Comment: HRCM and Islamic Sharia

On October 26, 2010, I came across one of those unforgettable headlines in a local news source, that has left me thinking about it ever since.

The headline on Miadhu read: “Human rights protection can be successfully achieved adhering to the principles of Islam – HRCM President.”

I read it over and over again before I came across a quote under the headline. It was from Mariyam Azra Ahmed – the President of the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives. She said: “Human rights or its key principles could be incorporated into all our works and our day to day activities; if we don’t go against the tenets of Islam in doing so”.

For a moment, I could not understand what she was trying to say. Her words suggested that HRCM – the highest authority to safeguard human rights in the country has joined the religious narrative that poses a clear threat to human rights, social justice and economic sustainability of the country.

I am aware of the first objective of HRCM as outlined in the Human Rights Commission Act 6/2006. It says: “to protect, promote and sustain human rights in the Maldives in accordance with Islamic Shari’ah and the Constitution of the Maldives”. But I am quite assured that if HRCM engages within the confines of Islamic Sharia, as it is understood now, we could be a long way from protecting and sustaining human rights in the Maldives.

I take the words of HRCM President very seriously for three specific reasons.

Firstly, in Maldives, what is “Islamic” and what is “not Islamic” is widely dictated by the likes of the Adhalaath Party, a few religious NGOs, and certain Parliamentarians who use religion for public appeal.

Secondly, if the Ministry of Islamic Affairs – dominated by the Adhalaath party – defines Islam, by default they are also determining human rights for HRCM, thereby creating a conflict of interest.

Thirdly, despite the first objective of HRCM, it has not taken any steps to examine Islamic Sharia or create alternative religious interpretations that differ from the existing religious narrative in human rights related issues.

On October 10 I was slightly alarmed when I heard the State Minister of Islamic Affairs Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed speaking on a local TV channel, saying that Islamic Sharia is a “divine revelation” from Allah. More mainstream Islamic scholars clearly take a different thread of interpretation.

For example, Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im – an internationally recognised leading expert on religion and law and a human rights activist – does not seem to believe Islamic Sharia is divine. An-Nai’m is a prominent authority on Islamic law and theology and on diverse Islamic societies in Africa and Asia.

“Sharia developed through the consensus of believers over many centuries and not by the spontaneous decree of a ruler or will of a single group of scholars,” An Nai’m said in his paper: Secularism from an Islamic Perspective: Theoretical reflections on the realities of Islamic societies in the 21st century.

He said, “The first several generations of Muslims did not know and apply Sharia in the sense this term came to be accepted by the majority of Muslims”.

An-Nai’m said the primary sources of Islamic Sharia are the Quran and Sunnah as well as the general traditions of the first Muslim community of Medina (622 CE). Islamic Sharia, he said, also includes consensus (ijma), reasoning by analogy (qiyas) and juridical reasoning if there is no applicable text of Quran or Sunnah (ijthihad).

“But these were matters of juridical methodology for developing principles of Sharia rather than substantive sources as such,” An-Nai’m continues saying, “That process was entirely based on the understanding of individual scholars of these sources, and the willingness of specific communities to seek and follow the advice of those scholars.”

An-Naim further said that the more systematic development of Sharia began with the early Abbasy era (after 750 CE) and came with three major developments – the emergence of the major school of thought (madhhab), the systematic collection of Sunnah as the second and more detailed source of Sharia, and the development of Juridical Methodology (Usul al-fiqh). These developments, he said, took place 150 to 250 years after the Prophet’s death.

He also said “while the Quran and Sunnah are the divine sources of Islam according to Muslim belief, the meaning and implementation of these sources for everyday life is always the product of human interpretation and action in specific historical context.” He said it is impossible to know and apply Sharia in this life except through the “agency of human beings”.

According to An-Nai’m there has not been any change in the basic structure and methodology of Sharia since the tenth century. But in the Maldives, in this 21st century, the Adalaath Party and the religious NGOs are actively engaged in a “bottom up” approach to create a culture to enforce Islamic Sharia and convert the Maldives into an Islamic Caliphate.

An-Naim suggests that an Islamic State that imposes Sharia is not conducive to protect human rights as it contains the features of a dictatorship.

“Political activists who call for the establishment of an Islamic state to enforce Sharia through legislation and official policies are in fact calling for a European Marxist view of the state,” he said, “that is, they seek to enforce Sharia principles through the coercive power of the state, not the moral authority of the religious doctrine, and to control the state in order to transform society on their own terms, instead of accepting the free choices of persons and communities.”

