No threat to Maldivians in Srilanka, assures Sri Lankan foreign minister

Sri Lankan minister for External Affairs G.L. Peiris has assured that there is no threat to Maldivians residing in his country from ongoing conflicts between Muslims and Buddhists.

Speaking during the official state visit of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Peiris said that the “happy and contented” Maldivian community living in Sri Lanka mostly reside in the southern parts of the country, far away from the zone of conflict.

“There is absolutely no problem in that area,” he said, adding that the conflict was going on in a very narrow area of Sri Lanka.

Rajapaksa’s two-day state visit is the first official visit of a foreign leader since President Yameen’s election, and has seen agreements signed related to health, investment, and search and rescue services.

Maldivian Foreign Minister Dhunya Maumoon – speaking at today’s press conference in Kurumba resort – said that the Maldivian government appreciated the steps taken by the Sri Lankan government to ensure the safety of the the 9,400 citizens in the Maldives.

“Not that there are no serious issues,” she said. “But the media sometimes sensationalise these issues.”

On June 16, 2014, reports emerged that hard-line Buddhists hurled gasoline bombs and looted homes and businesses during attacks in several Muslim towns in southwestern Sri Lanka, killing three Muslims and seriously wounding more than 50 people.

Dunya said that the Maldivian embassy in Sri Lanka was closely monitoring the situation on a daily basis. She also revealed that land in the Maldivian capital had been granted for Sri Lanka to set up a new diplomatic premises.

Following Rajapaksa’s arrival yesterday, official bilateral talks were held between the two governments as well as a private meeting between the two heads of state. A special banquet in honour of the Sri Lankan president and first lady was held at Kurumba yesterday evening.

Dunya today noted the close personal links between the two nations with Sri Lankan expatriate workers greatly assisting the Maldivian economy while more than 80,000 Maldivians visited Sri Lanka in 2012.

“We recognise and applaud the tremendous post-conflict reconstruction efforts of the Sri Lankan Government. We believe that the Sri Lankan Government and its people can address and overcome the challenges of post-conflict reconstruction and rehabilitation,” said the foreign minister.

Details of the health MoU were also revealed yesterday, with three specialists per year travelling to the Maldives as well as places for five Maldivian students to study medicine in Sri Lanka.

“Maldivians have been long standing consumers of the excellent education and health services in Sri Lanka. Under the agreement signed yesterday, the Maldives looks forward to further enhancing cooperation in the health sector, including in investing in human resources, recruitment of medical doctors and health professionals, and procurement of pharmaceuticals,” she added.

External Affairs Minister Peiris told press today that the agreements reached would have positive practical results for both nations, in particular new agreements on investment.

Trade between the two states grew by 40 percent last year, said Peiris, currently amounting to US$76 million – a figure he described as “satisfactory” with room for improvement.

“Major Sri Lankan investors are investing in the Maldives in a big way, particularly in tourism infrastructure,” he continued.

As part of today’s trip, a networking session was held in Malé for Sri Lanka’s business delegation, with Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb and Economic Development Minister Mohamed Saeed revealing details of investment opportunities in the Maldives.

Asked about discussions on Sri Lankan fishermen’s access to the travel through the Maldives’ territorial waters, Peiris said that such close allies had no need to hold official discussions “formally” about the right of innocent passage.

President Yameen had promised to explore during his corresponding trip to Sri Lanka in January, during which MoUs were signed regarding combating transnational crime , vocational training, and sports cooperation.


Police investigating anti-Islamic activity on social media

The police are investigating online anti-Islamic social media activity, officials have confirmed.

A police media official confirmed that the investigation was  initiated by the police, but that they have since received similar complaints from the public.

Minivan News has learned that the police investigation is particularly focused on a Facebook page titled ‘Dhivehi Atheists/Maldivian Atheists’, though police have said that the investigation is not focused on a particular page but all such unlawful activity will be investigated.

Religious conservative Adhaalath party has condemned the page for  insulting the Prophet and God by drawing offensive cartoons. Adhaalath called to block the page and take action against everyone behind the page.

The page, which appears to be run by Maldivians, posts content critical of and insulting Muslims, Islamists, Islam, God, and the Prophet Muhammad. Liked by just 300 users, the majority of the posts are in local Dhivehi language.

According to the page administrators, the purpose of creating it was encouraging Maldivians to leave Islam and “choose the path of science and reason”.

Reacting to the page, a number of people are posting comments with apologetic content and advising those behind the group to repent and accept Islam. Some users are calling to behead the anonymous administrators of the page and praying for God’s wrath upon them.

Several posts made by visitors accused various people of being behind the page and threatened to kill them. Many visitors have stated that the administrator has been identified to be a woman.

The 2008 constitution of Maldives declares that all citizens of the Maldives should be Muslims, while article 32 of the Religious Unity Regulation declares “Insulting or committing any action that may offend Islamic slogans” as prohibited.

This includes anything which “insults Allah, His Prophets and Messengers, the Companions of Prophet Mohamed (PBUH)”. Insulting the Quran, Islamic Mosques and Other Islamic slogans are also prohibited.

The punishments for these offenses are given in the Religious Unity Act of 1994, which allows 2-5 years imprisonment or house arrest, and an additional year for every time such an offense is repeated. Under Islamic Shariah law as interpreted in the Maldives, apostasy is punishable by death.

While discussion of controversial religious issues are restricted by law, much discussions happens online with moderate Muslims, secularists, Islamists, and atheists discussing and debating on religious issues through social media.

