Maldivian students recruited to wage jihad, confirms Vice President

Vice President of the Maldives Dr Mohammed Waheed Hassan has told Indian media that young Maldivians are being recruited by militant groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan to wage ‘jihad’.

The Indian Press Trust (IPT), among others, also reported that Waheed had claimed an increasing number of young Maldivians “are embracing a version of Islam which is more strict than the traditional Islamic values [of the Maldives].”

The vice president is currently visiting India, which recently signalled its willingness to increase defence cooperation after reports that extremist group Lashkar-e-Taiba, believed responsible for the Mumbai attacks in November 2008, was active in the Maldives.

At the time, Indian news portal reported Indian intelligence bureau sources as saying the group had “nearly 1,000 operatives active in the Maldives”.

Indian media reported that Waheed had asked for the country’s assistance in preventing the passage through India of young people suspected to be attending radical institutions.

“Some of these people are going to Pakistan and Afghanistan and are waging jihad. We want these people back,” he told PTI. “These are students and it is very easy for them to say they are going to pursue education.”

Presidential Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair said the vice president’s comments were based on “certain statistics from education authorities, police and Pakistani authorities.”

“This government estimates there are 200-300 unregistered [Maldivian] students in Pakistan,” Zuhair said.

“The government has made a point of checking up on any student travelling to Pakistan and making sure that what recruiters have told their families is accurate, and that the institutions are recognised by the Pakistani government,” he said.

However, “students are leaving the Maldives with the good intentions of obtaining an Islamic education, but are being told to bypass the government’s legislation and monitoring [processes].”

There was a requirement for someone travelling abroad to study to register with the government, he said. “In the latter stages of the previous government [unregistered] students would be brought back once they reach Colombo,” he noted.

The government was developing a range of Islamic scholarship programs for students at registered institutions in countries like India and Malaysia to try and address the issue, Zuhair explained.


Comment & Analysis: From the rising sea into the crossfire

Jihadwatch is watching the Maldives. Jihadwatch, set up by the David Horowitz Freedom Center in the United States after the 11 September 2001 attacks on New York, is run by prominent rightwing American conservatives convinced that Western civilization is in danger of being annihilated by ‘Islamic terrorism’.

The chief aim of Jihadwatch is that of ‘correcting popular misconceptions about the role of Jihad and religion in modern-day conflicts’.

This has meant reducing the inherent complexities of the Islamic concept of Jihad to a singular understanding of the term: Jihad is a Muslim Holy War against the West. Some of the contributors to Jihadwatch are among those who have made the most prolific contributions towards cementing the dangerous theory of a clash between Islam and Western civilization.

With the announcement by President Nasheed on 21 November 2009 that he was seeking advice on whether or not the Maldives should ban places of worship for other religions, the Maldives provided Jihadwatch with just the kind of material to spread their message of Islam as an enemy of human freedom and civilization. The article itself, and the comments left by visitors, make interesting reading for the government, and for the purported religious readers that currently seem to hold sway over what happens in the country.

Clash of civilisations

The issue here is not that the Maldivian government should let its policy be informed by the output of a website such as Jihadwatch. After all, it is such advice and thinking that informed the policies of the previous U.S. administration that led the world into the disastrous ‘War on Terror’.

No, the reason why being watched by Jihadwatch should be of concern to the Maldivian government is because it raises the question of how the Maldives ended up being involved in this ‘Islam versus West’ debate at all.

If President Nasheed is seeking ‘advice from religious scholars on Islam’s position on allowing non-Muslims to worship in an Islamic community’, he would also do well to seek advice on how to deal with the dangerous issues that the country will have to face once it finds itself well and truly caught up in the so-called ‘clash of civilisations’ debate.

The most pressing issue here is that the Maldivian government should realize the direction in which these ‘religious leaders’, with their proposals for introducing intolerance into Maldivian laws, is taking the country.

If the government fails to recognize the implications of allowing them to lead the Maldives into the maelstrom of the dangerous Islam versus the West debate, the nation will soon find itself in deeper waters than those that threaten to force it under rising sea-levels.


For centuries the Maldivians have been Muslims. Its constitution has always dictated that to be a Maldivian citizen, one has to be a Muslim. Yet, until now, it has managed to avoid being predominantly identified as an ‘Islamic state’ – extremist or otherwise – in western security discourse. Even in the immediate aftermath of 11 September 2001, the Maldives escaped from being grouped into either of the two camps into which the former US administration divided the world: ‘either you are with us [the West], or you with the terrorists’.

This is no small achievement, for a nation of 300,000 people who have been Muslims by law since 1153 AD. How did the country manage to distance itself from being typecast in this crude manner?

By practicing Islam peacefully. By being Muslims who were not dictated to by the diktats of sects and factions within Islam. By adhering to the tenets of Islam that make it a religion of peace. By being united in their faith in a manner that was uniquely Maldivian.

The Maldives has escaped war, ethnic conflict and civil strife in this war-torn world precisely because its people have been united in their belief and practise of Islam in a manner that has been unique to their own cultural and social identity.

In the last eight years or so, however, a particular brand of Islam has been imported into the country by persons whose underlying motives the government has failed to question and whose activities the government has left unchecked. The number of ‘learned clerics’ whose methods and sources of learning no one knows, have mushroomed with breathtaking rapidity.

The Muslims of the Maldives and their unique identity have been marauded by the force of the dubious religious rhetoric that now reverberates in its parliament and its public sphere.


There has been a thought-revolution in the Maldives the force of which has affected the Maldivian people as profoundly as Mao’s Cultural Revolution affected the people of China.

The government needs to question how this silent yet so starkly visible revolution happened without protest, how a people’s identity has been taken away so completely, how they have been so easily persuaded into leaving centuries of cultural norms and ingrained ways of practicing their faith for methods and practices that have been imported en masse from other cultures, from certain sects within Islam.

The last government and the barriers it had set up against intellectual development is just one of many reasons. But there is more, and the government needs to ask the right questions and find the answers, if it is to halt the relentless regression towards disaster that the Maldives is currently caught up in.

If the Maldives continues along this path of radical change, it is going to come under more than just the watchful eye of those trying to blame Islam and its teachings for all the woes of the world. The saddest development of all is that a country such as the Maldives, which until now has been a shining example of peace, among Muslim nations is now providing ammunition for those who are perpetrating the belief that Islam is engaged in a war against the West.

President Nasheed fought long and hard for a democratic government in the Maldives, and made personal sacrifices to achieve the goal. He has been busy attempting to bring about much needed reforms.

But, he is showing himself to be extremely weak in facing up to the forces that are impeding his progress. It is time for President Nasheed and his government to realize that if he fails to stand up to these agents of conflict and intolerance, the loss will not only be to his political ambitions but to the nation that he has promised deliverance from dictatorship.

It is laudable to try and save the nation from going under when the sea levels rise; but the ability to hold cabinet meetings underwater is not going to help stop the nation from sinking into troubled waters once it gets caught in the crossfire of the ‘War on Terror’ and the advocates of a clash of civilizations between Islam and the West.

Munirah Moosa is a journalism and international relations graduate. She is currently engaged in research into the ‘radicalisation’ of Muslim communities and its impact on international security.

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