While the state is a political institution that cannot have a religious faith, whatever is enforced as Islamic policy and law will necessarily reflect the views and interests of the ruling elite according to An Nai’m. “It will force the people to live by the ideological vision or narrow self-interest of the ruling elite”.

Furthermore, if traditional interpretations of Sharia are maintained, it is impossible for Islamic societies to invest in the rule of law and protection of human rights in their domestic policies and international relations, he said.

As we can see, there is a lot more we can learn about Islamic Sharia and the related wider debate, by examining studies such as that of An Nai’m.

Meanwhile, if the HRCM feels their sole duty is to guarantee the 53 fundamental rights and freedoms enshrined in Chapter 2 of the Constitution they are far from fulfilling their national obligations. If HRCM is serious about protecting human rights, it is time for them to face the fundamental questions of interpretation and debate, as it is what has led to the emergence of Islamic Sharia in the first place.

“Freedom of dissent and debate were always essential for the development of Sharia itself because it enabled consensus to emerge and evolve around certain views that matured into established principles through acceptance and practice by generations of Muslim in a wide variety of settings,” An-Nai’m said.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]

Likes(0)Dislikes(1)

Comment: Skeletons in the closet

As darkness fell over the cramped city of Male’ on the eve of January 3 this year, a woman’s body was found in a suitcase dumped in a construction site. She was 30 years old.

A few days later, her boyfriend was charged for her murder.

On June 22, a little boy lost both his parents. His father was stabbed with a knife and died in a hospital. His mother gave herself up to the police for the brutal offense.

At the age of 21, she now sits in a cell, her dreams crushed and her hopes dead. The prospect of spending her long life in prison would torment her. Perhaps a more agonising pain for her is the fear of facing what her son might think of her when he grows up. Her fateful act was the tragic climax in her struggle to leave a disruptive relationship that was a daunting trap for her.

The pain and suffering these two women endured represent the lives of many others in the Maldives. They include women, children, girls and boys, aged parents and also men. They are the victims of domestic violence – a social reality locked up as a family secret and never discussed by lawmakers in the country until Monday.

Rozaina Adam, MP, young and educated, explained what she meant by domestic violence as she presented her bill to the heavily lopsided parliament – with 72 men and only five women as its members.

“Domestic violence is the violence or acts of violence that occur between married couples or between divorced couples or between family members or between members in a household”, she said. “It may be someone inflicting violence on his/her wedded partner, it may be a guardian inflicting violence on a child or someone inflicting violence on his/her elderly parents… like any other society in the world, it’s a reality in our society too.”

Her definition outlined the space where domestic violence occurs. She also brought the relationships between the victims and offenders of these horrendous actions into public focus.

A home is meant to be a safe and happy place for everyone. In Maldives, like many traditional societies, people grow up and spend their entire lives surrounded with family, relatives and neighbors. It is however, a place of indescribable horror for the victims of domestic violence.

The victims live their lives in constant pain and fear, insecurities and uncertainties, distrust and breakups. The gruesome realities they face make them strong enough to bear the pain but often,  too weak to get out of it or end it.

Home is a boundary known to them, no matter how gross it is. Sometimes, leaving home means crossing over to uncertainty and face a greater fear of the unknown. They absorb the worst atrocities in their homes, imposed on them by their supposedly loved ones. In effect they hide their woes silently behind a smile or a deadpan mask, until life is forced out of them or it dies within on them, like it did for these two women.

Research, media reports and official records indicate a staggering level of domestic violence in the Maldives.

A study in 2007 showed, one in every three women aged 15-49 experienced physical or sexual violence at some point in their lives.

According to an official source, 620 cases of abuse were reported to them from August 2005 to 2009. They include 200 cases on sexual abuse, 150 cases on physical abuse, 50 cases of rape and 50 cases on neglect and more. The number of cases reported to them on average stands at 145 per year since 2006.

On Sunday evening, the Deputy Minister of Health and Family, Ms Mariya Ali informed that the number of reported cases on domestic violence now stands at 100.

These statistics reveal a shocking truth, considering the clandestine nature of domestic violence, the stark absence of relevant legislation and the lack of necessary support for victims. It confirms the high prevalence of domestic violence in our small Muslim society and the urgent need to address it through law.

