As Christmas draws near, The Maldives, a liberal Islamic country, braces for one more showdown between the traditional, democratic Maldivian Islamists and religious extremists, who have decided that this is the best time for yet another strike.

Last Christmas too had its share of trouble after a restaurant decorated itself for Christmas. Under Maldivian law, no other religion, barring Islam can be publicly practiced. The buntings were pulled down in no time, but as news spread, protestors filled into the capital Male, and ended up fighting pitched battles with the police. Maldivian tourism during the season had taken a serious knock since 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 protestors had received support from both Pakistan, and 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 and face the attempts to push Maldives into a country of fanatics.

President Mohamed Nasheed defended Islam as practiced in the Maldives, ahead of the religious protest. In his weekly radio address on Friday, President Nasheed said that “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 held on Saturday evening, 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 that 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 that he wanted the traditional version of Islam to continue to be practiced in the Maldives.

A release said that the organisers of the protest have been questioned by the Maldives Police Force 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 organizers 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.”

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