A group of self-styled “underground feminists” calling themselves the ‘Rehendhi’ movement claim to have bombarded Sheikh Ibrahim Fareed with women’s underwear on Valentine’s Day, in protest “against misogyny in Maldivian society.”
A statement from the group was accompanied by pictures of underwear scrawled with statements such as “Make love not war”, “Undies for Fundies”, and “Happy Valentine’s Day Sheikh Fareed”.
The statement condemned the speech ‘With Loved Ones’ given by Sheikh Fareed at the artificial beach in Male’ on 12 January, and stated that “while we do not necessarily promote Valentine’s Day, we will not tolerate messages that [infringe] on our right to celebrate the good things in life like love.”
“We especially will not tolerate the unnecessary framing of women as inherently evil. For example, in his speech Sheikh Fareed criticised men contributing to household chores by ‘running home to buy a fish every time a woman calls’ and implicated them of loving their women more than God.”
The group claimed it wished to remain anonymous “not because we are cowards, but because at the end of the day, we live in a society where the majority is not ready to accept equality between the sexes” and “because we want to be criticised for the issues we take rather than the length of our hijabs.”
The group estimated that between 10-12 women participated in the protest campaign, and said they would continue to “fight the erosion of already scarce liberal attitudes towards women in our society” and “reject overarching and untrue labels such as ‘Americansed’ or ‘Westernised’.”
“We look at our own society and deduce that the suffering of women is directly linked to the strong patriarchal system that breeds harmful prejudices against women, such as their inferiority and servitude to men,” the statement said.
“Sometimes, due to upbringing, formal education and mainstream predominant societal views, women themselves internalise such unfounded and unjustified views of inequality and ‘inherent inferiority’ of women compared to men. We refuse to tolerate any discrimination against women based on Islam and diffuse concepts such as ‘culture.’”
“Our goal is not to negate Quran, Hadith or Islamic principles, but to find women’s rightful place in society in which they can flourish and realise their true potential. We emphasise the fact that many feminists are Muslim women. Working for women’s rights does not mean that one is not a pious and good Muslim.”
Spokesperson for the Islamic Ministry Sheikh Ahmadulla said he would not comment on the issue, as he did not have the authority to give religious advice, but noted that ”according to the law, people have the right to express their opinion.”
President of religious NGO Jamiyyath-al-Salaf, Sheikh Abdullah Bin Mohamed Ibrahim, also said he did not wish to comment as he had not heard Fareed’s speech, but emphasised that Muslims were not allowed to celebrate Valentine’s Day.
”Valentine’s Day is celebrated by Christians,” he said. ”It is a day connected to a god of Christians named cupid.”
Sheikh Abdullah Jameel also said he did not want to comment on the issue directly because he had not heard Sheikh Fareed’s speech.
”Women and men are not equal if you look how they are created,” he said. ”[For instance] only a few women go fishing or do construction work.”
He emphasised that celebrating Valentine’s Day is prohibited under Islam “even if some group tries to deny it.”
Sheikh Ilyas Hussein said he had not heard of the group or their press statement, but also explained that ”celebrating Valentine’s Day is not part of Islamic culture.”
“It’s a day Christians celebrate saying it was the birthday of someone named Valentine,” Sheikh Ilyas said.
Sheikh Ibrahim Fareed declined to comment.
Correction: An earlier version of this article mistakenly attributed comments made by Sheikh Abdullah Jameel to Sheikh Azmath Jameel. Minivan News has rectified the error and apologises for any confusion caused.