Since July this year, the local media has reported 9 incidents of rape including two cases of gang rape in the past week alone. Health officials warn that the incidence of rape could be much higher as rape is far more common among married couples.

Meanwhile, the political and social space in Maldives continues to get filled by a religious narrative that reinforces women as sexual objects. For instance, a question and answer posted on the website of Ministry of Islamic Affairs dominated by a religious pressure group called the Adhalaath Party reads:

“It has become very common for a woman to tell her husband ‘I do not want to sleep with you’, ‘I won’t do as you say’, ‘I will live my life the way I want’. What does Islam say about such women?”

The answer was provided by Sheikh Usman Abdulla – a renowned and respected Islamic scholar.

It says: “the main purpose of being married is to fulfill your sexual needs. In reality, the woman cannot say that. She has to obey her husband. Islam says if your husband wants you, you have to go (to him) even if you are cooking (in the kitchen). While this is how it is (in Islam), what the woman said is not acceptable in Islam.”

The impact of such narrative on women and children should not be under-estimated – especially in view of the general profile of the victims and the offenders. According to the reports on abuse, 9 out of every 10 victims were females and nearly 6 out of every 10 victims were below 18 years. It also revealed 8 out of every 10 offenders is a friend or a family member of the victim. And in 5 out of every 10 cases, the offender is the victim’s boyfriend or husband.

The horrific reality reflected by the records of abuse emphasizes the dire need for legislators to get their act together and treat domestic violence as a nonpartisan issue. It requires unequivocal support for the proposed bill by all parliamentarians. No one desires a repeat of the violent actions that unfurled at the beginning of this year.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]

Likes(0)Dislikes(0)

Comment: The truth bearers

Sister! “Bend over backwards and tolerate,” said Dr Bilal Philips, the Canadian ‘Ilmveriya’ of Jamaican origin last Friday afternoon over ‘Atoll Radio’ – the Islamic FM station. He was responding to a woman who called to get advice on how to deal with her husband’s ‘cold’ first wife.

“You know how you would feel when your husband takes another wife,” he counseled. So “scrape at the bottom of the barrel” to get into good terms with her. Though, he added, it is the responsibility of the husband to get her relatives “to calm her down.”

The past week we heard the two converts – Dr Philips and the UK-born Brother Abdulraheem Green raise awareness and make recommendations to the Maldivians. They were brought by the Islamic NGO, ‘Jamiyyathulsalaf’ under the program ‘The Call 2010’ as part of their jihad to establish in Maldives what they consider an Islamic state.

‘Ilmverin’ is a term heard extremely rarely in the past. But now, it is a term that the religious factions commonly use in the Maldives to refer to the bearers of all knowledge, and maintain expert authority.

A Sheikh, a title acquired when a person achieves a first degree in Islamic Studies from an Islamic University, also becomes an Ilmveriya. They suggest that ‘Ilm’ or intellect cannot be limited to one area of knowledge such as economics, medicine or law. But Ilm comprises all knowledge and that can only be derived from Quruan and Hadhith – the foundation of all truths. The Ilmverin understand the total meaning and context of Quruan and Hadith and are therefore the true intellectuals. Thus, the unlimited knowledge of the Ilmverin enables them to inform and advise the public on any area, be it midwifery or state governance, as requested.

The religious factions claim that Maldivian society is “so much out of order”. And in the midst of the social and political challenges there is an immense move by them to bring the Ilmverin to the public’s attention as the saviors of the nation’s future.

The Ilmverin seemingly has the answers for all the social and political illnesses the Maldives face. Hence, it has become “the moral duty” of the religious factions to get the Ilmverin to put the country back on the right path to bring safety and prosperity for the entire population.

So on the Friday program another woman phoned in. This time she went on tearfully saying she cannot deal with her situation when she found out her husband and the father of her children was about to get married to another woman.

“You love him,” Dr Philips encouraged soothingly. “Do you want [in spite of] your love for your husband [for him] to commit a sin… [When it’s in your hands to legalise his relationship]?”

And yet another asked for Dr Philips’s verdict. This time she wanted to know whether in Heaven she would be granted her wish for her husband to love only her.

Dr Philips instantly drew her attention to human nature. And based on his all-encompassing knowledge he replied: “Men in their nature are to have more than one woman whereas the natural desire of a woman is to have one man to raise a family.”

If a certain group in the world argues that what could be regarded as “nature” of human being are only the biological needs such as to eat, to drink, to sleep, to have sex, etc, Dr Philips certainly did not believe so.

