registration form but I went and took it,” Sheikh Rasheed explained. ”That was the time when the former President and scholars were under great influence and threat of being imprisoned.”

Now, he said, the party was under the influence of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

Sheikh Hussein said the VTV television station, owned by opposition-aligned MP and tourism tycoon Gasim Ibrahim, had reported his dismissal from the Adhaalath Party before the decision had even been taken by the disciplinary committee.

He said that when the party asked him to resign from his position, he only told the party his view on the matter.

“Dr Bari and I are working independently in the Ministry, free from influence,” he said. ”If I If I have violated any regulations there will be actions taken, but the party’s Disciplinary Committee needs to be investigated first.”

”We created the party with a very good intention. It was to go forward with the country and citizens and to serve the religion. But that is not the direction in which that party is moving now,” he said.

Sheikh Hussein said he had not yet decided to join another party, and was currently awaiting word from the Elections Commission on the matter.

Dr Bari and President of Adhaalath Party President Sheikh Imran Abdulla did not respond to Minivan News at time of press.

Government stands up

President Mohamed Nasheed has meanwhile defended Islam and Maldivian culture and traditions, ahead of an opposition-backed religious protest on December 23. The website promoting the protest briefly called for the “slaughter” of “anyone against Islam”, slogans which were subsequently removed and blamed on a “technical mistake”, “hackers” and later, “intelligence officials”.

Nasheed has claimed that religious protesters are trying to implement Islamic Sharia penalties such as stoning, amputation and execution – penalties which have traditionally been pardoned by the Maldivian judicial system.

Speaking at a rally held on Saturday evening, Nasheed defended traditional cultural practices such as playing and listening to music and the role of women in society, noting that “women have been in the Maldivian workforce as long as men.”

He  called on political parties to publicly state which form of Islam they supported: “the Islam we have been practicing in this country for several hundred years, or a new faction of Islam.”

Protest organisers President of the Adhaalath Party Sheikh Imran Abdullah, and Abdullah Mohamed, head of a coalition of religious NGOs organising the protest, were questioned by police on December 13.
Press Secretary of the President’s Office, Mohamed Zuhair, today claimed that “former President Gayoom, the Adhaalath Party and religious extremists are whipping up hatred, intolerance and xenophobia for political purposes. They hope to topple the government from the streets because they can’t defeat it through the ballot box.”

Islamic Minister asks government to remove idolatrous SAARC monuments

Islamic Minister Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari has requested government authorities remove SAARC monuments that contradict Islam, placed in different areas around Addu City.

Dr Bari did not give further information about the matter to Minivan News, but confirmed that the media reports about the request he made were correct.

Local media have reported that Dr Bari has asked the President’s Office, the Foreign Ministry and Addu City Council to take down the offending SAARC monuments, although he did not specify which.

Speaking to Minivan News today, Press Secretary for the President Mohamed Zuhair said that the government will respect Dr Bari’s decision.

‘’All concerned authorities will respect the word of Dr Bari,” Zuhair said, but added that it was “very difficult for the government to return a monument gifted to the government, especially when it is handed to us by another Islamic country,’’ he said.‘’If you think of it diplomatically, it is very difficult.’’

Zuhair said the Islamic Minister’s request will be forwarded to the President, who will decide whether or not to remove the monuments as soon as he comes back to office after his post-SAARC vacation.

Former President of Adhaalath Party and current State Islamic Minister, Sheikh Hussein Rasheed, today told Minivan News that he was not informed of the decision of the Islamic Minister.

‘’I do not know anything about it, nor did the Minister discuss anything like that with me,’’ Sheikh Rasheed said.

He said that the monuments “do not contradict the religion of Islam.”

‘’They were all given to us by member countries of SAARC, and represent their countries. The Pakistan monument showed how Pakistan became an Islamic country from its Buddhist origins,’’ he said. ‘’Although the monument does not contradict Islam, it should not be kept there if Maldivian citizens do not want it to be there.’’

The Pakistani monument was toppled during the SAARC Summit and subsequently set ablaze, and eventually stolen outright. The Sri Lankan monument, a statue of lion, was reported yesterday to have been coated in crude oil.

However Deputy Sri Lankan High Commissioner Shaanthi Sudusinghe told Minivan News today that she had been informed by the Addu City Mayor that the reports were a domestic political issue,  and that the Sri Lankan monument had not been vandalised.