Hate speech and threats against contributors are regularly posted by radicals on both sides of the debates.

While many locals identify themselves as non-Muslims online, only a few cases of Maldivians who publicly declared their disbelief in God have been reported in the media.

Among them was 25 year old Ismail Mohamed Didi, who was found hanged from an air traffic control tower in 2010. Didi had been seeking asylum after his colleagues started harassing him for his atheism.

In the same year, Mohamed Nazim announced his disbelief on live television during a public question-and-answer session with Islamic speaker Dr Zakir Naik. Nazim was escorted from the venue by police for his own protection, before announcing his return to the faith after religious counselling received while in detention.

In 2011 a silent protest calling for religious tolerance was attacked by Islamist extremists, the main victim in the attack – local blogger Ismail ‘Hilath’ Rasheed – also faced a life threatening attack the next year before seeking refuge abroad.


“Women only” Islamic fashion show to be held in Male’

A local clothing retailer which had organised a fashion show featuring clothing for women “within the bounds of Islam” is now promoting the event as an “Abaya Show”, following complaints that the original concept was too western.

The event is being organised by local clothing retailer Miskul Khair and will display only hijab (head scarf) and abaya (robe-like, loose fitting dress) clothes to demonstrate the ‘Islamic look’ of how Muslim women should dress.

“The aim is not to have a western style fashion show, but rather to give women the news, the message, that this is the perfect way of dressing [in Islam],” Miskul Khair Sales Manager Moosa Nafih told Minivan News.

“This event is not related to a western [fashion] show, it will feature almost all the abayas sold in the shop,” said Nafih.

He explained that following complaints the event was too westernised, the “concept has been a little changed, but the show will be conducted as planned” and will be promoted as an “Abaya Show” instead.

“There will be very strict monitoring, security will be very high. Men, photography or videography of the event will not be permitted,” Nafih emphasised.

The event will be only for ladies as Islam does not support the mixing of opposite sexes, explained Nafih.

“This fashion show will be very different from other fashion shows held in Maldives. Clothes on display will fit Islamic parameters,” a Miskul Khair spokesperson told local media.

“We believe that through such an event in sha Allah, it may encourage sisters who do not wear hijab/buruga to love to wear hijabs/buruga. We believe that this is a new approach to Dawah. May Allah Reward us all and look into our intentions,” read a statement on the Miskul Khair Facebook page.

Former Gender Minister and current Chairperson for the Hope for Women NGO Aneesa Ahmed believes the event is being held as a way to “draw people in”.

“As things are, there are many with strong conservative views. There is so much advocacy on conservatism, people are falling under that influence,” Aneesa told Minivan News today.

“[Currently,] there is a lot of confusion among people,” she noted. “It could upset them if a woman does not dress with adequate modesty.”

Aneesa explained that individuals hold different beliefs on what constitutes appropriate women’s attire.

While she believes dressing like a Muslim – for men and women – requires modesty, Islam does not necessarily require a woman’s body to be fully covered, she said.

“Islam is not only how a person dresses, it is about faith and upholding the five pillars of Islam,” Aneesa said

She noted that there are some women who are fully covered but wear tight fitting clothes, which is less modest than wearing loose fitting clothing with some skin showing.

“[Additionally,] we don’t know if a fully covered woman is doing her prayers, as that is between her and Allah,” Aneesa continued.

“However, the perception remains that if you are dressed in a certain way then society considers you a good Muslim,” she noted.

Aneesa believes that overall “It is in the best interest of the society to dress modestly.”

“What we call modest dress is the same style, an [unofficial] dress code, that tourists must adopt when they come to Male’ or go to an inhabited island,” she added.

The female only fashion show will take place at an Arabic medium, higher education institution, Kulliyah College in Male’ on July 28 at 9:30pm.

Tickets are available at Miskul Khair shops for MVR 25 (US$1.61), MVR 45 (US$2.91) and MVR 56 (US$3.62).


Foreign Ministry opposes UN Human Rights Commissioner’s call for debate on flogging

The Foreign Ministry does not support open debates on issues raised by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, namely the provision for flogging as a punishment for extra-marital intercourse and the requirement that all Maldivians be Muslims.

“What’s there to discuss about flogging?” Minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmed Naseem was reported as saying in newspaper Haveeru. “There is nothing to debate about in a matter clearly stated in the religion of Islam. No one can argue with God.”

Speaking to Minivan News, Naseem confirmed his statement but did not wish to comment further.

Pillay said flogging was “a form of punishment that is cruel and demeaning to women” and observed that in her travels in Islamic countries “apart from the Maldives and one other country that practices stoning, flogging is not a practice that is condoned.”

She further claimed that the Maldives is signatory to international treaties that are legally-binding obligations, “and such a practice conflicts with these obligations undertaken by the Maldives.” She said human rights conforms with Islam.

Naseem today advised Minivan News that the Maldives had submitted certain reservations to said conventions, including articles on gender equality and freedom of religion, and on these points the country could not be held legally accountable by an international body.

Pillay also called for amendments to the constitutional provision mandating subscription to Islam.

Since her press conference on Thursday, November 24, protestors bearing slogans “Ban UN,” “Flog Pillay” and “Defend Islam” have demanded apologies from Pillay and Parliament, and called for Pillay to be prosecuted in the Maldives for her comments about the national constitution.

Islamic Minister Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari opposed Pillay’s critiques. Haveeru reports he also backed political parties including the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) and Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), and several MPs and religious groups who also  condemned the UN human rights chief’s comments.