So he told the woman: “You have whatever you desire in Paradise.” And even though her husband can wish for any number of women at any time in Heaven, he said her wish will be granted. He assured her that in any case, since there is no such thing as jealousy in Paradise, she would not encounter any problems anyway.

There have were many more opinions and verdicts sought from Dr Philips and Brother Green during their week-long program of lectures and Q/A sessions. And more must be sought by the Maldivian sisters from Dr Philip’s spouse Sister Sara Philips, at the private gathering she held for them on Saturday.

But within the crux of these programs lie three crucial, consistent and calculated messages. While all three messages have a direct relevance to the local state of affairs and the geopolitics of the world, they are delivered in an environment where the space for alternative voice is simply non-existent – a consequence of carefully laid social control methods.

Rule number one says no one should publicly question what an Ilmveriya says – especially a non Ilmveriya.

Rule number two is that no one should entertain an attempt to make a distinction between what an Ilmveriya says, and the Quran and Hadhith.

Rule number three is that any alternative viewpoint that differs from those of the religious factions in Maldives is an attempt to eradicate Islam from the country – so people who comment on what the Ilmverin says, and people who attempt to raise alternative viewpoints, should be immediately stopped.

Further, such people have to be dragged into the public domain as the ignorant and the Anti-Islamists. Or, perhaps they could be presented as agents of Christian missionaries with links to the West. Or if it is necessary they could even be Atheists or Apostates.

And if all that seems too strong, they could also be presented as chain-smoking, coffee-drinking lesbians!

The logic seems to be that all such people deserve defamation, intolerance and violence.

The religious factions have made it clear to the public that to be dubious about what an Ilmveriya says is equivalent to having doubts about Islam. To criticise what an Ilmveriya says is to ridicule Islam. To point out the inconsistencies and the contradictions in what the Ilmveriya says is to create confusion, destroy Islam and, it is claimed, a conscious effort to break up the Islamic solidarity of the nation.

To try and raise an alternative viewpoint is an attempt to establish secularism. And make no mistake! Such attempts are nothing but the biggest, most heinous, crimes ever – to question Islam and Allah’s order.

Lastly, the public should be assured that the Ilmveriya is never wrong, or telling lies. The Ilmveriya is never corrupt and will never manipulate people’s minds to exploit them. The Ilmveriya will never misuse his power on the others’ understanding that the Ilmveriya is always right. So, everybody is expected to listen to the Ilmveriya and gulp the information as truth without even ‘a single drop of water’.

In such an environment the Islamic Ministry that represents the religious political party, the Adhaalath Party and their affiliated lobby group, Jamiyyathul Salaf, have set in their agenda in motion. The immediate target is to implement Islamic Sharia in Maldives, to “Arabise” Maldivian society and to Islamise the Maldivian educational system.

And so Dr Philips brought the Maldivians’ attention to their own Constitution saying: “Make no mistake about what (the Maldivian Constitution) says… the Constitution of Maldives says the country will be ruled by Quran and Sunnah.”

Dr Philips pointed to the necessity of Islamic Sharia. He said that: “Where heads are cut off, and hands are chopped and people are lashed, such societies enjoy peace and stability.”

He picked Saudi Arabia as an example, saying he never needed to keep his front door locked during his twenty-year long stay there. Little did Dr Philips know that in Maldives people never used to lock the front doors of their houses, either. And even now on islands such as Kendu in Baa Atoll, most people still leave their front doors unlocked night and day!

Dr Philips spoke of the weaknesses of democracy and how they contribute to the destruction of societies. He spoke of the flaws of the foundations of democracy – equality, rational empiricism and discussion and consensus and explained what they meant.

He spoke of the danger of secularism and said it “is the religion for democracies”. He said only Islam can claim to be the religion of Eve and Adam. Dr Philips said what Islam has to offer (the world now) is a moral message which is not there in the rest of the world.

The call for Maldivian women to wear the hijab has lately become extremely loud in sermons and media forums delivered by the local sheiks. And Dr Philips meticulously included this second message in all his lectures.

He said Islam elevated and protected the status of women. He warned Maldivian women that “when you remove the hijab, you suffer”. He pointed out that the head scarf is not enough for a Muslim woman because it covers only her head and leaves “her top” and “her bottom” exposed.

