Comment: Islam is for tolerance of the Other

It is disturbing and saddening to see that we dare to curtail basic human interests and entitlements of others that some of us take for granted.

What Islam stands for: According to Article 16 of the Madinah Charter (al-mithaq al-madinah) of 622 CE, social, legal and economic equality was promised to all loyal citizens of the state, including non-Muslims.

Similarly, ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab’s Covenant following the Arab conquest of Jerusalem reads:

“[‘Umar ibn al-Khattab] has given [people of Jerusalem] assurance of safety for their lives and property, for their churches and their crosses, for their sick and their healthy, and for all the rituals of their religion.

Their churches shall not be used as dwellings, nor shall they be demolished and nothing shall be diminished…”

Now all this has basis in the Qur’anic injunction that “there is no compulsion in religion”. Have we then lost our humanity and humaneness?

It is hypocritical of us to ban and curtail such basic freedoms by saying that the Maldives is a ‘sattain satta muslim qaum’.

How we became ‘sattain satta muslim qaum’

It is true that we have a strong Islamo-nationalist identity. But we must know that identities are artificial and they are constructed through symbols and discourses.

Our national identity is a construction of a discourse largely engineered by President Gayoom.

President Amin may have been behind the initial promotion of nationalism. But his nationalism was not based on an exclusionist Islam. None of his national day statements that I have read promoted such an oppressive conception of of Islamo-nationalism.

The discourse of an exclusionist Islamo-nationalism is found in Gayoom’s speeches, writings and policies. In fact, according to Gayoom’s official biography, A Man for All Islands, Gayoom, from the beginning, ensured that an Islamo-nationalism was a priority of his regime.

Gayoom-controlled radio, TV, and the education system promoted and socialised us into this discourse of exclusionist Islamo-nationalism.

We may not readily realize that we are influenced by and socialized into this mythical discourse of Islamo-nationalism based on ‘sattain satta muslim qaum’. The power of this discourse is so perverse that even the most natural word association for ‘sattain satta’ probably is ‘muslim/Islami qaum’.

And all major oppressive measures in the country have been justified based on the discourse of ‘sattain satta muslim qaum’.

Thanks to the 30-year efforts of Gayoom, today our ‘imagined community’ is thoroughly based on an exclusionist and oppressive conception of Islam.

Islamo-nationalism’s oppressions

According to Daniel Brumberg, total autocracies such as Saudi Arabia spread the idea that the state’s mission is to defend the supposedly unified nature of the nation or the Islamic community.

Gayoom’s regime may not have been a total autocracy. But his stated political justification of the state was his mission of defending a unified community.

We must know that, just like his Arab counterparts, this was just a ploy for political control. Hence, any differences of views to that of his vision are taken as ‘anomalies’ or ‘deviations’ or ‘falsities’ threatening national unity.

Such people must be ‘rectified’, exiled, imprisoned, deported, tortured, or if need be exterminated. Exclusion or extermination can also find more poignant forms such as civil death or suicide.

Gayoom’s discourse of ‘sattain satta muslim qaum’ often oppressed two kinds of opponents: Islamiyyun such as Sheikh Hussain Rasheed Ahmed and non-religious challengers like current president Nasheed.

Islamiyyun were brandished as ‘Islam din rangalah nudanna meehun’. And non-religious political opponents were brandished as either ‘fundamentalists’ or ‘Christian missionaries’.

The outcomes of this oppressive Islamo-nationalist discourse are naturally not limited to Maldivians.

Hence the migrant workers in the Maldives also cannot practice their religions as respectable and equal human beings.

Undoing Islamo-nationalism

Identities cannot easily been undone. But it is not impossible to undo them. As an immediate step, the government must stop spreading Gayoom’s discourse of ‘sattain satta muslim qaum’.

Even the current government spreads the discourse that ‘Maldives is the only 100% Muslim liberal democracy’. While this discourse is presented often to the donors, this is just the same Gayoomist myth. We are neither 100% Muslim nor a liberal democracy.

