Comment: Skeletons in the closet

As darkness fell over the cramped city of Male’ on the eve of January 3 this year, a woman’s body was found in a suitcase dumped in a construction site. She was 30 years old.

A few days later, her boyfriend was charged for her murder.

On June 22, a little boy lost both his parents. His father was stabbed with a knife and died in a hospital. His mother gave herself up to the police for the brutal offense.

At the age of 21, she now sits in a cell, her dreams crushed and her hopes dead. The prospect of spending her long life in prison would torment her. Perhaps a more agonising pain for her is the fear of facing what her son might think of her when he grows up. Her fateful act was the tragic climax in her struggle to leave a disruptive relationship that was a daunting trap for her.

The pain and suffering these two women endured represent the lives of many others in the Maldives. They include women, children, girls and boys, aged parents and also men. They are the victims of domestic violence – a social reality locked up as a family secret and never discussed by lawmakers in the country until Monday.

Rozaina Adam, MP, young and educated, explained what she meant by domestic violence as she presented her bill to the heavily lopsided parliament – with 72 men and only five women as its members.

“Domestic violence is the violence or acts of violence that occur between married couples or between divorced couples or between family members or between members in a household”, she said. “It may be someone inflicting violence on his/her wedded partner, it may be a guardian inflicting violence on a child or someone inflicting violence on his/her elderly parents… like any other society in the world, it’s a reality in our society too.”

Her definition outlined the space where domestic violence occurs. She also brought the relationships between the victims and offenders of these horrendous actions into public focus.

A home is meant to be a safe and happy place for everyone. In Maldives, like many traditional societies, people grow up and spend their entire lives surrounded with family, relatives and neighbors. It is however, a place of indescribable horror for the victims of domestic violence.

The victims live their lives in constant pain and fear, insecurities and uncertainties, distrust and breakups. The gruesome realities they face make them strong enough to bear the pain but often,  too weak to get out of it or end it.

Home is a boundary known to them, no matter how gross it is. Sometimes, leaving home means crossing over to uncertainty and face a greater fear of the unknown. They absorb the worst atrocities in their homes, imposed on them by their supposedly loved ones. In effect they hide their woes silently behind a smile or a deadpan mask, until life is forced out of them or it dies within on them, like it did for these two women.

Research, media reports and official records indicate a staggering level of domestic violence in the Maldives.

A study in 2007 showed, one in every three women aged 15-49 experienced physical or sexual violence at some point in their lives.

According to an official source, 620 cases of abuse were reported to them from August 2005 to 2009. They include 200 cases on sexual abuse, 150 cases on physical abuse, 50 cases of rape and 50 cases on neglect and more. The number of cases reported to them on average stands at 145 per year since 2006.

On Sunday evening, the Deputy Minister of Health and Family, Ms Mariya Ali informed that the number of reported cases on domestic violence now stands at 100.

These statistics reveal a shocking truth, considering the clandestine nature of domestic violence, the stark absence of relevant legislation and the lack of necessary support for victims. It confirms the high prevalence of domestic violence in our small Muslim society and the urgent need to address it through law.

Since July this year, the local media has reported 9 incidents of rape including two cases of gang rape in the past week alone. Health officials warn that the incidence of rape could be much higher as rape is far more common among married couples.

Meanwhile, the political and social space in Maldives continues to get filled by a religious narrative that reinforces women as sexual objects. For instance, a question and answer posted on the website of Ministry of Islamic Affairs dominated by a religious pressure group called the Adhalaath Party reads:

“It has become very common for a woman to tell her husband ‘I do not want to sleep with you’, ‘I won’t do as you say’, ‘I will live my life the way I want’. What does Islam say about such women?”

The answer was provided by Sheikh Usman Abdulla – a renowned and respected Islamic scholar.

It says: “the main purpose of being married is to fulfill your sexual needs. In reality, the woman cannot say that. She has to obey her husband. Islam says if your husband wants you, you have to go (to him) even if you are cooking (in the kitchen). While this is how it is (in Islam), what the woman said is not acceptable in Islam.”

The impact of such narrative on women and children should not be under-estimated – especially in view of the general profile of the victims and the offenders. According to the reports on abuse, 9 out of every 10 victims were females and nearly 6 out of every 10 victims were below 18 years. It also revealed 8 out of every 10 offenders is a friend or a family member of the victim. And in 5 out of every 10 cases, the offender is the victim’s boyfriend or husband.

The horrific reality reflected by the records of abuse emphasizes the dire need for legislators to get their act together and treat domestic violence as a nonpartisan issue. It requires unequivocal support for the proposed bill by all parliamentarians. No one desires a repeat of the violent actions that unfurled at the beginning of this year.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


Comment: The truth bearers

Sister! “Bend over backwards and tolerate,” said Dr Bilal Philips, the Canadian ‘Ilmveriya’ of Jamaican origin last Friday afternoon over ‘Atoll Radio’ – the Islamic FM station. He was responding to a woman who called to get advice on how to deal with her husband’s ‘cold’ first wife.

