The Maldives and Saudi Arabia committed today to strengthening religious unity in an ongoing visit by the monarchy’s Islamic Affairs Minister Saleh bin Abdulaziz.
Saleh, who is in the Maldives on President Abdulla Yameen’s invitation, called the agreement with his Maldivian counterpart Dr Ahmed Ziyad Bagir a “religious bridge” between the two countries.
“Maldives and Saudi Arabia are 100 percent Muslim countries. We do not want any change to this percentage, and neither would the Maldives… Opening up to the world does not mean a change in a country’s essence,” he said.
Ziyad said Saudi Arabia will help the Maldives improve the collection of Zakat, an Islamic tax, publish books on Islam in English, expedite ongoing mosque projects and train Imams.
Maldivian scholars will now have more opportunities to visit Saudi Arabia and learn from them, he added.
Saleh’s visit comes weeks after Saudi Arabia hosted a conference on moderate Islam in Malé, and highlights unprecedented Saudi influence in the Maldives. In an interview with newspaper Haveeru at the time, Ziyad said that Saudi is interested in maintaining religious unity in the Maldives.
“Unlike other countries, there are several challenges in the Maldives. 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.
“There are examples in the past of terrible consequences of the neglect of small nations like ours,” he added.
Saleh arrived in the Maldives on Thursday night. He called on Yameen in the morning, attended the opening ceremony of a conference between Maldivian scholars, and visited the newly established Islamic University of the Maldives. Following his visit, the university’s vice chancellor Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed, a graduate of the University of Medina, said he is now hopeful of receiving help from Saudi Arabia in the future.
Saudi Arabia established a diplomatic mission in the Maldives for the first time in August. Saudi forensic experts also assisted with the analysis of samples from Yameen’s speedboat following a minor explosion on September 28.
The home ministry said Saudi experts found traces of a powerful explosive, but the US has reported contradicting findings. Neither report has been made public.
The blast occurred on the morning of Yameen’s return from the Hajj pilgrimage from Mecca, his third visit to the kingdom since assuming office.
Trade and economic ties are growing, too. The government previously said an unprecedented constitutional amendment to allow foreign freeholds was aimed at attracting investment from the Saudi royal family.
The kingdom also granted US$20million for budget support earlier this year, and agreed to provide a US$80million loan for the development of Malé’s suburb island Hulhumalé.
The government also revealed this month that during Yameen’s September visit to Mecca, the Saudi government had agreed to provide cheap crude oil to the Maldives. The crude is to be refined in Singapore.
Sheikh Ibrahim Ahmed, an Islamic Ministry official, said the Saudi government has now agreed to send scholars to Maldives on a regular basis.
“Saudi Arabia is also willing to help train teachers and workers in other fields too, and help them with Islamic teaching. They have also agreed to give scholarships to Maldivian Imams to learn Arabic and other religion related topics,” he said.