In discussions with President Mohamed Nasheed, ministers and the judiciary, Pillay advised “permanent changes in the law [to] engineer a practical moratorium on flogging.”

NGO network Civil Society Coalition later announced a nation-wide mass protest on December 23 against the government’s alleged efforts to securalise the country.

Speaking with Minivan News today, President’s Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair said he believed Pillay’s message focused more on the degrading implications of flogging women than on its portrayal of Islam. “Pillay called for a debate on punishment and how it is administered – these are two separate debates,” he said, distinguishing between Islam and the State.

Zuhair also suggested that the court procedure used to sentence individuals accused of extra-marital fornication to flogging was incomplete.

In response to Pillay’s urging for a debate “to open up the benefits of the constitution to all and to remove that discriminatory provision [requiring every citizen be a Muslim],” Zuhair said “The government’s religious policy is based upon the insights of religious scholars. The government has not made available the means for anyone to defy or ridicule our religion, and it will not do so.”

According to Zuhair, the involvement of religious scholars in the nation’s religious policies is a distinguishing feature of ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

“These are the free times for religious scholars to speak their minds and not be subscribed into one state-sponsored brand of Islam,” he said.

When asked to relate his statement to the Islamic Ministry’s recent censorship of Ismail Hilath Rasheed’s blog, Zuhair said the matter belonged to the Majlis.

“The government cannot be held accountable for the contents of a constitution drawn up by the peoples’ Majlis. Any issues with the constitution will be addressed there.”

Zuhair emphasised that the government supports freedom of expression and assembly to the widest extent provided by the constitution, but he reiterated that the government would adhere to policies advocated by religious scholars as necessary.

Local media in the Maldives widely took Pillay’s remarks on the constitution out of context by reporting only half her sentence.

Miadhu Editor Gabbe Latheef had asked Pillay during Thursday’s press conference, “If you believe we have a Constitution, why are you speaking against our Constitution?” Her reply, “I don’t believe you have a Constitution, you have a constitution. The constitution conforms in many respects to universally respected human rights. Let me assure you that these human rights conform with Islam,” was partially reported by local media as, “I don’t believe you have a Constitution.”

When asked about the impact of the flawed reports on the protests, Zuhair said it suggested the mistake was intentional and demonstrated “a strong political bias”.

“Most media is tied to the opposition parties which were defeated in first round of the election. They are tied by a common rope in that they all include leaders of the formerly-ruling Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP). MDP doesn’t have a supportive media outlet, even in the state media. Any establishment or institution here with 50 or more staff will have some defeated and bitter people who don’t believe in the government,” he surmised.


Comment: Anwar al-Awlaki’s killing is unjustified

Barack Obama’s administration and lawmakers may cheer the killing of US-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. But this is not how legal scholars, libertarians and millions of Muslims feel.

Al-Awlaki, born in New Mexico on 22 April 1971, was an American Islamic scholar who was an engineer and educator by training. He was killed in a drone attack in a remote Yemeni town on 30 September 2011 by US forces.

To some, he is a Muslim hero, a mujahid (fighter for the sake of Allah) and a great Islamic scholar. His lectures have inspired hundreds of followers. One reason why many people admired him was that he was talented in delivering Islamic lectures in fluent English. This made him famous not only in US and Europe, but also in the Maldives.

There are only few Maldivians who agree with US government officials’ allegations against al-Awlaki. According to US president Obama, he was the leader of external operations for the Islamist militant group al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a statement which many Maldivians openly deny.

“The death of Awlaki is a major blow to Al-Qaeda’s most active operational affiliate,” said Obama after the drone attack. “He took the lead in planning and directing efforts to murder innocent Americans … and he repeatedly called on individuals in the United States and around the globe to kill innocent men, women and children to advance a murderous agenda.”

According to US officials al-Awlaki allegedly preached to a number of al-Qaeda members and affiliates. Among them were three of September 11 hijackers, alleged “Christmas Day bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, and alleged Fort Hood shooter Nidal Malik Hasan.

US government has made a list of allegations against al-Awlaki, but none of these allegations was ever made in court.

Al-Awlaki was an American citizen. The Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution explicitly guarantees the right to life of American citizens in the absence of due process of law to determine when to withdraw that right. The Fifth Amendment stipulates that no citizen shall be “deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”.

Article 11(a) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, “Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence”.

But al-Awlaki was executed without any charges, without a trial or without giving any chance to defend. Even Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was given his constitutional rights before his execution. This raises questions about the legal authority under which the US government can target its own citizens for assassination.

Al-Awlaki’s father Nasser al-Awlaki has publicly announced his son’s innocence.
“I am now afraid of what they will do with my son,” he said speaking to CNN earlier. “He’s not Osama bin Laden, they want to make something out of him that he’s not.”
“He has been wrongly accused, it’s unbelievable. He lived his life in America; he’s an all-American boy”.

US officials have continuously accused al-Awlaki for preaching radical Islam, which gives endorsement for Jihad (struggle) and violence. This inspired new recruits to Islamist militancy, especially though internet (YouTube), according to US officials. His videos were removed from YouTube on 3 November 2010.

This is the only evidence which the US government has presented to the media against al-Awlaki in order to prove he is a radical, an extremist and a terrorist.

If this is the case, the US may label not only al-Awlaki but other Islamic scholars in future for giving “radical” sermons, because sermons are based on the verses from Quran and Hadith of prophet Muhammed (pbuh).

In Quran, there are nearly 41 verses which speak about Jihad, and many more verses against Jews and Christians.