We are still a borderline democracy according to comparative democratization research. The Freedom House still designates the Maldives as an ‘electoral democracy’, and our donors know this. Instead of promoting Gayoom’s discourse, we must acknowledge our oppressive laws, practices and attitudes, and try to change them.

Secondly, we need to create a Divehi equivalent for ‘tolerance’. Divehi word ‘tahammal’ or ‘kekkurun’ does not fully convey the meaning of the concept of tolerance. Tolerance means accepting people and permitting their differences and practices even when we personally strongly disapprove of them.

We may not want to become Buddhists or Hindus, nor may we approve of Buddhism or Hinduism. But we must accept the Buddhist and Hindu Sri Lankans or Indians in the Maldives and we must permit their religious practices.

Third, our education system must promote tolerance, mutual respect, and a critical-history of the country and Islam in general.

Textbooks must problematize the mythical narrations like Rannamari, which as Maloney said, served to render other historical events peripheral. Instead, the real age and images of Divehis must be re-taught.

The age of the Divehi is not 900 years, but more than 1500 years. The real Divehi is indeed indicative of a far richer adventurism, innovation, cultural practices, linguistic uniqueness, adaptability, and the sheer incredible strength of spirit and survivability in these lands against numerous odds, not least foreign interventions.

The real Divehi is indicative of an incredible story of inclusiveness, of co-existence of political exiles and immigrants from India or Sri Lanka. This Divehi story must be our discourse for re-doing our historical identity.

Gayoom’s mythical unity as found in the oppressive Religious Unity Act is not even our historical reality in the Muslim period. Maliki madhab was dominant until 1573, when Muhammad Jamal Din advocated Shafi’I madhab.

Thus, whether we approve of it or not, we have both intra-religious and inter-religious differences. There is no way to stop this diversity except through despotic oppression.

We cannot remain ignoring this reality and deluding ourselves into a utopian umma. We must embrace the ‘fact of pluralism’ and tolerance as basis of our new national identity.

That, after all, is also what Islam stands for.

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]


29 thoughts on “Comment: Islam is for tolerance of the Other”

  1. Maldivians were largely Buddhist before Islam arrived. I don't understand why this is hidden from the people because it is part and parcel of Maldivian history. Maldivians have been Buddhists for a far longer period of time than they have been Muslim.

  2. who ever wrote this is "Kaafaru". why on earth we would allow practice other religions here. what the F************K your talking

  3. Another fine example of the propaganda of MinivanNews; brainchild of MDP activists (Not all activists, though).

  4. The following is true of all Maldivians.

    1) Maldives do not want to reminisce any other period other than Muslim-era.
    2) Maldives will be 100% Muslims. No budda's, Jesus followers are allowed. They are all non-believers. They all will go to hell. Where they will be fried alive. many times.
    3) Maldivians are better and has got more blessings from God, than our neighbour country-men. We can treat our neighbours as dirt. Because they are non-muslims. We can spit on their temples, churches. But they will have to respect completely and fully our mosques.
    4) Maldives will proceed to Heaven, as a country. Not divided. With palm trees and yellow-fin Tuna.
    5) We get 72 virgins and unlimited wine in heaven.
    6) We must be able to pray where ever we want, when ever we want, in any country we want. But, no non-believers can, so much as, think about their fake Gods.

    Hurray... we got a place in heaven... we got a place in heaven.

  5. It is time we respect ourselves and our religion enough to not oppress others in the name of our religion.

    It only shows our insecurities and lack of faith in our religion when we oppress other religions.

  6. The person that wrote this article does not sound like a Christian or an Atheist.

    I have my suspicious that Minnivan News is full of Shi'ite Raafidhi heretics trying to undermine Sunni Islam. I would like for an enquiry to be done on this matter - and would like to know who has sold his soul to Tehran and the Ayatollah.

    Maldives for Sunni Muslims!