He urged Maldivian women to wear the hijab which he says is a loose covering that covers the woman’s private parts. If there are other Ilmverin in this world who disagree that it is compulsory for all Muslim women all over the world to wear the hijab or headscarf, the Maldivians should never hear of them.

The third message came through Dr Philips in his last, but special lecture organised by the private institution The Clique College. Students, teachers and educators were recommended to attend it. In this lecture he called the Maldivians to “revamp the education system so that it falls in line with Islam as enshrined in the Constitution.”

He said Islamisation of the education system is “something which here in the Maldives is or should be on the forefront of the thinking, the discussion, the decisions which have to be made for the future of education.”

He said the education system has to be governed according to the Quran and Sunnah to “produce the ideal Maldivian citizen.”

He said the Western nations have a secularised education in which “morality is completely taken out” and “everything is geared towards materialism.” So, he said, “parents should encourage other parents and approach the government to change” the Maldivian education system into an Islamised one.

Dr Philips gave a detailed description of the teacher, the student, the environment and the materials used in an Islamised education system. He said the outcome of an Islamic education system is a student who is conscious of his/her need to worship Allah, is conscious of his/her goal in life – the Paradise; and is motivated to implement the divine commandments.

He also added that their social responsibility is to provide the needed skills to the society.

“It’s obligatory for every Muslim to seek knowledge”, he said, and identified useful knowledge and useless knowledge for the audience.

He said useful knowledge has an immediate practical use. He urged the audience not to waste time on useless knowledge, and said that sending rocket ships to Mars and getting robots to roam around and dig its soil to find its geological composition was an example of useless knowledge.

He said the goal of knowledge should not be for the sake of knowledge: “What drives people to do such things is their belief that there is no God… and the universe is an accident,” he said.

Dr Philips said that in Riyadh, it was found that the Quran, Islam and Arabic were subjects that the students most hated while they loved other subjects taught by non-Muslims. To avoid such a response and for effective knowledge transfer, he urged to use the KEIA model which stands for ‘Knowledge, Eman, Ikhlas and Amal Salih’.

He gave examples of how to Islamise subjects such as mathematics. He said teachers of Islamic Studies should be qualified in classroom management, child psychology and educational methodology.

Dr Philips finally ended his lecture circuit by offering a way for his audience to pick up from where he left. He reminded them of his online university that offers diploma and degree studies for free or nominal charges. Before he finished he also mentioned that there is an Islamised English-language reading series he has produced for kindergarten kids.

And it remains for us Maldivians now, while our politicians dance to the loudest tunes, to determine whether, when the cultural dynamics finally take shape and the Maldives becomes listed among developing nations – is it going to be the Saudis or the Somalian pirates that we turn to for money and the required knowledge transfer to maintain our economy.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]

Likes(0)Dislikes(0)

Comment: An Evening with Mrs Naik

Ever since my tenth grade in lower secondary in 1982, I do not remember being in a room full of only women until Wednesday night. And now I have completed my forty-fourth year of living.

Wednesday night was womens’ night at the Islamic Centre. The occasion was a lecture by a Mrs Zakir Naik hosted by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs. Her husband Dr Zakir Naik was invited by the ministry to the country to deliver Islamic lectures. And the couple, their son and three daughters were also involved.

The local media has over the past three weeks made headlines of Dr Naik’s visit to the country. Many locals seems to believe that Dr Naik, who is the founder of the Mumbai based channel, Peace TV is a renowned Islamic Scholar.

While I am under the impression that he is a medical doctor, one of the senior government officials referred to him as a tele-evangelist.

I believe since the nation converted from Buddhism to Islam in 1153, Islam has been fundamental to Maldivians. But lately, I have been aware that the word “Islam” has a special ring to it that it attracts, assembles, arouses and angers my country folk.

I have been long convinced that the power of Islam as the topnotch political power tool to mobilize the Maldivian masses cannot be overlooked. And while the Maldives struggles to move forward nursing its infant democracy and wounded economy, my eyes are fixed on the hands of the evil but the smart who hold Islam as a weapon as we close on 2013.

I find Islam enlightening, progressive and intriguing. Social justice is a passionate concept to me as much as I believe it is central to Islam. So I was at the lecture venue fifteen minutes before it started to learn from Mrs Naik about Islam.

When I arrived at the venue I was not surprised to be told that the main hall was full. The place was swarming with mostly black figures. Rows of chairs lined up on all possible space outside the hall and women were seated on all of them. Some were climbing up the stairs to the mosque above the hall.