For example, Quran 4:89: “They wish that you reject Faith, as they have rejected (Faith), and thus that you all become equal (like one another). So take not Auliya’ (protectors or friends) from them, till they emigrate in the Way of Allah (to Muhammad pbuh). But if they turn back (from Islam), take (hold) of them and kill them wherever you find them, and take neither Auliya’ (protectors or friends) nor helpers from them”.

Similarly, Quran 2:191: “And kill them wherever you find them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out. And Al-Fitnah is worse than killing. And fight not with them at Al-Masjid-al-Haram (the sanctuary at Makkah), unless they (first) fight you there. But if they attack you, then kill them. Such is the recompense of the disbelievers”.

Al-Awlaki’s story has told the world today that US government is the judge, jury and executor of all Muslims.

Ibrahim Mohamed is a Parliamentary Reporter at the Peoples Majlis of the Maldives.

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]


ICC membership expected to reform Maldivian judicial system

The Maldives has become the 118th country to adopt the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), the world’s first and only permanent international court with jurisdiction over crimes against humanity, crimes of aggression, genocide and war crimes.

The Maldives is the third state in South Asia to become an ICC member, following Bangladesh and Afghanistan. It is the ninth in the south asian region alongside Cambodia, Japan, Republic of Korea, Mongolia, the Philippines and Timor-Leste; plans to ratify the statute are advancing in Malaysia and Nepal.

Asia has been slower than other regions in adopting the ICC regulations, allegedly because they maintain the death penalty which is prohibited by the ICC. William R. Pace, Convenor of the Coalition for the International Criminal Court, said the Maldives’ decision to accede to the Rome Statue was a significant step for the region.

“It is vital that the momentum towards increasing respect for the rule of law and accountability for those responsible for the most serious crimes is seized by other states in the Asia-Pacific region, many of whom are close to joining the ICC,” Pace said in a press release. “Joining the Court represents a strong deterrent effect that will contribute toward the prevention of gross human rights violations in the Asia-Pacific region and to the global fight against impunity.”

Acceding to ICC regulations as defined by the Rome Statute has been a long process for the Maldivian government. In 2003, the Maldives took steps to reject its judicial authority.

Wikileaks cables published on 1 September 2011 cite the Maldivian government’s intent to “never turn over a US national to the International Criminal Court (ICC). The Maldivian government would not sign the ICC treaty and would not respect its claim to universal jurisdiction.” Other cables indicate that then president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom was seeking approval for a visit with then US President George W. Bush, allegedly to improve his chances of re-election.

Speaking to Minivan News today, the President’s Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair said ratification of the ICC statute highlighted the different values of the current administration.

“For us, it’s transparency that is at the top of our priorities. So right now, our highest priority is to improve the judicial system of this country.”

The ICC covers major crimes which are widespread, systemic and of concern to the international community. The ICC does not deal with small cases, even if the victims may be in the hundreds.

Among the criteria for the ICC to take on a case in the Maldives is doubtful willingness and capacity of the country’s own judiciary to handle the case in question.

Zuhair said it was important for Maldivians to have access to an international judicial system. “Individuals who feel they have a complaint, even against a leader, could refer the complaint to the Maldivian judicial system or to the ICC. This is a big step for a country whose previous leaders have been accused of human rights violations. I believe their cases would be fairly addressed in the ICC,” he said.

Evelyn Balais-Serrano, Asia-Pacific Coordinator for the ICC’s advocacy NGO Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC) told Minivan News that ratification would support domestic legal reform, and that heads of state would face new levels of accountability.

“The ICC only deals with the big fish. In the past only the small fish may have been sacrificed to show a semblance of justice – but the ICC targets the highest level of responsibility: the head of state, generals, kings,” she said previously.

The Debate

In October 2010, the debate to join the ICC created sparks in Parliament.

MDP MPs condemned the “unlawful and authoritarian” practices of the previous government. Group Leader “Reeko” Moosa Manik referred to 2009 legislation protecting former presidents who he considered “the worst torturers in the country’s history,” and said the purpose of the international criminal court was to “arrest torturers like Maumoon [Abdul Gayoom], people like Ilyas Ibrahim [brother-in-law of the former president] who stole state property and funds, and Attorney Generals like Hassan Saeed who tried to hide it.”

MPs from opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party-People’s Alliance (DRP-PA) said MDP MPs were overlooking the fact that Gayoom had never been reprimanded in a court of law, and accused the current administration of disregarding rules of law. MP Dr Abdulla Mausoom accused the MDP government of formulating policies only to “benefit certain people”, which he argued could be “considered a crime in international courts.”

The question of religion was also inflammatory. DRP MP Dr Afrashim Ali said convention should not be signed if it could lead to “the construction of temples here under the name of religious freedom.” Other MPs pointed out that several Muslim countries had not joined the ICC, and the MPs were concerned that ratification would “shatter Islamic principles” and encourage gay rights.

Shari’a experts in ICC signatories and Muslim countries Afghanistan, Jordan and Malaysia have not found conflict between the Rome Statute and Sharia.

On 14 June this year, Parliament voted almost unanimously to sign the Rome Statute of the ICC.

The Effects

Speaking to Minivan News today, Balais-Serrano pointed out that ratification of the Rome Statute was well-timed.

“As a chair of the SAARC summit, Maldives will have quite an influence on south asian countries attending this year’s event,” she said. “It will certainly be constructive in reviewing human rights, a key point we plan to address at the summit.”

The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit is scheduled for Addu City in mid-November this year.