  7. So islamophobia has left the building. i wonder y,... aathunah g*ru hendijje ennu

    for millenia we hav warned that ye all heed our caaling. but noooooooooo, we were lampooned as loonies. so emme fahun konthaaku mijehunee eh, eh,eh....

    buffoons lik this alia fellow is wot wud be our ultimate undoing. I will strike you down, in His honor. so there

  8. There is a sizable portion of the society that need s much evolution before any tolerance and respect is shown to people of other faiths. The backward thinking is aggressively promoted by orthodox Muslims who are pushing a return to medieval age.

    100% Muslim country is artificial and false.

    Qayyoom used to say that if maldivians were given freedom of religion, the Maldivian state would collapse immediately. This is a formula unique to Maldives because countries like USA and Singapore where you find people of every imaginable religion and ethnicity- are among the most advanced countries on earth.

  9. @Alibeyya

    "There is a sizable portion of the society that need s much evolution before any tolerance and respect is shown to people of other faiths."

    You've raised a very important point. The level of intolerance in Maldivian society is at such a level, that introducing ANYTHING new is going to create bloodshed.

    Just take a look at what's happening on the streets in the name of democracy. You just cannot compare this society to the USA or Singapore. The fabric of those societies are very different to ours. You have to look at our history and how we ended up here.

    No doubt that at some point in future, there MAY be multiple religious groups living in harmony here. But I don't see that happening for a very long time.

    Look at what happened only a few weeks ago in Egypt. Muslims gathered around churches and burnt them. The motives were unclear; some believed it was instigated by former regime die hards to take attention away from Hosni Mubarek.

    Imagine something like that happening here? It won't be one church that'll be burning. Whole islands will be burning... As the Chinese proverb goes, "be careful what you wish for".

  10. Tell me whats more perverse than fighting for "rights" without boundaries and condemn the actions of the beneficiaries. I have no problem that Vatican is a state and they officially deny procreation. And i find no problem that a high percentage of Maldivians think that their state is 100% islamo whatever. As long as people can tolerate each other..i know it's ironic but as long as people like you may tolerate people like me. I wish you have a solution for all of us to suddenly go non islamo whatever and also i wish you wouldn't condemn the actions of forma islamogist who are liberated from islamo FEAR...

  11. Interesting comment on minivannews . Your response 'Horizon' does not compute. From whence hath you derived this Polaroid Data. Hmm ?

    I would advise you, for your sake child. Schizophrenia real you feel?!


  12. Some of our kinds behave like dirty Arabs, who no respect human beings.
    Let us not forget that we all are created by same creature. Moreover, all religions preach same philosophy.

  13. To: al on Sun, 22nd May 2011 4:46 PM

    be a good idea if people PRACTISED islam............. j

  14. There is a sizable portion of the society that need s much evolution before any tolerance and respect is shown to people of other faiths.”

    You’ve raised a very important point. The level of intolerance in Maldivian society is at such a level, that introducing ANYTHING new is going to create bloodshed.
    HOORAY.......... KILL EVERYBODY ! ! ! !

  15. you write and you comment

    john campbell on Mon, 23rd May 2011 12:46 AM

    There is a sizable portion of the society that need s much evolution before any tolerance and respect is shown to people of other faiths.”
    Ahmed Bin Addu Bin Suvadheeb on Sun, 22nd May 2011 11:10 PM


    “There is a sizable portion of the society that need s much evolution before any tolerance and respect is shown to people of other faiths.”
    we are warning you don't play with our beloved religion(Islam)we will attack anyone who does so becarefull

  16. Very good article, the only problem is there are many people who think like this but will something ever get done! is it time for us to take the streets??? social media should be utilised to bring us together!!

  17. Constitution of Maldives warrants that you have to be Muslim to be a Maldivian. Therefore unless we change the constitution there is no room discuss about allowing any other religion into Maldives.

    If any one wants to practice any other religion the person can migrate to a country where "tolerance" is practiced.

    Please leave us - Muslim Maldivians alone.

