The ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives has condemned accusations that it was anti-Islamic by scholars of the religious conservative Adhaalath Party in a well-attended rally on Friday night.
The PPM said its former ally had abused freedom of expression to “slander PPM and mislead citizens” following comments by a prominent sheikh suggesting President Abdulla Yameen’s government was more anti-Islamic than previous regimes.
Sheikh Ilyas Hussein, holding aloft the Qura’n and the constitution, had repeated calls for religious scholars to stand up against Yameen on Friday.
The AP had abandoned the ruling coalition following the arrest of former defence minister Mohamed Nazim last year. Now its president Sheikh Imran Abdulla has been jailed on a charge of terrorism over a speech made at a historic opposition rally.
The 10,000-member party is now working with the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party, a former rival. MDP’s Mohamed Nasheed, the Maldives’ first democratically elected leader, was ousted in 2012 following a vitriolic religious nationalist campaign led by the Ap and the PPM.
AP also played a key role in bringing Yameen to power, labeling Nasheed and the MDP as “anti Islamic” or laadheenee.
On Friday, Ilyas stressed that Islam and the state must not be separated, and accused the government of bribing and coercing MPs to pass anti-Islamic laws to silence dissent.
Without mentioning Nasheed’s name, Ilyas said the AP had turned against his regime because of his alleged attempts to separate religion and politics, and said today’s “laadheenee agenda is much worse.”
While laadheenee loosely refers to being ‘anti-Islamic,’ former AP Vice President Dr Mauroof Hassan, when asked by the Election Commission during the 2013 presidential polls to explain why he was accusing Nasheed of being laadheenee, said the term meant ‘secular’ in English or ‘al-maniyya’ in Arabic, and said it by no means referred to apostasy as was widely perceived.
Friday’s rally was the first gathering organized by the AP for its members in several years. MDP Vice President Mohamed Shifaz also spoke at the rally.
Stating that the current government was “slipping towards secularism,” Ilyas also pledged to work with “our friend” the MDP against the loss of rights and what he called the violence perpetrated by the Yameen adminsitration.
Ali Zahir, the AP’s new vice president, accused Yameen of prejudice against the AP, and said that Yameen and his half-brother, former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom had ‘used’ the AP in the 2013 presidential elections. He vowed that the party would “not get caught in that net again.”
In an indignant response, the PPM said: “We call upon AP to uphold its responsibilities as a political party, and not misinform citizens in matters of religion, and to be factual in their representation of matters.
“We do not carry out any laadheenee activities. We also assure the Maldivian public that we will not carry out any such activities in this government.”
Yameen’s regime is facing international pressure over human rights abuses and corruption. Imran is the fourth high-profile politician to be handed a lengthy jail term since Nasheed and Nazim’s arrest last year.
While several prominent religious scholars have condemned the government’s actions, many Islamic groups and sheikhs involved in the campaign against the MDP government have remained silent.