Comment: Islamic Scholarship and Maldivian Women – My swim against the tide

This article first appeared on Manzaru. Republished with permission.

As a Maldivian woman, and as a pursuer of Islamic scholarship, the issue of how Islamic scholarship relates to the women of this country is one that I have been faced with at various points of my academic and personal life. One thing, I found, is undeniable – there are huge challenges for women in the field of Islamic scholarship in our country.

In the Maldives, Islamic scholarship – at least on the level of public discourse – is a field almost completely monopolised by men. In Maldives, an Islamic scholar must have a beard, at least the potential to have one. A Maldivian Islamic scholar must wear his pants short, or at least must be able to do so without uncovering part of his awrah. Women, by their very nature, are unable to fulfill these conditions.

It is true that as a principle, Islam does not prevent women from studying Islamic sciences or from preaching Islam based on their knowledge. Aisha, my namesake – I have always been proud to say – and the Prophet’s wife (Peace be upon him and may Allah be pleased with her) is an Islamic scholar, who is shown as a role model to Muslim women. It is also true that many women, including myself, have been issued licenses to preach Islam by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, and previously by the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs. One must ask, however, how often these women do, or are given the opportunity to, address an audience at all, not to mention one comprising both genders. One cannot help but wonder whom among these women is given the opportunity to be at the forefront of the Maldivian stage of the eternal strife to promote Islam.

Thus, all issues relating to women are given but a rather reluctant and half-baked coverage – women’s education, women’s employment, marital responsibilities, family commitment, etc, are all discussed only from a man’s perspective.

The current discourse of Maldivian scholars on women’s education and employment is impractical, if not illogical. It is their stand that Islam does not prevent women from pursuing higher education. Women, in fact, are encouraged to pursue a degree in professional fields such as medicine, education, law, psychology, etc. After all, women do need the services of doctors, educators and lawyers. Who better to provide these services to women than female professionals? Thus, Maldivian women are encouraged by Islamic scholars to build dreams upon dreams of a professional career along side those of love, husband, children, family and home.

The oxymoron presents itself once these women – after having spent several years toiling away under thick volumes of reports and case studies, being trainee teachers under the supervision of stricter than hell supervisors, dissecting dead bodies, attending to injuries, and assisting surgeons in operation theatres – choose to fulfill the Sunnah of marriage and forming a family. Now, there’s no denying that the primary role of a woman upon marriage is that of a wife – and upon having a child is that of a mother. But if women are encouraged to train as professionals, should women also not be encouraged to work as professionals? Should women not be provided with suitable circumstances where they can pursue a career without undermining their roles as wives and mothers?

Unfortunately, all that I’ve heard to this day from Maldivian scholars is that women should be content to be housewives, and that being a mother is the biggest honour of all.

The same goes for the issues of marital responsibilities and family commitment. I heard a Sheikh recently speaking on radio of men who work all day and return home only to find an unwelcoming wife at home. It was his claim that this is one of the main contributors to the breakdown of marriages in our society. While I do not deny that many men do in fact grind daily to earn a good living for their families, I can’t help but wonder whether women do nothing at all. The way I understand it, it is a division of labour – women ought to take care of the family, men are the bread-winners. Neither task is more important than the other – neither can be considered harder, or easier than the other. In the end, both partners of the marriage are supposed to provide each other with support.

When a man returns from office, returns from work and spends all his time going out with friends, reading the news, or watching television, is he not neglecting part of his responsibilities? Could it not be that a woman whose emotional needs and expectations from her husband is more likely to be unwelcoming to him wheh he comes home from work to change and go meet with his friends?

The half-bakedness of the scholarly address applies even to the issue of Hijab. This age-old issue, discussed, re-discussed, and then discussed yet again has been focused only on women. The focus of the Hijab issue is so much on the female gender that one cannot help but wonder that perhaps an awrah is defined in Islam only for women. I recently watched a televised sermon of a Maldivian Islamic scholar in which he recited verses 29 and 30 of Surah Al-Nur which translate as follows:

Tell the believing men to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts. That is purer for them. Indeed, Allah is Acquainted with what they do. (29) And tell the believing women to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts and not expose their adornment except that which [necessarily] appears thereof and to wrap [a portion of] their headcovers over their chests and not expose their adornment except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands’ fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers, their brothers’ sons, their sisters’ sons, their women, that which their right hands possess, or those male attendants having no physical desire, or children who are not yet aware of the private aspects of women. And let them not stamp their feet to make known what they conceal of their adornment. And turn to Allah in repentance, all of you, O believers, that you might succeed. (30)

Unfortunately, although the Quran first commands men to lower their gaze from viewing Haraam and to protect themselves from committing illicit deeds, the Sheikh only translated the verse that relates to women’s Hijab. Allah’s Command to believing men was purposely ignored.

