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Maldives' government tightens grip on religious affairs under new rules

Country/Region: Maldives, South and East Asia

New religious regulations in the Maldives include a penalty of up to five years in jail for anyone who preaches anything except a version of Islam approved by the country’s Islamic Ministry.

Under the religious unity regulations, which enforce the Religious Unity Act, it remains illegal to spread any religion other than Islam, and to carry, or display in public, books on religions other than Islam.

All preachers of Islam, both local and foreign, must be licensed by the Islamic Ministry and have received a degree in Islamic education from an approved university.

20110401-Maldives-4X3.jpg
Religious freedom is severely restricted in the Maldives (Source: Nevit Dilmen, Wikimedia Commons)

The media is banned from producing or broadcasting any programme “that humiliates Allah or his prophets of the holy Quran or the Sunnah of the Prophet or the Islamic faith”.

Preachers are instructed not to express anything: “against general agreement” among Islamic scholars; that may be interpreted as racial or gender discrimination; that may prevent people from pursuing education or health services; that demeans the character or creates hatred towards people of any other religion.

The new regulations are intended to curb the spread of Islamic extremism in the Maldives. They have been met with opposition from Islamic groups, who say they are too restrictive.

Penalties for violating the regulations are two-five years in jail, banishment or house arrest.  

Islam is the only recognised religion in the Maldives, which is overwhelmingly Muslim (99 per cent). The very small number of Christians, less than 0.2 per cent of the population, are ostracised, discriminated against and carefully watched. Non-Muslims are precluded from voting and holding public positions. The public’s attitude towards Christianity is very negative because of the Western media and the perceived immorality of Western tourists.

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