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NGO Salaf accused of encouraging terrorism

Salaf accused the government of pursuing a secularist agenda.



Religious conservative NGO Jamiyyathul Salaf encourages terrorism, a parliamentary committee concluded after studying a presidential commission’s report into the brutal murder of MP Afrasheem Ali in October 2012.

The moderate scholar was killed by a local extremist group affiliated with al-Qaeda that believed he was guilty of blasphemy as well as mocking Islam and declaring forbidden activities as permissible, the inquiry commission found.

The security services committee formed a three-member subcommittee on Tuesday to gather information in light of the presidential commission’s findings.

“It is the opinion of the committee that the report states that NGO Salaf encourages terrorism. I have learned that the subcommittee has recommended to the committee to take action against the association,” Speaker Mohamed Nasheed announced at the start of Wednesday’s sitting. 

A meeting of the oversight committee with the subcommittee’s report on the agenda was later held behind closed doors.

According to the presidential commission’s report, local scholars were united against Dr Afrasheem – was dubbed “Dr Ibilees” (Dr Satan) – because of his liberal views on issues such as the female headscarf, apostasy and indigenous religious practices. In July 2008, Salaf issued a sermon warning against praying behind Dr Afrasheem until he publicly repented and apologised. He was also kicked and chased outside a mosque after Friday prayers.

During debate on a new associations bill at Tuesday’s sitting of parliament, several lawmakers called on the government to ban Salaf, accusing the NGO of inciting hatred against Afrasheem and sending radicalised youth to fight in Syria and Iraq.

Kaashidhoo MP Abdulla Jabir has since asked to summon Community Empowerment Minister Ahmed Mahloof for questioning over any action taken against Salaf. The registrar of associations works under the ministry.

At Wednesday’s sitting, Speaker Nasheed said the aim is to stop groups who spread extremist ideologies in the country, prompting MP Ahmed Shiyam to object with a point of order. The opposition lawmaker accused Nasheed of trying to silence scholars and encouraging people who were trying to “erase Islam” from the country.

In response, Nasheed said an Islamic ministry was formed during his presidency in 2008 and claimed to have registered Salaf despite objections from elder statesmen and a former president. The group would have otherwise “gone underground,” Nasheed said. The practice of religions other than Islam will not be allowed under his speakership, the former president declared.

Contrary to Nasheed’s assertion, Salaf was registered in March 2006, according to a registration certificate posted by the group on Twitter.

Responding to the allegations in a statement on Wednesday, Salaf contended that it was clear from the inquiry commission’s report that there was no connection between the NGO and the extremist group alleged to have murdered Dr Afrasheem.

Efforts to link the murder to “academic debates” that took place between Afrasheem and various scholars were part of a hidden agenda and plan to erase Islam from the Maldives, Salaf declared. The NGO and its scholars were named in the report for a “deceitful” purpose because Salaf was an obstacle to “associations like the secular, irreligious [Maldivian Democracy Network] and its ideology,” it added, referring to a human rights NGO that was banned earlier this month over content in a 2016 report that was deemed contrary to the tenets of Islam.

Salaf accused the government of defaming its scholars and obstructing its religious counsel and social services as “part of a pledge made by the government to secular activities inside and outside the country.” Noting that sermons by its preachers were publicly available and broadcast on television, radio and other mediums, Salaf categorically denied encouraging violent extremism.