The government is seeking to establish a supreme council on Islamic affairs to “to ensure religious unity, create awareness on religious issues, conduct scholars’ forums, and issue fatwas on religious disputes.”
An amendment proposed to the Religious Unity Act by ruling Progressive Party of Maldives MP Ahmed Rasheed Ibrahim proposes that the five-member council should include two members chosen by the president, a judge selected by the chief justice, a board member of the Islamic University and a member chosen by the ministry of Islamic affairs.
The members of the council, its president and vice president would be appointed by the president for a five-year term, and will function under the Islamic ministry, according to the amendments proposed last week.
The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party has expressed concern over the move saying that the party fears “the council will enable President Yameen to use Islam as a political tool to demonise his opponents and create fear amongst the public.”
The amendments are expected to pass as the PPM controls a majority in the parliament.
The president’s office was not responding to inquiries at the time of going to press.
The council will replace the Figh Academy, a body set up by the Islamic ministry in 2010, to issue fatwas on religious affairs.
Since its inception, the academy has issued ten fatwas including one prohibiting participation in foreign wars in the name of Jihad.
Plans for a new fatwa council comes amidst growing criticism of Yameen’s regime by Islamic scholars.
Some 31 scholars in January published an open letter urging Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed and the judicial watchdog to stem the tide of eroding public trust and confidence in the Maldivian judiciary.
Signatures included that of former Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed, former Islamic Minister Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari and Dr Mohmed Iyaz Abdul Latheef, a former member of the advisory body, Figh Academy.
PPM’s former ally, Adhaalath Party, whose president was jailed for 12 years on a terror charge in mid-February, has called on religious scholars to stand up against Yameen’s administration.
Sheikh Imran Abdulla had been found guilty of terrorism over a speech he made at a historic anti-government protest last year. The state claimed that Imran’s “inflammatory speech” had caused clashes between the police and protesters.
The AP had abandoned the ruling coalition after the arrest and prosecution of former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim on weapons smuggling charges. The party is now working with its former rival, the MDP.
The PPM last week condemned the AP’s accusation that it was more anti-Islamic than the MDP administration.