Religious conservatism and extremist violence have been increasing in the Maldives over the past decade, while incidents of Maldivians joining overseas jihadist groups are becoming more common, according to a report published in the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) Sentinel, a publication based out of the West Point military academy in the US.
The article entitled The Threat from Rising Extremism in the Maldives, observes that growing religious extremism and political uncertainty could result in more violence and negatively affect the nation’s tourism industry, which would be “devastating” to the Maldives.
“This has coincided with a number of violent attacks on liberal activists and other citizens who have expressed outspoken support for moderate religious practices,” the report notes.
If current trends continue “extremist incidents may rise, with violence targeted against the country’s more liberal citizens,” it states.
According to the report, five key factors have contributed to the growing extremism and violence:
- the encouragement of “more hard line Islamist elements in the country” during the 30 year autocratic rule of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom;
- political uncertainty;
- an increasing number of people seeking education in foreign madrasas;
- grassroots radicalisation through civil society and political parties;
- escalating extremist incidents of violence and involvement with jihadist groups.
“The country has already suffered one terrorist attack targeting foreign tourists, and a number of Maldivians have traveled to Pakistan’s tribal areas to receive jihadist training. Moreover, evidence exists that jihadists tried to form a terrorist group in the country in 2007-2008,” the report states.
The study recommends that Maldivian political and religious developments be followed closely.
Encouraging of hard line Islamic elements
Islam was introduced to the Maldives in the 12th century and subsequent religious practices have been the “moderate, more liberal form of the religion”.
“Yet, during Gayoom’s three decade autocratic rule, the Egyptian-trained religious scholar enacted a number of measures that, at least inadvertently, encouraged more hard line Islamist elements in the country,” the report concluded.
“From imposing a ban on Christian missionary radio to apprehending migrant service providers for allegedly preaching and practicing their own religion, Gayoom’s regime initiated an era of state-backed religious intolerance and radicalisation in the Maldives.”
The Protection of Religious Unity Act, passed in 1994, mandated that no other religion but Islam could be practiced.
In 1996, Gayoom constituted the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, renamed the Ministry of Islamic Affairs in 2008, to preside over religious affairs in the Maldives.
“This body of clerics pressured the government to carry out moral and cultural policing of alleged “anti-Islamic activities”,” the report states.
For example, in 2008 the Ministry requested police “ban nightclubs and discotheques for New Year’s Eve celebrations because they were contrary to Islam”.
“By the end of Gayoom’s time in office in 2008, the dress code for women had grown increasingly conservative, and more and more men grew out their beards,” the report states.
Women now dress more conservatively with fewer brightly colored clothes. Instead they “increasingly wear black robes and headscarves and on more conservative islands such as Himandhoo, women wear black abayas and face veils,” it added.
The democratic transition “gave a greater voice to religious conservatives and those calling for the rigid implementation of Shari`a (Islamic law) in the Maldives,” states the report. “This became especially evident following the implementation of political reforms and the transition to multi-party democracy in 2008.”
The first democratic presidential elections in the Maldives were held in 2008, with Mohamed Nasheed defeating Gayoom in the second round with 54 percent of the votes.
However, the Nasheed administration was accused of defiling Islam by “promoting Western ideals and culture and restricted the spread of more austere Islamic practices,” the article notes.
This resulted in the December 2011 “Defend Islam” protests led by opposition political parties, religious groups, civil society organisations and thousands of supporters in the country’s capital, Male’.
These protests “unleashed a chain of events that culminated in a bloodless coup on February 7, 2012 that toppled the Maldives’ first democratically-elected government,” declared the study.
Appeal of education in foreign madrasas
Education in foreign madrasas has also contributed to growing extremism within the Maldives, with students “unwittingly attending more radical madrasas” and preaching these views upon their return.
“The offer of free education in madrasas in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia is widely acknowledged as a core means of radicalising Maldivians locally, with well-meaning parents sending their children off on scholarships to ‘study Islam’,” the report states.
Following the 2007 terrorist attack in Male’s Sultan Park, “Gayoom himself warned of this problem”.
“Maldivians are influenced by what is happening in the world. They go to Pakistan, study in madrasas and come back with extreme religious ideas,” the report quoted Gayoom as saying.
“The contemporary Maldivian political environment favors radical and political Islam taking root in Maldivian society, especially when political parties and civil society increasingly take refuge in religion,” the report states, citing Maldivian academic Dr Azra Naseem.
