When the renowned Islamist preacher Dr Zakir Naik visited the Maldives this week his audience of over 11000 was the largest ever assembled in that island state for a religious lecture. What Dr Naik may not have anticipated, however, was the earthquake that erupted at the end of his talk. A young Maldavian, Mohammed Nazim, asked Dr Naik how Islam viewed a man like him, who had learned all about Islam, had read many books, but was unable to believe? He now knows the answer.
Zakir Naik has frequently called for the death penalty for those who leave Islam and who promote another religion, and he did so now. Several members of the enraged crowd attempted to attack Mohammed and he was hustled away by the police. He is now in custody. The Islamic Foundation of the Maldives has called for his death but the local Male newspaper, Haveeru, stated that the Islamic Ministry would arrange for religious counseling for Mohammed, and some lawyers felt that he deserved such counseling before receiving the death penalty.
Since the Maldives Constitution requires that all citizens of the Maldives must be Muslim, if he does not recant Mohammed could at the very least lose his citizenship, and even if released could lose his life at the hands of the mob.
In May, the Maldives was one of 11 new States elected to the UN Human Rights Council, which is charged with the promotion and protection of human rights around the world. One right that the Maldives is now required to defend is the absolute right to freedom of opinion, religion or belief.
The Human Rights Council was created four years ago out of the ashes of the totally discredited UN Commission for Human Rights which, in the words of then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, “[had] become too selective and politicised in its work and was in danger of bringing the entire UN system into disrepute.” The Human Rights Council has hardly been an improvement. The Maldives is not alone among member states of the Council to prescribe the death penalty for non-belief . Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and slave-owning Mauretania–-also newly-elected to the Council–do so as well.
Commenting on the elections last month, Roy Brown, IHEU Main Representative in Geneva, said: “If all of the States that abuse human rights were expelled from the Council, NGOs would be speaking to an empty hall. But at least the Council could make a start by requiring applicants for membership to meet the most basic requirement, by undertaking to ratify the various international human rights covenants.”
It has become urgent that states applying for membership of the Council be required to state publicly their commitment to uphold human rights. The UN will next year review the first five years performance of the Human Rights Council. Is it too much to hope that the UN will grasp this opportunity to divert the Council from its current headlong dash into utter irrelevance?
 It is no excuse to say “I am not an apostate, I never was a believer” because everyone born in an Islamic State is deemed to be born a Muslim.