The Maldives defence minister has vowed not to allow religious freedom in the country, days after former president Mohamed Nasheed called for co-existence and tolerance.
Addressing a seminar on preventing religious extremism and terrorism, Defence Minister Adam Shareef said the Maldives would always remain a country with moderate Islamic values.
“We are facing challenges in promoting Islam and because Maldivians follow Islam. However, we can’t allow for religious freedom in the Maldives. The Maldives will remain a country with moderate Islamic values prioritizing development and peace,” Shareef told the gathering of Islamic scholars.
His remarks about excluding other faiths from the Maldives jar with a new policy paper from the Islamic affairs ministry, which said people were being attacked for holding different religious views and that this phenomenon needed to be addressed at a national level.
Islam is used in Maldivian political rhetoric to appeal to voters and also to malign liberal voices. Those supporting democracy or pluralism are branded as irreligious or anti-Islamic, with sometimes deadly consequences.
Religion has been a hot button campaign issue during past elections, with Nasheed accused of pursuing a secularist agenda that posed an existential threat to the country’s 100 percent Muslim status.
Senior government figures from President Abdulla Yameen’s administration have stressed the country’s 100 percent Islamic identity and cited it in various contexts, including its link to the Maldives’ economic success and external “jealousy.”
Islamic minister Dr. Ahmed Ziyad Bagir, also speaking at the event, reiterated that Islam did not support extremism, violence and tyranny.
“Islam calls for peace and security. It calls for friendship. So we have to be friendly people,” Ziyad said.
The seminar, held in Kurumba Island Resort, will focus on research papers exploring reasons for disunity among Islamic societies and the religious and ideological differences between Muslims, according to the ministry.
Representatives from the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC), Arab League, and prominent Islamic universities in Egypt, Pakistan and Malaysia are taking part in the seminar that will conclude today.