By letters to the editors
October 15, 2007
I have recently been reading, in your internet daily, quite a lot about religious extremism in the Maldives, especially on account of the bomb blast in Male in late September and the subsequent focus on the island of Himaadhoo, where dissident-worshippers accumulated weapons, and a couple of days ago gave the invading security forces of the ruling power of Gayoom a bloody nose. We are witnessing political Islam on the march. It is home-grown. It looks like a war between the state and Islam. It all started many centuries ago, the twelfth century AD in fact. The mythology, that passes for history, reads as follows: Male, the capital of Maldives, was being tyrannised by an evil spirit that came from the deep sea every night. A maiden was sacrificed to appease the jinni every night. It came to pass that a saint from Arabia, named Abul Barakathul Barbary arrived, and having heard of the lamentations of the islanders, took his place on the beach one night. When the jinni came, he was ordered into a bottle which was sealed and thrown into the deep sea.
Saved from a tragic situation created by the nightly visit of the jinni, who ate one girl every night, in gratitude, the Maldivian Sultan became a Muslim first. He then sent an order to all the citizens, that they should all become Muslims too. They duly obliged, and lo and behold, to this day, no Maldivian is allowed to change his religion. The Divehi-language press portrays people of other faiths as infidels, kafirs, less civilised and enlightened than the Maldivians who are followers of the one and only true faith. A Muslim man can marry a Christian or a Jewish woman but not a Hindu or Buddhist, within the jurisdiction of the Maldivian government. The idea is that the children will be Muslims. In reality, it will be impossible for a Christian or Jewish wife to survive in the Maldives, in sanity, for too long. That is if they actually practise their Christian or Jewish faiths. Conversion to Islam may be the right thing to do.Tight control of Maldivians goes beyond religious matters, to secular matters. A Maldivian- born person may not enter Maldives on a foreign passport, however long he has lived abroad.
It has been said that Maldivians are promiscuous, and that their divorce rate is one of the highest in the world. Maldives is also one of the most corrupt, nepotistic, and authoritarian countries in the world. The police have a reputation for cruelty. The judiciary is not only not independent of the executive, but its methods and practices are archaic and literally beyond redemption. Women may not be allowed to enter cemeteries because women are regarded as unclean. Maldivian history is sketchy and uninspiring and unconvincing. It has given birth to maldiveroyalfamily.com, maldive culture.com, dhivehiobserver.com, and minivannews.com. There is no art or literature or theatre worth mentioning. Most people are desperately poor and ignorant and live in unhealthy environments, particularly in the capital Male.They get no holidays. They look with envy at the wealthy and happy tourists from abroad and their Maldivian hosts, the oligarchs, who have become too rich for their own good. They have now entered the realm of political power without the requisite education, which was traditionally held in higher esteem than money, in the Maldives. The ground is ripe for the rise of political Islam.
The coming to power of the current absolute ruler of Maldives, Gayoom, in 1978, was celebrated with great expectations, because he was a religious teacher, a philosopher- king, if you like, and a fluent speaker of Arabic, the language of Muslim scriptures. The Quran is in Arabic, and the prayers are in Arabic. The people do not know what they are saying when they read the Quran and offer prayers five times a day. The priesthood in the Maldives is not comparable to the Christian Churches in the UK. These churches have leaders who speak independently of the government. They represent spiritual interventions and moral authority in the secular and the agnostic world. The Maldivian priests are mere prayer leaders. They are even paid by the state. They do not fight for human rights and social justice. They do not even know what these things are about. It is a hopeless situation and a sad story.
I present a thesis that in the Maldives, Islam is too closely identified with the state, and the religion is followed too blindly, ignorantly, and politically. Obedience to God is often regarded as secondary to obeying the ruler in power. We, Maldivians, criticise our absolute rulers only after they have fallen or gone from positions of power. This allows our dictators, including the present notorious one, Gayoom, to get away with murder and also misuse public funds. The biggest crooks are never caught. The prevailing system gives them a free hand and immunity from prosecution. Only the small fish get caught. Islam has been a conservative and reactionary influence on our society. If we Maldivians want our country, Divehi Raajje, to become a truly modern society, we must learn to study and apply Islam more critically and intelligently. Every generation must look at Islam anew, so that the religion does not become static and backward looking. We must not allow Islam to become our prisoner and persecutor. I say to Gayoom, who many think is a good Islamic model of a man, that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. He must find an exit strategy.
The non-quiet Maldivianhttp://www.minivannews.com/news/news.php?id=3736