Published first on Minivan News in 2010
In order to win against a regime with 30 years worth of leverage and power behind it, we had no choice but to form an alliance with as many political actors as possible. And so we made a deal with the Adaalath Party giving them effective control over an Islamic Ministry, which had the bonus of separating religious authority from the President where it had resided previously.
But what is the cost of this decision? Is the country better for it and will it lead to the curtailing of extremism?
An Unholy Alliance
While Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s government had made mistakes in harshly repressing and then later allowing these groups to form, after having laid a foundation of Islamic preaching for them to build upon – the MDP Itthihaad government does not seem to be doing any better.
MDP Itthihaad has an obligation towards the people of our country to ensure that extremism in the country is properly checked. That we as a people have the freedom to choose our own Islamic believes without third parties intimidating us for it. We have the right to live lives free of terrorization and fear. We have an obligation to neighboring countries to restrict our populous from going to fight in others’ wars illegally and then bring those conflicts back home. And yet, there is not one consistent step our government has taken to fight this ideology that is savaging our nation.
Even today we have fundamentalist scholars preaching around the country. We have conservative scholars given air time on state television and radio. We have them advocating for ridiculous arguments ranging from the banning of Harry Potter to the banning of public worship for Women. We have all voices of moderation squashed by the powers that be. But this is not acceptable. This is not okay for our country.
The Propagation of Violence
Conservative and radical scholars need to be held accountable for their actions and a climate of tolerance needs to be encouraged. There are many scholars like Sheikh Ibrahim Fareed, associated with MDP, who have been operating with complete impunity under our government. In this case, even though numerous people have accused Fareed of trying to recruit for the propagation of violence abroad through violent Jihad. Why has he never been questioned by the police under this administration? What action has the National Security Council headed by the President and the Vice President taken to address concerns on rising extremism, especially when confronted with incidents of Maldivians involved in global Jihadist activities? Is his connection with the ruling parties enough to allow the minds of our youth to be further degraded and for a repeat of Ali Jaleel’s depravity to take place? (Referred to in the “History of Extremism”) In a nation as small as ours, enough hearsay creates reasonable suspicion. And when members of the extremist community accuse one another of breaking domestic and international law, the least that can happen is investigation.
Instead, we make one concession after another to these conservatives Salafi forces. Hanbali and Saudi influenced Islam is the smallest of the four recognized schools of Islamic thought. Yet through the significant amount of revenue derived from oil, the Saudi Arabian religious administration has been able to successfully export their brand of Islam across the globe. It is not just their version of Islam, but their culture, heritage and values that is now being promoted in countries like the Maldives. As a result, we lose our own heritage and our own culture as they change the face of this nation.
Maldives “Not Safe and Not Ready”
Some seem to believe that I am exaggerating these trends to make them appear more vibrant within our society than they are. But, for any who’s willing to look at the true state of our nation, they will understand the restraint I’ve shown in this explanation. In order to counter these Salafi trends some likeminded people and I brought an Islamic scholar to Maldives in September to discuss the value of moderation. Dr. Salih Yucel, currently a professor at Monash University in Melbourne Austrailia, has been an Imam for over 27 years having preached in the United States, Australia and Turkey and having completed both a Masters degree and a PhD in Islamic Ministry. He spoke at the Islamic Center and was accused of being too basic and distorting Islam by allowing infidels rights to be Islam (because he said that anyone who claims to be a Muslim and believes in God and His Prophet must be accepted as a brother regardless of how he practices his faith). After only a couple days in Maldives, having attended numerous mosques and interacting with many Maldivians, Dr. Yucel asked me to cut his trip short. We cancelled his trip to Hanimadhoo, Hithadhoo, and Fuvamulah. He no longer felt safe in the Maldives and had come to the belief that Maldives was not ready for moderate Islam. After a panel discussion with Maldivian Human Rights experts, Dr. Yucel flew back to Australia.
Time is Running Out
How many of us fear talking about religion? How many journalists, politicians, and regular people refuse to talk about Islam because we are scared of the repercussions of our words? Time is running out, and we are running out of options. If we stand aside without promoting open dialog on what Islam means at home and around the world, we will be closing the gates of freedom that we have worked so hard to open. We will build walls of ignorance and say goodbye to the outside world where equality and justice rain true. And we will create a future for our children that is shadowed by fear and the repression. I am not ready to close that gate, nor build that wall, nor say goodbye to the outside world. Are you?