Freedom of Religion in the Maldives



11 November 2007 (note added on 24 January 2008)

Exhibiting the characteristic doublethink of mullahs, a United Nations sponsored Shariah expert flown over for a week to advise the Maldive parliament said the “ban” on freedom of religion is a “disservice” to Islam. In the same breath Mohammad Hashim Kamali contradicted himself by warning against allowing Maldive Muslims to renounce Islam.

The “freedom of religion” that Mr Kamali referred to seems to be the observance of non-Islamic faiths by the prominent expatriate minority that is arguably close to a quarter of the Maldive population. The Maldive authorities have always insisted, with some justification, that expatriates have limited freedom of non-Islamic observances. Between periodic bouts of confiscating and incinerating Divehi language Bibles and souvenirs that looked like Buddhas to officials, this has generally been true over the years.

Regent's Park Mosque, London. Tolerance is one-sided.
Most Western-based Maldivians are fanatically anti-Western and anti-Christian. While taking advantage of the religious freedom offered by the West under international treaty obligations, such people vehemently support the denial of the same freedoms to non-Muslims in the Maldives, even though the Maldives is under the same international obligations. Reciprocating civilised conduct is something alien to these people.

There are long-standing home churches of expatriate Christians in Malé that meet regularly and quite openly. From the 1950s until 1976 there was a fully functioning Christian church in the Maldives catering mainly for British military personnel and others. In 1965 a Sri Lankan teacher named Gearse died and the authorities permitted a Christian burial. A colleague of his by the name of JV William carried a large wooden cross at the head of the funeral procession that wound through Malé. A full Christian funeral service was conducted publicly at the Henveyru cemetery, with all the pupils of his school in attendance.

Also in 1965, a Sri Lankan Buddhist monk, the Venerable Ananda Thero spent several months in Malé as a guest of the Government of His Majesty the Sultan of the Maldives. He was there to study our proud Buddhist heritage that was systematically obliterated by Islam in the twelfth and the thirteenth centuries. He conducted several worship sessions for Buddhist expatriates quite openly. For much of the 1960s and the 1970s, the government-run radio station in Malé broadcast an evangelical programme, which was relayed over a public address system in the northern harbour and firewood market areas. The Maldive authorities also allowed in a Christian missionary ship called the Logos in the early 1970s. School pupils were invited on board, ferried across in government transport and came away with copies of the Bible.

Muslim minorities in the Maldives also had freedom of worship in days gone by. At one time the biggest mosque in Malé belonged to an expatriate community. A Shia sect among the Indian traders who operated in Malé from the 1840s to the 1960s had their own mosque. It did not bother the Sunni Maldivians of the time that the biggest mosque in their capital would proclaim, several times a day, that Ali was the Elect of Allah.

One of many churches in Kuwait, an Arab emirate whose state religion is Islam

No significant changes in the Maldive statutory framework have occurred since these events. The only change has been the abandoning of our ancient heritage of tolerance in favour of a culture of jihadist bigotry peddled in by the foreign-funded medrassas. Someone ought to ask the UN-funded Shariah expert if he did his homework before making his pronouncements. Does being a mullah endow any odd foreigner with an Allah-given repertoire of knowledge of things Maldive, in the space of a week?

No written constitution of the Maldives promulgated since 1932 ever stated that being a Muslim was a requisite of Maldive citizenship. Admittedly the relatively recent law on naturalisation of foreign nationals specifies that applicants for Maldive citizenship have to be Muslims but no such provision ever existed in the islands’ constitution. For that reason it may be possible to contest that the Maldive Citizenship Act is unconstitutional.

Maldive constitutions have always defined a citizen as a person born of a Maldive father or, as was later amended, of a Maldive parent or one who has been naturalised as a Maldivian. Other provisions in the constitutions of 1932 - 1997 make it patently clear that there could be Maldive citizens who are not Muslims. The head of state was always required to be a Muslim. In later amendments an increasing number of other officials, such as members of the ministerial council, were required to be Muslims. If all Maldive citizens were required to be Muslims, it would not be necessary to have these constitutional clauses.

On accession to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on 19 September 2006, the Maldives entered a reservation to article 18 on freedom of religion or belief. It provides that, “The application of the principles set out in article 18 of the Covenant shall be without prejudice to the Constitution of the Republic of Maldives.” In 2006, the Maldive Attorney General’s department conceded in writing to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief that while the Maldive constitution designates Islam as the state religion, there is in fact no constitutional provision expressly requiring Maldivians to be Muslim.

