Islamic Ministry condemns MPs for allowing UN Human Rights Commissioner to address parliament

The Ministry of Islamic Affairs has issued a statement proclaiming that nobody is allowed to talk against Islam in the Maldives, “even in parliament”, as Islam is “the source of all laws made in the Maldives.”

The Ministry’s statement follows a call from UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay in parliament last week that the Maldives put a moratorium on the practice of flogging as punishment for extra-marital sex,  while it holds a debate on the matter.

Pillay told parliament that flogging was a form of punishment “that is cruel and demeaning to women, and should have no place in the legal framework of a democratic country.”

The Islamic Ministry condemned the parliament’s decision to let Pillay speak, noting that MPs were handed a Dhivehi translation of her speech and should have been aware of what she was about to say.

‘’No Muslim has the right to advocate against flogging for fornication,” the Islamic Ministry stated.

“According to the Quran 100 lashes should be given for the woman and man involved in fornication,’’ the Ministry said, citing 33:36 of Quran which reads: ‘’It is not fitting for a Believer, man or woman, when a matter has been decided by Allah and His Messenger to have any option about their decision: if any one disobeys Allah and His Messenger, he is indeed on a clearly wrong Path.’’

The Ministry said that no international organisation, foreign country or individual had the “right to obstruct Maldivians from upholding Islamic principles.”

‘’To preserve this nation’s sovereignty, all Maldivian citizens are obliged to respect the articles in the constitution and uphold the constitution,’’ the statement read. ‘’No law against any tenet of Islam can be enacted in the Maldives, according to the constitution.’’

The Islamic Ministry said any calls or action against this would be condemned by the ministry “in strongest possible terms.”

Religious NGO Jamiyyathul Salaf has yesterday sent a letter to the UN Resident Coordinator in the Maldives, alleging that a call from UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay for a moratorium on flogging was “inhumane and disrespectful.”

In a press conference last week, Pillay also described the 100 percent Muslim provision in the Maldivian constitution as “discriminatory, and does not comply with international standards” which led to protests outside the UN head office in Male’.


Salaf sends letter to UN, calls for action against Pillay

Religious NGO Jamiyyathul Salaf has sent a letter to the UN Resident Coordinator in the Maldives, alleging that a call from UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay for a moratorium on flogging was “inhumane and disrespectful.”

In the open letter written in Dhivehi, sent to media today, Salaf claimed that Pillay had challenged the constitution and Islamic Sharia.

Salaf claimed the UN Resident Coordinator was obliged to write an incident report to the concerned person at the UN, “to take action against Pillay and seek a binding agreement that nothing like this will repeated by the UN in the future.”

‘’As the UN is a protected organisation in this muslim nation, it is something you should do to be sincere to the official religion of this nation and to respect the Muslims that serve in the UN,’’ Salaf said in the letter. ‘’If not, Maldivians will be forced to believe that the UN is conducting activities in this country with a hidden agenda to disrupt the peace, disrupt the religion of Islam and to influence civil unrest.’’

Salaf said Pillay’s comments “might change citizens’ perspective of the UN and its services to the Maldives”. The Maldives had a right to inform other Muslim nations of how ‘’dangerous’’ and ‘’scary’’ Pillay is, Salaf said.

‘’Let it be known, be it UN or an international organisation or a powerful country, if anyone acted as Pillay acted and criticised the religion of Islam, we cannot wait without denying it,’’ Salaf’s letter said.

Salaf further accused Pillay of denying the existence of the Maldivian constitution, although a recording of her relevant comment in Thursday’s press conference indicates that this was widely misreported in the Maldivian media. Pillay was responding to the phrasing of a question by Miadhu Editor Gabbe Latheef, and said “I don’t believe you have a constitution, you have a constitution”.

In parliament, Pillay called for a moratorium and debate on flogging as a punishment for fornication, describing it as a form of punishment “that is cruel and demeaning to women, and should have no place in the legal framework of a democratic country.”

She also described the 100 percent Muslim provision in the Maldivian constitution as “discriminatory, and does not comply with international standards.”

In its letter, Salaf claimed that if Pillay was allowed to get away with her statements, this would be “torture of Maldivians”, and warned that the NGO “would be watching” the UN.


Taxing property is “haram” in Islam, claims Salaf NGO

Religious NGO Jamiyyathul Salaf has claimed that imposing taxes on a Muslim’s property without his or her consent is haram (forbidden) in Islam.

