State Minister for Islamic Affairs Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed is advocating the study of ‘comparative religion’ in the Maldives.
“It is important for both Muslims and non-Muslims to compare their religions and cultures, and to compare philosophies,” Shaheem told Minivan News, explaining that subject was taught in many Islamic universities across the world, including academic institutions in Malaysia, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
Visiting Islamic lecturer Zakir Naik is a well-known proponent of comparative religion, and frequently quotes verses of other religious texts to support his arguments.
The religions to be studied in the Maldives course would include “all those in the world: Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism, and the other religions,” Shaheem said.
In the lead up to the launch of the course, Shaheem explained that the Islamic Ministry was drafting regulations legalising possession of books concerning other religions, such as the bible, “for educational and research purposes”.
Permitting the study of comparative religion did not mean permitting the worship of other religions in the Maldives, a 100 percent Muslim nation, Shaheem emphasised.
“The subject is comparative religion,” he said. “It will compare between Islam with other religions – such as Christianity and Judaism. At the end of study, students will know the differences and the similarities. When you study other religions, that doesn’t mean you convert to other religions – it is my belief that by the end of this people should know that Islam is the truth.”
Shaheem said the course would only be taught from an undergraduate degree level, and not secondary level “because [students’] minds are not prepared to deal with these philosophies. They are ready for it at university level,” he said.
An understanding of comparative religion would strength Islamic faith in the Maldives, Shaheem said, “because when Muslims study this subject they learn how to deal with other philosophies – they learn about what others believe, the differences between us and them, and what is the right side.”
He said he did not anticipate any objections to the new course, but noted that “the interpretation of Shar’ia has to develop from period to period. The island has become a country, the country has become a region, the region has become a world. Muslims have to be aware of these philosophies in order to deal with others in the world.”
At the same time, Shaheem said, it was necessary for other cultures to learn about Islamic culture.
“They must learn that Islam is not a religion of terrorism and extremism, or an uncivilised religion. Islam is a civilised system, because it provides all the needs of a human being – for example, in Christianity and Judaism philosophies there is no democratic political system, there is no family law, there is no economic system; we have a penal code, code, family law, economic law, even an Islamic banking system. This is why Islam is among the fastest growing religions in Europe, America and the rest of the Western world – Islam is everywhere.”
Shaheem noted that many scholars in the Maldives had studied the subject, including himself, and put himself forward as a potential teacher.
“I have studied this subject in Saudi Arabia, and I am very interested in comparative religion,” he said. “I am sure that when people study these things, at the end of the story they will agree that Islam is the truth.”