The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has questioned the sincerity of Islamic Minister Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed’s declaration that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) would not be allowed to operate in the Maldives.
“ISIS is an extremist group. No space will be given for their ideology and activities in the Maldives,” Shaheem tweeted on Sunday night (August 24).
The main opposition party contended in a press release yesterday that Shaheem’s statement was “duplicitous” and “insincere” as it was not backed up with concrete action by the government.
“We note with concern that neither the Islamic minister nor the government has taken any action while activities related to terrorism in different forms as well as extremism are carried out in the Maldives, religious strife and hatred is incited widely, and death threats are being made against various people over religious matters,” the statement read.
The party noted that the ISIS flag was used in recent protests in Malé calling for a boycott of Israeli tourists. While the protesters had gathered outside the residence of the Islamic minister in violation of freedom of assembly laws, the MDP noted that the government had not taken any action.
The Islamic ministry has also provided a meeting hall of the Islamic centre for a religious sermon which was advertised with the ISIS logo, the MDP claimed.
The party claimed to have learned that police and army officers were involved in putting up the banners across the capital.
The MDP also accused the government of not attempting to find the “real killers” of murdered MP Dr Afrasheem Ali, noting that the moderate religious scholar had faced harassment over his liberal views.
Referring to his last television appearance, the party said Dr Afrasheem’s remarks suggested he was “forced” to support radical religious ideology.
Appearing on a live talk show on state broadcaster Television Maldives, Dr Afrasheem had said he was deeply saddened and asked for forgiveness if he had created a misconception due to his inability to express himself in the right manner.
Dr Afrasheem’s moderate positions on subjects such as 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 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 him 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.
The MDP statement meanwhile noted that the US State Department’s 2013 country report on terrorism had stated that “Maldivian authorities believe that funds are currently being raised in Maldives to support terrorism abroad”.
While the report observed that “the Maldivian Central Bank believes that criminal proceeds mainly come from domestic sources, as a large percentage of Suspicious Transaction Reports (STRs) are related to Maldivians,” the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) denied it had any knowledge of such activities.
“The MMA has neither received nor communicated any information regarding confirmed operation of terrorist financing activities,” the central bank insisted in a statement.
The MDP said it believes such activities were aided and abetted by both foreign groups and Maldivians, adding that the activities were “well organised” and carried out with “funding and training”.
“There has been particular concern that young Maldivians, including those within the penal system, may be at risk of becoming radicalised and joining violent Islamist extremist groups. Links have been made between Maldivians and violent extremists throughout the world,” the US report stated.
The party also argued that extremism in the Maldives was encouraged by the mass gathering held on December 23, 2011 to “defend Islam” against the allegedly secularist policies of former President Mohamed Nasheed as well as a pamphlet issued by the party of current Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed.
Dr Jameel’s Dhivehi Qaumee Party had issued a pamphlet titled “President Nasheed’s devious plot to destroy the Islamic faith of Maldivians.”
Both the December 23 demonstration and the pamphlet were intended to sow discord and strife for political purposes, the party contended, and reiterated its claim that extremist ideologies were prevalent in the security services.
The party also referred to President Abdulla Yameen’s response when asked about Maldivians leaving to fight in the Syrian civil war following the death of a Maldivian militant in a suicide attack.
President Yameen’s remarks about the government not being involved in sending Maldivians to join militant organisations were “extremely irresponsible,” the MDP said.