Tagged: Islamism in the Maldives

The long road from Islam to Islamism: a short history

Maldivian women at an Adhaalath-led rally on 23 December 2011. Photo: Aznym Maldivian women at an Adhaalath-led rally on 23 December 2011. Photo: Aznym

 

by Azra Naseem and Mushfique Mohamed

Popular Maldivian history does not go much further back than the 12th Century, when King Dhovemi Kalaminja converted to Islam and ruled that all his subjects must follow suit. Long forgotten or neglected history books, however, tell us that life in the Maldives—or Maladvipa; Dheeva Maari; or Dheeva Mahal as it was known in antiquity—began centuries previously. The ancient Sri Lankan chronicle of The Mahavamsa connects the origins of Maldivian people to the Sinhalese through the story of excommunicated Indian princes from the Kalinga kingdom in the 6th Century. More recent Maldivian research, A New Light into Maldivian History (1958), traces Maldivian life even further back to the 3rd Century. Some historians have theorised that the first settlers in the Maldives could have emerged as soon as Greco-maritime trade began in the region making it very likely that the first Maldivians were “Prakrit speaking Satavahanas of the Deccan, Tamil speaking Chera, Chola, Pandyas of South India, and Prakrit speaking Sinhalese of Sri Lanka.”

Among these early Maldivians who predate the arrival of exiled Indian princes were descendants of the Tivaru people of ancient Tamil origin who later came to be known as ‘Giraavaru people’. They practised an ancient form of Hinduism involving Dravidian ritualistic traditions venerating Surya, the Sun god. The Giraavaru people, although now so totally assimilated into Maldivian society as to be indistinguishable from the rest, maintained a variety of their distinct traditions and culture until as late as the 1980s. It took a concerted, and often inhumane, effort by the government to finally make them conform to the majority’s norm. Successive governments also made sustained and systematic efforts to wipe out all history of the Buddhist community that had long existed in the Maldives until about 900 years ago. Just like the history of the Giraavaru people, however, the digging does not have to be too deep to uncover just how ingrained Buddhist ways and culture had been in Maldivian life for years. While archaeologists like HCP Bell have uncovered Buddhist structures buried underground, ethnologists like Xavier Romero-Frais have traced the origins of much of classical Maldivian cultural, linguistic and traditional traits to the Buddhist era.

The beginning of the end of Maldivian Buddhism came with Arab domination of trade in the Indian Ocean in the 7th Century. Just as the rise of China and India, and the US foreign policy’s Asia Pivot, have made the Maldives geo-strategically important today, so it was with the ancient Silk Route. Foreign powers were drawn to the Maldives by its location and its abundance of cowry shells, the currency of many. The spread of Islam along the Silk Route is well documented. In the Maldives, it is a widely accepted ‘truth’ that the conversion of the Maldives population to Islam was peaceful—people willingly converted with their King. There are, however, historical accounts that dispute the narrative exist in the form of writing on copperplates (Isdū Lōmāfānu) dating back to the 12th Century. These have not been made widely accessible to the public. In their place is a legend, first told orally then formalised as historical fact and included in primary school text books, which depicts Maldivian conversion to Islam as a reaction to the cruel deeds of a sea demon. As the story goes, the demon appeared like a ‘ship of lights’ once a month, demanding virgin girls to be delivered to it at night to a designated location. In the morning the demon would be gone, and the virgin would be found dead. A Berber or Persian, who was visiting Maldives at the time, volunteered to go to the demon in place of the chosen virgin one night. He stayed up all night reciting the Qur’an. When the demon appeared, the sound of the Qur’an gradually diminished it in size until it was small enough to be put into a bottle. The Arab traveller sealed the bottle and disposed of it into the deep blue sea, banishing it forever. A grateful King Kalaminja converted to Islam, and his obedient subjects followed suit. Hundreds of years of Buddhism disappeared, allegedly, without trace. From then on King Kalaminja became Sultan Muhammad Ibn Abdullah and Maldives became 100 percent Muslim.

The first major threat to the new Maldivian way of life came four centuries later, with Portuguese occupation in the 16th Century. Unlike latter colonial powers like the Dutch and the British, the Portuguese occupiers did not allow Maldivians autonomy in their internal affairs. Stories of Portuguese wine-drinking and merry-making abound in Maldivian historical accounts of their presence. One of the most potent weapons used to rally Maldivians behind the efforts to oust the Portuguese was religious rhetoric—the biggest threat from the Portuguese occupation, it was said, was to the Islamic faith of Maldivians. The day on which the Portuguese were defeated is now marked as the National Day, and the chief protagonists in the story of their ouster are venerated as the most heroic of figures in the history of the Maldives.

