State Minister for Islamic Affairs and Adhaalath Party member Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed has refuted reports in local media yesterday of a “clash” within the party, following a press statement it released on November 11.
In the statement, the party expressed concern about the government’s new regulations governing ‘symbolic’ wedding ceremonies, drawn up in the wake of the humiliation of a Swiss couple in Dhivehi by staff at Vilu Reef Resort and Spa.
Resorts deemed to break the aggressive new regulations can now be fined up to Rf one million (US$78,000), or even have their license to operate suspended under the Tourism Act.
Non-Muslims are unable to get married in the 100 percent Islamic Maldives, but many tourists pay for elaborate ‘renewal of vows’ ceremonies, often requesting a ‘Maldivian flavour’ to the proceedings. The infamous Vilu Reef ceremony reportedly cost US$1300, with an optional US$440 photograph service made available.
In its statement, the Adhaalath Party condemned the government for failing to consult with religious scholars before publishing the new regulations.
“Marriages are not performed in the Maldives as a cultural ceremony. Maldivians marry according to the rules and regulations of Shariah,” the statement said.
“This makes it impossible to see how a Maldivian wedding can be regarded as a cultural act. It is an important religious rite. It is the view of the Adhaalath party that the performance of symbolic traditional Maldivian wedding ceremonies, or the performance of a symbolic Muslim wedding ceremony between two non-Muslims, are both acts that belittle the sacred beliefs of Islam.”
The statement raised several specific concerns with the regulations: most significantly that under Article 10(b) of the Constitution, “no law can be made in the country that is in conflict with the tenets of Islam. No Maldivian citizen is under any obligation to recognise as legitimate any laws that do not follow those Constitutional stipulations.”
The regulations were, the Adhaalath Party claimed, “therefore void.”
Furthermore, in allowing foreigners to choose the language of the ceremony, the regulations “leave the door open for foreigners to travel to the Maldives and verbally abuse Maldivians in a foreign tongue that Maldivians do not understand.
“It should be noted that these regulations do not make it an offence for tourists to denigrate Maldivians and use filthy language against them,” the statement added.
Adhaalath also expressed concern that the regulations did not stipulate according to which religion the symbolic ceremony should be practiced, and that such regulations theoretically allowed such symbolic weddings to be performed between same sex couples, “a practice that has become common in the West.”
“Introducing regulations such as these that allow practices of other cultures and religions to occur in the Maldives, and to use legitimate legal mechanisms of the country to do so, is a way of legitimising such practices,” the Party’s statement read.
“It is a way of legalising un-Islamic activities to occur in the Maldives. Such acts, even if symbolic in nature, are unconstitutional. Because of the various such problems with this law, and because of the doors that they open, we wish to draw the attention of our beloved citizens to these regulations.”
The party also accused the government of failing to implement the recommendations of scholars in matters such as the attempted introduction of the sale of alcohol to foreigners on ‘inhabited’ islands, “trivialising” the subjects of Islam and Dhivehi by suggesting they be made optional at A-level,and victimising the Arab-Islamic system of education at Arabiyya school.”
Senior members of the government were, the party alleged, disregarding “and [treating] as of no value the advice and counsel of the [Islamic] Ministry on such issues.”
If the government continued on its current path, the party warned, “Adhaalath will have to reassess its alliance with MDP, the ruling party.”
Local newspaper Haveeru reported yesterday of a “clash” among the Adhaalath Party’s senior leadership over the statement, claiming that the party’s President Sheikh Hussein Rasheed Ahmed – also the State Minister of Home Affairs – had sought to distance himself from the statement.
Haveeru reported Scholars Council member Mohamed Didi, also one of the party’s founders, as saying that Sheikh Rasheed “could not dodge the statement on any grounds as he chaired the council meeting.”
“Sheikh Rasheed was chairing the meeting when members of the committee, which drafted the statement, were selected. The statement was made in reference to the issues noted at the meeting,” Didi reportedly told Haveeru.
Speaking to Minivan News yesterday, Sheikh Shaheem said that while he did not wish to comment on the statement itself, reports of “a clash” within the party over the matter were erroneous.
“There is no clash within the party – there is strong unity within the party. Just because there is a different opinion doesn’t mean there is fighting,” he said.
