Islamic minister visits Saudi Arabia for international conference

Minister of Islamic Affairs Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed has today left for Saudi Arabia on an official trip.

According to the Islamic Ministry, Minister Shaheem will be attending the International Conference on Unity of the Islamic Ummah, which is to be held in Mecca on March 2 and 3.

The conference will be attended by several Islamic organisations and the islamic ministers of numerous islamic states. The guest of honour of the event is to be Saudi Arabian King Abdulla Bin Abdul Azeez Al Saud.

The ministry further revealed that Shaheem will be seeking aid and assistance for Islam-related projects planned for the Maldives.


MNDF officers to travel with hajj pilgrims for assistance

The Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) and the state enterprise Hajj Corporation have signed an agreement under which officers of the MNDF will attend hajj pilgrimage to provide assistance to pilgrims.

The memorandum of understanding was signed at an event held at the Ministry of Islamic Affairs on Tuesday – signed by Chief of Defence Force Major General Ahmed Shiyam and Hajj Corporation Managing Director Yamin Idrees.

Speaking at the event, Islamic Minister Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed revealed that a similar agreement will be signed with the police force in the near future.

The minister further revealed that the Hajj Corporation would be covering all expenses of the officers who will be attending the pilgrimage. He stated that he aimed to eventually have all MNDF officials attend hajj prayers under the initiative.

The corporation is sponsoring seven MNDF officers this year.

An official of the Hajj Corporation stated that the idea behind the initiative was not to have MNDF officers conduct menial tasks for the pilgrims, but rather to facilitate a means for soldiers to engage in the prayers of Hajj.

Hajj Corporation Chairperson Dr Aishath Muneeza stated that 400 pilgrims would be taken to Mecca for the pilgrimage this year. She added that a delegation of the corporation is soon leaving for Saudi Arabia to seek ways of increasing convenience for Maldivian pilgrims, including the renting of a separate hotel solely for the use of Maldivians during the hajj season.

MNDF Spokesperson Major Hussain Ali told Minivan News that they have not decided a criteria under which officers who will get the seven pilgrimage slots this year will be selected.

“So far, we have just signed the memorandum of understanding with the Hajj corporation and announced it. We have not yet drafted a selection criteria, though it will be done under some form of selection process,” Major Ali said.

Minister of Islamic Affairs Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed stated that the ministry would not be directly involved in either the selection of officers, or in the compilation of criteria for selecting officers. He said that the target was to allow officers selected by the Hajj Corporation and the MNDF to be able to attend pilgrimage completely free of charge.

The MNDF also concluded a Quran recitation ‘Qari’ course on Monday, held in alliance with The Centre for Holy Quran. Twenty MNDF officers participated in this course.


Saudi organisation to spend MVR 1.6 million to spread Quranic teachings in Maldives

Saudi Arabian organisation Al Hayat al Alamiya li Tadabbur al Quran ul Karim has decided to run a program to promote Quranic studies in the Maldives.

Delegates from the organisation signed a memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Islamic Affairs on Sunday night, under which they have pledged to spend MVR1.6 million for related projects.

According to Islamic Minister Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed, the organisation will assist the Maldives in the field in numerous ways – including the establishment of a distance study program at the Centre of Quran and the establishment of a system where modern facilities can be used to research Quranic disciplines.

Providing information about the visit of the eleven delegates from the Saudi organisation, Shaheem stated that they have pledged to further develop the “Kulliyath Ul Madhrasathul Dhiraasaa” in the Maldives and to translate their literature into the Maldivian Dhivehi script.


Adhaalath Party “curses” Nasheed, accuses MDP of increasing support through black magic

Religious conservative Adhaalath Party leader Sheikh Imran Abdulla has accused Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) presidential candidate and former President Mohamed Nasheed of using black magic to garner support for the party.

“As a result of bringing in people from India, Sri Lanka, and various parts of the Maldives to perform black magic for [Nasheed], and then casting spells on food and feeding them to the masses, Nasheed has caused large numbers of people to become blind towards all his wrongdoings, and to imagine characteristics of being democratic and pro-development in him, and to be deluded into thinking they are in absolute support of him while in reality they are in a crazed state of enchantment and therefore run behind him,” Imran said, addressing the Jumhoree Coalition’s first major rally in the capital.

“Nasheed’s followers are anti-Islamic people like him and huge criminals. The rest are people under the influence of his black magic. Most people are bewitched and under black magic spells. This is the state of this country,” he said.

