Comment: Salaf or democracy

The appeal of [Islamic NGO] Jamiyatul Salaf on June 12 is interesting for many reasons.

It is the first public statement by an influential organisation in the Maldives condemning democracy and political pluralism as ladini/un-Islamic and fasada/corrupt systems.

To be sure, an Islamist counter-discourse to democratisation is not new in the Maldives. It has its roots in the 2000’s.

Not one, too many

As early as July 2004, following president Gayoom’s June announcement of democratic reforms, Mauroof Hussain, now the Adaalath party’s deputy president, wrote a trenchant article decrying democracy. In the article, Hussain referred to the most influential Islamist ideologue Mawlana Abul A’la Maududi, who railed democracy as conflicting Allah’s hakimiyya/sovereignty.

To be sure, Maududi does not abandon democracy, but gives it an Islamised garb: Maududi’s ‘theodemocracy’ provides restricted popular sovereignty because the legislative function would be limited to ‘interpreting’ Islamic sources.

Sheikh Mohammed Shaheem Ali Saeed built along these lines in a 2006 book on the subject of democracy and Islam. He acknowledges democracy shares a lot of features with what he calls Islami nizam. However, he is emphatic that Islami nizam is not democracy, because the latter contradicts Allah’s hakimiyya.

In a more recent article, reacting to president Nasheed’s remarks that Maldives was a ‘liberal democracy’, Shaheem argued the Maldives constitution now provides an Islami nizam. Shaheem is quite emphatic: we now have an Islamic constitutional system.

It is worth quoting Sheikh Hussain Rasheed Ahmed response to a question on voting:

“If we [reject] voting, then we might as well [reject] all other things that we [Muslims] imitate and copy from non-Muslims. For example, minting or even printing Qur’an, or civil and infrastructure developments like building schools, universities or roads…these are worldly affairs. Those innovations depend on human needs and develop according to their knowledge and views. If a people reject such innovations, they will have to be behind others [in development]. Islam does not wish this from Muslims…the Prophet says: ‘You have better knowledge (of technical skill) in the affairs of the world’”.

Shaheem, Rasheed and Maududi go much further than Jamiyatul Salaf’s leader Sheikh Abdullah bin Muhammad Ibrahim in accommodating democracy. Sheikh Muhammad’s October 2008 article on Daruma magazine rejects democracy in its ‘essence’ as a system of kufr/un-Islamic. While he accepts voting in principle based on Islamic notion of shura, he has a highly restricted view on electing political leaders. Muhammad argued voting rights should be limited to a select few in the society: the ulama, followed by experts and the wise in the society.

Still in a more restrictive view of elections, jurist Abu al-Hasan al-Mawardi reasoned that a caliph himself was entitled to appoint his own successor. So there was no necessity for elections for Mawardi. In our times, influential Islamist Sayyid Qutb would not accept democracy at all because it is a jahiliyya product.

Disagreeing with most of the above views, influential Islamist cleric of our times, Yusuf Qaradawi, argues democracy in its ‘essence’ is fully compatible with Islam. He denounces those who say otherwise as ignorant of Islamic teachings.

Unlike Sheikh Abdullah bin Muhammad Ibrahim of Salaf, for Qaradawi, everyone could, or rather should, vote to choose their leaders. Unlike Maududi and Shaheem, for Qaradawi, popular sovereignty does not conflict with God’s hakimiyya. Again, it is telling that Qaradawi is Qutb’s severest critic in the Islamist camp.

What do we make of all these different views on democracy? I leave it to the readers to make up their minds.

Hypocrisy or politics

But to come back to Jamiyatul Salaf’s Appeal, few observations:

The Appeal is indeed right in highlighting the continued failures of the authorities to address political issues such as corruption and bribery, economic crises, and social issues like violence in all its manifestations.

Islamist utopianism feeds on such failures: Gayoom’s personal dictatorship failed, and now democracy seems to be failing too. So, Islamism says: Islam huwa al-hall/Islam is the solution!