The Adhaalath Party was not taking any action against the government, he said, and had decided to request a meeting with President Mohamed Nasheed after the holidays to resolve the issues through discussion.
“Adhaalath was just giving a reminder to the government that things are going the wrong way. If the government resolves the problems then there’s no issue,” he said.
The concern was rather the government’s failure to discuss the new regulations with scholars, he explained.
“Islam is an important part of this country and you cannot boycott scholars,” he said. “There will be big challenges if [the government] boycotts the opinions of scholars.”
The Islamic Ministry was part of the government and had a role to provide advice and discuss such matters, Shaheem explained.
“The Maldives has been a Muslim country for 900 years, but this doesn’t mean we’re against other religions. We have [foreign] doctors, nurses, teachers – these people live with us here and enjoy our life[style]. But the Maldivian people want to keep their culture and respect for their religion. If the regulations are not in opposition against Islamic principles, we are not against them.”
Islam did not recognise civil marriages, Shaheem said: “We don’t do fake weddings, we do serious marriage.”
“If we want to [provide ceremonies] for guests the regulations must be good – [for instance] there are strong laws for alcohol, so only foreigners can buy it.”
He highlighted some specific concerns with the new regulations, which are technically now in effect after being published in the government’s gazette.
“If the ceremony is conducted in a language we don’t know, there is a possibility people will come and do what the [Vilu Reef staff] did, if it’s in a language we don’t have. The regulations should specify what languages should be used,” Shaheem suggested, adding that he was also concerned about the regulations theoretically allowing ceremonies to be performed between same-sex couples.
The Islamic Ministry, was, he said, part of the government and aimed to promote moderate Islam by preaching respect for other cultures and peoples in Friday sermons, and providing the government with suggestions on matters such as how the subject of Islam should be taught in schools.
“I recently spoke to some children in grade 11-12, and they had some very extreme ideas,” he said. “It is important to teach Islam properly, by teaching about terrorism and what [concepts] such as jihad really mean, and that innocents should not be killed. An understanding of extremism and human rights – these are things that can be taught in Islam. But when Islam is not taught or is made optional, [students] will go to other places, such as [extremist] websites.”
Problems with the regulations could be resolved through discussion, Shaheem said. “There are some legal and religious concerns among some scholars, but we are not against guests coming to our country.”
Translation of the Adhaalath Party’s statement. Original available on the party’s website (Dhivehi).
11 November 2010
“Tourism is the backbone of our economy, it is very important that we develop our tourism industry.
But, tourism should be developed in ways that are compatible with Islam. As a 100 percent exemplary Muslim state for the last nine hundred years, it is within Islamic thinking that Maldivian culture and traditions have been formed. This is made clear in the Constitution.
In the same manner matrimony in the country has too evolved within the principles of Islam. Marriages are not performed in the Maldives as a cultural ceremony. Maldivians marry according to the rules and regulations of Shariah. This makes it impossible to see how a Maldivian wedding can be regarded as a cultural act. It is an important religious rite.
It is the view of the Adhaalath party that the performance of symbolic traditional Maldivian wedding ceremonies, or the performance of a symbolic Muslim wedding ceremony between two non-Muslims, are both acts that belittle the sacred beliefs of Islam.
This is the case whether the service is provided as a means of appeasing tourists, or to financially exploit them.
Islam does not allow anyone to benefit from the improper exploitation of non-Muslims. The alternative is to allow foreigners to renew their marriage vows in the Maldives according to their own traditions and wants. Neither the Maldivian Constitution nor its culture permits the display of any other religion in the Maldives.
It has been decided by the Maldivian Fiqh Academy that the display of any other religion on Maldivian soil is unacceptable both in terms of law and in terms of spirit. We condemn the government for delaying the implementation of this edict by the Fiqh Academy and express concern that the government has failed to accept the ‘formal recommendations’ made by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs towards the government’s efforts to draft new regulations on symbolic wedding ceremonies in the Maldives.
The Adhaalath Party fully supports the recommendations by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs and their rationale. On behalf of all members of the Party and on behalf of its Advisory Committee, we would like to thank the Ministry for its limitless work in this regard.
The government has kicked the knowledge of scholars in the face, and failed to implement their recommendations. We call upon the government to immediately cease these activities that goad the beautiful culture of Islam and attempt to break the spirit of Islam.