“You know how you would feel when your husband takes another wife,” he counseled. So “scrape at the bottom of the barrel” to get into good terms with her. Though, he added, it is the responsibility of the husband to get her relatives “to calm her down.”

The past week we heard the two converts – Dr Philips and the UK-born Brother Abdulraheem Green raise awareness and make recommendations to the Maldivians. They were brought by the Islamic NGO, ‘Jamiyyathulsalaf’ under the program ‘The Call 2010’ as part of their jihad to establish in Maldives what they consider an Islamic state.

‘Ilmverin’ is a term heard extremely rarely in the past. But now, it is a term that the religious factions commonly use in the Maldives to refer to the bearers of all knowledge, and maintain expert authority.

A Sheikh, a title acquired when a person achieves a first degree in Islamic Studies from an Islamic University, also becomes an Ilmveriya. They suggest that ‘Ilm’ or intellect cannot be limited to one area of knowledge such as economics, medicine or law. But Ilm comprises all knowledge and that can only be derived from Quruan and Hadhith – the foundation of all truths. The Ilmverin understand the total meaning and context of Quruan and Hadith and are therefore the true intellectuals. Thus, the unlimited knowledge of the Ilmverin enables them to inform and advise the public on any area, be it midwifery or state governance, as requested.

The religious factions claim that Maldivian society is “so much out of order”. And in the midst of the social and political challenges there is an immense move by them to bring the Ilmverin to the public’s attention as the saviors of the nation’s future.

The Ilmverin seemingly has the answers for all the social and political illnesses the Maldives face. Hence, it has become “the moral duty” of the religious factions to get the Ilmverin to put the country back on the right path to bring safety and prosperity for the entire population.

So on the Friday program another woman phoned in. This time she went on tearfully saying she cannot deal with her situation when she found out her husband and the father of her children was about to get married to another woman.

“You love him,” Dr Philips encouraged soothingly. “Do you want [in spite of] your love for your husband [for him] to commit a sin… [When it’s in your hands to legalise his relationship]?”

And yet another asked for Dr Philips’s verdict. This time she wanted to know whether in Heaven she would be granted her wish for her husband to love only her.

Dr Philips instantly drew her attention to human nature. And based on his all-encompassing knowledge he replied: “Men in their nature are to have more than one woman whereas the natural desire of a woman is to have one man to raise a family.”

If a certain group in the world argues that what could be regarded as “nature” of human being are only the biological needs such as to eat, to drink, to sleep, to have sex, etc, Dr Philips certainly did not believe so.

So he told the woman: “You have whatever you desire in Paradise.” And even though her husband can wish for any number of women at any time in Heaven, he said her wish will be granted. He assured her that in any case, since there is no such thing as jealousy in Paradise, she would not encounter any problems anyway.

There have were many more opinions and verdicts sought from Dr Philips and Brother Green during their week-long program of lectures and Q/A sessions. And more must be sought by the Maldivian sisters from Dr Philip’s spouse Sister Sara Philips, at the private gathering she held for them on Saturday.

But within the crux of these programs lie three crucial, consistent and calculated messages. While all three messages have a direct relevance to the local state of affairs and the geopolitics of the world, they are delivered in an environment where the space for alternative voice is simply non-existent – a consequence of carefully laid social control methods.

Rule number one says no one should publicly question what an Ilmveriya says – especially a non Ilmveriya.

Rule number two is that no one should entertain an attempt to make a distinction between what an Ilmveriya says, and the Quran and Hadhith.

Rule number three is that any alternative viewpoint that differs from those of the religious factions in Maldives is an attempt to eradicate Islam from the country – so people who comment on what the Ilmverin says, and people who attempt to raise alternative viewpoints, should be immediately stopped.

Further, such people have to be dragged into the public domain as the ignorant and the Anti-Islamists. Or, perhaps they could be presented as agents of Christian missionaries with links to the West. Or if it is necessary they could even be Atheists or Apostates.

And if all that seems too strong, they could also be presented as chain-smoking, coffee-drinking lesbians!

The logic seems to be that all such people deserve defamation, intolerance and violence.

The religious factions have made it clear to the public that to be dubious about what an Ilmveriya says is equivalent to having doubts about Islam. To criticise what an Ilmveriya says is to ridicule Islam. To point out the inconsistencies and the contradictions in what the Ilmveriya says is to create confusion, destroy Islam and, it is claimed, a conscious effort to break up the Islamic solidarity of the nation.

To try and raise an alternative viewpoint is an attempt to establish secularism. And make no mistake! Such attempts are nothing but the biggest, most heinous, crimes ever – to question Islam and Allah’s order.