In 2010, new regulations prohibited “talking about religions other than Islam in Maldives, and propagating such religions through the use of any kind of medium.” The Ministry of Islamic Affairs published this legislation under the Protection of Religious Unity Act of 1994.
However, the report found that the “major force behind more austere religious practices in the Maldives is the Adhaalath (Justice) Party (AP), which has controlled the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, with Sheikh Shaheem Ali Saeed as its current minister”.
Given that the AP supports strict implementation of Shari’a Law, the party has “outspokenly argued that music and singing are haram (forbidden) and called for an end to the sale of alcohol at the country’s hundreds of luxury resorts,” said the report.
In February 2013, Saeed warned that “various Christian organisations and missionaries are strongly involved and active in our society because they want to ‘wipe out’ Islam from the Maldives”. He subsequently started a campaign against Christians and “Freemasons”, the report stated.
Two non-government organisations (NGOs), Jamiyyathu Salaf (JS) and the Islamic Foundation of Maldives (IFM), are considered religiously conservative Salafists who “work with the country’s political parties to further the cause of Islamism in the Maldives,” the report stated.
Extremists have directly targeted Maldivian liberal intellectuals, writers and activists, the study notes.
“On January 3, 2011, assailants attempted to kill Aishath Velezinee, an activist fighting for the independence of the country’s justice system, by stabbing her in the back in broad daylight,” said the report.
Velezinee is a whistleblower that in 2010 identified members of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) who were “conspiring with key political figures to hijack the judiciary and bring down the country’s first democratically-elected government,” the report added.
The study found that the Ministry of Islamic Affairs was “at least indirectly encouraged extremism” by initiating “crackdowns” on media outlets for anti-Islamic content.
The blog of prominent free speech and religious freedom campaigner, Khilath ‘Hilath’ Rasheed, was blocked in 2011. A month afterward, Rasheed’s skull was fractured when 10 men attacked him with stones during a peaceful rally he organised in Male’.
Rasheed was arrested a few days after the incident and jailed for 24 days for participating in the rally.
In June 2012, Rasheed was nearly killed “after extremists cut his throat open with a box cutter”.
Later in 2012, the moderate religious scholar and lawmaker, Afrasheem Ali, was stabbed to death at his home in Male’. He was considered an Islamic moderate who was “outspoken in his controversial positions,” reads the report.
In February 2013, “a reporter for the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)-aligned Raajje TV station, Ibrahim ‘Aswad’ Waheed, was beaten unconscious with an iron bar while riding on a motorcycle near the artificial beach area of Male’,” the study added.
Previously, during the 2011 South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), protesters “intolerant toward other religious and cultural symbols” damaged monuments gifted to the Maldives by Pakistan, Bhutan, Sri Lanka.
Islamic radicals on February 7 2012 also vandalised archaeological artifacts in the National Museum that were mostly ancient Hindu and Buddhist relics, destroying 99 percent of the evidence of Maldivian pre-Islamic history.
“In April 2006, a Maldivian national, Ali Jaleel, and a small group of jihadists from the Maldives attempted to travel to Pakistan to train for violent jihad in Afghanistan or Iraq,” the report reads.
While his first attempt was unsuccessful, Jaleel did eventually travel to Pakistan and “launched a suicide attack at the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) headquarters in Lahore in May 2009.”
In September 2007, Islamic extremists committed a terrorist attack in the Maldives aimed at the tourism industry.
A bomb exploded in Male’s Sultan Park and wounded 12 foreigners. The three men arrested and later jailed for the bombing confessed that their goal was to “target, attack and injure non-Muslims to fulfill jihad,” states the report.
A month following the bombing, the investigation led to Darul-Khair mosque on Himandhoo Island. However, “some 90 masked and helmeted members of the mosque confronted police, wielding wooden planks and refusing to let the police enter,” said the report.
Although the Maldivian army eventually established control, “The stand-off resulted in a number of injuries, and one police officer had his fingers cut off.” In November, a video of the mosque confrontation was posted on the al-Qa’ida-linked alEkhlaas web forum by a group called Ansar al-Mujahidin with the message “your brothers in the Maldives are calling you,” the report states.
Evidence suggests that three Maldivian jihadists planned to establish a terrorist group in the country around 2007-2008 and send members for military training in Pakistan.
