According to the Maldives’ presidential spokesman, the government has rejected a ban on dancing in public between men and women which was initially called by its own Islamic Affairs Ministry.
At first, according to the private newspaper Minivan, the Islamic Affairs Ministry sent a circular to all government institutions “banning the holding of any mixed-gender dance events.” The ministry also ordered a ban on events where adolescent girls were required to dance, and the directives were intended for both state bodies and individual citizens.
For a while, there was no comment from the president’s office or the foreign ministry. Youth Affairs Minister Mohamed Shareef said the ‘guidelines” were only targeting ‘indecent’ behaviour: “There is a public debate on music and dance and what is permissible according to religion and culture,” Mohamed Shareef said when he was contacted by telephone by the newspaper The Australian. “What the guidelines are saying is that if people are dancing in an indecent manner, it should not be allowed.”
“Music is forbidden”
The move came the same week that the religious Adhaalath Party, part of the government, announced that music and songs were harming young people. “The worst of all is our youth’s addiction to music and songs, something that is ‘haram’ (forbidden),” the party said in messages on its Twitter account which also condemned homosexuals.
The Adhaalath party members dominate the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, and it is headed by its prominent party leader Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari who was also Minister of Islamic Affairs until 2011.
The Maldives is an Islamic republic and home of 330,000 Sunni Muslims, but also known for its luxury tourist resorts and liberal lifestyle. In recent years the country has seen a growing influence of the nation’s hardline religious party Adhaalath, and a rise in religious extremism. The government has so far been resisting calls from extremists to shut down luxury tourist resorts because they serve alcohol and pork.
On 17 September 2012, the news agency AFP reported that according to the presidential spokesman Abbas Riza, the circular issued by the Islamic Affairs Ministry prohibiting dancing between men and women is “not enforceable” as it has no basis in Maldivian law:
“There has not been and never will be a ban on dancing,” Abbas Riza was quoted as saying by AFP. “Under the constitution, no one could enforce or prohibit any freedom unless under a law. The Maldives will always be a very tolerant society [which is an] example to the world.”
“It is very clear that this is just an issuance of their view. Not legally binding on any sector of society. (…) The government urge all opposition groups to adhere to the teachings of Prophet which is all about tolerance and co-existence.”