I spotted some nervous officials belonging to the host. Obviously, they expected a large turnout and had made careful arrangements with two screens to display Mrs Naik for the people outside. But this response, I was sure, was unexpected.

I looked around. In addition to some officials from the ministry, the only men were some two dozen seated on the low walls in the compound.

I was lucky to get a seat in the main hall filled with nearly three hundred women. The majority was dressed in black. I counted ten wearing no scarf or buruga. The rest showed only their face and hands. Some showed nothing. I noticed three movie cameras operated by young ladies who I assume were journalists from the TV Maldives. The Islamic Ministry estimated 6000 women attended the function.

The evening began. One of the daughters of Mrs Naik recited Quruan. The next daughter, looking close to ten years recited a poem. It praised the hijab while outrightly insulted those who did not wear it.

Next we heard the introduction of our lecturer Mrs Farhat Naik.
We heard Mrs Naik is from Mumbai and has a masters degree in commerce. We were told she is a well known figure in the Islamic community and has traveled all over the world. We were told she lectured on Islam in countries such as the United States, Australia, Canada, etc. We heard she is a principal of one of the Islamic schools and Mr and Mrs Naik has even opened Islamic Schools.

What I do not remember hearing was her qualification in Islam and who gave it to her.

Mrs Naik took the microphone, standing in front of me. She was tall and a pleasant lady. She wore a black gown and a dark buruga and her face and hands were the only visible skin.

Hoping for some stimulating valuable information in Islam, I listened intently.

She started saying her topic for the night is “My purpose of life” and not “roles and responsibilities of women in Islam” as displayed behind her on a board.

The lecture went on for over an hour. My expectations turned to disappointment. And then, to concern.

The “academic lecture” that I expected turned out to be a memorized inconsistent contradicting jumble. It contained information downloaded from internet mixed with outdated and inappropriate examples that was pinched with selected verses from different chapters of Quruan and decorated with rhetoric. The “world famous Islamic Scholar” turned out to be a “performer” very suitable to school kids from primary to secondary. I later checked her quotes from Quruan and found they were used indeed out of context.

Mrs Naik first quote from Quruan was 51:56. She said “We have created man and jinn only for the purpose of Ibadhaa (worship).” She interpreted it saying “worship is what pleases Allah and our salvation and success depends on Allah being pleased.”

I checked a translation of the verse. It has “worship” replaced with “service” and the verse had a very strong yet broad meaning that encompass the diverse activities of all human life. To my dismay, Mrs Naik’s entire interpretation was in a total vaccum where human life, activities and times were concerned.

In her speech Mrs Naik preached us to be Allah-centred and said the purpose of a Muslim’s life should be to pleasure Allah. She preached not to have meaningless purposes in life and elaborated it with an example of a dog chasing a car on the highway. She came up with a word for each letter in Islam. She said “I” is for Quruan and Sunnah, “S” is for specific goals, “L” is for lucrative – in this world and afterlife, “M” is to measure how much is achieved and “I” is for intentions – which is to pleasure Allah” and “C” is for consistency. She did not tell us how a Muslim could measure the achievements made toward the goal of pleasing Allah.

She preached the values of having strong desires, having focus, putting consistent efforts, disregarding worldly ambitions and not to let society decide what a Muslim should become. She elaborated it with the story of the 1960 Olympic medalist Wilma Rudolph. But she never mentioned the relationship between Wilma’s success and her worship to Allah.

I wonder whether Mrs Naik, as an Islamic scholar did some research on our 100 percent Muslim country prior to her visit. Obviously, she was not aware that murder and stabbing are nearly a weekly affair which the Maldivians are increasingly getting de-sensitized to. She preached repentance and elaborated it with a story of a man who committed 100 murders and fell dead on the way to repent but went to heaven because his intent to repent preceded his death.

Mrs Naik went on to say “do not judge people on what people think of you”. She said the message given by girls who wear hijab is “We are prohibited” while the message girls who wear skirts give is “You are invited”. Is Mrs Naik reinforcing her audience to harass girls who do not wear hijab? Doesn’t she know that in Maldives there are many women who do not wear hijab? Is Mrs Naik saying that harassment, abuse and rape do not occur in communities where women wear hijab? What data does she have to support her argument? Mrs Naik asked her audience to imagine a world where all women wear hijab saying that there would be no such crimes as harassment, rape, abuse, etc. Does she know that rape and sex abuse often happen within family? As a scholar how did she come up with such an assumption?

