A sermon by a Saudi preacher in which he claimed it is un-Islamic to disobey rulers even if they are unjust and corrupt has stirred controversy, with the opposition accusing the government of using “fundamentalist preachers to stifle democracy.”
Assim al-Hakeem, a government sponsored preacher, delivered a sermon at the Friday prayers at the Islamic Center, the city’s main mosque, warning Muslims against disunity.
He said: “The prophet told us to obey the leader even if he was unfair, even if he was unjust, even if he was favoring his own family, like most rulers all over the world, his cousins, his uncles, his brothers, they’re the close ones they’re the rich ones.
“Nevertheless, Islam tells you, obey, listen. How can we listen, if he’s taking out money if he’s doing transgression? Your prophet, who you want to be with in Jannah [paradise], said you have to obey him, even if he flogs your back, if he hits you and takes your money, obey him!
“This is Islam, because if you weigh the consequences, if you weigh the pros and cons, you will find that disunity, that if you disobey him, if you revolt against him, if you rebel, if you demonstrate, this will cause much fitnah [chaos]! And you can see it happening today, in Yemen. Would you like to be like Yemen?”
He also said: “Whenever you adhere on a ruler or agree on a ruler, and you are under his flag, and then comes another man, wanting to divide you, wanting to rebel against him, in this case, you have to kill him. The second man, do not accept him, because if you obey him, you will cause division.”
Only Islamic ministry authorised preachers are allowed to deliver sermons at the Friday prayers.
The Maldivian Democratic Party, labelling Hakeem a “fundamentalist preacher,” accused him of of using Islam to justify hatred, excuse the government’s crackdown on dissent, and legitimize authoritarianism.
It later emerged that Hakeem, in a video titled “Call to Islam” posted on YouTube in January of 2015, encouraged traveling to Syria, saying it was an act of jihad.
In July 2013, he said democracy “is a big lie and it is against Islam.”
The MDP said: “At a time when the Maldives is battling against radicalization, the MDP calls upon the Government to commit to de-radicalisation programs. The MDP also calls on President Abdulla Yameen to investigate and dismantle recruitment networks that facilitate Maldivians to travel to join the so-called Islamic State.”
Sheikh Ibrahim Mohamed, an Islamic ministry spokesman, responded furiously, saying: “The theme of his sermon was unity. Is unity against democracy?”
Hakeem is a famous and well-recognised scholar, he contended. “We didn’t bring someone we picked up from a dump, or a worker from someplace. This isn’t the first time he has given a sermon. He had given speeches and lectures in universitiies all over the world. The ministry announced that we were bringing a prominent scholar, and you are calling me to question about it?”
Former President Mohamed Nasheed has said the Maldives has the highest number of militant recruits per capita, alleging that some 200 Maldivians have left the country to join the Islamic State.
The government has sought to downplay the issue, with ministers offering estimates ranging from 35 to 100 as having left the Maldives for Syria.
Yameen established last month a National Counter Terrorism Center “to combat the growing threat of radicalization and extremism in the Maldives.”
Since assuming office in November 2013, Yameen’s administration has fostered closer ties with Saudi Arabia and China. The Maldives is among 34 countries that have joined a Saudi Arabian-led Islamic military alliance formed to combat terrorist organisations
Saudi Arabia and Maldives recently penned an agreement hailed as a “religious bridge” to maintain religious unity here. Islamic Minister Dr Ahmed Ziyad said at the time that the Saudis will help maintain the Maldives’ 100 percent Muslim status.
“A lot of Maldivians may not be aware of this, but there is an organized effort to sustain Western influences here. Those in power in Saudi Arabia understood that it will not do to leave Maldives like this,” he said.
The Saudi government has since agreed to send scholars to Maldives on a regular basis.
Photo from Assim Al-Hakeem’s website.