Political backlash to EU calls for religious freedom

Political backlash to EU calls for religious freedom
April 21 09:23 2018

Calls by the European Union to remove a constitutional requirement for all Maldivian citizens to be Muslims have added fuel to a resurgence of religious political rhetoric.

Ruling party lawmakers on Thursday reiterated allegations that the opposition is conspiring with foreign groups to “wipe out Islam from the Maldives” after an EU electoral followup mission noted that its recommendation to allow non-Muslims to vote and stand for office remains unaddressed.

Religion is a hot-button issue in local politics. During past election cycles, former president Mohamed Nasheed was accused of pursuing a secularist agenda that posed an existential threat to the country’s 100 percent Muslim status.

At a press conference Thursday evening, MP Abdul Raheem Abdulla compared the opposition leader to Andiri Andirin, a regent in the mid-1500s who tried to forcibly convert Maldivians to Christianity.

“This year’s presidential election is becoming a war between Islam and false religions,” the deputy leader of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives said.

The EU made the recommendation at the opposition’s behest, he alleged, calling on all Maldivians to stand up in defence of Islam.

Nasheed meanwhile welcomed the EU’s recommendations as vital for free and fair elections in September, but stressed that “Maldivians find one of these recommendations – religious freedom – difficult to accept.”

Several clerics including Sheikh Ilyas Hussain, the opposition Adhaalath Party scholar’s council president, urged the public to oppose the EU’s calls.

No leader or political party would allow religious freedom in the country, opposition spokesman Ahmed Mahloof tweeted.

MP Mohamed Ameeth questioned how those who call others laadheenee (irreligious or secular) “become mujahideen after infringing the rights of others, kidnapping human beings, framing, stealing property, and thieving from the state assets and funds”.

In a statement Friday, the government declared it “will not entertain any recommendation calling for the review or the revision of the [constitutional provisions on the state religion],” echoing its response to a resolution adopted by the European parliament last month that strongly criticised “the fact that the practice of non-Muslim faiths is severely punishable in the Maldives”.

“Maldivians alone on our own will decide our affairs! Only Nasheed believes that we could be saved by living like white people!”