“Without doubt, using a person’s property or profiting from the property without the consent of the owner is haram in Islam,” the NGO said today in a press release. “Only the compulsory Zakat (alms for the poor) portion can be taxed from a Muslim’s property.”

Salaf cited Surah 2:188: “And do not consume one another’s wealth unjustly or send it [in bribery] to the rulers in order that [they might aid] you [to] consume a portion of the wealth of the people in sin, while you know [it is unlawful].’’

In addition, the Salaf press statement referred to Prophet Mohamed’s (pbuh) final sermon, in which he said, “O People, just as you regard this month, this day, this city as Sacred, so regard the life and property of every Muslim as a sacred trust.  Return the goods entrusted to you to their rightful owners.”

Salaf noted that Islam protected personal property “to an extent that is not found in any other religion.”

The religious NGO contended that “formulating a law and taking people’s property whatever name it is done under is for a certainty haram.”

“Jamiyyathul Salaf would remind the Speaker of Parliament and all MPs that those who formulate such laws and those who assist them will without a doubt have to bear responsibility before Almighty Allah,” the Salaf statement warned.

It adds that there is consensus in the Islamic ummah (community) that “stealing property by compulsion with laws on taxes, duties and pension imposed on a Muslim’s property is definitely haram.”

Salaf warned that those who claimed personal property “for entertainment or as a sport” would face their old age with “no one to care for them.”

If the state believed that there was no other way to manage its finances but to “take taxes and duties from the halal income of Muslim citizens,” Salaf said that it implied “corruption and a failed economic policy” and was the sign of “a philosophy of enslavement.”

Press Secretary for the President Mohamed Zuhair observed that there were many civilised Muslim nations that had introduced direct taxation as well as import duties.

“Salaf should refer to the parliament on this issue, because the parliament cannot make any law against the tenets of Islam,” Zuhair suggested. “I believe that parliamentarians will keep to the tenets of Islam in drafting any law.”

Zuhair added that as Islam was the most modern of the three monotheistic religions, he did not believe taxation could be haram.


Comment: Salaf or democracy

The appeal of [Islamic NGO] Jamiyatul Salaf on June 12 is interesting for many reasons.

It is the first public statement by an influential organisation in the Maldives condemning democracy and political pluralism as ladini/un-Islamic and fasada/corrupt systems.

To be sure, an Islamist counter-discourse to democratisation is not new in the Maldives. It has its roots in the 2000’s.

Not one, too many

As early as July 2004, following president Gayoom’s June announcement of democratic reforms, Mauroof Hussain, now the Adaalath party’s deputy president, wrote a trenchant article decrying democracy. In the article, Hussain referred to the most influential Islamist ideologue Mawlana Abul A’la Maududi, who railed democracy as conflicting Allah’s hakimiyya/sovereignty.

To be sure, Maududi does not abandon democracy, but gives it an Islamised garb: Maududi’s ‘theodemocracy’ provides restricted popular sovereignty because the legislative function would be limited to ‘interpreting’ Islamic sources.

Sheikh Mohammed Shaheem Ali Saeed built along these lines in a 2006 book on the subject of democracy and Islam. He acknowledges democracy shares a lot of features with what he calls Islami nizam. However, he is emphatic that Islami nizam is not democracy, because the latter contradicts Allah’s hakimiyya.

In a more recent article, reacting to president Nasheed’s remarks that Maldives was a ‘liberal democracy’, Shaheem argued the Maldives constitution now provides an Islami nizam. Shaheem is quite emphatic: we now have an Islamic constitutional system.

It is worth quoting Sheikh Hussain Rasheed Ahmed response to a question on voting:

“If we [reject] voting, then we might as well [reject] all other things that we [Muslims] imitate and copy from non-Muslims. For example, minting or even printing Qur’an, or civil and infrastructure developments like building schools, universities or roads…these are worldly affairs. Those innovations depend on human needs and develop according to their knowledge and views. If a people reject such innovations, they will have to be behind others [in development]. Islam does not wish this from Muslims…the Prophet says: ‘You have better knowledge (of technical skill) in the affairs of the world’”.

Shaheem, Rasheed and Maududi go much further than Jamiyatul Salaf’s leader Sheikh Abdullah bin Muhammad Ibrahim in accommodating democracy. Sheikh Muhammad’s October 2008 article on Daruma magazine rejects democracy in its ‘essence’ as a system of kufr/un-Islamic. While he accepts voting in principle based on Islamic notion of shura, he has a highly restricted view on electing political leaders. Muhammad argued voting rights should be limited to a select few in the society: the ulama, followed by experts and the wise in the society.