Second, it is interesting that after condemning political pluralism and democracy, Salaf at the same time is prepared to participate in pluralism and democracy: Salaf announces their work to groom an ideal presidential candidate for 2018 elections.

Although the principle of maslaha/public interest is implicit in the Appeal, one wonders why Salaf is not seeking a systemic change, instead of grooming a salih/pious Dhivehi Son (note it’s not a Daughter). Salaf’s anti-political rhetoric in condemning democracy and political pluralism is then highly questionable, if not hypocritical. Narrow politics lurks behind anti-political moralism.

Finally, in the usual binary division of ‘Muslim Maldivians’ and the jahiliyya Other (Christians, Jews and Maldivians educated in the West), Salaf projects a Maldives drifting away from Islam under the corrupting influence of the Other. But there is no any empirical evidence that the Maldivians generally have become less Islamic since democratic openings in 2004.

If anything, the Maldives seems to be undergoing an ‘Islamic awakening’ unprecedented in its entire Islamic history since 1153, thanks to the democratic freedoms. The sheer number of women adopting the veil and men sporting the beard is testament to this.


So, the first lesson from our democratic experiment is this: whether or not democracy has delivered on other areas, it has surely freed Islam from the suffocating fist of Gayoom.

The second, more sobering, lesson is: democracy should not be taken for granted.

2018 is not an arbitrarily proposed year. It is only by 2018, Islamists foresee that sufficient numbers could be mobilized through outreach activities.

In the meantime, the ‘Call’ must go on.

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]


22 thoughts on “Comment: Salaf or democracy”

  1. The Salaf want all Maldivians to follow literalism to experience Muwahiddun (Unity), Maumoon wants to promote a humanistic, compassionate Maslahah based application of Islamic Law to create Assaabiya (solidarity) and the Adhaalath want to bring in uniformity in a gradual evolutionary manner, and believe they need to control the thought of the people to succeed in uniting the hearts of the people (as the Qur’an commands.)

    Should not Maldivians have learnt by now that attempts to create love between Maldivians through religious uniformity, which amounts to repression, create rebellion and resistance? Power, lets call power, CARING, to give political caring its true Hegemonic nature (Gramsci’s def. of hegemony) can not be monopolized. Power creates resistance (Foucault).

    I sympathize with the intention of creating love between all Maldivians, but the social arguments used to justify religious repression have been proven false.

    The purely religious argument is also debatable.

    The religious view that Islam has to be opposed through force is refutable. The Hadith, “Whoever changes his religion, kill him (Bukhari)has been used to justify punishing apostasy. If the literal meaning of this were applied, I should have been killed by the Muslims when I left Christianity to join islam, because I left my religion!

    Liberal scholars argue that other Hadith stating the same and ending with …”And join the other..” or “and go against the Muslims” indicate that only an Apostate who joined an attacking army was to be killed. They highlight the fact that at the time, to be a Muslim was to be attacked by the Pagans and Christians, and so, they claim, the seemingly co-ercive scriptures are not to be applied if this the apostate was not a threat.

    PLEASE somebody try and convince me that imposing religion via the constitution will create anything good!

    If the argument is even half decent I will repent forever!

  2. I don't understand this haa hoo about Islam. I watched VTV two nights back and a guy called Imad Latheef was moaning and groaning about loosing our Islamic faith. The programme that followed called 2013 was worse. Apparently there's not enough effort made to launch an Islamic channel.

    I thought if they are so concerned why not make VTV the Islamic channel instead of sponsoring Hamdhee and Friends and getting people to sing and dance a jig on Olympus stage. On top of this they are holding an Inter-school singing competition. I am sure the president or the government did not ask VTV to do this.

  3. Normal people lose faith if religion is imposed via constitution.
    This is what’s happening in this country. Now most of the people care too hoots about Islam and rather they make joke of Islam and mullahs!

  4. The newly found freedom has been used by Mullahs to spread wahabi Islam in the Maldives. As a result a lot of people have lost faith.

