‘Ambiguities’ are stalling the speedy passage of The Regulations to Protect Maldivian Religious Unity. If this document does not get on the government gazette ASAP, this country will degenerate into religious chaos.
Evidence clearly shows Maldivian religious unity to be a perilous façade, having managed to endure without legal enforcement (apart from the small matter of the constitutional stipulation that every citizen be a Muslim for only 800 years).
As citizens who are so closely consulted in the open and democratic lawmaking process of the country, it is our duty to highlight the problem areas so the Ministry can move rapidly to pass The Regulations and pre-empt the imminent religious war.
What is unambiguous about The Regulations is that The Ministry of Islamic Affairs is The Supreme Entity. Omniscient, but not omnipresent, it will choose a learned group to act as its eyes and ears in society. This select group, or The Board, will report to The Ministry any utterances, actions and opinions expressed or held by unlicensed-scholars, citizens and/or visiting aliens/infidels deemed to possess the potential for creating religious disunity.
Recognising the gravity of The Board’s responsibility, The Ministry has set the appointment criteria very high indeed. Members must: (1) be at least 25 years old; (2) possess at least a first degree in Islamic Studies or law; and (3) should not have committed an act defined as a punishable crime in Islam.
Given how difficult it would be to find a 25-year-old graduate who has not fornicated, The Board has the potential to become one of the most exclusive gentlemen’s clubs in the world.
The Regulations states as its raison d’être ever-increasing disputes between religious scholars that threaten to tear the country apart (Article 1.2). The Mullah to Mere-mortal ratio has not yet been tallied in the Maldives, but evidence suggests it could easily be 1:2.
In such a situation, The Regulations will prove invaluable in helping us distinguish the ersatz scholar from the genuine Sheikh. Besides, ‘the liberals’ have long agitated for the government to muzzle over-zealous Mullahs, so it is now time to make a gracious retreat on the issue, happy in the knowledge that your local Mullah is not just any Mullah, but a bona fide Mullah With a License to Preach.
Chapter 4 states that it is a requirement of every Maldivian citizen to actively protect Islam (Article 4.21). Is this a legal requirement? And what does the duty entail? What exactly is it that we need to peel our eyes and cock our ears for? And how do we go about reporting our suspicions and findings? Would there be a 24-hour Infidel Alert hotline manned by a Licensed Mullah?
The Regulations bans any religion other than Islam from all public discourse. Being citizens active in protecting Islam, should we from now on categorically deny other religions exist, or is it sufficient to regard Them with condescension and/or loathing whence acknowledgement is required? Article 6.32 bans any utterance or action that is insulting to Islam in any way. What is the definition of the term ‘insulting to Islam’? Would, say, leaving out the PBUH after Prophet Mohamed be deemed an insult? Or does it have to be material such as those published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2005 before it is found to be insulting? What is an utterance that constitutes an insult against a mosque? Would criticism of its architecture – say the suggestion that its dome would have looked better if elevated five inches more – amount to an insult, or would the criticism have to take in the state of its badly landscaped garden, too, before it is deemed an Offence Against a Mosque?
Non-Muslim expatriates in the Maldives – best wean yourselves off the habit of holding garage sales to sell religious memorabilia at discount prices like you invariably do every Sunday ‘back home where you come from’. Any such sale in the Maldives would flout The Regulations (Article 34.a), so resist the temptation to make a quick buck, and firmly turn away the Maldivians queuing outside, desperate to get their grubby apostate hands on your old rosary beads or your Krishna statue for a Bai Rufiyaa.
You should also be aware that even though religion is most likely to have been your favourite conversation starter and probably the source of your best pick-up lines back home, it will not aid your hectic social life on this island paradise in a similar manner. In fact, Article 34.b makes it safer to drop religion from your vocabulary altogether. As a precautionary measure, before The Regulations are passed, you should try and remove any reflexive exclamations that may have embedded themselves in your oral register over the years such as ‘Oh my God!, ‘Jesus!’, ‘Harey Raam!’, etc. If you are more accustomed to saying ‘Jesus [insert expletive] Christ!’, however, it might help your plea of mitigation. Remember, though, a precedent is yet to be set, so proceed with caution.
Article 6.35 is a veritable quagmire of ambiguity. What constitutes a television programme or a written publication that is offensive or insulting to Islam? Where do we look to for guidance? The Taliban? The Emirates? Saudi Arabia? Insulting to whose version of Islam? Can a woman be shown wearing a bikini, or should a burqa be superimposed on her image before she appears on our airwaves? Does every shot of a church, temple and/or synagogue have to be removed from any film that a Maldivian watches? What does it mean that all advertisements should be ‘respectful of the beautiful customs of Islam’ (6.35c)? Apart from beauty being an entirely subjective concept, does this mean that only veiled women can appear in advertisements now? What if she is selling shampoo? Will all Gillette advertisements have to be axed? Books, too, are to be screened by The Board before it is available for Maldivian consumption (Article 31). If this gives us some reprieve from ‘literature’ such as The DaVinci Code, such a regulation might not be entirely without merit, but hardly justifies a group of 25-year-old male graduate virgins deciding our choice of reading matter.
Can The Ministry please clarify why it is necessary to burn the house down to roast the pig?
It has been a surprisingly risky business highlighting the ‘ambiguities’ in The Regulations. This article contains the p-word; names someone whom over a billion non-Muslims regard as the Son of God; allows Lord Krishna a cameo appearance; speaks of women in bikinis; discusses an instrument of shaving for men; and mentions places of worship other than a mosque.
Would The Regulations be applied retrospectively? If Sheikh Shaheem of The Ministry is to be taken at his word, the consequences may not be too dire. Even if found guilty of the Offence of Mockery, he has assured, the author will not be imprisoned, but will receive ‘counselling’. Whether ‘counselling’ involves a psychiatrist’s couch, one-on-one preaching sessions with a Licensed Mullah, or water-boarding, remains undefined and open to interpretation. As is much of The Regulations.
Criminalising (dis)belief will never be free of ambiguities.
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