Balais-Serrano also pointed out that by ratifying the Rome Statute, governments are committing to adapt current domestic legislation to meet international standards. She said ICC members could receive “training of local judges and prosecutors and other officials responsible for lawmaking and implementation”, and hoped the Maldives would forward with judicial reform.

“The judicial system in Maldives can benefit from the rules and procedures by which the ICC operates, for example, in the nomination and election of judges, in the protection of witnesses and victims and in ensuring due process,” said Balais-Serrano.

She said that ICC membership would expand Maldivian court procedures. “One of the motivations of joining the ICC is to let go of a commitment to include the domestic judicial system alone. Now, Maldivians can also refer to the ICC provisions and regulations. This is a timely event for the Maldives to review domestic law while making the ICC a reference point.”

As an ICC member, the Maldives will be able to send judges and lawyers abroad for internships and exchange programs in member countries. Balais-Serrano said that all member countries are obliged to send employees to the ICC to learn and assist with proceedings.

International liability

ICC membership could affect international relations. The Maldives recently made news headlines by supporting the Sri Lankan government, which is facing war crimes allegations by international human rights groups. A report from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has raised the likelihood of an investigation by the Human Rights Commission.

A Relationship Agreement between the ICC and the United Nations calls the UN “potentially the most important partner of the ICC on various levels,” and suggests that investigations by the UN are based on the same human rights standards put forth by the ICC.

“The Maldives cannot do anything if the ICC decides to investigate and put into trial the perpetrators of crimes in Sri Lanka,” said Balais-Serrano. “If suspected criminals from Sri Lanka seek refuge in the territory of the Maldives, as a state party to the ICC, the government is obliged to cooperate to the Court by arresting  the criminals.”


Social stigma limiting employment of local women in resort industry, report finds

A new study finds that Maldivian women are the least employed demographic in the resort industry, accounting for only three percent of the total eight percent of female workers at resorts in 2010. Local and foreign men constitute 92 percent of the industry.

Tourism directly accounts for 30 percent of the Maldives’ GDP, and for 70 percent indirectly.

The thesis, “Women in Tourism: Challenges of Including Women in the Maldivian Resort Sector” was prepared by Eva Alm and Susanna Johansson during their five-month stay in the Maldives in 2010.

According to their findings, “culture, religion, and women’s role in the family, the role of the family, safety, geographical spread, transportation, education and awareness” were the main factors preventing women from seeking resort employment.

Interviews show that resort life is perceived as ‘western’ and imposes the negative practices of consuming pork and alcohol, supporting nudity, and allowing extramarital sexual encounters on Muslim Maldivian women.

By contrast, Maldivian male resort employees are exempt from these risks.

“Working in a resort as a woman is perceived as bad, as going the wrong way, as not a good place for a woman to be,” said one source.

Women interviewed said social stigma prevented them from seeking resort employment. The combination of not being able to come home at night and working at a resort with a significantly higher ratio of men to women is considered intimidating, sources said.

One father said, “If my daughter would not have the possibility of going home every night, I would not let her work in the resort, it is not safe […] if a woman will not come home at night after work, and she would maybe have a relationship with a man in the resort, which could result in a pregnancy […] this would have very bad impact on the family and would not be tolerated.”

Maldivians who engage in extramarital intercourse risk social ostracism, and women sometimes face punishment for pregnancy outside marriage. The country has among the highest divorce rates in the world.

Parents are said to play a significant role in a woman’s professional future. “In Maldives, in our religion, we are not allowed to drink or be with just any guys and things like that. So our parents are scared about that,” said one young woman.

One resort manager said awareness is a major challenge to promoting female employment. “Convincing the parents is difficult. They are very possessive of the girls. The parent’s perception is that they will mix with the European culture and do bad things such as drinking alcohol.”

A government representative added that “there needs to be a focus on educating mothers and fathers of the women who are willing to join the industry and demonstrate that it is perfectly in order for their daughters to work in the resort sector.”

Female unemployment in the Maldives is estimated at 24 percent, while male unemployment is only eight percent. Reports indicate that the industrialization of fishing, an enterprise previously shared between women and men, and the beginning of tourism eliminated the need for two incomes per household.

According to the report, Maldivian culture does not encourage women to take on entrepreneurial or leadership roles in business. Women are found to be raised to follow men, and a lack of domestic care services prevent women from leaving their posts as mothers and wives.

Women interviewed said that in order to employ more women resorts should “become more Muslim.” Most said they would not work where they could not wear the burqa, although when told that several resorts allow the burqa they maintained their position.

Women were also unaware that many resorts provide mosques for their Muslim employees.

Separating resorts from local island culture was an early tourism strategy, claims the report. Tourism officials at the time were said to believe the policy would protect local culture.

The separation is now considered a factor in island underdevelopment. “The problem we have is that we have first class resorts in the Maldives, next to them are the third world local communities, the villages,” said a government representative quoted in the study. “We have to get these engaged as the people from the island communities can get direct benefit from the resort industry through participatory involvement and inclusive growth.”

Some resort companies, such as Hilton and Soneva, try to compensate for this gap by outsourcing tasks to local islands.

Hilton resort began the “Green Ladies” program, bringing in groups of women from neighboring islands to sweep the resort during the day. Soneva supported the Veymandhoo women’s production of chili sauce in 2008.

Soneva’s Social and Environmental Manager said localizing resort development made Muslim women more comfortable in new professional opportunities. “It has got all the elements necessary for a solid livelihood project. You got women involved, it’s got livelihoods, it’s got commercial value to it, and it’s got localization aspect to it”.

