Comment: Maldives: ‘Political Islam’ here to stay?

Maldivians, particularly the security authorities in the country, may have heaved a sigh of relief after the competing rallies by the NGOs and the political Opposition on the one hand, and the ruling MDP on the other, went off peacefully on Friday last. They had anticipated rioting and violent clashes for which public protests of the kind are often known in the country. Yet, the fact also remains that the competitive posturing on the type of Islam that the moderate Muslim country should follow may have made ‘political Islam’ the core of public discourse in the country in the long run-up to the presidential polls that are however due only in October 2013.

UNHRC chief Navi Pillay thus should be contented, if not happy, for what Maldives is doing since her proposing a national discourse on the kind of Islam that the country should be following. She made the suggestion during a visit to the country in November, both inside and outside Parliament. While protesting Navi Pillay’s proposal making Islam a debatable issue, the otherwise divided Opposition parties lending support to seven NGO organisers of the rally, have done precisely that. By competing with them, the MDP, particularly President Mohammed Nasheed, has thrown a challenge to the rival camp, declaring that the nation had to decide the kind of Islam it wanted to follow.

Addressing the MDP rally on Friday evening, President Nasheed said it was a ‘defining moment’ in the nation’s history. “At this moment we may not realise how important this gathering is, but years down the line we will look back and realise this was a crucial moment,” he said.”This is an old country, people have lived here for thousands of years and we have practiced Islam for more than 800 years. In 2011, we are faced with a question, how should we build our nation: what we will teach our children, how should we live our lives, and what will we leave for future generations?” President Nasheed, according to a Press release issued by his office, stressed that he wanted to continue to practice a tolerant form of Islam.

The President said that he believed that the Maldivians wanted “a better life, the ability to travel, not to have to beg for medicines, for each Maldivian to be able to fend for themselves, feed their families and stand tall.” He said, “To build our economy we need foreign investments and we need to create an environment in which foreigners can invest. We can’t be scared of foreign countries; we can’t just stay within our shells without development. History shows this is the path to economic failure…We can’t achieve development by going backwards to the Stone Age or being ignorant.”

Taking the political battle on moderate Islam to the Opposition camp, President Nasheed asked: “Should we ban music? Should we mutilate girls’ genitals? Should we allow nine year-olds to be married? Should we forbid art and drawing? Should we be allowed to take concubines? Is this nation-building?” Even while standing up for values that he has reiterated that he stands for steadfastly, President Nasheed was also setting the agenda for his re-election campaign for 2013, and by his strident position on moderate Islam, possibly hopes to retain much, if not all of the youth voters that had contributed to his success in the 2008 polls. In a country where the 18-25 age-group accounts for 40-45 per cent of the population, that is saying a lot.

This may not end here, though. The Opposition’s protest for protecting Islam has also provided a platform for them to come together after the Dhivehi Rayyathunge Party (DRP) of former President Maumoon Gayoom split earlier in the year, with the splinter group identified with his leadership floating the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) more recently. Both DRP, now under Gayoom’s 2008 running-mate Thasmeen Ali and PPM leader Abdulla Yameen, half-brother of the former President, shared the dais with other Opposition party leaders at the Friday rally. This need not mean that they would settle for a common alliance and candidate to challenge the incumbent in 2013, but that has since become a possibility, nonetheless. This would be more so if the presidential polls run into a second, run-off round, as in 2008.

An ‘Afghanistan’ in the making?

Ahead of the rally, Foreign Minister Ahmed Naseem too cautioned the nation that an increase in extremist rhetoric might affect the country’s international image and the ability of its citizens to freely travel abroad. Maldives had “a lot to lose” should such intolerance continue, the local media quoted Naseem as saying. “A large number of Maldivians travel outside the country and such rhetoric will have implications for the average Maldivian travelling abroad, and on those Maldivians already living abroad,” he said, pointing out that Maldives was a liberal democracy “with a Constitution based upon respect for the human rights of all.”

Appearing before the National Security Council of Parliament, Police Commissioner Ahmed Faseeh reportedly expressed concern that Maldives was heading towards becoming another “Afghanistan” – except that unlike Afghanistan, it was not able to produce its own food. Organisers of both the ‘Defend Islam’ and ‘Moderate Islam’ protests also assured the committee that there would be no violence at the rival rallies. As subsequent events proved, the rally organisers proved the police chief wrong, after he had said that local gangs had potential to capitalise on the opportunities to their own benefit if political parties ended up using them, even if for a good cause.