Mrs Naik expressed her distaste for western values and said “if we copy the west we have products of the west”. I wonder what she was thinking when she sat watching her two daughters emulate a rap song at her microphone after her talk.

Mrs Naik called the TV an “idiot box”. She urged her audience to throw it and switch on the Islamic TV mentioning Mr Naik’s Peace TV. She said cartoons are made to brainwash the children and spoil generations. She disregarded the positive values put across to children through cartoons and the valuable information received through those such as the National Geographic Channel. Her rhetoric seemed to totally disregard modern technological advances and any child’s basic right to walk the path to wisdom.

She said all TV channels except Islamic ones ‘are designed to stop the (imminent) revolution that Muslim Ummah is going to bring to the world’. I saw this message in the context of her entire lecture that can be summarised as, “Allah created humankind to worship Him and while everyone should have a purpose in life it should be the jihad of converting all human kind into Islam.”

I wonder why Islamic scholars always continue to portray Allah in the image of a human being – a human being who gets pleasure from the praise and deeds of his slaves and rewards in return. I wonder how the audience will perceive the divine when Mrs Naik told a story involving a clash between the Angel of Paradise and the Angel of Curse on who would take out the soul of a dead person. She said to determine who gets the soul, Allah asked them to find out which distance is longer – between where the man was when he decided to repent and the spot where his dead body lay or from that spot to where he was going to repent?

I wonder whether a true Islamic scholar trying to win the hearts and minds of twenty-first century Maldivians should talk in such terms.

The superscript of the Naik’s whole visit was revealed when Mrs Naik answered a question from the audience who asked her where she can provide Islamic education to her children. She answered by telling that if she wanted an Islamic school why doesn’t she get together people who want it and call her husband for it at his lecture following evening.

When I left the hall close to eleven thirty, I saw a state car and two security officers in full gear waiting outside in the drive way.

And my mind struggled to reconcile the cost – benefit ratio of this enchanting evening with Mrs. Naik.

But I know, tonight is an accomplishment for those. They’ve seen the blue print for the transformation they require. And this transformation is the final step to the Rule by the Ulaama.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]

Likes(43)Dislikes(24)

Comment: Maldives Media at the Crossroads

Press freedom. Media Freedom. Right to Information.

Several years ago these were taboo words in the Maldives. Now they have become the mantra of the local media. Ironically it is coming from those people who resisted the introduction of these democratic instruments into Maldives.

The chant now is ‘self regulation’. And that coming especially from the Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) is worrying.

The MJA has become the grand mufti of the nation’s media. They have become the sole experts to assess the media. But in a country like the Maldives where everyone is familiar with each other, the views of MJA are like that of a serial killer calling for human rights.

If MJA claims to be a voice for free media they are a bit late for this. Such freedoms have undoubtedly been established. The noble deed was done by some others who started the process almost twenty years ago. They risked their lives like those doing a massive clean-up while the storm was blowing. By now, they have stashed their tools and dumped the garbage and are busy with more clean-ups.

Rumor has it that MJA is synonymous to Haveeru – the oldest daily of over 30 years and supposedly with the largest audience. The President of MJA – Ahmed ‘Hiriga’ Zahir has been the editor of Haveeru for most of its life.

For me, MJA’s credibility has always been questionable; among many other contexts is its representation of local media. I asked the President of MJA for a list of its membership. But sadly, he ignored my request. That was from the very person who calls for freedom of information.

I logged onto the MJA website. The executive committee members were disclosed there. To my disappointment, they turn out to be the silent forces that resisted the movement to establish the very freedoms that the Maldivians enjoy today.

Now these forces are busy producing the media junk that Maldivians are exposed to, every time they turn a radio or a TV on.

I cannot say such trash is entirely due to the lack of professional training of the local journalists. In the current scenario, the security of your job as a journalist in private media depends on your willingness to attack the government. The editors discount the ethics of their profession when it comes to imposing their views on the general public and violate the average person’s right to information.

I have always had deep suspicions about those who change their tune overnight and take multiple forms. Haveeru was definitely not advocating freedom of expression and press freedom in 2007.

My experience with them dates back to March 20, 2007, when one of my articles was published in a local paper.

In relation to that, I remember Haveeru was way ahead of others in portraying me as an ignorant apostate of Islam. I saw no wrong on my part as I was merely expressing my opinion. However, Haveeru was quick to twist my opinion as the view point of my employer. Further, they spiced up their story with quotes of those who shared their views.