“At least one of these individuals did in fact travel to Pakistan, as Yoosuf Izadhy was arrested in Pakistan’s South Waziristan Agency in March 2009, along with eight other Maldivians,” states the report.
In 2009, then-President Nasheed warned that “Maldivian people are being recruited by Taliban and they are fighting in Pakistan,” quotes the report.
“Despite its reputation as an idyllic paradise popular among Western tourists, political and religious developments in the Maldives should be monitored closely,” the report concludes.
26 thoughts on “Rising extremism could threaten Maldives’ tourism industry: report”
we are more concern on the political extremism in this country than any thing else.
Specially Nasheed had extremist faction who are the victims of drug abuse and they are the biggest threat to the nation.
Naheed is using these people to threaten the society .
There is not much islamic extremists and it should be much more easy to handle than the political extremists in this country.
What Kuribee has said is not representative of the populous in Maldives. By "we" he means him and the backward monkeys that are currently moving the country to extremism.
It needs to stop and if the Maldives takes a hit on the tourism for that to happen then so be it.
End the death penalty for apostasy, no more punishments for what people do with their own body, start accepting magic isn't real and don't you dare introduce laws that chop peoples hands off. This isn't the dark ages for fucks sake it's 2013.
Extremism is within MDP, DRP, PPM. Both Nasheed and Gayoom protects extremist like Jabir for political power. End of story.
Well said Shamed ! Kuribee, you need help brotha !!
yes its true , the political extremists from MDP specially will have no tolerance at all . Anyone who has difference in opinion with them are not Maldivian.
The above comments is classic example ? Well done " Shamed to be Maldivian".
Nasheed himself is classic example of dictatorship and political extremism. He has no tolerance at all when it comes to difference in opinion and he expect everyone to say yes to all his views and opinion.
Having worked with him , and the people who are working closely with the him , from bottom of their heart will agree though they will not openly agree just because they want soem short term gains.
You mean people might find a talibanesque Maldives unappealing? NO WAY!
Last week it was flogging. Then it was turtles. Now extremism.
Other factors in the pipeline to be mentioned as threatening Maldives tourism.
- Sea level rise
- Sand mining
- Dredgeing and reclamation projects.
- Noth Koreas stand on South and impact on air travel
- Coral bleaching
- Bad Maldives food and Garudhiya.
- Upcomming election
Maja is right. When people write about extremism, they tend to forget what Nasheed contributed to this growing problem. It was him who gave the Maldivian taliban, aka the Adhaalath party prominence. It was him who gave them complete control over religion in the country. He also failed to take any proper action against the taliban who were destroying the SAARC monuments, which by the way proved how backwards and intolerant Maldivian neanderthals are. The current government takes an even funnier stance. They deny that there is any extremism in the country at all. If someone compares pictures from the 70's to now, you will see how Maldivians have changed. I know there are many RAF members who look at Minivan articles, so I would actually love to hear from them too about this.
Maldives is on a path that would ultimately be their downfall. We see the clash of ideals often nowadays, like recently with the jinn possessing school children. But like I always say, times are changing, and religions will all soon die out. Islam is just going through it's dark ages, and it too will die like the rest of them.
By any standard Nasheed is more tolerant of differing views than any other President. It is the current government and its political partners like Gayoom who cannot deal with political dissent, as is evident from their use of brute force and trumped up legal charges against people who disagree with them.
You must be a very confused person.
The people who have formed the Adalath party need rehabilitation. They need real education and let them realize that the whole life they have spent on the name of education was simply waste of time. Once they are educated with global education, they will come to realize that Islamic education is simply memorizing the twisted history of the rise of Islam in the middle of Arabian Peninsula and how it spread through Middle East.
With the limited knowledge about Islam this group is meddling with politics, they forget that that political Islam that swept through Middle East was geopolitical agenda of Pan Arabism. Arabs even don’t consider non Arabs as Muslims. There is no point to drag Maldives in to Islamic extremism, which is created from Pan Arabism. Islam was brought to Maldives as a religion and has always been a religion. The Arab who brought Islam to Maldives did not teach to cut off the hand, stone people to death and so on. He taught people to pray god in distressful situation, fast, pilgrimage and get mental comfort thorough spirituality, this was how Islam was taught by the Arab and was practiced by Maldivian. They use to pray when fishing, when people are sick the same way all other religions practiced.
well the point of extremism is to alienate themselves from the out side world like most cults & countries like north korea.