Such oversight may perhaps be excused if Maldivian men do generally follow the Command to lower the gaze and guard the chastity. This, sadly, does not seem to be the case. Allah is Most Gracious, Most Wise – he limited man’s awrah to what is comprised between the navel and the knees – as opposed to the whole body of the woman, with a few body parts being the exception. Even so, many men – especially, many young men – seem unable even to cover this small area. In order to follow pop fashion – or, hip hop fashion (you name it) – many young men deem it necessary to let their pants fall way below their waist, not to mention that they deem it unnecessary to wear undergarments. The result – I’d rather not divulge in.

Another issue not to be forgotten is that of pornography. Maldivian Muslim men, like their brothers all around the world, seem to be acting under the impression that as long as you don’t view the awrah of a Muslim woman, it is permissible to view the awrah of other women in general. In the end, the general effect of dehumanising and objectifying women has been unavoidable. Reports of sexual crimes against the female gender, including crimes against children and the elderly, have been on the rise in Maldives – it is impossible to say whether the rise is in the number of crimes or the amount of reports (it in all probability is both) – and all that Maldivian scholars have been able to say is that women should cover themselves better and the government should implement Hudud.

It is my belief that Maldivian scholars find it easy to speak the same words and to address the same issues in the age-old manner without looking at them from any different angles. And this, I  believe, is the ultimate wrong.

I do realise that I am only raising issues here – I have not proposed any solutions.

I have, however, started my own personal swim against the tide. I have chosen to have a child and to work. I have decided that I, as the mother of my child, will take the primary responsibility of feeding, bathing, playing with and rearing my child. I will not delegate these pleasures to a maid or babysitter. I have also decided that I, as a graduate of Shari’ah and law, will practice the law. I will pursue a career, but on my own terms. I work from home. And because my child is a toddler now – who rarely sleeps during the day and refuses to leave me and the laptop alone –  I work when he, along with the rest of the world, sleeps.

Is it easy? No. Is it a sustainable solution? Definitely not. By Thursday – weekends in Maldives are Fridays and Saturdays, and that’s when I sleep – I can’t wait for the week to end. I am always wishing for one more hour in the day and a few more minutes to the hour. But, for me, it is a start.

I also have chosen to start my journey, preaching and pursuing the values of Islam, by addressing issues that many other graduates of the Shariah are shying away from. I do this with the full understanding that this is a path filled with obstacles. Be it as it may, it is my belief, that if no one else will, I ought to do the hard – and perhaps the right – thing.

I am a Maldivian woman. I am a pursuer of Islamic scholarship. I swim against the tide.

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Christchurch College at Oxford University to offer environmental studies scholarship to Maldivians

The Maldives High Commission in the UK has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Christchurch College at the University of Oxford to provide an annual scholarship for a Maldivian student.

The co-funded scholarship will be for one student to undertake postgraduate study in the field of Environmental Sciences, who would otherwise be unable to afford an Oxford education, with a place at Christchurch College.

In a statement, the Foreign Ministry noted that the scholarship “was initially discussed during President Nasheed’s visit to Oxford University in December 2010 and has now materialised into a wonderful opportunity for outstanding Maldivian students.”

“The scholarship will encourage Maldivians to study in the field of Environmental Sciences with a view to enhancing the Maldives’ capacity to manage the specific threats the country faces
from climate change. On completion of their studies the scholars will return to the Maldives with exceptional expertise in this field.”

The formal MOU with was signed at High Commission in London by High Commissioner Farahanaz Faizal, and Simon Offen, Vice President Christchurch Association and
Deputy Development Director.

Speaking at the signing ceremony, Dr Faizal said “this a momentous day for the Maldives as it represents a valuable opportunity for young Maldivians to gain access to a world leading institution, shaping the great minds of tomorrow.”


Low number of submissions means “high chance” of scholarships for Maldivian students, says UK High Commission

The British High Commission to Sri Lanka and the Maldives has announced that applications for the Chevening Scholarship Scheme for 2011-2012 will close this Saturday April 30.

The High Commission expressed surprise at the fewer number of applications submitted this year from the Maldives compared with last year.

“Although disappointing for us, this is great news for prospective Maldivian students – those who apply in the next few days stand a higher chance than normal of being granted a fully-funded scholarship,” the High Commission said in a statement.

The Chevening Scholarship Scheme – which is the UK’s most prestigious scholarship scheme for foreign students – is opened to graduates in the early- to mid-stages of their professional or academic career in the government/private sector or at a non-governmental organisation. The emphasis is on study at the postgraduate level.