On May 3, 2007, on World Press Freedom Day, the police chased me on the road and finally carried me to the police station. At the station, on live TV, I saw the official functions to mark the day. Soon I was delivered to the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs, to have the views I expressed in the article “corrected”. Still Haveeru never mentioned that I was exercising my right to expression.

The election of the Maldives Media Council (MMC) held on 28th March 2010 is a case in point for assessing the credibility of the MJA.

I ran for a seat in the MMC. I was one of the two women shortlisted along with 13 men competing for seven seats to represent the public there. Two other women competed with nine men to represent the registered media in the council. The voters consisted of 20 registered media outlets.

MMC was formed with a blatant gender gap – a consequence of MJA’s attempt to ensure that the MMC is their subsidiary branch. MJA’s preferences unfortunately represent my loss.

A press release from the MJA on 18th March 2010 reads:

“While there is no room for us to deem the procedure was not politically motivated, our Association has noticed that the announced candidates include former frontline members of political parties.”

Six months ago, I worked as a purely administrative, senior secretary of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP). I am certainly proud that I contributed to the social and political reform of my country through my work there. Especially when MDP represents the leaders who brought us not only the freedom of expression but all the freedoms that Maldivians entertain today.

I found it surprising MJA failed to look beyond my one identity.

I have several identities. I was a school teacher who taught primary school kids, college kids, adults. I was a coordinator for UN funded projects on areas such as Population Education, Empowerment of Women, Reproductive health and Life skills. I have received government’s pension for 20 years of public service. I was a reporter and an editor for a local daily with an adequate level of professional training. I wrote many articles on social issues for the media including Haveeru and their English magazine ‘The Evening Weekly.’ I am a graduate of social science – one of the very few who ran in the MMC elections who had a university degree. Most importantly I am a mother of three grown up children.

Despite the dragging complaints by MJA on the MMC elections, they did not see anything wrong with Haveeru casting three votes as separate sources – Haveerudaily, Haveeru online (they have the same news stories and articles) and Haveeru FM (a music channel). Yet they failed to field a single female candidate from their establishment. MJA’s President and Editor of Haveeru, Ahmed Zahir, told me the MJA does not work for gender equality.

So far, MJA has been busy lambasting the government. But they have never taken a look inwards at how their media is performing. The aggressive promotion of gender stereotypes, gender discriminations and extremist viewpoints are probably not something they comprehend.

The MJA has undoubtedly achieved their main objective, which is attracting the attention of the international organisations. MJA knows that international organisations, to complete their tasks, depend heavily on local groups. This means that one can work for the benefit of the other. The building blocks for the MJA’s powerbase have started streaming in, in the form of training opportunities, local and international platforms and scholarships. MJA knows that the work plan of international organisations does not always include close scrutiny of people to whom they hand over funds.

The World Press Freedom Day was celebrated in Maldives last week. A two day consultation on Freedom of Information was held. The event was organised jointly by the Maldivian government and UNESCO. The local media personnel and representatives of the regional media participated at this workshop.

I watched the inauguration of the event live on TV. I also made some notes as distinguished people gave their speeches. One of them urged to deliver democracy with responsibility. Another pointed out that right to information is not the journalist’s right to information, but the right to information of the ordinary person on the street. The UNESCO Director General stressed the importance of quality of information and its dependence on the availability of accurate and up-to-date information for the journalists. The keynote speaker touched on a core value of the profession. He indicated that right to information is less satisfied by law than the desire, ability and choice of the journalist to choose the right information for the job.

The point leap of Maldives in the Press freedom Index was mentioned before the event was over. I did not find anyone there who helped bring that leap. No faces and no mention of names of those who over the past twenty years, at their own behest, struggled and made sacrifices to bring the media freedom we witness in the country today. Paradoxically, the hall was full of those locals who vehemently obstructed media freedom and freedom of expression in the country.

I ask myself why I wrote what I’ve written here. Is it worth? Or is it a waste of time?

At its worst, my readers will view me as a disgruntled person, taking it out personally on the MJA.

At its best, my readers will view my comments in a broader context.

As the Maldives transforms from a society of consensus – a condition forced by political repression – into a society of conflict, caused by the newly acquired freedoms, the role of media now, could never be more critical for the future of this nation.


All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]

Likes(0)Dislikes(0)