“He said the monument was made of carved stone and had black characteristics,” Sudusinghe said, “and that the monuments were being afforded full protection.”

Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s political party, the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM), this week hailed the vandals of the Pakistani monument to be “national heroes”, and vowed to fight for their release from police custody in court.

Yesterday, PPM filed a case with police against the Maldives Customs Department for allowing the monuments to be imported to the Maldives.


State Islamic Minister dismisses party’s demand he resign

State Islamic Minister and former President of the Adhaalath Party, Sheikh Hussain Rasheed Ahmed, has dismissed demands from the party’s council that he resign.

“You will know very well that I did not accept this position with the consent or with an approval of the consultation council, and therefore I do believe that there is a policy that allows the council to ask me to resign,” State Minister for Islamic Affairs Sheikh Hussain told the current President of the Adhaalath Sheikh Imran Abdulla, in a letter he send yesterday in response to the one demanding his resignation.

The Adhaalath Party decided this week to break off its coalition agreement with the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), after the party’s consultation council voted 32 to 2 to approve a resolution to leave the government.

In the letter Sheikh Hussein said that normally when a coalition agreement is terminated, the President withdraws the positions shared with the party, and President himself would ask the members of that political party to resign from their positions.

“Every citizen has a national responsibility, and the only time he should stop fulfilling those responsibilities are when they are inconsistent with the principles of Islam,” he told the Adhaalath Party president in the letter.

He said that the greatest responsibility of a citizen was to serve the nation and to carry on the duties the he was assigned, adding that the work he was doing “fulfills both a religious and national duty.”

Following in the footsteps of now-opposition Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) and the Jumhooree Party (JP), Adhaalath is the third major party of the ‘Watan Edhey’ coalition – formed to rally against former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in the second round run-off of the 2008 presidential election – to leave the MDP-led coalition.

Sheikh Imran last night told Villa TV (VTV) that he had asked Islamic Minister Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari and the State Islamic Minister to resign following the party’s split with the government.

Meanwhile, MDP Chairperson and MP ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik said the MDP regrets the Adhaalath Party’s decision to leave “like a husband regrets for a while when a stubborn wife leaves him.”

Islamic Minister Dr Bari has not said anything on the matter. The media today reported that he had departed to Haa Alifu Atoll with the President.


Parties talk policy pledges ahead of council elections

As some of the country’s most high-profile political figures campaign around the country ahead of this Saturday’s local council elections, their respective parties have been outlining the policies they hope will sway the elections in their favour.

President Mohamed Nasheed, his predecessor Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and current (DRP) leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali have been touring the country’s atolls to meet and greet constituents who on Feburary 5 will be decide the shape of decentralised governance.

Heading the country’s main political opposition, Thasmeen said that the DRP is pursuing four key messages with its campaigning: equality, democratic practices, Islamic values and keeping the country’s assets under state control.

“We will not sell off state assets,” he said. “We are particularly concerned about the sale of uninhabited islands and the selling of shares in [telecoms provider] Dhiraagu – this is not the right path.”

One of the key concerns the opposition leader claimed was of central importance during the local council campaign was that of strengthening democratic practices, an area he the current ruling MDP “needed to work on much harder.”

“We believe independent institutions like the Elections Commission (EC) and the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) should be strengthened,” he said. “Government offices have tried to discredit these institutions, even in the police service where we have seen dismissals for political purposes.”

Ultimately, Thasmeen said that he believed the MDP-led government had been “very partisan” in providing state services and more equality was needed when filling jobs and providing healthcare to politicians.

Alongside the party’s serving members, Thasmeen said he believed that the DRP’s position within the upcoming elections had been strengthened by the return to campaigning of its honorary leader, former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

While not confirming how Gayoom would be campaigning for the party in relation to the strategy outlined by the DRP’s council committee, Thasmeen said he welcomed any assistance. “Mr Gayoom is very well respected and holds an honourable position in the party,” he said.

During his own travels along the campaign trail, President Mohamed Nasheed has also been campaigning to play up the work the MDP has already conducted and will look to continue.

The party’s election manifesto consists of five core pledges: ‘nationwide transport’, ‘affordable living costs’, ‘affordable housing’, ‘affordable quality healthcare’, and the ‘prevention of narcotics abuse and trafficking’.

The party stated at its Congress in late September 2010 that it considered the pledges to be “40 percent” completed.

