Comment: ‘All religions guide to the path of God’

Like all Maldivians, I have always known that former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom articulated an Islam that he calls a ‘meduminuge’ (moderate) religion, or in Quranic terminology a religion of wasatiyyah. But until recently, when I immersed myself in Gayoom’s speeches and books for my Master’s thesis, I could not have fully articulated this Islam. I have only space to use material from three important speeches. (All quotes of Gayoom are from their original English versions.)

Progressive face or phase

The best place to start is Gayoom’s paper in 1985 on the ‘Flexibility of Islamic Shari’ah’ presented at a seminar in Kuala Lumpur. In this paper, Gayoom laid out his broad outlook on Islam:

Gayoom’s understanding of Islam is fundamentally ‘progressive’. He argued, ‘the message of Islam was never meant to be limited to the confines of a backward nomadic community of fourteen centuries ago’.

For him, the use of ijtihad (independent reasoning) should be wide-ranging: ‘there might be many problems, albeit already covered in traditional works on Islamic law, which need reconsideration in light of the changing circumstances’. This means, according to Gayoom, ijma (juristic consensus) can be overturned.

Gayoom maintained that ‘[t]he so-called closing of the door of ijtihād [is] quite alien to [Islam’s] encouragement of scientific and intellectual research and the attaining of knowledge in all fields’.

Thus, he concludes reflecting on the importance of ‘reason’ to Islam by saying: ‘Islam does not exclude a reasoned and diligent attitude to change; it does not instruct us to impede the flowing stream that is essential to human nature and its development.’

If this is Gayoom’s jurisprudential outlook, his substantive views are equally ‘progressive’ or even more radical than many of us might have thought.

Universal message of equality, love and tolerance

Thus, in an address in 1983 at Aligarh University of India, Gayoom laid out a radical message of tolerance, mutual love, and equality among people of all faiths.

On tolerance and love, he says:

The tolerance and magnanimity shown by the great Prophet of Islam, Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him), the Second Guided Khalīfā, Umar ibn al-Khattāb, Salahuddin al-Ayyūbī and other renowned Muslim rulers of all times towards not only non-Muslims but also towards those who had waged war against the Muslim state will bear witness to the spirit of love and human brotherhood inherent in the teachings of Islam.

On equality, Gayoom argues there is no distinction whatsoever to be made with regard to the equality of rights between Muslims and non-Muslims:

The Holy Quran clearly establishes the right of every individual to follow whatever religion or creed of his choice when it says: ‘There is no compulsion in religion; surely right has become distinct from wrong.’ Islam safeguards the rights of non-Muslims…to no less a degree than it safeguards the right of its own followers.

For Gayoom, the tolerance and equality of all people is premised on the equal normative status of all religions:

No religion preaches hatred, jealousy or animosity. Religious intolerance, which inevitably leads to friction and conflict, and more often than not to bloodshed, is therefore an unforgivable departure from the path of God.

The path of God, according to Gayoom, is not a unique possession of one religion. Therefore, even more radically Gayoom points out that:

All religions guide to the path of God – the path of love, understanding and peace.

Subjecting the message to politics

Now, of course, this deeply anti-authoritarian, even radical, ideology contradicts the authoritarian political policies of president Gayoom. I am here referring to his discourse of nationhood. His nationhood discourse, which is now our taken for granted background national self-understanding, is based on the mythical and authoritarian motif of ‘100% Muslim nation’.

In another speech in 1983 at the ‘Seminar on the Call for Islam in South and South East Asia’, held in Male, president Gayoom again acknowledged that Islam provided for complete equality of rights for all humans. Nonetheless, he implied that the ‘unique’ national self-understanding overrides even the commandments of Qur’an:

The real essence of Islam, as you know, is that it is non-discriminatory. Its tolerance of other beliefs and religions is clearly established in the Holy Quran, the Sunnah of the Prophet (Peace be upon him!)…We Maldivians, as true believers of Islam, hold freedom of belief as sacred and we abhor discrimination between man and man on any grounds whether of creed, colour or race.

In spite of this, he continues, because:

[w]e are such a homogenous and closely-knit society based on one national identity, one language, and one faith…we are convinced that the preservation of this oneness in faith and culture is essential for the unity, harmony, and progress of the country.

It is this homogenising political discourse that underpins the dominant national self-understanding. But this discourse is not an Islamic discourse. In fact, as we saw above, it is at odds with Islam’s universal messages outlined by Gayoom.

A degree of godliness

Whether or not we will seriously uphold Islam’s anti-authoritarian universal messages as Gayoom so clearly laid out and whether or not we will rethink the authoritarian national self-understanding, are some of the most crucial questions we must address individually and as a society.

This task of serious self-reflection has become even more urgent under an increasingly interdependent and pluralistic world. This task has become socially necessary with the pluralisation and fragmentation of religious discourses, and with the increasing diversity in the society, not least because of migrant people of different faiths.

The task at hand is a transformation of ourselves as subjects and citizens: this task ultimately is one of inculcating a degree of godliness – mercy, compassion and love – in all of us.

This is indeed a more transcendent endeavour than the selfish, materialist politics that has always spread fear about a non-existent Other conspiring to destroy Islam. We all really deserve a better politics.

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]

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24 thoughts on “Comment: ‘All religions guide to the path of God’”

  1. let us keep the Pakistan monument back. If Gayyoom was the president, he would have kept it, of course with a bit of tomato sauce on the beards of Mullahs.