Multi-culture is the antidote to extremism & by law we cannot have multi-culture (we can mooch off of them but it cannot exist in Maldives)
Maldives is a hopeless case let us drown & be washed away with the rising sea
please all the laadheenee kafirs (names called to non-muslims or people with different views than yourself) do not help this prideful ignorant people
@Kurubee, majority of Maldivian don’t support your views, we hate the Pakistani and Bedouin culture.
Now, this article is misleading, and deliberately so.
However it has given a link to the source of this beautifully fabricated story. Animesh Roul.
I remember this lad from 2005. He was actively involved in whitewashing several tactics used by the MDP to instigate violence in order to destabilize the Qayyoom government. He also played a crucial hand in "black"-washing Qayyoom-regime or anti-Nasheed elements in the Maldives. Since then he has been exposed on wikileaks as an informant for US security agencies. I'm sure though that the US intelligence establishment would not entirely depend on such a biased source of information.
These Extremist think that its only Pakistan in the world. any how after Gayooms government his planes is to bring end to every thing and fix Maldivians to en un settlement.
I mean Gayoom has said this straight on me that Maldives can never have settlement again
Shooting the messenger as always?
People like you are the main reason why the arab imperialists have a grip on our nation; you're willing to sell us out as long as you get your oranges and ipads and all.
Ever since nasheed resigned there's been constant accusations and smearing of maldives of being extremists. overnight we've become extremists. and the only solution seems to be to bring him back to power. even when he's the one that teamed up with the so labelled extremists in the first place.
Heartbroken I reckon. There was a lot of love and respect from Brits for the Maldivians (particularly Adduans) back in the day.
I'll see if I can get my dad to reply here but he probably won't. Can't stop the wheels of time...only try to keep things balanced.
123, your wrong, the whole extremist thing has been going on for much longer than that. It is just now that it is coming to a crossroads. It can't and won't survive in the Maldives because there is no where for the hardcores to hide here. The rich and powerful will not let tourism go down with the ship, example, the #1 hypocrite Gasim.
@shamed to be maldivian
if allowing your sister's body to be given to your friends,etc. for money with a license as is in the so called democratic western society is how you wish Maldives to be today you are mistaken, majority of us do not wish that
Very few NON MUSLIM tourists visit Saudi Arabia...
Where did money come in the mix? I never said that. If my sister wants to be with someone she can be. That is her choice. If I don't like them I will express that opinion to her but it is then up to her. Not the father, not me and certainly not the government or you.
And even if the majority is against it, it is a civil right that is deserved and so should be granted. In a democracy, the minority gets heard too and the decision needs to be fair and just.
Its worth to give second thought to the case of Dr. Afrasheem's murder.
The fact is that a revival of Islamism across the globe is taking place. There's no nation on earth that doesn't have to grapple with extremism in one way or another. It is therefore inevitable for Maldives to escape this phenomena, regardless of who the President is. Although vast majority of Maldivians reject radical Islam, a sizable portion has fallen for Mullah's mesmerizing sermons. For Mullahs to sustain the trend however is not so easy because when faithfuls discover how destructive and violent the ideology of Mullahs is, they cannot run away faster from it.
"... revival of Islamism..."? What is that? Is there something called Islamism? If so why isn't there something called Christianism? or even something better like Christiano-facism? or Jewishoism or jewish-o-facism?
since the self professed "wisdom" filled buddhist monks are already in rampages killing muslims across in Burma, why isn't there a term for them also. Something like Budhisto-facism?
Why only Islam gets all these negative names and others don't. We only need to wake up from this slumber of ignorance about how Islam is being vilified in media.
Unfortunately I have to disagree on this one as the rest of the world does not get really what is happening there!
Yes, they have heard and read about the girl and her maybe flogging, but political issues ?? NO WAY- and thats the problem- that tourist only get to know when they are there maybe (and the resorts do know that no soul shd tell a tourist wht is actually happening in the country) and otherwise they enjoy the sea, beach, food and local hospitality and fly away again...
This is a very biased article. There is no liberal or moderate Islam. Moderate Islam is a scam that had been used by the former regime, who wants to spread Christianity in Maldives. Please wake up people. Judjmental day is near.
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