“Nasheed is doubtless an agent – one who has been rather well trained – sent in by enemies of Islam and our nationalism,” Imran continued. “A vote cast for Nasheed is an act which will facilitate the eradication of Islam from this country and will hurl us into a state of slavery.”

He furthermore alleged that during Nasheed’s time as President, he had “forced alcohol down the throats of Maldivians”, erased Islam, sold national assets and gave the profits to his “cronies”, and had himself “hidden away in his pockets US$16 million by giving away the airport to GMR”.

Moving away from his religion-based rhetoric, Sheikh Imran then spoke of Chinese superstitions as his justification of why people should not vote for Nasheed.

“In matters involving luck, the Chinese would never opt for number four,” he stated.

“If Nasheed approaches the 1 billion people of China as Candidate Number Four and asks for their vote, he will not be able to get a single vote,” he said.

Imran also spoke of how Nasheed is “spending billions on his campaign while he does not own any major assets or businesses in the country”. Imran then accused Nasheed of accepting funding for his campaigns from “foreign churches aiming to spread anti-Islam propaganda”.

Towards the end of his speech, Imran admitted that he “tends to levy a lot of criticism against Nasheed”, and said that this was not due to any personal grudges against the candidate.

“I have to speak against Nasheed because of the things he has done in these past several years; because of his anti-Islamic policies and anti-Islamic activities. Because I do not wish for a man like to him to become the head of state,” he continued to explain.

“Unlike other candidates, I must speak of Nasheed more openly as even the Quran instructs us to enlighten those who are ignorant and do not know any better.”

The religious conservative party’s leader also criticised the other two candidates contesting against Jumhooree Coalition candidate and businessman Gasim Ibrahim in the upcoming September 7 elections.

Referring to Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) presidential candidate Abdulla Yameen, Imran said that Yameen had failed in engaging with the public or garnering any support for himself. He alleged that as a result, Yameen had ended up having to bring out his half-brother and former President Maumoon Abdul Gayyoom to campaign for him and PPM instead.

Imran then spoke of President Mohamed Waheed Hassan, alleging he had been unable to maintain the initial “wide coalition” that he had formed as a result of “having chosen the wrong running mate at the wrong time”.

“Although Waheed was leading the race with the largest support base when talk of presidential elections first began, he no longer has the guarantee that he can even manage to get a simple five percent of the votes this election,” Imran said.

In the same week, Adhaalath Party member and current Islamic Affairs Minister Sheikh Shaheem Ali Saeed said that he had repeatedly performed prayers from the time Nasheed was elected President wishing for an end to his time in government, asking “Allah to curse Nasheed by setting dogs on him”.

“Every time I kneeled down in prayer, I repeatedly prayed a ‘dua’ performed by Prophet Mohamed (pbuh) against a man who had spit in his face,” Shaheem said, at a Jumhooree Coalition rally held on Mahibadhoo, stating that this was the first time he had prayed for the toppling of a government.

“The Prophet made this prayer against a man who spat on his face. What happened as a result is, the man was away somewhere on a trip. Then while he was asleep, a man-eating dog came and sniffed at people. Once the dog found this particular man, it attacked him and completely ripped him apart,” Shaheem stated.

Adhaalath Party had previously entered a coalition with Waheed’s Gaumee Ihthihaadh Party (GIP), which has appointed Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) leader Thasmeen Ali as Waheed’s running mate.

They later left the coalition and defected to Jumhooree Gulhun, backing resort tycoon Gasim Ibrahim and his running mate, Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) leader Dr. Hassan Saeed.

The Jumhooree Coalition now consists of the Jumhooree Party, the Dhivehi Qaumee Party, Adhaalath Party and PPM’s former interim Deputy Leader Umar Naseer and his supporters.

Politicians use ‘religion’ as a tool to play with hearts: Nasheed

“As Islam is deeply embedded in the hearts of Maldivians, some politicians are bringing out religion as a political tool to try and tamper with our hearts,” Nasheed said, speaking at the MDP’s rally held in Sri Lanka on Saturday.

Nasheed stated that at different times during the political changes of the past years, various politicians, as well as people who present themselves as religious scholars, have used religion for the purpose of furthering political gain.

Nasheed stated that some political figures who present themselves as “religious scholars” are people who do no more than “slaughter camels or bind leather books”.