Lastly, the public should be assured that the Ilmveriya is never wrong, or telling lies. The Ilmveriya is never corrupt and will never manipulate people’s minds to exploit them. The Ilmveriya will never misuse his power on the others’ understanding that the Ilmveriya is always right. So, everybody is expected to listen to the Ilmveriya and gulp the information as truth without even ‘a single drop of water’.

In such an environment the Islamic Ministry that represents the religious political party, the Adhaalath Party and their affiliated lobby group, Jamiyyathul Salaf, have set in their agenda in motion. The immediate target is to implement Islamic Sharia in Maldives, to “Arabise” Maldivian society and to Islamise the Maldivian educational system.

And so Dr Philips brought the Maldivians’ attention to their own Constitution saying: “Make no mistake about what (the Maldivian Constitution) says… the Constitution of Maldives says the country will be ruled by Quran and Sunnah.”

Dr Philips pointed to the necessity of Islamic Sharia. He said that: “Where heads are cut off, and hands are chopped and people are lashed, such societies enjoy peace and stability.”

He picked Saudi Arabia as an example, saying he never needed to keep his front door locked during his twenty-year long stay there. Little did Dr Philips know that in Maldives people never used to lock the front doors of their houses, either. And even now on islands such as Kendu in Baa Atoll, most people still leave their front doors unlocked night and day!

Dr Philips spoke of the weaknesses of democracy and how they contribute to the destruction of societies. He spoke of the flaws of the foundations of democracy – equality, rational empiricism and discussion and consensus and explained what they meant.

He spoke of the danger of secularism and said it “is the religion for democracies”. He said only Islam can claim to be the religion of Eve and Adam. Dr Philips said what Islam has to offer (the world now) is a moral message which is not there in the rest of the world.

The call for Maldivian women to wear the hijab has lately become extremely loud in sermons and media forums delivered by the local sheiks. And Dr Philips meticulously included this second message in all his lectures.

He said Islam elevated and protected the status of women. He warned Maldivian women that “when you remove the hijab, you suffer”. He pointed out that the head scarf is not enough for a Muslim woman because it covers only her head and leaves “her top” and “her bottom” exposed.

He urged Maldivian women to wear the hijab which he says is a loose covering that covers the woman’s private parts. If there are other Ilmverin in this world who disagree that it is compulsory for all Muslim women all over the world to wear the hijab or headscarf, the Maldivians should never hear of them.

The third message came through Dr Philips in his last, but special lecture organised by the private institution The Clique College. Students, teachers and educators were recommended to attend it. In this lecture he called the Maldivians to “revamp the education system so that it falls in line with Islam as enshrined in the Constitution.”

He said Islamisation of the education system is “something which here in the Maldives is or should be on the forefront of the thinking, the discussion, the decisions which have to be made for the future of education.”

He said the education system has to be governed according to the Quran and Sunnah to “produce the ideal Maldivian citizen.”

He said the Western nations have a secularised education in which “morality is completely taken out” and “everything is geared towards materialism.” So, he said, “parents should encourage other parents and approach the government to change” the Maldivian education system into an Islamised one.

Dr Philips gave a detailed description of the teacher, the student, the environment and the materials used in an Islamised education system. He said the outcome of an Islamic education system is a student who is conscious of his/her need to worship Allah, is conscious of his/her goal in life – the Paradise; and is motivated to implement the divine commandments.

He also added that their social responsibility is to provide the needed skills to the society.

“It’s obligatory for every Muslim to seek knowledge”, he said, and identified useful knowledge and useless knowledge for the audience.

He said useful knowledge has an immediate practical use. He urged the audience not to waste time on useless knowledge, and said that sending rocket ships to Mars and getting robots to roam around and dig its soil to find its geological composition was an example of useless knowledge.

He said the goal of knowledge should not be for the sake of knowledge: “What drives people to do such things is their belief that there is no God… and the universe is an accident,” he said.

Dr Philips said that in Riyadh, it was found that the Quran, Islam and Arabic were subjects that the students most hated while they loved other subjects taught by non-Muslims. To avoid such a response and for effective knowledge transfer, he urged to use the KEIA model which stands for ‘Knowledge, Eman, Ikhlas and Amal Salih’.

He gave examples of how to Islamise subjects such as mathematics. He said teachers of Islamic Studies should be qualified in classroom management, child psychology and educational methodology.

Dr Philips finally ended his lecture circuit by offering a way for his audience to pick up from where he left. He reminded them of his online university that offers diploma and degree studies for free or nominal charges. Before he finished he also mentioned that there is an Islamised English-language reading series he has produced for kindergarten kids.

And it remains for us Maldivians now, while our politicians dance to the loudest tunes, to determine whether, when the cultural dynamics finally take shape and the Maldives becomes listed among developing nations – is it going to be the Saudis or the Somalian pirates that we turn to for money and the required knowledge transfer to maintain our economy.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]