Whilst visiting the island of Feeali yesterday during a tour of Faafu Atoll and Dhaalu Atoll, the president claimed he remained committed to driving ahead developments despite what he called “unjustifiable criticisms” leveled at his work by opposition parties.

Nasheed stressed that the MDP was campaigning on the basis of continued developments in infrastructure and social protection already focused on within outer lying islands during his administration’s tenure.

The innaguration of sewerage systems in 17 islands – allegedly up from just four before the party came to power as a coalition in 2008 – and the completion of seven water grids in atolls outside of Male’ were used as some examples of MDP’s commitment to national development.

Outside of the country’s two most prominent political parties, President of the religious Adhaalath Party, Sheikh Hussein Rasheed, said its candidates were mainly focused on three main aims during the election.

Sheikh Rasheed said that Adhaalath candidates would focus on “wide ranging development”, aiming to reduce problems associated with drug abuse and “uniting people together”.

“We will co-operate with the government as per the law, of course,” he added.

Rasheed said that candidates for the Adhaalath Party were running for seats in Raa Atoll, Haa Dhaalu Atoll, Addu Atoll, Gnaviyani Atoll and the city of Male’.

”It is very likely that the Adhaalath Party candidate for Raa Atoll and Haa Dhaalu Atoll will win the seat,” he claimed.

The local council elections are scheduled for February 5, this coming Saturday.


MDP “destroying the sanctity” of Adhaalath, claims religious party

The political Adhaalath Party led by State Islamic Minister Sheikh Hussein Rasheed has accused the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) of “attempting to destroy the sanctity of the Party” by misleading the public over its work.

”Although the Adhaalath Party is an institute in the current government, [it] is a party that supports justice and rights, and has expressed its opinions under the responsibility of integrity,” the group said in a statement. “Even if we were not an institute of the government, we will always keep our work to this policy.”

The party statement claimed that it was very concerned that some MDP officials were trying to misrepresent its work as the ideas of just a few specific individuals rather than an entire party in a manner that could damage the “sanctity and honour” of the party.

“Adhaalath Party will never just follow the decision of individuals, we will always follow the decision of the party’s discussion committee,” the party stated. ”All the opinions the Adhaalath Party has expressed and all the work it has conducted was done according to the decision of our discussion committee.”

Officials of the religious party have also advised politicians to avoid personal confrontations and stick to political discourse instead.

Unnamed government officials recently described scholars like Sheikh Ibrahim Fareed and the vice leader of the Adhaalath Party’s religious council, Sheikh Ilyas Hussein, as “hate preachers” in an interview with India-based magazine The Week.

The party has claimed that senior officials of the current government, including former Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed and Home Minister Hassan Afeef, made false allegations against a number of the country’s religious leaders, including the vice leader of the Adhaalath Party’s religious council, Sheikh Ilyas Hussein.

Minivan News attempted to contact MDP’s parliamentary group spokesperson and MP Alhan Fahmy, who was unavailable for comment at time of going to press.


No truth to claims that Shaheem blocked from preaching, says Islamic Ministry

Spokesperson for the Islamic Ministry Sheikh Ahmadulla Jameel has refuted allegations by the Dhivehi Post website that State Islamic minister and President of the Adhaalath Party, Sheikh Hussein Rasheed, had ordered ministry staff to prevent former State Islamic minister Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed from preaching, delivering the Friday sermon, and appearing on TV programmes.

The website reported that the order to restrict Sheikh Shaheem from preaching originated from the President’s Office, and that Sheikh Hussein Rasheed had then ordered all departments of the ministry to follow it.

The website then called for Sheikh Hussein Rasheed to resign from his post as the president of the Adhaalath Party.

However, Sheikh Ahmadulla denied saying this to the website.

”I have asked all staff at the ministry as to whether any such event took place within the ministry, but nobody knows of it,” he said, adding that Dhivehi Post website had never contacted him.

Sheikh Hussein Rasheed also denied the allegations.

”First of all, the President’s Office will not send me any message directly, they will always pass messages to me through the minister,” said Sheikh Hussein. ”It is not the current government’s culture to order ministries to do things like this.”

Sheikh Rasheed said the allegations were false and that the government “would not use unregistered news websites to circulate information.”


Adhaalath Party condemns president’s ”dangerous warning” on Gayoom

The Adhaalath party, led by State Islamic Minister Sheikh Hussein Rasheed, has condemned the ”dangerous warning issued” by President Mohamed Nasheed against the return of his predecessor, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, to national politics.