Revealed below are the points of legal importance:
Article 271 of the Constitution states that any regulations that Maldivians need recognise as applying to them are regulations arising from a law approved by the Majlis. The regulations on symbolic wedding ceremonies refers to the Maldivian Tourism Act as its source and, having been published in the Government Gazette, are now legally binding.
Article 10(a) of the Maldivian Constitution states that Islam is the religion of the Maldivian state, and the source of its laws. Article 10(b) states that no law can be made in the country that is in conflict with the tenets of Islam. No Maldivian citizen is under any obligation to recognise as legitimate any laws that do not follow those Constitutional stipulations. The regulations are, therefore, void.
Law, as it is defined in Article 274 of the Constitution should be interpreted as: ‘Laws that have been passed by the Majlis and ratified by the President and regulations arising from such laws’.
Even though Article 43(a) of the Constitution does allow anybody resident in the Maldives to get married in the Maldives, Article 16(a) states that the right is dependent upon being compatible with the tenets of Islam. The regulations on symbolic wedding ceremonies is one that is aimed not at Maldivian but tourists. Even though the regulations stipulate that it is symbolic, the following issues can be noted when we contemplate the regulations from the perspective of law as well as that of the concept of marriage itself.
a) What a symbolic marriage ceremony is, and the degree of its legitimacy,
b) The regulations do not stipulate according to which religion the symbolic ceremony should take place.
Under the circumstances where there is no requirement that all tourists to the Maldives be Muslim, it is possible that some of these symbolic ceremonies could be conducted according to rituals of other religions. It also means that these regulations will allow such symbolic “wedding” ceremonies to be performed between same sex couples, a practice that has become common in the West.
c) Introducing regulations such as these that allow practices of other cultures and religions to occur in the Maldives, and to use legitimate legal mechanisms of the country to do so, is a way of legitmising such practices. It is a way of legalising un-Islamic activities to occur in the Maldives. Such acts, even if symbolic in nature, are unconstitutional.
d) The legitimacy of the person officiating at the ceremony is dubious. Right now, these ceremonies are conducted by Maldivian staff members at resorts. What are the legal or religious powers, it can be asked, of the registrar who performs these marriages, symbolic marriages or renewal of vows for non-Muslims. The question also arises of under what policy the management of a resort would certify the validity of the wedding vows that were so renewed or a wedding so conducted.
e) Article 5 (a) of the regulation says that the ceremony should be conducted in the language requested by the couple wishing to have the ceremony in the Maldives. This opens the door for ceremonies such as this to be conducted in a language other than Dhivehi, and for representatives of other religions such as priests to travel to the Maldives to conduct such ceremonies. Furthermore, it leaves the door open for foreigners to travel to the Maldives and verbally abuse Maldivians in a foreign tongue that Maldivians do not understand. That is, in fact, some have suggested, the reason why such a regulations was needed. It should be noted that these regulations do not make it an offence for tourists to denigrate Maldivians and use filthy language against them.
f) Article 7(a) of the regulations, which says that the ceremony can be conducted by someone other than a Maldivian, means there is a chance a priest may travel [to the Maldives]. As mentioned before, the representation of any other religion in the Maldives is a crime.
Because of the various such problems with this law, and because of the doors that they open, we wish to draw the attention of our beloved citizens to these regulations.
The Adhaalath Party is extremely concerned about the regular and continuous manner in which the Islamic personality of the Maldives is being confronted. The attempt to sell alcohol on inhabited island by using similar regulations, attempts to trivialise the subjects of Islam and Dhivehi in the school curriculum by trying to make them optional modules and victimising the Arab-Islamic system of education at Arabiyyaa are among such activities that can be noted here.
Adhaalath participated in the spirit of ‘the Maldives that the nation wants’ and decided to be a part of the government on the guarantee that religious affairs of the country will be conducted according to the advice of religious experts. However, it is with deep concern that we state today, the government has failed to seek the advice of the religious affairs ministry in various major issues regarding Islam.
We wish to note, also, that it is a matter of great concern and seriousness for Adhaalath that some members of the current government have chosen to disregard and treat as of no value the advice and counsel of the Ministry in such issues.
It is very clear what happened on the issue of the regulations governing religious unity. If these matters continue without change, Adhaalath will have to reassess is alliance with MDP, the ruling party.