Yet island production capacity does not meet resort demand. “’The communities have to be very much upscale to be able to manage small businesses, because resorts are big business and they wont rely on people who can‟t provide for their demands’”, said one source.

“Women in Tourism: Challenges of Including Women in the Maldivian Resort Sector” was presented at Sweden’s Lund University in May, and is due for publication this month.


Q&A: Imam Mohamad Bashar Arafat

Imam Mohamad Bashar Arafat is the President of the Islamic Affairs Council in Maryland and founder of Civilisations Exchange & Cooperation Foundation (CECF). Born and raised in Damascus, Imam Arafat was an Imam in Damascus in the 80’s before moving to United States and continuing his work there. He has taught Islamic Studies and comparative religion in various universities in the States and is currently teaching in the college of Notre Dame of Maryland. Imam Arafat talks to Minivan News about whether there is room for individual cultures within Islam.

Minivan News: In recent years there has been a lot of debate about whether the concept of different cultures is compatible with Islam. Do you think there is room for diverse cultures within Islam?

Mohamad Bashar Arafat: In the past 50 years or so there has been an effort by certain countries to influence other countries with their own school of thought, their culture and their tradition. This created a lot of tension between Muslim communities. During my travel to different continents, I have come across this problem with students from Asia, Africa and the Middle East, who talk about this issue. This imposing of a specific culture is something that contradicts the true teachings of the Quran.

The Quran, first of all, gives people the freedom to worship, the freedom to choose their own religion, right or wrong. Allah says ‘there is no compulsion in religion’. So, even when it comes to religion itself, Allah is saying you should not force people to adopt it. Then what about culture, dress or certain ways of life or even songs?

This is a problem we did not see in the lives of the early Muslims that spread out of Arabia in the 7th century AD. They didn’t ask Syrians to change their culture or Egyptians to change theirs as long as it did not contradict the teachings of Quran and the core principles of Islam.

MN: Were there instances in the early days of Islam where a cultural practice contradicted the teachings of the Quran?

MBA: Yes. For example, in Egypt, during the time of the Second Caliph of Islam, Omar ibn al-Khattab, an issue arose over the tradition of ritual sacrifice of a girl to the Nile River. Amr ibn al-A’as, a companion of the Prophet Muhammad and the military commander who lead the conquest of Egypt, wrote to the Caliph.

He explained that Egyptians have a tradition of sacrificing a beautiful girl to the Nile every year and believed that this would get the Nile to flood and overflow onto their parched land. Amr refused permission for the sacrifice, however he wrote that the Egyptians were getting upset over this as the land had little water and the crops were failing. The Caliph praised his actions and sent a paper addressed to the Nile saying, ‘If you flow on your own, then we don’t need your water, but if you are flowing by Allah, we pray to Him to keep you flowing.’ Amr was asked to throw the paper into the Nile as a symbolic gesture for the people to put their trust in Allah. The Nile flooded that year and the practice of sacrifice was stopped. The point of this incident is that in cultural matters, where a person is going to be harmed or where it’s contradictory to Quranic teachings, it should not be practiced.

The Quran created a standard for basic human rights and understanding such that no matter what your culture is, people cannot be harmed or killed as sacrifices to obtain good luck. We cannot deny the basic human right to life in the name of culture. Likewise cultures that associate days of the year in celebration of drinking or eating pork, which is in contradiction with Islamic teachings, should not be continued. The Quran came to curb these cultural practices and improve them. But other than that, when it comes to certain behaviors, folklores and even group dances such as the ones that do not have mixing between men and women, which are in the DNA of societies like Egypt, they are acceptable practices.

Travel through Muslim countries in Ramadan and you will see the cultural diversity in the types of food eaten, clothing worn and ways they honor Ramadan. We should celebrate this diversity and the beauty of Muslims around the world, which varies from country to country in their color, languages and accents, shapes and architectural preferences. Muslims in China have their own cultural flavor, even when it comes to the structure of their mosques.

MN: What about one’s choice of clothing?

MBA: When it comes to clothing, Muslims in Arabia have the Jalaabiyya and the Abbaya, which is part of their culture. The Prophet Mohamad (PBUH) was an Arab. If someone wanted to dress like that out of love for Allah’s Prophet (PBUH) and wanted to dress his children that way, it’s fine, but to impose that on others is wrong. In recent years we started noticing indirect pressure on people and especially on new Muslims – those who have not read a lot or gone deeper into the spirit of the religion. The pressure is to wear his Jalaabiyya a certain way, smile a certain way or even talk in a certain manner, and the same Hadeeth (tradition of the Prophet) is repeated.

The Quran, revealed in Arabic to an Arab in Arabia, is particularly instructive. Despite this, the Quran imparts stories and information about an array of cultures and customs. It tells us about the Egyptians, the Pharaoh and the stories of King Suleiman. It talks of magic carpets and about how the jinn (supernatural creatures) served Suleiman. The Quran talks to us about foods of different people, about other civilisations, and even speaks to us about people of Hell. It is not exclusively a compendium of dogmatic do’s and don’ts; instead it is a treasure trove of cultural, historical, ethical, spiritual, and civilisational information.

The Quran has inspired people, their behavior and even Muslim architectural style. Their cultural diversity is what makes Muslims around the world unique. When you go to Hajj, or pilgrimage in Mecca, you will see Muslims from around the world and can identify them by the unique way they are dressed. You can see that she is from Malaysia, Africa or other regions. The Prophet (PBUH) used to receive garments as gifts from other areas and he wore them. There is a hadeeth about the Prophet (PBUH) wearing an Omani garment, which shows that the Prophet (PBUH) appreciated gifts from other cultures.