  18. how do u think our ancestors felt when they had to change their beliefs to islam, im not saying islam is bad, but forcing people to live a way they dnt want to is bad, there is no reason why people from different religions cannot co exist together, as long as the different groups respect each other, thats the issue isnt it, respect and tolerence is something we lack

  19. God is all powerful, all seeing and present everywhere all the time. If God willed he could have made not only all Maldivians Muslim but all mankind. But He gave mankind a choice so who are you to take that choice from Maldivians through a constitution.

  20. If we are creating a constructive space for reform we should stop looking at the past toward Gayyoom and try to find meaningful solutions for the future. Even under the current administration it is no better or worse than Gayyoom's, as islamist radicals, much farther to the right than Gayyoom ever was are at the helm running Islamic ministry.

    So let us agree that we need to discard this Gayyoom scapegoat and start talking constructively about what we can actually do.

  21. There is no room for bronze age mythology in the 21st century. Human rights, Democracy, Science and Reason ought to be the gold standard of this century. Not Faith.

    The author of this article is absolutely right about not having a Dhivehi word for 'Tolerance'.

    It is a correlation I have often observed, those who have Faith (religious faith) are also the most intolerant. When their reasoning fails, faith is the only thing they have. Blind Faith. And at the point of faith, All conversation Stops.

    Sam Harris put it best - "We have a choice. We have two options as human beings. We have a choice between conversation and war. That's it. Conversation and violence. And faith is a conversation stopper."

    It partly the failure of our education system to prepare Maldivian citizens for the 21st Century. And it is partly the government restrictions put on educational institutes to create their own syllabus and teaching materials.

    Sometimes, when I talk to religious people, I have to remind myself to breathe. They are so confident in their statements about the nature of the universe, how living organisms came into being and what is going to happen after the guaranteed destruction of the planet in the near future.

    Sadly, they don't have a clue about Evolution, Cosmology, Physics and almost all other well established scientific fields which has contributed so greatly to the well being of all mankind.

    At this point you may think, I am intolerant of religion.. Truth is, I am seriously concerned the direction this country is headed. I have no objection to people practising their religion in their own/community privacy.

    I object to associating this country to a certain region. I object to associating religion in politics. I object to electing public representatives associated to a religion.

    Finally I object bad ideas. Ideas that are not supported by good reason. This is equivalent to faith.

    You ought to give good reasons for your ideas and what you believe in. If you cannot give good reasons, it is time you questioned your own beliefs and ultimately your faith. You shall end faith (religious faith / dogma).

    Let me end with a quote from Same Harris - "We rely on faith only in the context of claims for which there is no sufficient sensory or logical evidence."

  22. Why do Maldivian Muslims believe they are different from Buddhist or Hindus, Hindus worship stone so the Muslim worship black stone, Hindus go pilgrimage in white robes head shaved so the Muslims. The only difference is Muslims are confident that they worship a true God and will not for a second think that they are also part of History of the world.

  23. As has been demonstrated by the above article, there are Ayat (verses or literally lights or guidances) in the Qur'an which promote freedom of religion. Literalists usually claim that such verses were abrogated by other verses (Naskh) which order that non-Muslims or apostates be forced into Islam. Or else they say that the religious freedom verses have been misinterpreted by advocates of religious freedom.

    The same with Ahadith and Seerah, some reliable Prophetic narrations and Islamic history seems to be advocacy for religious freedom and others seem to, at least if read at face value, imply the necessity of co-ercion in Islam.

    The more orthodox use such pro-coercion Ayat and Sunnah to justify their co-ercive ways of enforcing Islam (punishing Riddah etc...)

    So top Muslim scholars who advocate Religious freedom have presented very detailed contexts for the seemingly co-ercive verses to demonstrate that they are not to be used to force people into Islam, as the issue at hand, in those days, was not actually freedom of conscience but the sovereignty of the Ummah and the safety of the Muslim community.

    These are the arguments which have to be espoused to convince many of the literalists of the point of this article.

  24. @Anbar

    For your kind information we do not worship black stone.

    Dont show your ignorance here. If you know nothing say nothing at all.


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