As Christmas draws near, The Maldives is bracing for another showdown between the traditional, democratic Maldivian Islamists and those who hold extreme views on Islam.

And, according to a top source, The Maldives believes there is Pakistani money helping the extremists.

Last Christmas, trouble erupted after a restaurant decorated itself for Christmas. Under Maldivian law, no religion barring Islam can be publicly practised. The buntings were pulled down in no time but as news spread, protesters filed into the capital, Male, and ended up fighting pitched battles with the police. Tourism during the season took a serious knock after the protests.

The religious extremists, growing in numbers despite international efforts to preserve the Maldivian brand of tolerant Islam, have called for a protest on December 23. The Opposition has backed the protests. One official told The Hindu that the protesters had received support from both Pakistan and the former Maldivian President, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

Against the backdrop of religious protests over the past few weeks, and the vandalism of SAARC monuments, the government has made it clear that it will stand up to the attempts to push the country into the hands of fanatics.

Ahead of the religious protest, President Mohamed Nasheed defended Islam as practised in the Maldives. In his weekly radio address on Friday, Mr. Nasheed said “in the name of protecting Islam, the real call of these religious protestors is to initiate the implementation of Islamic penalties such as stoning, amputations and execution in the Maldives.”

Speaking at a rally on Saturday, the President also defended traditional cultural practices such as playing and listening to music. He also defended the role of women in society, noting that “women have been in the Maldivian workforce as long as men.”

The President said political parties must publicly state which form of Islam they support, “the Islam we have been practicing in this country for several hundred years… or a new faction of Islam.” The President said he wanted the traditional version of Islam to continue to be practised in the Maldives.

A release said the organisers of the protest have been questioned by the police after posting messages on the homepage of their official website, 23December.com, calling on people to “fight against all un-Islamic ideas”, “take the life” of anyone who challenged Islam “regardless of their party affiliation”, and “slaughter anyone against Islam”.

Protest organisers Sheikh Imran Abdullah, President of the Adhaalath Party, and Abdullah Mohamed, head of a coalition of religious NGOs, were questioned by police.

The Adhaalath Party initially told local media that the violent messages were uploaded because of “a mistake on the [website] technical teams' side.” However, senior Adhaalath Party member Shiekh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed later said the messages of violence had been posted by “spies.”

Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair said on Monday: “Former President Gayoom, the Adhaalath Party and religious extremists are whipping up hatred, intolerance and xenophobia for political purposes. They hope to topple the government from the streets because they can't defeat it through the ballot box.”

But not all agree with the government view. Vocal protestors who have occupied every fora, including the Internet insist that the protest is to inform people and force the government to “reverse every un-Islamic thing” done, “stop trying to bring freedom of religion, gay rights and also dealing with Israel.” One writer, venting on the Minivan News website, told Mr. Nasheed: “Choose honest people who fear Allah (swt) and has no love for Israel. Also tell the U.N. that our current constitution is perfect the way it is and we do not need a non-Muslim coming to tell us how to live when they cannot solve their own problems in the UN. From what I last recall, United Nation is still not a democracy.”

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