MN: How do we differentiate between cultural practices of that time, and ways of living that we have to follow?

MBA: The Sunnah (way the Prophet lived his life) about praying and fasting should be observed. Those that talk about people’s eating habits, like saying the Prophet used to eat with his hands, so you should discard cutlery, is not right. During his time, there was no cutlery. Instead, he taught a proper and hygienic way of eating out of one main serving dish – to use only three fingers and eat from the spot closest to oneself only. Each culture is special and valid in its own practices.

Whether or not they use cutlery does not determine their worth. It is wrong to look down on people when it comes to such. When it comes to breaking the fast, there are certain things the Prophet said to do or recommended, and these we should follow. But when there is no emphasis on other things, it is up to the people to do it the way they want. There are things the Prophet liked to do personally such as fasting on Mondays and Thursdays or fasting for three days in the middle of the month. He liked to do it that way, but nothing exists that prevents us from not doing it.

There is the example of how once when the Prophet (PBUH) and his companions were eating together; the host put a plate of lizard as part of the “meal.” The Prophet (PBUH) asked what it was and when told, he pushed the plate away. One of his companions, Khalid Ibn Waleed, said, “Oh Prophet, is this forbidden?” The Prophet (PBUH) said, “No, I don’t like it, I am not used to it.” Khalid then pulled the plate closer and started eating it.

Some Muslims eat shellfish, while others don’t. As long as there is no prohibition on the food from the Qur’an and the Sunnah, you can eat and indulge in whatever food your culture is accustomed to. Islam’s etiquette about food is that one should not eat until one is hungry and when he eats he should not overindulge.

MN: Give us an example of a time in early days of Islam when there was diverse opinion on issues?

MBA: When the Prophet (PBUH) passed away, the companions spread to other countries. This eventually gave birth to two schools of thought, the Ahl Al Ra’ee (School of Opinion) and the Ahl Al Hadeeth (School of Hadeeth). In areas where there were few companions or people who met them, people would reflect upon issues and come up with their own fatwas, or legal opinions, based on the guidelines of the Shari’ah. They used to be in Iraq. In places like Medina many companions and people lived, who met the Prophet and remembered his life. They relied more on Hadeeth. This shows the diversity in Islam and those from the two schools of thought did not speak badly about one another and differences of opinions were respected.

Nowadays the issue of music is contentious; there are those who say all music is forbidden, those in the middle and others, who are all the way to the left. Keep in mind that during the Prophet’s time, people were taken with the love of the Prophet and no one would think of music and other things because their hearts were filled with something much higher. Music used to be associated with dance, mixing of men and women, drinking and all kinds of vices. It depends on which kind of music you are talking about. Is it music that leads you to haram, or unlawful practices, or is it music that you hear in the news today? Is it a kind of music, which will lead you to forget your Quranic duties and fill your heart more than the love of Allah?

The dress of women is another issue, in certain Middle Eastern countries women cover their entire bodies, while in Africa where it’s really hot, the dress is not as conservative.

Likewise, we see in one school of thought, that of al-Imam Malik is more lenient in certain issues than the School of al-Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, who is stricter. Muslims, who live in the dessert, have characteristics and a culture that are different than those who live in Syria where there are far more trees and water and natural beauty. Even the opinions of scholars living in tough environments are stricter. Environment, culture, and beauty impact people and we see this in the way Muslims live and behave.

MN: It was traditional in the Maldives until very recently to celebrate Prophet Mohamed’s (PBUH) birthday with huge communal feasts. However there has been a drive to stop this practice on the grounds that celebrating birthdays are unIslamic. What is your opinion on this?

MBA: This is another issue; the celebration of the Prophet’s birthday was something that was not practiced by the Prophet (PBUH) or his companions. It was something that started in Egypt during the time of the Fatimid dynasty.

They were the ones who started celebrating the Prophet’s birthday. Yes it’s a bidaah (innovation), but it’s a good bidaah. You are inviting the entire community to make salaah upon the Prophet, to chant, sing and praise the Prophet’s life and character (PBUH). It’s also important to see what people do in terms of celebration; if it’s not contradictory to Islam, then it is fine.

As a boy, I remember that I used to wait for this celebration. For me, it meant having candy and lots of food, but it also brought me to the adults that were sitting and chanting songs about the prophet. When people get together for the celebrations, it’s a reminder to the younger generation about the life of the Prophet (PBUH).

Allah tells us in the Quran to constantly remember the Prophet (PBUH), his devotion and his struggle.
Celebrating the “birthdays” of other people are cultural practices. It was not the culture in Middle East, and so the Prophet (PBUH) and his companions did not practice it. If you want to celebrate it, it is up to you. It is not forbidden like alcohol. It’s a cultural practice, not a religious one.

I celebrate the birthday of my children sometimes. They live in America and see other children having birthday parties. We have parties to celebrate, but we also read the Quran and memorise a chapter for that day. In Lebanon, it’s a tradition to celebrate birthdays with fireworks. Today we have to understand what is religious and what is cultural. If you want to do something that is OK Islamically, just make sure there is nothing wrong done while you are doing it.


Comment: Al-Islam huwa al-hall, from utopianism to hizbiyyah

Shura, ijma, and ‘amri bil ma’ruf wal nahyi’an al-munkar were largely formalities in the medieval Muslim world, and the situation was justified by Muslim jurists based on the notion of ‘ajz or impotence. At any rate, those concepts do not constitute a theory of a modern state.