His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales and Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cornwall being welcomed by the Christians of Qatar to their new church

This therefore is a clear acknowledgement by the Maldive authorities that its reservation of 19 September 2006 does not imply that all Maldivians were required to be Muslims according to the constitution in force on that date. To amend the constitution or statutes now to make Islamic profession a requirement of Maldive citizenship would be clearly illegal under international law. Maldive members of parliament who advocate such an amendment would be in breach of their islands’ international treaty obligations. They would be deemed to be individually and severally in contempt of International Law.

Responding to Mr Kamali’s fetwa to the Maldive parliament, Mrs Aneesa Ahmed, spokeswoman for the ruling Maldivian People’s Party (DRP) and government minister said “We know Islam allows people of other faiths to worship freely, but because Maldives has been an Islamic state for centuries, the people want to preserve that status and we respect their wish.” What Mrs Ahmed was effectively saying on behalf of her party was that, ‘yes the prophet Mohamed permitted limited freedom of religion to some non-Muslims, but we neither care too much about that nor do we tolerate such nonsense’. So not only is the Maldives giving the one finger salute to the civilised world, but it is giving it to Islam also.

The opposition Maldivian “Democratic” Party (MDP) spokesman's response was more typically Maldive. He said that it would be “political suicide” to advocate freedom of religion. What he was really saying was that ‘we in the MDP know our legal and treaty obligations but we are hypocrites and are too power-hungry to discharge those obligations’.

Other Islamic states that claim to be 100% Islamic, have recently begun to make overtures to civilization in an attempt to establish themselves as good citizens of the world. In 2005 Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani reversed fourteen centuries of Islamic bigotry by permitting the opening of a Christian church in his emirate. The Church of the Epiphany of Qatar now holds regular worship in its brand new US$7m church complex. Until Islam was imposed over Qatar, the region boasted a chain of churches and monasteries stretching along the western shore of the Persian Gulf from the 4th century to the 7th century.

Christianity is being restored to Qatar at a fast rate. This is a second church planned for the emirate which will be built by the Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem. It will be called the St. Isaac and St. George Church of Qatar. Christianity is the fastest growing religion in the Persian Gulf. Qatar was formerly 100% Muslim.

Under a fetwa issued by the current ruling mullahs the Maldive local language media still insist on referring to the Pope in the most vulgar terms, if it refers at all to the Supreme Pontiff of the most populous religion in the world. By contrast, recently Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, king of Saudi Arabia and custodian of the Kaaba temple in Mecca and Mohamed’s mausoleum in Medina made a state visit to the Vatican, seeking an audience with His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI. The last native Christians and Jews were either exterminated or expelled from Arabia by the prophet Mohamed. Bin Abdulaziz may be seeking to give in to civilised norms, apologise for these historic wrongs against humanity and follow Qatar’s lead by allowing a church, perhaps in Mecca or Medina.

That would leave only the Maldives bearing the mantle of bigotry, digging in and frothing at the mouth in the face of a changing world order. The resolve in the Maldives to defy the world was recently demonstrated by the Battle of Badr anniversary terrorist bombers in Malé who targeted infidel tourists. They told police that it was their Islamic duty to kill non-Muslims.

This web site is the only media organ with a Maldive theme that openly and unreservedly advocates the path of embracing all the freedoms guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. We call on the Maldive government and its opposition to abandon the path of bigotry and chauvinism. We call on them to grant its citizens and residents full human rights, as per Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These rights include freedom to change one's religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest one's religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

That is the bottom line!

24 January 2008

Since this article was written, an amendment to the Maldive constitution has been passed that makes Islamic profession a condition of Maldive citizenship. This provision still remains to become law.

The amendment is ambiguous and clearly contradicts the other criteria governing citizenship. It is clumsy and represents frightful legislative draftsmanship. Past Maldive constitutions were drafted by amateurs compared to the Western qualified lawyers of today. Lawyers in parliament who voted for the amendment without dissent, are a liability to their profession.

The amendment is also further acknowledgement that up until when it becomes law, the Maldive constitution does not require citizens to be Muslims.

On 19 September 2006 the Maldives acceded to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights making a reservation stating that the application of Article 18 of the Covenant, that guarantees religious freedom, will be without prejudice to the Maldive Constitution. While the current constitution which was in force at that time clearly allows freedom of religion, amending it to take away that freedom, more than a year later is a clear breach of the obligation under the Covenant. From the moment the amendment becomes law, the Maldives will be in contempt of International Law.

A law has to be enforceable. Birth to Maldive parents, naturalisation and voluntary renunciation of citizenship, according to law, can be quantitatively determined and verified. Consequently citizenship based on these criteria can be enforced. On the other hand, profession or otherwise, of faith in a religion can be kept private by the person who professes or renounces it. Therefore it would be legally impossible to quantitatively verify a person’s continued citizenship based on faith. One can step into the bathroom, for example, as a Maldivian and emerge as a stateless person and the authorities will be none the wiser.