Still in a more restrictive view of elections, jurist Abu al-Hasan al-Mawardi reasoned that a caliph himself was entitled to appoint his own successor. So there was no necessity for elections for Mawardi. In our times, influential Islamist Sayyid Qutb would not accept democracy at all because it is a jahiliyya product.

Disagreeing with most of the above views, influential Islamist cleric of our times, Yusuf Qaradawi, argues democracy in its ‘essence’ is fully compatible with Islam. He denounces those who say otherwise as ignorant of Islamic teachings.

Unlike Sheikh Abdullah bin Muhammad Ibrahim of Salaf, for Qaradawi, everyone could, or rather should, vote to choose their leaders. Unlike Maududi and Shaheem, for Qaradawi, popular sovereignty does not conflict with God’s hakimiyya. Again, it is telling that Qaradawi is Qutb’s severest critic in the Islamist camp.

What do we make of all these different views on democracy? I leave it to the readers to make up their minds.

Hypocrisy or politics

But to come back to Jamiyatul Salaf’s Appeal, few observations:

The Appeal is indeed right in highlighting the continued failures of the authorities to address political issues such as corruption and bribery, economic crises, and social issues like violence in all its manifestations.

Islamist utopianism feeds on such failures: Gayoom’s personal dictatorship failed, and now democracy seems to be failing too. So, Islamism says: Islam huwa al-hall/Islam is the solution!

Second, it is interesting that after condemning political pluralism and democracy, Salaf at the same time is prepared to participate in pluralism and democracy: Salaf announces their work to groom an ideal presidential candidate for 2018 elections.

Although the principle of maslaha/public interest is implicit in the Appeal, one wonders why Salaf is not seeking a systemic change, instead of grooming a salih/pious Dhivehi Son (note it’s not a Daughter). Salaf’s anti-political rhetoric in condemning democracy and political pluralism is then highly questionable, if not hypocritical. Narrow politics lurks behind anti-political moralism.

Finally, in the usual binary division of ‘Muslim Maldivians’ and the jahiliyya Other (Christians, Jews and Maldivians educated in the West), Salaf projects a Maldives drifting away from Islam under the corrupting influence of the Other. But there is no any empirical evidence that the Maldivians generally have become less Islamic since democratic openings in 2004.

If anything, the Maldives seems to be undergoing an ‘Islamic awakening’ unprecedented in its entire Islamic history since 1153, thanks to the democratic freedoms. The sheer number of women adopting the veil and men sporting the beard is testament to this.


So, the first lesson from our democratic experiment is this: whether or not democracy has delivered on other areas, it has surely freed Islam from the suffocating fist of Gayoom.

The second, more sobering, lesson is: democracy should not be taken for granted.

2018 is not an arbitrarily proposed year. It is only by 2018, Islamists foresee that sufficient numbers could be mobilized through outreach activities.

In the meantime, the ‘Call’ must go on.

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: Democratic openings and Islamic nahda

Who is not worried about the recent spike in violence of all forms? Who is not anguished by the madness of senseless killings? And inflation? What explains these issues?

And what explains Adhalaath’s reaction or action? Maybe ‘functionalisation’ of Shari’ah in an effort to enlist more members before the upcoming Adhalaath party elections?

Maaddi was a word that was prominently censured in Sheikh Ilyas’s darus on April 22. Now according to maadi social science, attempts toward ‘shariatisation’ of the state happen under such general socio-political conditions as we now see in the Maldives, and as we witnessed under not very dissimilar conditions but in a different context of post-Suharto Indonesia.

That is, however, another story for another comment.

So is lack of Islam to be blamed for social ills?

History of Islam in the Maldives: a mixed story

Maldivian history is littered with examples of ‘bad’ religious beliefs and practices: from Maloney’s ‘parallel religious system’ of fandita, sihuru-haahooru, astrology, and so on to visiting the dead, maulood, and beliefs in demons of all sorts; from unveiled women to women who would not cover their chests; from a woman ruler (which was noted with ‘strangeness’ by Ibn Battuta) to ex-wives sharing homes with ex-husbands and to people fainting when Ibn Battuta passed hudud punishments, we see a very mixed story in our history. The popular Islam in the Maldives especially prior to late 1970s was a far cry from the ‘puritan’ Islam we now see.