Neither of the Islamists’ favorite jurists, Ibn Hanbal or Ibn Taymiyya, advocated rebellion against their respective dunyawi rulers. Such rebellion is only under ma’siyya. Ibn Taymiyya’s one of the most famous fatwas was not against his Memluke rulers, who by no means were particularly very religious, but was against the Mongols.

Equating state with religion: Maududi’s innovation

Therefore, what the most influential ideologues of Islamism, Abul A’la Maududi, did by advocating din wa dawla (not merely din wa dunya) was a clear break from the medieval conceptions of Islam.

Arguably, Maududi’s ideology was a reaction to an all encompassing modern state-formation and electoral politics dominated by the Indian Congress party at a particular point in time in India. His ideology was not intrinsic to Islam, for no founding texts of Islam has a theory of the modern state. Nation-states are all modern phenomena.

Failure of ‘al-Islam huwa al-hall’: lessons from Islamist politics

Again, advocating a bid’a concept of din wa dawla and condemning Nasser’s society as jahiliyya, Sayyid Qutb advocated a more militant strategy, but nevertheless an equally novel idea. We saw Qutb’s militancy taken up by several groups in Egypt and elsewhere to create an ‘Islamic state’ under the banner of al-Islam huwa al-hall. What happened? Clearly, we have not seen any ‘Islamic state’ anywhere in the world. The Islamist project of forcible change, under the banner of al-Islam huwa al-hall, has failed everywhere it was attempted.

After departing from Muslim Brotherhood’s founder al-Banna’s original and more conservative strategy of creating pious individuals, pious families, and a pious society first, which will then lead to an alleged ‘Islamic state’, Islamists learned lessons from their failure of militancy and re-embraced ‘Banna-strategy’.

Banna-strategy has, of course, been adopted by our Islamists, including Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed and Dr Abdul Majeel Abdul Bari, in several of their writings and khutba. The ‘Islamic nahda’ we now see in the Maldives, through modern social movement strategies, is an outcome of this more conservative Islamism of focusing individuals and families, through prayer groups, mosques, schools, the Internet, the economy, and so on. There is, however, a limit to conservative Islamism too.

No Islamist party that had a platform of creating an ‘Islamic state’ had won a major national election in recent times. Neither in Turkey, where the AKP abandoned their former platforms, nor in Indonesia, where the almost 90 percent Muslim population chose reformist parties over Islamist parties, have we seen din wa dawla/al-Islam huwa al-hall platform succeed. But both Turkey and Indonesia saw a hitherto unseen level of increased Islamic piety and observance in their societies during the same period. Today, even Muslim Brotherhood is part of modern party politics/hizbiyyah who now at least pay lip service to democracy.

Not surprisingly, the Adalaath party too has failed miserably in the major national elections. If Adalaath party has an ounce of sense for political pragmatics, they need to learn from others’ failures. A utopian notion of Islam is neither al-hall for our social problems nor al-hall for Adalaath’s failures in electoral politics.

Din wa dawla: despotism and a mockery of religion

If al-Islam huwa al-hall means anything, then the Islamic Republic of Iran, where allegedly din wa dawla and velyat-e-faqih exist, would represent al-hall to life’s problems. Instead, what we see in Iran is not only brutal despotism, but also a mockery of religion. Khomeini, when faced with the complexity of a modern nation-state, authorised sacrificing even basics such as prayer if they contradicted the religious rule.

After all, what does it really mean to rally behind a utopian slogan of al-Islam huwa al-hall? A slogan is no hall to anything, except perhaps drawing few more members to one’s almaniyy/secular power politics. Virtue, piety, religiosity are all good things. But these utopian visions of the good life do not provide hall to drug-abuse, the housing crisis, gang-related violence, inflation, and violence against children and women.

The logic behind all utopian hall is absolute despotism: there is no way to make all people, even a majority in the Maldives, subscribe a single vision of the good life except through utter despotic force.

Blind taqlid and nifaq: failing shar’ah’s maqasid

Calling for codification of hudud punishments, while Qur’an emphasises a balance between retribution and islah, is blind taqlid of Islamists elsewhere. Moreover, enforcing hudud punishments only on the people who commit crimes cannot absolve us from our collective responsibility in these social ills. We as a society have collectively failed these youths. In our failed circumstances, Islam’s higher maqasid would not allow blind taqlidi implementation of fiqh.

Enforcing fiqh – which itself is a human outcome – through codified positive laws by a modern state with enormous power over the life and death of people of different conceptions of good life does not represent a particularly Islamic act. It is very much an almaniyy attempt. Democracy, parliaments, codifications of fiqh, positive laws, are all beset with almaniyya/secularism and are handled by very much almaniyy representatives who act not on the logic of piety but on the logic of power.

Besides, as other Muslim scholars have argued, Qur’an’s allowance for tauba and islah at all major instances of hudud punishment would be lost in a rigid codification of punishments to be implemented by an equally ad hoc and corruptible judiciary.

Thus, behind a false notion of satthain sattha/100 percent muslim qaum to codify fiqh is pure nifaq that is condemned in Qur’an. The banner of al-Islam huwa al-hall is in reality nothing more than a political party’s almaniyy strategy to mobilise political support.

However, if Adalaath party is to win the hearts and minds of a sizeable section of Maldivians, they must come out of the pretense of subscribing to an alleged Islamic notion of din wa dawla while at the same time attempting modern hizbiyyah.

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