Applicants could be considering study in any field relevant to one or more of the UK government’s strategic international priorities, which can be accessed at However, particular priority will be given to applicants who will work to promote good governance or benefit socio-economic or environmental development in Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

Candidates should have some work or academic experience relating to their field of study as well as an offer from a UK higher education institution for the academic year 2011/2012. Preference will be given to those who have attained, or have demonstrated, the potential to attain, a position of responsibility and influence within their field in Sri Lanka or the Maldives.

The applications, available only online, can be accessed at


Young people’s ambitions on the rise, says Four Seasons manager at apprentice graduation

Young Maldivians are becoming increasingly ambitious in their desire to be professionally successful, even compared to the generation of 10 years ago.

Speaking at the graduation ceremony for the Four Seasons apprenticeship program, held in Male’ this morning, Regional Vice President and General Manager for the Maldives Armando Kraenzlin observed a change in the outlook of students compared to when the resort began its training program a decade ago.

“The outlook of the students has changed, they have become more ambitious,” he said. “They come to the trainer asking “‘I want to learn a la carte and Flamberge.’ That is not something you would have heard 10 years ago.”

“Jobs were also taken for the money, not because people wanted to start a career or had a vision of themselves as successful in a particular field,” he said, adding that there was a noticeable difference in attitude between young staff starting work now, and those who had been employed 10 years ago.

Student interests had also changed, Kraenzlin noted.

“Ten years ago they all wanted to do housekeeping. Two years later it was diving. This year there’s been a run on the kitchen – 10 years ago it was impossible to convince young men to work in the kitchen – cooking was seen as a woman’s job.”

A ceremony was held this morning to mark the graduation of 30 apprentices for 2011, and inaugrate 40 into the class of 2012. It is the Maldives’ first technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) certified apprenticeship scheme, and claims almost all students get a job on graduation.

“10 years ago if you needed a waiter you would look to India or Sri Lanka, and it was impossible to find a Maldivian chef,” Kraenzlin said, noting that the resort received over 200 applications for the program.

Such is the demand that the Four Seasons’ apprenticeship scheme, which runs at the company’s two resorts at Landaa Giraavaru and Kuda Huraa, has now expanded to the point where it requires four full-time staff.

“We’ve essentially become a school,” Kraenzlin said. “It used to be that we would train apprentices for ourselves, but it has taken time and resources to meet the TVET demands.

“At the same time, there’s no full-time teachers besides the English teacher, so restaurant and housekeeping staff have to embrace teaching in addition to their own jobs.”

It was a balancing act, he explained: “The General Manager should be running the business, not giving wine courses, for instance.”

Despite the extra demands, Four Seasons was looking to expand the program up to TVET certification level three, and then to a full diploma.

“Ten years ago if you needed a waiter you would look to India or Sri Lanka, and it was impossible to find a Maldivian chef,” Kraenzlin said. “Now there are young people saying they want to introduce the world to Maldivian cuisine.”

Tourism Minister Mariyam Zulfa, who attended the ceremony this morning, said the government was looking to replicate the success of the Four Seasons apprenticeship program with other resorts in the country, and was conducting a program to raise awareness among young people as to the professional opportunities in the tourism sector.

“The new constituition allows for freedom of expression and assembly, in cases where employers are not meeting their conditions,” she said. “One way to reduce discontent is to provide training opportunities as well as make a conscious attempt to care for staff.”

One apprentice graduating this year, Yoosuf Shan, said that the course was challenging when he began as he was “totally new to the industry.”

“Another apprentice told me that whenever you reach a tough point, don’t say ‘Why me?’. Instead say: ‘Try me,’” he said.


Gan RAF reunion prompts scholarship fund

A group of former British Royal Air Force (RAF) servicemen who were based at Gan in the 70s have set up a fund to improve medical care in Addu Atoll, the country’s southern group of islands.

In March this year, 28 ex-personnel who had worked in the atoll returned to Gan for a reunion, where they were saddened by the decline in medical standards since their departure.

Richard Houlston, 62, who spent a year in the early 1970s working in ground communications on the island of Hithadhoo said: “All of us servicemen enjoyed our time in the Maldives, and the feeling among us was that we wanted to give something back to the community. I feel a close affinity to Addu, it was as if I had never left.”

Richard worked on the HF Transmitters on the isle of Hithadhoo, at the far end of the horse-shoe shaped atoll of Addu from November 1969 until 1970. He and his comrades would visit nearby Gan for scuba diving lessons and shopping trips.

“My memories of Hithadhoo were all good,” said Houlston. “I loved the climate, I loved messing about in the boats we had there, I loved fishing and swimming, I spent many hours snorkeling on the reef, I learnt to scuba dive. When I arrived back on Addu my first impressions were that it seems to be more built up now than when I was there, and obviously has some quite well-off inhabitants, but many people seem to be quite poor. Many of the inhabitants still have to rely on rain water for drinking, stored in large tanks and in those sorts of temperatures that can’t be good for health,” he said.