Religious rhetoric as a means of rallying support for political change, established as a success during the battle against the Portuguese, was once again deployed with similar triumph in the 20th Century. In 1953, while Maldives was still a British Protectorate, Mohamed Amin Didi became the first President of the Maldives. Amin Didi is largely credited with ending monarchy and steering the country towards a Republic. He is also known as a moderniser and an advocate for women’s rights. Amin Didi’s presidency—and the First Republic—lasted less than a year. Just as religious rhetoric was successfully used in ousting the Portuguese, so was similar discourse produced to brutally end Amin Didi’s presidency. Even the famine caused by WWII was tied to religious discourse and blamed on Amin Didi.

The Maldives’ first experiences of ‘Western modernity’ began during the Second Republic, with the arrival of tourists from Europe. The world had just lived through the counter-culture of the 1960s, the Maldives was no longer a British Protectorate, the Second Republic had been established, and Ibrahim Nasir was the President. Unlike its neighbours and contemporaries in other parts of the world, modernity was not enforced on the Maldives by a foreign power—it arrived with tourists and was adopted voluntarily by many locals, especially in the capital Male’ and surrounding areas. The Islam that existed in the Maldives at this time was an amalgamation of Islamic teachings, Buddhist Eveyla traditions and Sufi practises and rituals. Writers and historians such as HCP Bell, Clarence Maloney, Francois Pyrad and Xavier Romero-Frias have provided rare insights into Maldivian Islamic traditions. Many of them have now disappeared, or been made to disappear, as Western modernity and Islamism took hold of and begun to dictate Maldivian life. The total obliteration of Islam as it was practised in the Maldives for centuries began in earnest with the assumption of power by Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

Maldivians in 2014: WTF are we?

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I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market place, by Allah. There is a market for selling humans. Allah says I should sell. He commands me to sell. I will sell women. I sell women. – Abubakar Shekau

It took these words by Nigerian ‘theologian’ and leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau—spoken in a video tape released weeks after the group kidnapped over 200 young girls from their school on 14 April—to shock a couldn’t-care-less world into action. After mostly ignoring the news of the girls’ tragic fate for two weeks, Shekau’s words finally galvanised powerful countries into sending their experts to join the lethargic Nigerian government in its search for the girls. And, in what appears to be the most important sign that the 21st Century world is paying attention, the kidnapped girls now have their own hashtag #bringbackourgirls.

Shekau’s words appal me and they most likely appal you, but his is not an unusual view in today’s many radicalised societies. Would those outraged by Shekau, for instance, be shocked to learn that such views are more likely than not shared by a substantial percentage, if not the majority, of the Maldivian population of today? Consider the following:

Two days ago, on 11 May, most local news headlines carried the story of a 14-year-old girl who has given birth, for the second time in her short life. The first time she was only 12. The child-mother as well as her two children are currently under the protection of the Gender Ministry, and the accused is under 15-day remand. He is said to be 53 years of age. According to newspaper reports, at the time the child gave birth, the man was being investigated by police for allegations of blackmailing and threatening her. What do Maldivian people think of the event? Following are translations of a large number of comments that appeared below the news published in Dhivehi on four popular online news outlets: Sun.mv Haveeru Online, mvyouth.mv and CNM.mv. As a measure of their popularity—Sun has close to 44,000 Facebook Likes, Haveeru over 48,000, mvyouth.mv more than 26,000 and CNM almost 30,000. The comments appeared from the time of publication of the news on the various outlets on 11 May till 1:00 a.m local time on 13 May 2014.

Sun.mv was the first to publish the news. By 1:00 a.m 13 May, it had gathered 40 comments in total. Several looked for the right authority to blame—parents, the Gender Ministry [which is mandated with child protection], the government, drugs, society at large, etc.? Some made no sense. Only five (12.5 percent) clearly empathised with the girl and was openly supportive of her. In contrast, 16 out of 40 (40 percent) was overtly critical of her, deeming her an adult, a slut or a criminal or all three. Here are the comments:

Do children give birth? A miracle (liked by 233, disliked by 34)

Can you first define what you mean by ‘children’? Are there children who can give birth? (Liked by 104, disliked by 13)

Do children give birth? Hehehe It says children give birth (liked by 107, disliked by 18)

What do you mean [abused by] ‘a person in position of trust’? Who in what position is that? In what capacity did he do it? Need an answer. (Liked by 96, disliked by 3)

Please. Do children give birth! (Liked by 68, disliked by 9)

Hahahahahahahahahahahaha LOL…sss…I am in bits laughing…it says a child has given birth a second time…look you idiots…what you are saying is the same as saying a chick has laid an egg…if a child gives birth it would be the biggest miracle the world would ever see…people who look at science, study science a bit more to understand what a child is…we, however, will not prioritise science in anything, Insha Allah..the reason is that to everything that is said in the right religion revealed by Allah we Muslims say – Sami’una Wa’athauna (have listened and obeyed)…then, na-na-na-na (Liked by 84, disliked by 6)

Can a child give birth? In that case this five year old of mine can also give birth…scary (Liked by 68, disliked by 10)

