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Salaf protests innocence over Dr Afrasheem murder report

The religious conservative NGO is accused of inciting hatred.



Religious conservative NGO Jamiyyathul Salaf on Friday alleged efforts to “frame” the group in connection with the murder of Dr Afrasheem Ali in October 2012.

A presidential commission concluded that the moderate scholar was killed by a local extremist group affiliated with al-Qaeda. Salaf was named in the commission’s report for issuing a sermon in 2008 warning against praying behind Dr Afrasheem until he publicly repented and apologised. Local scholars were united against Dr Afrasheem because of his liberal views on issues such as the female headscarf, apostasy and indigenous religious practices, the commission noted.

In light of the conclusions, parliament’s security services committee decided last week to recommend action against Salaf as well as a probe into its finances and sources of funding. Several lawmakers also called for the NGO to be banned and accused its preachers of inciting hatred and recruiting jihadi fighters.

But Salaf denied supporting extremist ideologies and claimed to have spoken out against radicalised youth joining militant groups in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

At a press conference on Friday, Sheikh Ahmed Sameer stressed that the presidential commission did not directly link Afrasheem’s murder to Salaf or local religious scholars. The statement referred to in the report was an “academic” response to the late scholar, he added.

The presidential commission did not seek a meeting pose any questions to Salaf, he said. The commission also mistakenly referred to Sheikh Mohamed Latheef as a Salaf member, he noted.

Salaf issued the statement with the signature of 15 scholars to resolve disagreements among the public, Salaf president Sheikh Abdulla bin Mohamed Ibrahim said. The signatories included Adhaalath Party leader Sheikh Imran Abdulla, the current home minister, he noted.

“It is a serious wrong to attempt to show that extremist actions in the name of Islam and the work of the true dawah [invitation] of Islam are the same,” Imran tweeted on Friday.

Sermons by Salaf preachers were publicly available and broadcast on television, radio and other mediums, said Sheikh Hassan Moosa Fikry, stressing the transparency of activities held to raise awareness and provide information. Salaf’s annual reports and financial statements are submitted annually to the government, he added.

It is not Salaf’s ideology to extrajudicially declare people as apostates or heretics, Sheikh Fikry insisted. Those who recruit jihadi fighters in the country were opposed to local scholars, he said.

“All the institutions related to stopping this in the Maldives have learned this. We also do this work [to combat extremism] jointly with the Islamic ministry,” he said.

On Wednesday, Salaf declared that plans to take action against it was part of a hidden agenda to erase Islam from the Maldives. The NGO and its scholars were named in the commission’s 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.

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