The president was this week reported on the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) website as warning that history might return if Gayoom comes back to the Maldives for political campaigning and that his life could be in danger, despite the state’s attempts to protect him.

”Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and other former presidents of the Maldives are persons honoured and secured by the state according to the laws,” said Adhaalah party in a statement. ”The warning president Mohamed Nasheed issued was against Islamic Sharia, the constitution, human rights and democracy.”

Sheikh Rasheed said the action of Nasheed was very ”uncivilized and low graded” and that his party condemned the action in the strongest possible terms.

”We sincerely appeal to the president not to repeat such words and not to encourage actions that might disrupt the peace of the nation or  lead to terrorism,” the party said.

Sheikh Rasheed said he would not like to add any further comments on the issue.

The main opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party [DRP] has also condemned the action in the strongest possible terms following the president’s warning.

Nasheed warned Gayoom to stay out of the Maldives claiming that it was for his own safety, referring to the death incidents of former presidents who were killed after their resignations.


EC disputes blame for lack of public awareness of referendum

The Elections Commission (EC) has issued a statement condemning the remarks made by President of the Adhaalath Party Sheikh Hussein Rasheed, after he criticised it for failing to raise adequate public awareness about the recent referendum.

Sheikh Rasheed said that as a result, the state had spent more than Rf 11 million (US$856,000) holding a referendum on administrative consolidation that most of the country’s eligible citizens had failed to vote in.

“My intention is to make institutions more accountable. It’s not a problem if the commission issues press releases about me, but I would prefer they listen and learn something from what I said,’’ Sheikh Rasheed told Minivan News.

He claimed that most citizens were unaware of what the referendum was about – a proposal for grouping smaller islands to form large population centres – which led to a 30 percent turnout across the country. Of 88,882 eligible voters, less than 27,000 participated in the referendum.

However the EC stated that it would contradict the commission’s independence  if it was required to inform citizens about the benefits and disadvantages of a referendum’s topic, and described attempts by political figures to disgrace the commission by suggesting otherwise as “irresponsible”.


“People should be free to pray according to any sect of Islam”, says Adhaalath president

The Islamic Ministry and the Adhaalath party have expressed concern over certain amendments proposed in the religious unity act by Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Dr Afrasheem Ali.

The Islamic Ministry on its website said that while the amendment bill was useful, it was concerned about an article stating that the Shafi sect should be enshrined as the basis of Islam in the Maldives.

The Islamic Ministry described the article as “unIslamic”, and that it was against the constitution of the Maldives.

Furthermore, the ministry called on parliament to gather more information and to cite that information when amending the proposed bill during the committee stage.

The ministry said that “many scholars” were concerned over the amendment proposed to make the Shafi sect the main basis of Islam in the Maldives.

Sheikh Hussein Rasheed, President of the Adhaalath Party, refuted the article which making the Shafi sect the official sect of the Maldives.

”People should have the freedom to pray according to any sect [of Islam] they wish,” said Sheikh Hussein. ”There are many people in the Maldives who follows different sects when worshiping.”

Sheikh Hussein said that although the bill was passed, ”nobody will follow it.”

”Until 1997, on the island where Dr Afrasheem comes from, they did not perform the Friday prayers because according to the Shafi sect there should be a minimum of 40 people in order to conduct them,” he said. ”So if it becomes a law to follow the Shafi sect, again we are going back to those days.”

He said that Dr Afrasheem’s comment in parliament that in Malaysia people followed the Shafi sect was “a big lie.”

”In Malaysia people perform prayers according other sects as well,” Sheikh Hussein said.

He said that in many other Islamic countries there were no laws that specified which sect to follow.

”Laws can’t force people to follow a specific sect – people should be rather trained to follow a specific sect,” he said. ”I strongly refuse that part of the amendment bill.”

On May 21, Dr Afrasheem Ali presented a bill to amend the religious unity act.

Dr Afrasheem said that social unity among Maldivians was weaker than it had been in the past.

”One reason for this [disruption] is issues of religion, particularly disputes over worship and [scholars] criticising each other,” said Dr Afrasheem.

He proposed that the Shafi sect be chosen as the basis of Islam in the Maldives.

”I selected the Shafi sect because it is the sect most friendly, most accepted and most widely followed sect in Islam,” he said.