However, there was no immediate response to a report in the Indian newspaper, The Hindu, in which top Government sources claimed that Pakistan funding was available for the Opposition rally. Interestingly, the ‘Defend Islam’ protest and movement has its origins in fundamentalist elements destroying the Pakistani monument for the 17th SAARC Summit in the southern Addu City, describing it as idolatry. The Navi Pillay observations only hastened the process, even though indications are that the fundamentalist Adhaalath Party, which is at the back of the pro-Islam protests has been targeting the US and Israel, and their purported influence on the Government of President Nasheed, in matters that they argue are anti-Islamic.

‘Prisoner of Conscience’

The US has been made the villain of the piece in Afghanistan and Iraq, two Islamic nations, while Israel has been targeted over the Palestine issue, with the Nasheed Government’s decision to permit the Israeli airliner to operate flights to Maldives providing the immediate provocation and justification. Fundamentalist groups, as also the political Opposition, are not convinced that Maldives could not cast its vote on admitting Palestine into UNESCO owing to a communication gap, which meant that the official delegation had flown home early on. In private, they argue that either the decision did not make sense or the Government did not do its homework properly as Palestine was admitted into UNESCO, after all. Here again, they see a western hand.

A day after the Friday rallies, reports said that the Afghanistan monument for the SAARC Summit at the southern Addu City had been vandalised and thrown into the sea, like those of Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal. A replica of Afghanistan’s Jam minaret, featuring Koranic phrases and a UNESCO World Heritage site, the monument could not be restored, reports from Addu said. The Haveeru quoted local MDP leaders as saying that the party was not behind the vandalism, adding that it owed to ‘political reasons’.

Interestingly, Amnesty International has described as ‘prisoner of conscience’, blogger Ismail ‘Khilasth’ Rasheed, who was arrested after being attacked when he was addressing a small group, defending religious freedom in the national capital of Male a fortnight back. Foreign Minister Naseem said it was a matter of concern to the international community. Rasheed’s initiative followed UNHRC’s Navi Pillay’s call for religious freedom and for a national discourse for ending flogging of women in the country. As may be recalled, Amnesty had named President Nasheed a ‘prisoner of conscience’ for his pro-democracy political and public initiatives, after he was imprisoned more than once by the erstwhile Gayoom leadership.

For now, the ruling party has called off the ‘moderate Islam’ rallies that were to have continued for two more days, what with the Opposition too ending its protest at the end of day one. After the Friday rallies, presidential spokesman Mohamed Zuhair acknowledged people’s participation in the Opposition protest, and said that the Government would consider their demands. However, he wondered who had made those demands, political parties, or individuals and/or NGOs, which needed to be treated differently. Ahead of the MDP rally, many party seniors, including MPs, had urged President Nasheed not to have their programme on the same day. Some of them also publicly suggested that as Head of State, President Nasheed should not participate in what essentially was a political rally.

While this may have quietened the situation, it remains to be seen how various political players take off from here — or, listen to the voice of reason among a substantial section of the people, who do not want them to make Islam a political issue. There is large-scale apprehension among the masses and the current rallies could trigger societal divisiveness that goes beyond politics and elections, and could also concern larger national interests, starting with security issues, in the months and years to come.

N Sathiya Moorthy is a Senior Research Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation.

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]


32 thoughts on “Comment: Maldives: ‘Political Islam’ here to stay?”

  1. factually correct. very impartial. but when i saw the heading there's going to be some good analysis. that wasnt there.

  2. It is quite unbelievable the emotions that roil inside Maldivians with the mere mention of Islam.

    Its downright childish.

  3. “Should we ban music? Should we mutilate girls’ genitals? Should we allow nine year-olds to be married? Should we forbid art and drawing? Should we be allowed to take concubines? Is this nation-building?”

    GOOD QUESTION..BUT I HAVE NO CLUE ABOUT THAT MALDIVES..everyone i know listen or play music, other than a few pedophiles, nobody touches girl's genitals, islam never interfered with artists that i know. I don't know a single concubine and i asked my friends and they know anyone either. somebody said it was hilath who knew one and he wouldn't speak now..u know him, he is a bit crazy.. 98% of us deserves hadh lashing but it doen't happen here..i think the last one was actress didn't humiliate her to death but she said she has seen worse in western blue films..

