May 13, 2008
In an interview with Minivan News, Sheikh Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari emphasised the need for “advice” and correct legal procedures before the death penalty is implemented, but said Shari’ah law ultimately requires the killing of those who leave Islam.
Majeed was also a member of the government’s Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs until he resigned at the start of May under the Civil Service Act, which forbids civil servants to engage in political activity.
His statement follows a media furore over a book co-authored by presidential candidate Dr Hassan Saeed, Freedom Of Religion, Apostasy And Islam, which Umar Naseer of the Islamic Democratic Party has condemned as favouring freedom of religion.
Apostates – those who leave the Islamic religion – “must not be punished by the public,” Majeed said, and must initially be offered “advice, and the opportunity to come back to Islam again”.
If the individual concerned fails to return to Islam, he said, “correct legal procedures” must then be followed.
And he emphasises the scholarly debate over punishments for apostasy – also citing the example of the Prophet’s life, during which no apostates were punished with death. But, Majeed adds, this was arguably because converts to different religions fled to other areas.
Majeed also cites Surah 2, verse 256 of the Qur’an, which states that “there is no compulsion in religion.” And he highlights the issue of munafiq – those who pretend to have faith, but do not – who must in practice be treated as Muslims.
But despite this, he says, apostasy is one of three offences that must be punished by death, along with adultery (by those already married) and murder.
Asked whether Maldivian law is currently in keeping with Shari’ah, Majeed is definite: it is not.
As an example, he cites the crime of theft. Under the current legislative system, he says, burglary, mugging – theft with an element of direct threat – and stealing via fraud are all similarly classified.
But “in Islamic Shari’ah, they are three different things,” he says. The punishment for theft, in the sense of burglary – where the victim of the theft is not present – must be “cutting the hand”, though certain other conditions also apply.
For instance, the stolen object must be “valuable”. And theft made necessary by the thief’s “hunger” is exempt.
“Conflicts in society” result from the current legal system, he believes. “There would be peace if the country was practising Islamic Shari’ah.”
But problems also result from a “lack of implementation” of current law, he says, citing the much-criticised issue of fugitive criminals. “A man is sent to jail, and the next day you see him on the street.”
Majeed is not speaking on behalf of the Adhaalath party, he emphasises, though he heads its religious scholars’ council. Party questions are referred to spokesman Ahmed Shaheem Ali Said.
The Adhaalath party’s manifesto contains only a brief section about religion, which includes the provision that scholars must be able to “present their religious views freely”, and a Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs that is “protected by law”.
It also mandates a specific organisation to rule on halal (lawful) and haram (unlawful) activities.
And it specifies no non-Muslim should be allowed to have Maldivian citizenship, with Majeed adding he supports a tightening of regulations in the constitution in progress, which will see those who leave the faith losing their citizenship.
The party has six thousand members, but according to Shaheem, claims the support of at least 15,000 Maldivians. It is well-known for its strong religious platform.