“The people of Maldives are now aware of all this. We have seen how the coup regime and the long 30 year regime before that is and has been maintained. The people have rolled up their sleeves and begun work to take the Maldives to a far better place,” Nasheed said.

Adhaalath has displayed nothing but hypocrisy for the past years: PPM MP Nihan

“Imran is obviously wrong about our presidential candidate and his campaign strategies,” PPM MP Ahmed Nihan, said in response to Imran’s criticisms of the party’s presidential candidate Abdulla Yameen.

“There are two political ideologies in Maldives: that of former President Nasheed, and of former President Maumoon. They are the champions of Maldivian democracy and reform,” Nihan said.

“Our party is open about the differences in opinion between PPM and MDP about the levels of contribution these two presidents have made to the democracy movement, but that doesn’t undermine the commendable work done by either of them. Who is Imran to talk about this? The Adhaalath party made no contribution whatsoever to either the reform movement or the efforts to establish democratic governance here,” Nihan retorted.

“In the past seven years, the Adhaalath Party has displayed nothing but record levels of hypocrisy. They are responsible for destroying the healthy competitive political spirit in the country by behaving like a commodity on sale, selling themselves to whichever party offers them a higher price. The PPM has never entered an alliance with them,” he continued.

“Leave aside Imran’s criticisms of Yameen – who is he to call Nasheed an anti-Islamic person? His party’s coalition, Jumhuri Gulhun, has set up a campaign station in my constituency Villimale’ on a plot of government land which has long since been walled away for the purpose of building a mosque. They have set up speakers and are playing campaign songs on a holy plot of land reserved to make a mosque, and still have the nerve to call others ‘laadheenee’ (irreligious)?” Nihan stated.

GIP Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza stated that Imran was making up excuses while he very well knew the truth of the matter.

“Sheikh Imran knows better than anyone else that the Adhaalath Party did not leave the GIP coalition due to any issues with Dr Waheed’s choice of running mate. They left because we were unable to give them as much money as they asked for their campaign activities,” Riza said.


Chief of Defence Force warns of increasing risk of terrorist attacks, youth enrolling in terror training camps

Chief of Defence Force Major General Ahmed Shiyam has warned of a rising risk of terrorist attack in the Maldives, during a joint local and US military inauguration to establish a level of alerts for terrorism in the country.

Shiyam cautioned against assuming the country was completely safe from terrorist attacks simply based on the fact that no major terrorist activities have been uncovered in the country to date, warning there was an increased risk of terrorist attacks stemming from “religious extremism and political turmoil.”

He added that while messages encouraging such activities are circulating via social media, these focused mainly against a certain group of people, or to encourage youth to partake in activities of ‘jihad’.

“Some [Maldivian] youth have already joined up with terrorist organisations. They are now travelling to various war zones and locations and enrolling in a number of terrorist training camps. Although some of these youth have managed to travel back to this country, the whereabouts of others remain unknown. This is a warning sign of how terrorism is spreading across our country,” Major General Shiyam stated.

He stated that it is immensely important for the security forces to be well-trained in counter-terrorism measures and to ensure the forces remain ready to respond should such an incident occur.

Speaking of the necessity to identify the challenges faced in counter-terrorism operations, Major General Shiyam emphasised the importance of reviewing and revising the country’s counter-terrorism policies.

Shiyam stated that terrorism is a danger that presents itself in many different forms, including but not limited to incidents which arise through political or social activities.

“Regardless of how these dangers come forth to us, ultimately the result is the same: that is the destruction of our nation’s social fabric,” Major General Shiyam said.

Increased pressure in 2012 to conform to stricter form of Islam: US

The US State Department’s 2012 Report on International Religious Freedom notes that, especially following the February 7 controversial transfer of power, there has been an increased pressure in the Maldives to conform to a “stricter interpretation of Islamic practices.”

The report highlighted that there have been increased reports of religious freedom abuses. Concerns were also raised over government restriction of religious freedom.

“There was an increasing use of religion in political rhetoric, which led to derogatory statements about Christianity and Judaism, and harassment of citizens calling for a more tolerant interpretation of Islam. Anti-Semitic rhetoric among conservative parties continued,” the report said.

The report also referred to statements made by President Waheed, who came to office following last year’s transfer of power.

“During the year, President Waheed warned the nation that foreign parties were attempting to influence the country’s ideology and promote secularism; he urged citizens to resist these impulses,” the report read.

The report further pointed out incidences of societal harassment and abuse targeted towards citizens, especially women, who do not conform to strict, narrow guidelines seen to acceptable in Islam.