  4. Hilath was not 'addressing'. It was a silent gathering named 'Silent Solidarity' who stood up against the rising religious extremism in the country, on International Human Rights Day 10 Dec. Hilath was the target of a mullah thug group back by 'political hands'. They had planned to kill him if he was seen at the event. And that was exactly what they tried. He was held by the gang members while another struck him on the head repeatedly with loose building bricks. He was luckily saved because other members of the silent protest tried to defend him from their grips.

  5. The mullah gang has not been investigated and none taken for questioning even when photos of the attackers were submitted to the police. There also stands a police video surveillance camera opposite where the incident took place. However, Hilath is confined for his involvement in the protest and his writings in his religiously controversial blog. has been blocked a few weeks back by Comms Authority of Maldives too. He later restarted his posts on

  6. Excellent report showing the dangers facing beloved Maldives. Hope the opposition behave with full responsibility. f you find the idea of religion as a tool for unity distasteful make your voice heard. Gasim and Thasmeen dont play with religion you have too much to lose!

  7. This is what happens when you bring religion into politics. The social divide it creates are totally unnecessary when you realize religion is a personal matter that no constitution can ultimately dictate. There wouldn't be as much disagreement in the political spectrum if the leaders and lawmakers are motivated only to act for the good of the country and its people, instead they do what is good for their religion.

  8. Bland propaganda.

    The word 'competing' protests along with the extravagant claim that Maldivian youth support MDPs reactionary call for an ill-defined moderation in practicing religion is political propaganda plain and simple.

    I am shocked at the collusion between foreign news sources and the MDP government. Of course money would change hands for these efforts. Several news sources abroad reported that protesters on the 23rd had called on Nasheed to close down spas in resorts however that is a blatant and outright lie which has caused irreparable damage to the reputation of the Maldives as a State and a people.

    In a perfect world we would be able to sue these news sources, including the several big names like BBC, Huffington Post etc. etc. for printing unverified untruths while there is documentary evidence to the contrary. However, we are helpless in this regard, as a small country and a weak people such as is cannot attack these agencies.

    However I urge sources like AFP and AP to report with more caution. You are destroying your own reputation and credibility among the Maldivian public, a large majority of whom can read English.

    Now this piece of propaganda will be floated worldwide encouraging readers to think that the majority of the persons gathered on the 23rd on the opposition side were 'fundamentalists'. However, it was an anti-government rally plain and simple with Islam used as the language of revolt. Nasheed is highly unpopular among the youth who care little for his grandstanding and PR on climate change in the international arena. Also the lack of entertainment opportunities and his ill-advised policies leading to rising costs of tobacco (strangely one of the only forms of entertainment for the 18-25 segment), with the decrease in number of scholarships and the MDPs encouragement of criminal activity has made Nasheed highly unpopular among the youth. A free and fair election would toss the incumbent off with fair ease.

  9. I am sorry no one can be behaving with full responsibility when things have "gone down to the mattress"!

    Religious scholars calling for their belief to prevail do not wish to participate in discussion. They only want nothing more nothing less. Only their whims and personal agendas be carried out.

    PPM headed by the very person who allowed spas to be operated and liquor availability and sale restricted to non inhabited island resorts is now giving full support to ban this totally! Why? To meet his ends. Come to power and perhaps shave the beards of his coalition religious scholars using chilli sauce this time!!!!!

    How ever good an article can be; or how ever much they are made to understand there can be no remedy when every one is gone crazy!

    I could hardly say if this will be wind to anyone other than to the writer and those who can appreciate common sense!

  10. Anni ia a nut case... he has gone mad after seen the biggest demonstration in our history..

  11. Nothing not known, no substantial hard hitting points, a piece for the International audience.

  12. As a Adduan i think behind the vanishing of monuments are some hypocrite political activists. Not the people so called religious fundamentalist. There are not enough and strong religious fundamentalist who could do this Addu.

  13. What is the significance of the UNHRC or Amnesty International declaring Mr Hilath Rasheed, an anti-Islamic blogger, as a political prisoner and calling for his immediate and unconditional release? Nothing has been done yet to take heed of the call.

    Under the constitution, nothing considered un-Islamic or contrary to Islam can be expressed verbally or in writing.