    The question arises here is, has the efforts of extremists who have been granted total freedom to teach the religion, produced a more moral or more Islamic society? The answer is for everyone to see. Crimes of every sort are surging and society is ever more corrupt compared to the period in which mullahs were penalized.

  5. Where are the so called Liberals of this country who have armed themselves to distroy the very fabric of thi nation!! Some of these members are the top chambers of power and some are in the margins! They seek power from the liberals of the world! Anni is one of them!
    Then we have some twisted Maldivians who are spreading Suffism! They believe the real islam can be contained by this deviant form of Islam!!
    Both these group must remember we are bloody Maldivians who will do every means to protect Islam!!

  6. I would not read the Holy Books for guidance on issues like democracy and human rights.

    Similarly, these sacred texts do not comment on the suitability or otherwise of Gasim Ibrahim for any particular post.

    I would not read the Holy Books for guidance on subjects like democracy and human rights.

    These books do not comment on current affairs in the Maldives either.

  7. If "Islam" contradicts or comes into conflict with everyday Maldivian life, then "we bloody Maldivians" will throw that particular interpretation of Islam out the window too.

    Make no mistake. Just because the MDP continues to destroy any faith that the general populace has in democracy does not mean that a particular form of Shariah will be implemented and lead to a happy ending as part of some fairytale grand narrative. The current version of Shariah espoused by some and actively spread by their agents will only last so long as it does not interfere with Maldivian life and aspirations. (Life = cheap sex and a lot of excessive behavior, aspirations = acquiring wealth by any and all means).

    Unless the life and aspirations described above is carefully altered over a long course of time by targeted programs of social engineering, betterment of the life of an average Maldivian citizen and the growth of employment, then there is no one-size-fits-all policy that can replace democracy.

  8. I will be very honest here and say, if these wahhabis had not started to spread their filth after 2004, I would have still been a muslim. However, what they preached made me question my beliefs, and I made my decision. It's a personal choice, nobody can shove beliefs down my throat.

  9. Mauroof Hussain, said Adhaalath is a an example of "Best democracy" to other poitical parties in maldives" in his campaign recently, while he had raised voice saying democracy as conflicting Allah’s hakimiyya/sovereignty. i understand nothing but the hypocracy of these people who will do anything for power and fame. we (all Maldivians)realy respect Islam and islamic scholers but do get confused what to belive and not to due to power hungry people like Mauroof Hussain.

  10. Truth is that Islam is a wet dream of a deprived arabian village. For dry-desert conditions they were promised rivers of wine. For male sexual relief, they were promised 72 virgin girls (and young boys for gays). And to keep fit for fighting, they were ordered to fall inline and do exercises, 5 times. And men were the contributors in war then, so women were cast aside as objects.

    However, this promise of everlasting wet dreams, men, more specifically deprived, poor, not-so-handome men who long for beautiful girls and wine are still drawn into this con.

    That is OK too, if they only wish it on themselves only. The problems flare up, when they push everybody else, (rich, well-todo, who get what they want on earth) follow the losers. The problem is compounded when some of the rich, actually uses the losers as tools, to stay rich.

    And the proof is apparent on these facts. Unlike the never-seen and faith based proof, of the counter arguments.

  11. @ Ismail.Naseem:

    If you have no respect for peoples beliefs then you are exactly like JSalaf. Its not like you know the entire truth about the world, universe and everything, its just that you believe its not Islam's version of things. That doesn't put you in a position to insult anything.

  12. "Salaf or Democracy" it is truly an interesting subject to debate on.

    But Ali Ahsan, after reading an online newspaper which discussed about a meeting of a Bilderberg Group, a part of which I quote:

    "The annual Bilderberg Group conference is the most important meeting in the world. It is attended annually by more world leaders, more top politicians, more royalty, and business leaders, than any other gathering of any kind. The G8 summit is a mere side-show in comparison. No other meeting is attended by the leaders of all the major international institutions, such as the World Bank, the IMF, the UN, and the EU.