Hence, I argue, it is simply bad maaddi social science to blame the recent social ills on alleged lack of proper Islamic education.

Gayoom’s ‘renewed commitment’ to Islam

Writing in the late 1970s, Clarence Maloney, a maaddi anthropologist who did maaddi ethnography in the Maldives, has this to say: President Gayoom’s government ‘engineered a renewed Islamic commitment’. In fact, since the 1980s we have seen a hitherto unseen effort to Islamise the society.

From Mau’had to Arabiyya to the introduction of Islamic studies at all levels in the education system; from annual Ramadan Ihya darus started by Gayoom at Mulee-aage to darus throughout the year by Gayoom’s government in the islands; from the ‘lot of attention given to Islam, as part of nationalism’ (as the then Minister of State for Presidential Affairs Mohamed Hussein was quoted in Gayoom’s biography) to re-marking of the mythical Maldives’ conversion-to-Islam day in 2000, the Maldivian society we see today is far more conscious of ‘true’ Islam than it had ever been in the past.

Democratic openings and Islamic nahda

If what President Gayoom did was not enough, come 2004’s democratic openings, we saw an unprecedented Islamic nahda in the country. The young public sphere or al-mujtama’ al-madani saw itself largely controlled by Salafi organisations.

From Jamiyyathul Salaf (the first-ever salafist NGO in the country) to quasi-political Adhalaath party to the Islamic Foundation, this rise in the salafi phenomenon has not been matched by all other jamiyyas combined. In terms of organisational capacity, outreach, activeness, and financial capabilities salafis surpass all others.

From rallies addressed by world-class televangelists and da’ees like Zakir Naik, Abdurraheem Green, and Bilal Philips to darus CDs to Facebook groups, blogs, websites like,,,, and to almost daily darus at rallies, in taxis, on television and radio like Radio Atoll; from children’s specialized darus to religious camps like Hijra; from Rihla to I’lmi khazana; from English-language madhaha and nursery rhymes to other innovative outreach programmes such as road-side darus on mega-screens, the country has seen an unprecedented effort to re-Islamise the society.

This is truly an Islamic nahda.

Correlation between Islamic nahda and social ills

Now there is a clear positive correlation between Gayoom’s Islamisation and recent re-Islamisation phenomena and the apparent rise in social ills in the country.

But, no, I will not blame these Islamisation phenomena for the social ills.

Blaming Islamisation phenomena for social ills seems to me as bad an explanation as Sheik Ilyas’s explanation that Islamic studies get a meager three hours weekly in the curriculum, or that Islam teachers are not qualified, or people are not Islamic enough, or there is a harb al-afkar against Muslim Maldivians by adaavaaiythereen (enemies).

If there is one single thing prominently wrong with our education system, it is the utter lack of maaddi social sciences and humanities subjects such as sociology, political sciences, anthropology, philosophy, theology, linguistics, and literature.

Finally, I am not a maaddi sociologist, so I do not know where the explanation for our social ills lies. Disappointingly, we do not have sheiks doing such research in the country, and hence the government’s increasing ‘militarisation’ of the issues.

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: Osama’s ideology thrives despite his death

It is hard to overstate the impact Osama bin Laden has had on the world. Almost all major actions in international relations and warfare in the last decade were implemented either to further or to counter his ideology.

Al Qaeda’s attack on the United Stated on 11 September 2001 was driven by Osama’s belief that imperialist American foreign policies had created a world of injustice and equality for Muslims. He believed it was the duty of every Muslim to wage a holy war to correct those wrongs. His aim was to establish an Islamic Caliphate where Shari’a was the only system of law and Wahhabism or other purist forms of Islam the only forms of belief practised. In such a war, waged across the world to protect Islam and its believers, and to further its cause, Osama believed there were no innocents.

This thinking of Osama’s was what came to inform most Western definitions, policies and actions in the last decade about terrorism, Islam, and what it means to be a Muslim in the twenty first century.

Analysts have in recent years found Al Qaeda to have been virtually destroyed by the War on Terror, its network of secret cells across the world dismantled in ten years of aggressive counter-terrorism policies. It may also be the case that Osama’s death will reduce further the number of violent acts committed in the name of the Islam. It does not, however, mean that the large numbers of his followers across the world have stopped subscribing to his ideology or that they will stop doing so. Osama’s ultimate goal, the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate comprising of Islamic states that practise Shari’a and practise the form of Islam that he followed, remains alive and well. The Maldives is a case in point.