    Now, whether calling for religious freedom is un-Islamic or against Islam remains to be determined by religious scholars. In doing so, light should be shed on what the Quran and Sunnah have to say about it. The general opinion expressed by the scholars is that there is no force in spreading the word of Islam. By deduction, therefore, there is freedom of religion in Islam. If this is true it is not against Islam to call for it when the freedom is apparently withheld.

  14. The only problem we are facing is Mullharism. If we get rid of the so called mullah’s politics, the Maldivian will be better-off. They are a shame for Maldives. Being a small nation totally depending on foreign aids, as well as tourism, we feel totally embarrassed by their un-civilized barbaric rhetoric. Not only this, also their venom affects the virgin Maldivian society who is naïve on the ground reality and they rally behind these moron without knowing what they are projecting themselves to the world , that goes on all over the world. On the other hand the cheap uneducated selfish people like Buruma who is hell-bent to get respect from Maldivian society and dream on to be politician, use these Mullahs for their cheap political gains. If Mullahs are leveled to their true position, (beggars). Than only these Buruma type will go down with history as some idiots who dreamt to lead this impoverish people.

  15. Qasim and Chasmeen should understand that they have no leadership quality to run neither a country nor the knowhow to run a country.

  16. Yes, good article for once. You forgot to mention the tiny numbers that came to support the MDP's so called moderate rally to counter the defend Islam protest which was maybe 10 or more times larger if we are polite about it.

    Also thanks for pointing out all the fear tactics that was being used by various figures in power from the top level of Government to the Police, Army and MDP Party level against the peaceful protest called to Defend Islam. All this scare mongering about violence and hatred is what cause more damage to the Government's reputation with the people of Maldives because we are not people that get fooled easily by statements which tries to scare us to believe that Maldives will become another Afghanistan.. bla bla blaa.. This is an old tactic used by Western countries to oppress Muslim preachers in the West to not preach in public and to not influence non-Muslims in the West to convert to Islam.

    The fact is, democracy is a system where a majority rules. Government challenged to see which protest was bigger and the defend Islam protest easily outnumbered the tiny MDP protest held against the defend Islam protest.
    In Palestine (Gaza), the Muslims voted for Hamas in one of the most transparent elections to take place in the Middle East (according to the Jimmy Carter Foundation). But what happened? Eventhough democracy was practiced to the fullest and the majority voted for the less corrupt party in Gaza, the Western countries did not accept Hamas as the legitimately elected representatives of the people of Gaza. For their willing to use the peaceful electoral system, Gaza was blockaded by US and EU sanctions which brought hunger to the children of Gaza for many years. This is the type of bias the West has towards Muslims. They want Muslims to elect corrupt political parties which takes Western principles as more important that Islamic principles. Why else did the US support the Shah of Iran? Mubarak of Egypt? Ben Ali of Tunisia and still supports the Kyrgyzstan and other oppressive Governments just in return for allowing American bases to be allowed to operate in these countries?

    Why only target dictators that does not love America and fund and give military aid to dictators in the Muslim world that oppresses and kills their own people? All the Muslims ask for in all these countries is to be allowed to elect their leaders in a free and fair election and once they elect someone, the West should respect it and not meddle with other countries politics.

    It is not us that gave the West a bad name. They did it to themselves. We are just smart to not play dumb and make deals with the devil.

  17. My Dear Tsk Tsk, it seems you may be suffering a paranoid complex likely leading to xenophobic delusions . I would suggest you seek treatment at the earliest opportunity. (Alternatively live outside the Maldives, in the real world, for more than a few days!)

  18. Islam is good. The only problem is when a mullah is made the president he forgets Islam and anything against him becomes against Islam and this leads to a dangerous vicious circle. Politics and Religion surely should be separated. Only those argue against this are power hungry hypocrites!

  19. our (me and my fellow kaafir friends) constant ranting against islam brought us here. There is no violence, no extremism here but we managed to make it look like there is. We have actually gone a little bit far than our projections. we need to apply brakes now for the sake of the country.

    Lets for once state what is truthful and obvious? that we do not have a big mullah community or mulla domination or mulla tyranny? That it is (the kaafirs) who are spreading this hatred. That our actions are causing serious damage to the reputation of the country. 🙁

  20. What's that thing you like to blabber on about "tsk tsk" - ah, yes, I remember now, "Normative values."

    How the international press covers your islands is their prerogative, and it is outside the scope of your abilities, resources or intellect to take them to task for it, should they conduct themselves in a manner, and with motives, that you deem innapropriate.