No religious freedom, SOFA agreement: Islamic Minister

Minister of Islamic Affairs Sheikh Shaheem Ali Saeed has meanwhile said that the Maldives will not grant religious freedom following the release of the US State Department’s report, and further declared that he will not allow the government to sign the proposed Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the United States.

“Religious freedom cannot be granted in the Maldives, Insha Allah [God willing]. The Constitution of the Maldives itself restricts such a thing from being permitted, nor do our citizens want such a thing. It is the responsibility of our citizens to safeguard our military interests and Insha Allah they will uphold that,” Shaheem is quoted as saying in local media.

Furthermore, “There is no way that the SOFA agreement can be signed, allowing foreign forces to stay on our land. Nor can we allow them to make the Maldives a destination in which to refuel their ships,” Shaheem said.

“The reason is, the US might attempt to use the Maldives as a centre when they are attacking another Muslim state. There is no way we will let that happen,” he said, asserting that he “will not compromise on the matter at all”.

A leaked draft of a proposed SOFA with between the Maldives and the US “incorporates the principal provisions and necessary authorisations for the temporary presence and activities of United States forces in the Republic of Maldives and, in the specific situations indicated herein, the presence and activities of United States contractors in the Republic of Maldives.”

Under the proposed 10 year agreement outlined in the draft, the Maldives would “furnish, without charge” to the United States unspecified “Agreed Facilities and Areas”, and “such other facilities and areas in the territory and territorial seas of the Republic of Maldives as may be provided by the Republic of Maldives in the future.”

“The Republic of the Maldives authorises United States forces to exercise all rights and authorities with Agreed Facilities and Areas that are necessary for their use, operation, defense or control, including the right to undertake new construction works and make alterations and improvements,” the document states.

The US would be authorised to “control entry” to areas provided for its “exclusive use”, and would be permitted to operate its own telecommunications system and use the radio spectrum “free of cost to the United States”.

The US would also be granted access to and use of “aerial ports, sea ports and agreed facilities for transit, support and related activities; bunkering of ships, refueling of aircraft, maintenance of vessels, aircraft, vehicles and equipment, accommodation of personnel, communications, ship visits, training, exercises, humanitarian activities.”

Former US Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, now Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Robert Blake, told the Press Trust of India that the agreement referred to joint military exercises and not a future base-building endeavor.

“We do not have any plans to have a military presence in Maldives,” Blake said, echoing an earlier statement from the US Embassy in Colombo.

“As I said, we have exercise programs very frequently and we anticipate that those would continue. But we do not anticipate any permanent military presence. Absolutely no bases of any kind,” Blake said.

“I want to reassure everybody that this SOFA does not imply some new uptake in military co-operation or certainly does not apply any new military presence. It would just be to support our ongoing activities,” he said.


Islamic Minister calls on state to withdraw all cases against religious scholars

Minister of Islamic Affairs Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali has called on the state to withdraw all court cases filed against Islamic scholars during past administrations.

“The cases filed against scholars during past administrations often involve charges for preaching religious advice without permits,” Shaheem told local media SunOnline.

“There are some charges previously filed against certain scholars, for example Sheikh [Ibrahim] Fareed. The charges against him are for preaching without a permit. I have spoken with Sheikh Fareed about this matter. In my capacity as Islamic minister, I call on the relevant authorities of the government to withdraw cases like this. These are very hurtful charges. Such charges should not be allowed to be levied against university educated, capable scholars, especially not under the current constitution,” Shaheem said.

Shaheem said that in a time where freedom to preach religion is exercised so freely, it is the duty of scholars to “invite people to religion to the extent of their capabilities” and that they should be granted that freedom as long as they do not make any statement which goes against Islam.

“Now, if they start giving out ‘fatwa’s, giving out judgements on what is ‘haram’ or ‘halal’ and speaking against the principles of Sharia, then action against them can be taken under the Religious Unity Act. I, however, cannot agree that there must be charges against someone for simple religious preaching, like asking people to go pray or pay alms,” Shaheem stated.

Speaking about scholars who held different views on religious matters, Shaheem said that such differences should be sorted through peaceful dialogue, and not through jail sentences and torture.

The Ministry of Islamic Affairs has previously held meetings to resolve dissenting opinions on religious matters, under the name of ‘Scholar’s Dialogue’.

Shaheem was travelling and unable to speak at the time of press.