“When we arrived back on Addu, it became obvious to us very quickly that what they needed help with most was medical care. To go to a decent hospital, many locals have to travel all the way to India, which is a 1000 mile-plus journey. There is a hospital on the island of Hithadhoo, but standards there are very poor: even if they have the equipment, no-one has the expertise to use it.”

When the RAF was in Gan, islanders used to enjoy first class medical facilities for free. Now they have third world services and people must pay for their treatment. The 30 year dictatorship and focus on development of Male’ did not help matters.

Now Houlston and Larry Dodds have set up the Gan Scholarship Fund, which aims to raise enough money to help train more medical staff and improve the standard of medical equipment in the atoll.

“The thing that concerns us most is the fact that many inhabitants have to travel to India for decent medical facilities. Addu is so remote that they need their own medical facilities on hand. When the RAF was there they had those facilities, but when we pulled out in 1976 they were left with nothing,” Houlston said.

“I know there were political issues at the time that did not help their situation, but I feel we have a moral obligation to try to help them now if we can. I feel very passionate about this, and I know that many of the guys I was there with in March feel the same way.”

Their idea is to try and raise enough money to pay for the training of one medical student from Addu, so they can then work in the hospital on nearby Hithadhoo. Much of the hospital equipment is also outdated and needs to be replaced.

“The original plan was to appeal to the RAF personnel who had served on Gan over the years to donate money towards the scheme, now I do not now that this is going to be enough, so I am trying to come up with ideas to help supplement this. I am open to suggestions,” Houlston admitted.

Returning to the Addu Atoll a year ago was an emotional journey for the group, who share many fond memories of their time on the island. Houlston said that his time in the Maldives had left a lasting impression on him, and that he and his former colleagues had been touched by the people of Gan’s enthusiasm when they returned.

“We had such a wonderful welcome on the reunion trip to Addu in March of this year, that it rekindled my love for Addu and its people,” he said.

“The RAF had not visited the Maldives for over 30 years, but the reception was incredible. Children from primary schools danced for us, they arranged trips for us, and thousands of people greeted us wherever we went.”

“It was a very moving experience,” he added. Richard is now in daily contact with people from Addu and is working with both Hithadhoo Regional Hospital and the IDMC private hospital, soon to be Hawwa Trust, which will help provide the next generation of medical doctors along with the help of some former friends from the Royal Air Force.

For more information visit ‘Gan Then and Now’ on Facebook:


UK High Commission announces Chevening Scholarship Scheme for 2011/2012

The British High Commission and the British Council in Colombo have announced the launch of the Chevening Scholarship Scheme for 2011/2012 in Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

The scheme is opened to graduates in the early- to mid-stages of their professional oracademic career in the government/private sector or at a non-governmental organisation. The emphasis is on study at the postgraduate level. The High Commission stated that cpplicants could be considering study in any field relevant to one or more of the UK government’s strategic international priorities, which can be accessed at

Particular priority, the High Commission said, would be given to applicants who will work to promote good governance or benefit socio-economic or environmental development in Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

Candidates should have some work or academic experience relating to their field of study as well as an offer from a UK higher education institution for the academic year 2011/2012.

The High Commission added that preference would be given to those who have attained, or have demonstrated, the potential to attain, a position of responsibility and influence within their field in Sri Lanka or the Maldives and to those whose study in Britain is likely to enhance their potential for influence in their respective countries.

The Chevening Scholarship Scheme is the UK’s most prestigious scholarship scheme for foreign students. Its aim is to enable current and future leaders, decision makers and opinion
formers to study in the UK and make a positive contribution to their own countries upon their return, the High Commission said.

“Many former Chevening scholars have gone on to be leaders in their fields, and indeed, even leaders of their countries.”

The applications will be open from Sunday, 20 March to Saturday, 30 April, 2011 and will be available only online:


Zakath fund puts two million towards scholarship programme

The Islamic Ministry has added two million rufiya to its Zakath-funded scholarship programme, reports Haveeru.

Haveeru reported that there was now seven million rufiya in the Zakath fund’s scholarships programme.

Points for applicants would be given according to academic results and financial conditions, Haveeru said.


Ali Fulhu Thuttu Foundation announces scholarship offers

Ali Fulhu Thuttu Foundation has announced scholarship offers in 2010 for students who have completed IGCSE, GCSE and SSC exams in 2009.

Applications are open to those who have Maldivian citizenship and were born between 1991 and 1993. Applications must have completed GCSE, IGCSE and SSC and passed at least seven subjects.

Those selected will have the opportunity to represent the Maldives at colleges in India, Norway, Italy, Canada or the USA. The deadline for application is 15 February 2010 at 2:30 pm.

Since 2000, twenty-six Maldivians had completed the international baccalaureate diploma through the Ali Fulhu Thuthu Foundation’s United World College Scholarship Program.