The bill is full of tolerance, however: it allows non-Muslims to worship in private homes.
This is one of those stories where it becomes bitterly ironic — those who report on this will be called “Islamophobic,” but no one will particularly mind that the Maldives is systematically stamping out the freedom of religion in the name of Islam.
Islamic Tolerance Alert: “Islamic President requests ruling on non-Muslim worship,” by Ahmed Naish for Minivan News, November 21:
President Mohamed Nasheed said yesterday he would seek advice from religious scholars on Islam’s position on allowing non-Muslims to worship in an Islamic community.
In his radio weekly address, the president said the constitution was “very clear” that laws contrary to Islam could not be made or enacted.
“It has become very important for me to find out what Islamic sharia says about not allowing foreigners who want to worship other religions in the Maldives,” he said.
“When this bill comes from the People’s Majlis for the president to ratify, the question before me will be what is the ruling in Islamic sharia on people of other religions living in an Islamic community to worship?”
The president said he needed an answer to the question before ratifying the bill. “When I know, it will be easier for me to make a decision on ratify the bill before it becomes law,” he said.
Last week, a bill proposed by independent MP Ibrahim Muttalib Fares-Maathoda on outlawing places of worship for non-Muslims was sent to committee for further review with unanimous consent of all MPs who participated in the vote.
At the sitting, Muttalib said he learned that inquiries had been made with the government on establishing places of worship for expatriates and there was no law to forbid it.
“The other thing we have to think about today is that the government is considering establishing wedding tourism in the country and this will indirectly set up churches in the country,” he said.
Horror of horrors!
While the bill states that foreigners or expatriates will be allowed to worship in the privacy of their homes, involving Maldivians or encouraging them to participate will be an offence.
The bill specifies a jail term of three to five years or a fine of between Rf36,000 (US$2,800) and Rf60,000 (US$4,669) for those in violation of the law.
Several MPs called for longer jail terms and higher fines, while others said foreigners in violation of the law should be deported.
But, some MPs argued the law was unnecessary as the constitution states that Islam shall be the basis of all laws and non-Muslims cannot be citizens.
Most MPs said laws were needed to seal off all avenues to freedom of religion being established in the Maldives.
Rights for Muslims
Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed, state minister for Islamic affairs, told Minivan News today the president’s office had not officially asked for the ministry’s advice.
“But the matter has been sent to the Fiqh academy and they will issue a decree on it,” he said. Shaheem said he believed laws should be made to protect Islam and strengthen Maldivians’ faith.
“Right now, Muslims aren’t getting their rights,” he said. “For example, there’s no way for students to pray at schools, you can’t get some jobs if you wear the burqa and there are some jobs where you can’t grow beards.”
He added the ministry had drafted regulations under the Religious Unity Act of 1994 together with the police and sent it to the president’s office.
The regulations will be published in the government gazette next week, he continued, and would provide a legal framework to protect Islam.
Speaking to Minivan News today, Abdullah bin Mohamed Ibrahim, president of religious NGO Salaf Jamiyya, said he believed the bill was necessary to safeguard Islam.
“What the president said doesn’t match what was in the bill,” he said. “The bill is about making it illegal to build places of worship for non-Muslims. It doesn’t make it illegal for foreigners to pray in their rooms or houses.”
Abdullah said the association had information that Christian missionaries were trying to infiltrate the country and proselytize in the Maldives.
“I believe the bill is essential because the constitution does not forbid building places of worship,” he said.