Osama in the Maldives

The Maldivian society has changed beyond all recognition in the last ten years. Some of the changes, like democracy, would have happened in due course – with or without the War on Terror. But it is difficult to accept that the other most fundamental change – manifest in the faith of the people – would not have been possible without the War on Terror and its validation of Osama as the most powerful representation of Islam.

Followers of Wahhabism, and other types of Islam, had existed in the Maldives years before the War on Terror. They had, however, been severely – sometimes violently – oppressed by former President Gayoom. They stayed on the fringes of society, widely seen as ‘odd’, often mocked. In the early 1990s when four women opted to wear the full buruqa, it was rare enough an occurrence to be newsworthy. Ten years later, it is the woman without some sort of a buruga that has become the oddity. The War on Terror, and its focus on Osama’s ideologies as representing Islam, made it possible for such groups to come out of the shadows. Whether the state recognised their beliefs as legitimate or not mattered no longer; their identities were not limited to the national anymore – there was the Ummah.

Emboldened by the mainstream position in Islam bestowed upon Wahhabism in the War on Terror, Maldivians who followed Osama’s ideologies and other strands of thought in Islam such as Salafism and Neo-Salafism began to come out in the open and loudly espouse their views. There were more tangible benefits such as increased funding and other forms of support from Islamic religious networks abroad – even as the War on Terror attacked the financial networks of Al-Qaeda more and more funds became available for Maldivian ‘fringe’ religious groups to increase their presence in society.

Educating minds

One of the most significant forms of such assistance came as educational scholarships. During the last ten years a large number of Maldivians were sent to various places of Islamic learning abroad from Madhrasaas in Pakistan to old bastions of Islamic knowledge such as the Azhar University in Egypt. A large number of them returned in the first half of the War on Terror to found religious organisations and parties. During the chaotic period of Maldivian transition to democracy in 2008, when the ruling government entered into politically opportune alliances with parties formed by such returning graduates, they gained a foothold within the structures of government that had previously been denied them.

This is not to say that every Maldivian who studied in an Islamic institute of learning is a follower of Osama’s ideologies – that would be as incorrect a generalisation as the assumption that every western educated Maldivian is a secularist, a liberal or even a democrat for that matter. What it does mean, however, is that it has put into positions of power a large number of graduates who believe in the superiority of Shari’a above all other systems of law, and are sympathetic to – if not actively engaged in – efforts to establish an Islamic state in the Maldives.

Despite outright denials by Islamic Minister Abdul Bari, evidence suggests that fringe religious movements in the Maldives did receive support from groups abroad – even if they were more organisational than financial. Many of the methods and means by which such movements flourished in the Maldives follow the same rulebook used by Al-Qaeda recruiters across the globe: targeting the most vulnerable, disaffected, and most curious in society. They gathered at mosques, recruiting young people seeking answers to questions of life, existence, and God; opened bookshops filled to the brim with their teachings in strategic locations near large schools; and actively sought out vulnerable young people feeling the most alienated and disaffected.

Winning hearts

In the Maldives, some of the richest such pickings were available in prisons where the shambles that is the criminal justice system locks up young drug addicts, homosexuals and apostates along with murderers and rapists. Maldivian religious movements that began and flourished during this period engaged in a policy that was often more organised and more humane than what the state had to offer such prisoners. Unlike government authorities, religious groups did not abandon their recruits once they left prison.

Reliable reports from ‘defectors’ reveal that recovering addicts recruited into the movement and given jobs within the business interests of the various religious groups were allowed to keep their jobs even if they relapsed and were caught with their hand in the till. In contrast to state policies, which force drug addicts to languish in prison without help, and are released into society without any efforts of re-integration or rehabilitation, the religious movements offered a lifeline that the alienated grabbed with both hands.

One of the most unique ‘opportunities’ available only to Maldivian recruiters is the geographic composition of the Maldives. Recruitment into the cause, research has shown, is less successful when the targeted segment of the population is exposed to other forms of thinking, and when individuals within the targeted community have an existing sense of identity, belonging and nationhood. Lack of education, religious or otherwise, and isolation from much of the rest of world and its many strains of thought and ideologies made it easy for recruiters to persuade whole populations that theirs was the only and the ‘right’ belief system.