    Perhaps make yourself useful and "urge" your fellow citizens not to conduct themselves in ways that can be exploited to shed light on their behavioral deficiencies - and their continuing violation of "normative values" that are popular and sacrosant in the discources of those nations which supply yours with a flow of tourists. I beleive you are aware of the economic consequences that would befall your nation, should it be vested with the label of "extremist".

    Or else you could merely conent yourself reading Noam Chomsky, as a precursoer to amusing us with your pseudo-intellectual gibberish. The status quo, so to speak.

  21. I have never seen such a pathetic President with his Aheist team who wants in any manner to make Maldivians leave Islam and also have alcohol like his buddies in Male' or habitat islands! He wants this at any cost!! He wants Zionist money to win 2013 election, so he wants to prove he is a dear friend of Israel. "Mad man of islands"

  22. Religion being dragged into politics and into economics. I see bleak future for the tiny republic.

  23. The hypocrites are using religion as a vessel to get back into power and aligning themselves with the mullah nutters. They mix politics and religion not the MDP. How convenient to disassociate with them instantly when you throw money into the equation ie closing the spas. They started this bullshit they deserve the mess they created. You can not have it both ways when you demand the extremes.

  24. Barthelemow, thank you for your constructive criticism of my musings. However I have always commented on issues based on my standpoint without using emotion or normative discourse to justify my opinions. I will try to avoid being such a supercilious pseudo-intellectual knob in future. Thank you once again for your advices.

  25. @Adam Bartholomew & Harold Kumar,

    I think I already made the point that our people lack the resources to correct the spin and propaganda sponsored by the Maldivian state and followed dutifully by foreign media sources.

    As for Chomsky, I fear he is yet to write an assessment of the Maldivian situation. I think I'll stick to the erstwhile philosopher Nasheed and his Dhagandu Dhahanaa for my daily supply of pseudo-intellectual gibberish.

    The fact remains my faux-Westerners, most Maldivians can read English and while on the international stage Nasheed played a good hand in labeling his detractors as extremists and enemies of capitalism (very Cold War of Nasheed. Love the man to death), the problem is, the foreign media just made non-believers out of a budding youth population who already suffers from acute xenophobia.

    If Nasheed truly wants to introduce casino tourism to the country he should seriously try to get as many people on board rather than alienate the population.

  26. Nasheed has played this badly. Very badly.Majority if Maldivians know that it is only the tourism that keeps the country afloat.
    But MDP wanted to show to the Maldivian public that by closing these resorts, we are destroying ourselves.
    People like Gasim should also realise that you cannot have your cake and eat it.
    They should never have aligned themselves with the Extremists for their own personal gain. This is also what Yameen, Thaseen and Gayoom did.
    They hate the MDP more than they hate the Extremists. If they come to power they would not be so tolerant of the Mullahs as the MDP. And MDP themselves would align with the Extremists to try and bring the next government down.

    What MDP does not realise is that market forces act and react on speculation and this announcement of closing Spas have played very badly abroad and Maldives would lose on this.

    Furthermore, what the opposition was demanding was not the shutting down of Spas in the resorts but the so called " massage parlours" in Male and other inhabited islands. So the closing down of the Spas was just a political stunt that has back-fired on the Government.

  27. The fact remains Tsk Tsk you are a faux intellectual knob (look that one up in the dictionary!)

  28. @Tsk Tsk

    "I think I already made the point that our people lack the resources to correct the spin and propaganda sponsored by the Maldivian state and followed dutifully by foreign media sources."

    Correct. That the youth tire of these games are as irrelevant - as their well being is irrelevant to the international press community. The best you can do is to try and fix the behavioral deficiencies of your citizens. That would be more constructive than your ineffectual ranting at the Nasheed administration.

    Take on the extremist label, and your economy - will - suffer. Whether Nasheed stays or goes post 2013, will have no bearing on that reality.

  29. @Harold:

    Never claimed to be an intellectual. As for being a knob, you would know I guess.


    Agreed about the press. However, if the main interests of the foreign media and the current government is to secure popular support for flow of FDI into our economic sector then confrontational politics is counterproductive. That was and is my argument. Popular perception is and always should be a concern for investors. Whether the press cares or not is another matter altogether.


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