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  2. The problem with Qayyoom was that he knew its alright to have a multi religion society in the Maldives and he knew well that its a Maldivian's right both socially and religious wise if he wants to adopt another religion apart from Islam. He himself was very open minded rearding this matter and whether accept it or not, it is during his era that Maldivians actually became moderate and began to understand other religions too. But his downfall was for his own selfish greed to remain in power he allowed the extremist fraction grew in the Maldives and always carried the slogan of 100% muslim Maldives so that he could use this title to win the hearts of Maldivians to stay in power. What he failed to understand was that because of his modernism there were some Maldivians who didn't want to accept that, some who have chnaged the religion to themselves. His failed to estimate this issue within his country after giving them the oppotunity to be modern, travek abroad, liev abroad, study abroad, tourism in Maldives..etc etc. all these factors contributed for Maldivian to go for other religions and they all came with his moderate relisious country agenda. The truth is in Islam there is no moderate,light or severe. Islam is a word of God and thats it, You either follow it or not, which means you become a practising muslim or not.

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  3. Lets put this thing in the right context. All religions may lead to god, but there is a way god asked ppl to come through to him. That is the way we muslims believe. That is also the way of Jesus, Moses and all past prophets. So all these different religions clearly do not lead to god, but the samaawee dheens lead to god.
    Now this is a broad assumption. But we can assess each religion by its merits and come to conclusion that islam is The way.

    The idea of religious pluralism, the talk of love and all this bla bla are lame excuses not to conform to any religion.

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  4. There are no alternate routes to salvation and eternal life apart from Jesus Christ's redeeming sacrifice on the cross for our sins. Since Islam specifically denies that Jesus Christ is the Son of God (Sura 4:171), and that He was crucified (Sura 4:157), Islam does not guide to God, but rather to damnation.

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  5. Islam is meant for Bedouins and it is a political movement for that era.
    Who cares for Islam, it preaches violence.
    I don’t believe that in Maldives we have 100% percent so called Muslims population. Surely there are godless people here. So why all these hypocrisy of being 100% Muslim nation!

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  6. The Maldives is in a unique situation in that so far no Maldivian national has come out and proclaimed that he is not a Muslim,( the last person who did that took it back within a few days) and also in Islam as far as i understand apostasy is punishable by death so in a hypothetical situation where a few becomes apostates they should be punished by death and hence the Maldives would forever remain "100% islamic" but of course if a child of a apostate is brought up as a non muslim then that child should have the right to religion and worship in Maldives.

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  7. @ML, who says bible is word of god? its full of factual and historical errors...and why does the word of god has so many versions?

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  8. How can all religions guide to the path of God when some religions do not even have a god?

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  9. Do we really have the time for this?

    I for one do not. The economy is tumbling down around us. Debt financing is being touted as the solution to everything.

    From now on, I vow never to take part in this silly debate about religious freedom.

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  10. @Nars on Mon, according to you the holly bible is not word of god; for your information the majority of world population believes that the holly bible is word of god.
    Let us know based on which authority you make such statement.
    By the way, are you a biblical scholar? Or an idiot making baseless statements on issues that you have no knowledge.

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  11. @ML
    another lame excuse! nobody can take the sins of others. why should they even? So by saving jesus absolved all of you guys sins, you are actually creating a lame excuse to disobey jesus's teachings everytime you get a chance. so your version of christianity clearly shall lead to damnation
    🙂

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  12. When it comes to the religion of islam golha vareh neh. He should be allowed to preach and spread word

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  13. This covers it : I think that God could do a lot better, and I'm willing to give Him the chance. ~Mignon McLaughlin

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  14. have a look at this debate if you haven't seen this already.

    http://intelligencesquaredus.org/index.php/past-debates/islam/#dm-col-a

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  15. I like this piece, mainly because it has a more tolerant tone than most of the opinion pieces on religion that usually is posted.

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  16. @awlaki: As you probably would know, every single person subscribing to a faith or non-faith believes that he or she is following the right path, if there is such a thing, just like you believe that Islam is the 'right' way. You make this claim based on a bias you have for Islam. So who is to say who is right or wrong? But prescribing to the notion of an all-knowing-benevolent-Abrahamic-god, or a non-Abrahamic god for that, sure does not have any reason or evidence to back it up, at least not yet.

    @tsk tsk: Yes we do. We will always have time for this. We, as a species have been pondering this for all of our existence, and I have a feeling we will continue to do so for the rest of our existence. You can, of course, opt out.

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  17. @Bettina: You omitted an important qualification Awlaki mentioned: Lemme copy paste it here for you..
    " But we can assess each religion by its merits and come to conclusion that islam is The way."

    So why don't u make a list of things you disagree about islam and we can find find the beans inside//

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  18. This is an incredibly enlightening piece, excellently written, thankyou for revealing this rich insight into the two faces of Maumoon. Yes, the speeches, the image, the face of Maumoon was so intoxicating, so full of love, compassion, so convincing, so brilliantly constructed. But if we were thinking through our rational minds instead of through our hearts need to hear something loving, we should have seen that it was just too beautiful a face to be REAL!!!

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  19. "The task at hand is a transformation of ourselves as subjects and citizens: this task ultimately is one of inculcating a degree of godliness – mercy, compassion and love – in all of us..."

    That is a beautiful example of the too often repressed, poetic, creative treasure which the soul of the Dhivehin is, deep deep down beneath the rubble.

    If only the true soul of the Dhivehin could be unleashed. The bondage of the fear and hate which inhibits the manifetstation of this spiritual treasure must be resisted.

    Thankyou for Gracing me with your gift, Azim...

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