From the fringes to the centre of society

The success of Osama’s ideologies in the Maldives and its impact cannot, however, be measured by the number of Maldivians who committed acts of violence in the name of a Holy War. With a population of 300,000, Maldivians are statistically incapable of making a significant contribution to the furthering of Osama’s violent ideals. The success of his ideologies are much clearer when we count the number of Maldivians who have become convinced that minority forms of Islam, like the Wahhabism followed by Osama, are the ‘right’ forms of Islam.

It is also  evident from the number of Maldivian Muslims who follow the same thoughts that now occupy positions of power within the newly democratic government. The Adhaalath Party, which distances itself publicly from the violence advocated by Osama, nonetheless, is pursuing many of the same goals – the establishment of a purist Islamic state in the Maldives that believes in gender inequality, practises Sharia, and contributes to Osama’s world vision of an Islamic Caliphate.

On Friday it galvanised thousands of Maldivians to march for the adoption of Shari’a as its only system of law, propagating death for death as the solution to the country’s burgeoning problem of gang violence. It has also advocated the view that any member of parliament that votes against a decision to implement Shari’a and the death penalty would be deemed apostates. Various prominent members of Adhaalath, and other Islamic parties and groups in the Maldives following the agenda, have displayed the same Anti-Semitism that drove Osama, equating Israel and Zionism with Judaism and placing the blame for the Palestinian situation solely and squarely on the shoulders of every follower of the religion.

‘Winning the hearts and minds of Muslims’ was a strategy employed by both sides of the War on Terror. Globally, despite the death of Osama, there is no clear winner. In the Maldives, the struggle appears more or less over: followers of Osama’s goal of an Islamic Caliphate are winning hands down; and are leading Maldivians, like Pied Piper, towards an Islamic state that would have made Osama proud.

<em>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]</em>


Adhaalath Party plans “Shariah is the Solution” protest march

The religiously conservative Adhaalath Party has announced a nation-wide protest march for next Friday calling for the implementation of Islamic Shariah in the Maldives.

”Murder, violent assaults, robbery, rape, drug abuse and other such crimes have reached an extreme level in this country,” the Adhaalath Party said in a statement. ”The whole nation is threatened and institutions have failed.”

The gathering is to be held under the slogan ”Islamic Shariah is the Solution” and NGOs and political parties have been invited to participate.

”The gathering will commence at 4:00pm near the tsunami monument next Friday,” said the Adhaalth Party, appealing for as many people as possible to attend.

The statement suggested that participants should carry a national flag if possible.

”More than 100 NGOs have confirmed that they will be joining us in this gathering,” a party official said today. ”In the islands they will gather at an area decided amongst themselves; our target is to get as many islands, NGOs and political parties join this gathering.”

While the official did not mention names of specific NGOs and political parties that will participate, he revealed that the NGO coalition formed to protest the planned sale of alcohol from hotels in inhabited islands would be involved.

Religious NGO Jamiyyathul Salaf announced that it backed the Adhaalath Party’s gathering and Salaf would join the party’s event in support.

Salaf President Abdulla Bin Ali Ibrahim explained that Salaf would join any event that demands Islamic Shariah be observed.

”We will hold a meeting tonight to discuss it within our NGO,” Abdulla said. ”We have also expressed our ideas and sent it to the Adhaalath Party.”

The Adhaalath Party has recently threatened to terminate its coalition agreement with the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) should an Israeli airline be allowed to operate in the Maldives.


Adhaalath Party condemns ”false allegations” made by government officials to Indian magazine

The Adhaalath Party, led by State Islamic Minister Sheikh Hussein Rasheed, has hit back at unnamed government officials who described Sheikh Illyas and Sheikh Fareed as “hate preachers” in an interview with India’s magazine ‘The Week’‘.

The party claimed that senior officials of the current government, including former Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed and Home Minister Hassan Afeef, made false allegations against a number of the country’s religious leaders, including the vice leader of the Adhaalath Party’s religious council, Sheikh Ilyas Hussein.

Afeef is not acknowledged as a source in the current version of the  article, and Shaheed’s comments to The Week concern the potential involvement of Maldivians in the attacks of Mumbai by Pakistani terrorist group Laskar-el-Taiba (LeT).

In the article Ahmed Muneer, Deputy Commissioner of the Maldives Police, acknowledges that “our radical preachers are enjoying street credibility and radicalisation is visible at the street level. It’s a problem for us, but things would aggravate if the radicals get integrated into Maldivian politics.”