    Collectively, these are the men who control the world, and their decisions therefore affect every human being on earth, now and in the future. Yet Bilderberg Group meetings receive no publicity and are not reported in the news.

    Their first recorded meeting was at the Bilderberg Hotel in Oosterbeek, Holland, from 29th May to 31st May, 1954. The chairman was H.R.H. Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands. Since then this elite global group, which may be much older, has been called the Bilderberg Group.

    The people who are invited to the Bilderberg Group, and the topics discussed, are official secrets which the media is forbidden from reporting. Bilderberg is effectively an elite secret society ruling the world from behind closed doors and outside the democratic framework". unquote.

    It is like in the "Animal Farm", George Orwell looking from pig to man and man to pig and he could not tell which is which!

    What is democracy and where is democracy?
    What is Salaf and what is it they are after?

  13. This is an excellent article, thankyou Mr. Ali Ahsan. I think, the Maldivian Political system will always be represented by Islamic symbols. Even if it is one day secularized constitutionally, Islamic symbols will always be there. It MAY be like, Christian prayers are still recited in Parliament here in Australia and the first line of our Constitution here in Australia states that 'We Humbly Rely on the Blessings of Almighty God..." all this even though we have an atheist PM for the first time etc. So, being that Islam will always remain part of the social - political structure of Maldives, though hopefully more tolerance will eventually be shown to apostates, it is important to understand which form of Islam it would be, or hopefully Maldives can produce its own unique understanding of Islam???

    So, these are excellent points to contemplate.

  14. @Ply, google Arabic, I never heard of such a thing, but thankyou for informing me such a thing exists, my Religious Arabic is not bad seems I studied Islam, you should be able to tell this by the fact that seems I wrote it off the top of my head, I probably mispelled the Arabic words (as compared to how they are usually translated!

  15. Does democracy poses any danger to Islam? Why is that Islamic Preachers criticise democracy? Is it becoz Saudi Monarchy does not want to share power with the people? Recently, there was public uprising against 'dictatorships' in many Arab countries. People are fed up with whims & fancy of 'rulers' and want 'people rule' (democracy).

  16. Looks like some people are paid to write comments; defend the articles/authors.

  17. I believe we need Islam and we need to apply it in a rational way, as opposed to apply directly as in text literally. For an example people say that loans are Ribaa. But when I believe the reason behind banning of Ribaa is that some people are financial pit-hole which can be hard to escape. From that perspective I believe the over-charged rents in Male' has more characteristics of Ribaa than a decently charged loan. In addition Islam allows people to give places for rent so and if someone started a business and if it failed even the the owner of the property doesn't share the loss, so if we just replace the renting part in the previos example with taking a loan and then renting a place why should there be a difference. Specially I did like to emphasize on the fact that availability of land in Male' is not anyway near that in arab countries.

    Well on democracy I believe people need to take responsibility to learn about what there are voting for, the pros and cons.

    And about people starting hate-wars about political people trying to cover the campaign costs after they are elected:-
    Do the people expect politicians to not campaign when it matters so much for they getting elected.
    Do people want the campaign costs to be reduced, then I suggest an alternative like increasing the efficiency of cheap online campaigns. And this efficiency can be increased if the public is going to go check the online manifestos of the candidates. And this actually would reduce the campaign costs as only the design costs are significant.

  18. al, u r absolutely right, some pple are paid to comment, heck, i suspect it may even be minivan staff themselves doing so.....its so obvious

  19. I choose democracy. But a real democracy not a fake one like the one we have in maldives right now

  20. Western democracy is a mockery as the Saudi kingdom of spreading Islam. Both protect the tyranny and human rights abuse across the world. I find it rather amusing minivannews spreading it's own twisted version of islam ( suffism) for the protection of western deviant values like gay and drinking alcohol and protecting it's oil intrests in Arab world. Shame on you guys!!


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