With my own ears, I’ve heard more than one Maldivian long for death’s release. And the chills that ran down my spine the first time I heard it reside in me still, slowly corroding my hope for a better national future.
Recently – amidst the political turmoil that has dominated everyone’s consciousness – there was a spectacular suicide that captured us for the briefest of moments. A wayward youth, giving in to his inner turmoil, flung himself from the air traffic control tower – departing this world, not by meeting the ground below, but rather by meeting a hangman’s noose. His body left dangling, silently screaming his frustration and his surrender.
Did the abuse he endured in life end with his death? Was the respect and dignity he so desired afforded him after he passed from this world? No.
Accused of apostasy, people have called him a showoff for his ever-so-public last testament. A lunatic. Someone unworthy of sympathy. They have taunted him and scarred his memory and even gone to such as extent as to suggest that he should not be given his due burial rights. That he was not God’s creature and that his alleged disbelief in God meant he is somehow less than human.
With this poor soul, we have failed. Failed in offering alternatives to troubled youth. Failed in addressing the intolerance in our society. And we have failed in our duties as human beings.
As a nation we have developed a culture of neglect. While being among the nosiest of peoples, constantly sticking our noses where they don’t belong, we have not taken the next step: actually caring about those around us and the plight of others.
The social ills we face are greater than I have seen in any other non-war-torn nation. Soaring sexual and drug abuse rates have become the widely accepted bane of our society. And those who are left with significant psychological damage are left without avenues for help. Those who have entered into depression, who feel their very soul being eaten away, and who no longer believe in the value of their lives, have no avenue for help. While physical abuses have only just started to be addressed, mental abuses of all denominations have been forgotten.
This culture of neglect must end. We have to encourage more therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists to come to this country. We have to convince government and private institutions that we cannot heal our nation if the souls of our nation remain in tatters. And we cannot continue to pretend that the local Imam is all knowing and qualified to deal with all manner of mental problems.
Ideologies of Intolerance
We especially have to stop pretending that neo-salafi ideologies based in the Hanbali school of Islamic Jurisprudence are competent enough to deal with this world’s problems and issues. I believe Islamic counseling has a place in our society; that it helps bring people fulfillment and that it is an integral (not primary) part of efforts such as drug counseling. However, the recent global trend towards the propagation of neo-salafi ideologies is something I cannot accept.
Not only is neo-salafism fundamentally against Maldivian culture and heritage, it is also the most intolerant of all the classical Islamic schools of jurisprudence. It does not allow the scholars of this ideology to relate to victims of mental abuse. It does not allow for varying thoughts to exist, which is necessary to help in the process of healing. Instead, this ideology calls for the strict imposition of their beliefs, wiping out whatever was there before – removing all traces of the person who once existed.
Would be Saviors
They see all the world as sinners, and themselves as the would be saviors of our nation. The salafis and all their ilk would save our society from all of our ills. They will bring us to heaven’s gate and lead us hand and foot into the Creator’s embrace, with never a moment’s consideration that such action would leave ours meaningless.
“We can talk about there being no compulsion in religion till we lose our voices, but conservatives will not care, and this will not lessen the number women being abused, or the number of atrocities being committed in our religion’s name,” Tariq Ramadan, Islamic scholar at Oxford University and grandson of the Islamic Brotherhood founder Hassan Al-Bana, told me at a conference on Islam and democracy in April.
I do not believe in secularism in the Maldives. But I do not accept neo-salafism as the only answer to it.
The Result of Conservatism
This poor soul, Ismail Mohamed Didi, was pushed to the edge as a result of the conservative ideologies present in our society. Those who knew him well have all attested that he was “a nice guy” who did not impose his atheism in others. The problem was that some who knew of his beliefs were offended by the fact that he had them to begin with, hence the official complaint and investigation. It is pure and simple: blatant intolerance is surpassing our need to have love for our fellow Maldivians.
Maldivians are becoming fanatical in their beliefs and the world has started to notice. We are importing Saudi-based neo-salafi ideologies rooted in the Hanbali School of Islamic jurisprudence. Out of the 1.5 billion Muslims on earth, only 10 percent of the Islamic world agrees with this interpretation. An interpretation, mind you, which refuses to accept the validity of any of the other classical forms of Islamic jurisprudence.
Religion is not something you wear on your sleeve, or with a long beard or Arabian dress. The growing norm in Maldivian culture is a complete eradication of it, because today in Maldives to be a better Muslim, you need to be a better Arab. Forget Indonesia, Malaysia, and even Egypt, because those are apparently not real Muslims. They are not educated enough. And even though many of their scholars have a lifetime of learning behind them, they do not see the truth.
Social negligence, which has existed for time immemorial, mixed with the newly institutionalised ideologies of intolerance have proven to be in this instance a fatal concoction. And this darkness has spread through our nation.
We all have a choice to make. We either chose to stand in the light, or to recede further into darkness. We each need to take responsibility for our actions and inaction. We each need to take responsibility for our society and the ills we see in it. We need to stand up for what is right; turning away from ignorance, hatred, intolerance and complete societal degradation. It starts with each and every one of us.
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