The Adhaalath party claimed that during the interview, “Dr Shaheed said that scholars were delivering lectures with the intention of earning money, and that only a few people attended religious protests because they wanted to go to heaven.”

The Adhaalath Party contends that is is moderate rather than extremist. It is in coalition with the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), and fills most of the ranks of the Islamic Ministry.

”As a result of this [article], religious scholars in the Maldives will face many obstacles locally, and it will also affect Maldivian families living in India,” said the Adhaalath Party.

”Sheikh Ilyas is one of the best scholars in the Maldives of recent ages, and many citizens enjoy attending his sermons.”

In retaliation, the Adhaalath Party accused the government of establishing and spreading extremism in the Maldives, and misleading the West in its desperation for money.

”Due to irresponsible comments by senior officials of the government, tourism in the country will also be affected,” warned the Adhaalath Party, accusing the President of “fabricating” earlier statements concerning scholarly freedom in the Maldives.

‘The Week magazine article reports that the LeT has been eyeing the Maldives since early 2000, when its headhunters travelled to Male’. India’s Intelligence Bureau estimated that there were more than 3,000 LeT facilitators and instigators in the Maldives, it reported.

In the article, Mohamed Hameed, head of the internal intelligence department of the Maldivian police, claimed that several hundred Maldivian youth had left the island nation “and their families have never heard from them since.”

”Hameed said ‘recruitment is taking place all the while.’ Radicals like Yoosuf Izadhy — a militant jihadi who is said to have ties with al Qaeda, according to leaked diplomatic cables prepared by then US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice—are roaming free. Izadhy was planning to create a terrorist base in the Maldives with support from a Waziristan-based group. He and Hasnain Hameedh had operational aspirations,” the magazine reported.

“The spread of an extremist belief system is fueled by hate preachers like Sheikh Fareed and Sheikh Ilyas. Both are [under surveillance],” the magazine reported a “Maldivian intelligence official” as saying.

Speaking of the 2007 Sultan Park bombing in Male’, in which 12 tourists were injured, Dr Shaheed told The Week that “the ringmaster [prime accused] of the Sultan Park bombing was allowed to leave the country. The incident wasn’t fully investigated. The ringmaster was a young boy. We need to find out who was behind the ringmaster. I think there are unanswered questions.”


Comment: The extremities of democracy

The biggest threat to Maldivian democracy, it is increasingly said, is ‘extremism’.

Yes, there is an existential threat to Maldivian identity and its traditional belief system from specific sects and ideological movements claiming a monopoly on Islam.

But, how effective a counter strategy is it to pin the broad label of ‘extremists’ on them, describe them as a threat to our democracy, and place them outside of rational engagement? Is it not a contradiction in terms to describe as a threat to our democracy what are in fact the strongest, loudest and most influential voices within it?

Ignoring the role that democracy has played in their success reduces the chances of mounting a credible challenge. Consider how they came to be such change-makers in the first place.

The campaign for the ‘hearts and minds’ of the Maldivian people, which the Wahabbis or Salafis (and/or other groups yet to be officially documented) have run for the last decade is as thoroughly modern a campaign as any in the world’s most established democracies.

It was launched at the grassroots level and taken to the very top, sustained throughout by clever use of modern media. Their message is simple and powerful as most media-savvy messages are: “We come with The Right Islam. Reform, or forever be damned”.

From every available media platform – traditional and new, mainstream and niche – they have, for the last ten years, repeated the same message: “Our Islam is The Right Islam. Embrace it, or go to hell.”

These movements, just like any other successful democratic campaign, did not merely saturate the media with their message, but made their presence felt deep within the community. They pounded the pavements to talk the talk, made door-to-door calls, opened corner shops, performed acts of charity and carved out for themselves important roles within the community.

Their representatives are in Parliament, lobbying hard to push through changes that would make the law of their choice the dominant (or only) law in the country. With the same goal in mind, they impede the progress of any legislation they deem incompatible with their own ideologies, dismissing them as ‘un-Islamic’.

In doing so, they reiterate the same message at the top as they do at the bottom: “We have brought with us The Right Islam, the only Islam. Reform, or be forever damned.”

Their presence is similarly strong in the administration itself, with their representatives holding office at all levels from the ministerial cabinet to the filing cabinet. They have forged strategic political alliances that allow them leverage in key policy decisions they deem are in conflict with their ideologies. They have eager activists ready to take to the streets to protest against policy decisions they are unhappy with. Their presence is prominent in the judiciary to an even greater extent than it is in the other two branches of power.

