Ismail Mohamed Didi, the 25 year-old air traffic controller who was found hanged from the control tower of Male International Airport at 4:00am on Tuesday morning in an apparent suicide, was seeking asylum in the UK for fear of persecution over his lack of religious belief.
Islamic website Raajjeislam reported yesterday that Ismail “was a person inclined to atheism” and had “declared his atheism to his friends.”
The website alleged that Ismail had refused to follow religious sermons.
“This is an issue that a Muslim government should consider,” the website said. “Because when these types of people die, they are buried in the same [cemetery] where Muslims are buried. Their funeral prayers and body washing are also conducted as for Muslims. It is questionable as to whether this is allowed according to Islam.”
Over two emails sent to an international humanitarian organisation on June 23 and 25, obtained by Minivan News, Ismail admits he is an atheist and desperately requests assistance for his asylum application, after claiming to have received several anonymous threats on June 22.
In the emails, he says he “foolishly admitted my stance on religion” to work colleagues, word of which had “spread like wildfire.”
“A lot of my close friends and girlfriend have been prohibited from seeing me by their parents. I have even received a couple of anonymous phone calls threatening violence if I do not repent and start practising Islam,” he said.
“Maldivians are proud of their religious homogeneity and I am learning the hard way that there is no place for non-Muslim Maldivians in this society.”
Ismail claimed he had been “trying for some time to seek employment abroad, but have not yet succeeded. I would already have left the country if I was sure I could meet the required burden of proof in an asylum claim.”
“I cannot bring myself to pretend to be I am something I am not, as I am a staunch believer in human rights. I am afraid for my life here and know no one inside the country who can help me.”
———- Forwarded message ———-
From: ismail mohamed <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 25 June 2010 09:30
Subject: a plea for help
I’m a 25 year-old Maldivian living in Male’. I have been working as an Air Traffic Controller at Male’ International Airport for almost 7 years now.
I started becoming disenchanted with Islam around 5 years ago and am now an atheist. During my transformation, and even now, I am quite the idealist, and when i was confronted about two years back by a couple of my colleagues about my aversion from the daily practices of Islam, i somewhat foolishly admitted my stance on religion.
I had asked them to keep it a secret from the rest of our workforce at ATC, although i now realize i should have known better. It did not take long for everybody at work to find out and since then, i have faced constant harassment in my work environment.
An atheist is not a common feature at all among Maldivians and the word has spread like wildfire since then. It has now come to the point where everyone I know, including my family, have become aware of my lack of belief.
In a society that has always been proud of their religious homogeneity, you can imagine what i am being put through. I have been subjected to numerous consultations with religious scholars and even my closest friends are not allowed to see me.
My company has already begun investigating a complaint regarding me, collecting testimony from fellow workers about my apostasy.
Just 3 days ago, i received two anonymous phone calls threatening violence if i do not start openly practicing Islam.
I am at my wit’s end now. I have been trying for sometime to secure employment abroad, but have not yet succeeded.
The only other alternative i can think of is to flee the country to seek asylum elsewhere. I have already written an e-mail to your organization, and am anxiously waiting for a reply. I found your e-mail address on facebook. I am in dire need of assistance and know of no one inside the country who can guide me.
I would have already left the country if i was sure i could meet the required burden of proof in an asylum claim. I would like to know if you would be able to help me in anyway should i travel to the U.K to seek asylum and what my chances are of making a successful claim.
Thank you for your consideration
Ismail Mohamed Didi
Mohamed Ibrahim, Managing Director of the Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL), confirmed that Ismail was the subject of an internal investigation last month regarding his professed apostasy.
“I believe his family were also concerned, and tried to give him counselling through religious leaders,” Ibrahim said.
“Management decided it was outside our mandate and referred the matter to the Ministry of Islamic Affairs – we haven’t got a reply. Professionally we took no action – he was a good worker.”
A colleague of Ismail’s told Minivan News on condition of anonymity that his colleagues had learned he was an atheist “more than a year ago”, and while they did not care whether or not he believed in God, “some became irritated at the way he openly insulted God.”
“A complaint was made to the airport company’s human resources department. Based on their report – I saw a copy of the final version a month ago – they found that although he was an atheist, he was not propagating his belief in the workplace and so no action would be taken.”
The source insisted that Ismail was never mistreated by his colleagues about his religious position, “although they were sometimes irritated by the way he addressed God. He was treated as a normal controller and suffered no discrimination,” the source said, explaining that the air traffic controllers were a close-knit bunch who “lived and played together. Everybody was crying and misses him.”
Ismail was part of a large family from the island of Thinadhoo in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll, the source explained.
“The family is very humble and religious. His mother tried sending him to religious classes and a couple of months back he said he went to see Sheikh Illyas, but just argued with him about religion and stormed out. That’s what he said – I don’t know what was said in person. But it is possible his friends may have distanced themselves.”
Minivan News was unable to confirm whether Ismail visited Sheikh Illyas prior to his death, as the Sheikh was not responding to calls. However Islamic Minister Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari said he was aware that Ismail’s parents had sought religious counselling for their son “because of some problems he was facing in his religious beliefs.”
“They asked for counselling but I think they met a scholar while they were in our office. I was not at the Ministry – this was during the period of [Cabinet’s] resignation. I heard he was not a ministry scholar – I don’t think it was Sheikh Illyas this time. I think he saw [Sheikh Hassan] Moosa Fikry,” Dr Bari said.
Sheikh Fikry, who is the Vice-President of religious NGO Jamiyyathul Salaf, was not responding to calls at time of press. Salaf’s President, Sheikh Abdulla Bin Mohamed Ibrahim, also could not be contacted.
Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam said Ismail’s body showed no sign of physical injuries.
“Police have taken samples for forensic investigation, we are seeking more information about him to try and determine how this happened,” Shiyam said.
Ismail’s colleague said the 25-year-old had returned from leave shortly before the day he died.
“It seemed like he came to work fully prepared to die,” he said. “Ismail normally took the 6:00am-8:00am shift, but on this day he requested the supervisor give him the 3:00am-5:00am shift.”
“During this time there are no air traffic movements and the tower can be staffed by one person, before operations begin at 5:30am. It seems he wanted the quiet time alone,” he said.
“His mother said she called him in the morning at 5:30am to tell him to pray, but there was no answer. They found his cigarette lighter on the balcony.”