From educational qualifications to dress code and type of punishment meted out – it is their beliefs that are being pushed as the judicial norm.

Bolstered by their unprecedented success on the domestic front, they have tried to stretch their reach to foreign policy and beyond, offering ‘extremist rehabilitation expertise’ to the wider world. Throughout all this, their campaign remains on message: “We have brought you The Right Islam. Reform, or be forever damned.”

The successes of their campaign to establish themselves as the official form of Islamic belief in the Maldives cannot be denied: it is most startlingly visible in our appearance – from the way we dress and how we comport ourselves to our demeanour.

Beyond the visible, these movements are rapidly changing the very fabric of Maldivian society. They have: (re)introduced draconian practises long since abandoned such as marriage of under-age girls, sex slavery and genital mutilation; legitimised domestic violence by providing instructions on a ‘right way’ and a ‘wrong way’ to hit a woman; sanctioned marital rape as an inviolable right of every husband to demand sex from his wife(s); reduced the female gender to no more than objects of sex, servitude and reproduction; and sexualised girls, some times as young as four or five, by making them wear the veil. This is a practise that, in effect, condones paedophilia with its underlying assumption that it is natural or normal – not aberrant or abnormal – for adult males to be sexually aroused by prepubescent children.

These movements, along with others, are fundamentally changing what it means to be Maldivian, what it means to be Muslim in the Maldives, and what Islam means to Maldivians.

But, whatever we may think of these movements – enlightened, misguided or crazy – it would be unwise to place them outside of our democracy. Such a claim is based on the assumption that democracy is an antidote to extreme thoughts, beliefs and any resultant violence.

To the contrary, research has shown that democracy – precisely because of its inherent freedoms – offers a more conducive an environment to the expression of extreme views, thoughts, and violence, than other forms of government. If we are to adequately deal with these movements, we need to do it within, and with, democracy.

We must first recognise the movements for what they are: political actors engaged in a democratic battle for power. They are running on the platform of religion, heaven is their campaign promise, and they have taken Islam hostage as their running mate.

Instead of labelling them ‘extremists’ – synonymous now with ‘crazies’ – they need to be confronted as rational actors with a specific political agenda. Without that recognition, it is not possible to adequately challenge their bid to establish a religious hegemony in the Maldives.

Seeing them as political contenders rather than a purely religious presence also creates the opportunity to loosen their stranglehold on Islam. Their success in convincing Maldivians that they have brought us ‘The Right Islam’ is most evident in how any criticism of their practices, rituals and beliefs has come to be immediately and unequivocally equated with criticism of Islam itself.

The myth that Islam is not just monotheistic but also monolithic has been propagated so successfully by the campaign machines of these pseudo-religious ideologues that it has come to be accepted as the ‘truth’, a given that is rarely if ever questioned.

It is this deafening silence of the opposition and their inability to perceive of, and engage with, these movements as legitimate forces within our democracy that pose the biggest challenge to its existence. None of the organs of democracy – of the state or within civil society – have so far challenged their campaigns and their Messiah-like claims of having brought The Right Islam to ignorant Maldives living in Jaahiliyaa.

The Maldivian Constitution ties its people unequivocally to Islam, but it does not demand that citizens follow a particular sect or ideology within the religion.

These ideologues – as part of our democracy – have every right to their beliefs, but they do not have the right to coerce or force all other Maldivians to follow them in their chosen path. It is the democratic right of every Maldivian to refuse to listen to their messages, to freely discuss, and observe, other ways of practising Islam and to deny them a monopoly on God.

Neglecting to do so is not just self-censorship but a betrayal of the democratic ideals that the Maldives and a majority of its people have embraced.

These religious sects have gained such influence within the Maldivian society not only because of the strengths of their campaign but equally because of the weaknesses of the opposition.

As a democracy, the government cannot be in the business of regulating people’s beliefs; it is up to the people to stand up for themselves and refuse to become subservient to another. If those who disagree remain silent – either as hostages to the dogma that to oppose these politico-religious movements is to oppose Islam; or because they are branded ‘extremists’ and denied rationality – their success is assured.

If that is not the direction in which we wish to take the Maldives, we need to find out who these people are, what they believe in and what they really want. We need to create a public sphere in which we can openly challenge these beliefs and goals. The biggest threat to our democracy is our failure to use our democratic right to disagree. It is in this silence that the frighteningly real prospect of a democratically-elected theocracy is growing stronger every day.

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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