Whatever she is called [child or adult] she is liable for Hudd [punishments]. It’s not relations, it’s fornication (Liked by 39, disliked by 7)

Children giving birth is a sign of Armageddon (Liked by 25, disliked by 7)

It’s OK to do DNA testing when girls want to save themselves from blame. But, apparently, it’s not OK to do DNA testing when a husband wants to find out whose child his wife is having. A miracle. (Liked by 17, disliked by 5)

These are children even when they begin and end a year by giving birth!!! Let me tell you something, Gender [Ministry]! Even if young, these people who are giving birth know what they are doing is wrong. Fornicate and call it rape!! Rape is done by violently forcing supplication. Rape is what happened on the bus in India! Take that! Arrest that woman and the man and punish them as due, I say. (Liked by 43, disliked by 23)

Pakaas…oh, these goings on…laughing so much my head’s splitting (Disliked by one, Liked by none)

You people, do not go near fornication. It is the dirtiest of sins…repent fast, and fear Allah (Liked by one, disliked by o)

Once a girl has her period, she is an adult according to Islam… (Like by 5, disliked by 0)

Apparently the one who gave birth and the child she gave birth to are both children. Two children. When will they grow up? (No likes, no dislikes)

I think the Maldivian constitution should be amended to change the age of a minor to below 25. Then all children will be having babies…what is this 18 years that’s brought in to decide a child…if things continue like this, by the time someone is old enough to marry, they would have 4 children, won’t they?? (No likes, or dislikes)

Haveeru published the article a short while later, and had a total of 20 comments by 1:00 a.m. on 13 May. 11 of them — 55 percent — regard the girl as being the ‘criminal’/’sinner’ and deem her deserving of punishment.

What this proves is that the female human being gives birth not just over 18 years of age but also at 12 and 14! This reveals that a human being can reach puberty and become an adult even at 12 and 14! (Liked by 120, disliked by 27)

Haveeru should publish a picture of the arrested man. Isn’t that how we’ll know who it is? (Liked by 105, disliked by 5)

This child’s parents, are they neglecting her? (Liked by 87, disliked by 3)

This child needs to be lashed. This has happened a second time because it [lashing] wasn’t done the first time. (liked by 73, disliked by 34)

If she isn’t 18 despite having given birth twice, she must be dealt with as a child as the law says. According to how magistrates in courts interpret the law, they cannot authorise such children under 18 years of age to marry…now there are [people] under 18, carrying three children, begging near the Market area…If courts applied ‘Islamic community principles’ and the main principle of the current Constitution when interpreting law, such matters would not be going from bad to worse…! Note: The chapter on Interpretation in the Maldives Constitution says that its main principle is Prophet Mohammed Sunna and the Holy Qur’an…! If these things are to be confused and convoluted it would bring great tragedy upon the nation. (Liked by 54, disliked by 8)

As long as it remains an illegal act to marry that woman even if she goes on to have 5 children before the age of 18, those people who destroyed Allah’s law and made and implement their own are as sinful as the man who did the deed. (Liked by 108, disliked by 12)

What’s the agenda behind using a certain type of photo? Don’t have the guts to call fornication fornication. Why not? ‘Don’t judge’ is the policy these days. Remember the scenes from ‘Anbaraa‘? Don’t you see reports of how girls are running away from their parents? Don’t you hear about the way girls are itching to marry drug users? (Liked by 133, disliked by 26)

Hasn’t achieved much really. [If she had] given birth one after another, now that would have been an achievement… (Liked by 16, disliked by 1)

Who is to take responsibility for this, Human Rights, Gender Ministry, parents, society, or the child when she is 18. Is it still not time to wake up. Certainly, it is a question to ask that has there been a solution despite the crime being repeated. These things can be solved only by Islamic Shari’a (Liked by 8, disliked by none)

‘the child who has been a victim of repeated sexual abuse’ — Haveeru has not written this news correctly…You must reveal whether this girl became pregnant both times as a result of rape or by fornication. In spreading news and information let us give priority to accuracy… (Liked by 10, disliked by 6)

That’s a joke..!!! 10, 15 days on remand…why arrest…let him stay home :)

mvyouth.mv published the news roughly the same time as Haveeru. By 1:00 a.m. on 13 May, there were three comments. Two of the three saw the girl as having done wrong. The third, while identifying the man as a criminal, called for the harshest forms of punishments possible for all criminals. All of them are translated below:

How the headline should be written, A Maldivian woman has fornicated twice by the time she turned 14. Why are you trying to hide the truth. You can’t confuse the truth. Remember that the only people who get confused are those who try to confuse the truth. (Liked by 10 people, disliked by 3)

This has to be stopped even if it is by sealing the place with mercury (Liked by 4, disliked by 0)

It would be a good sentence to pass for the male organ of people who commit such crimes to be cut off. That is — hands of those who steal are cut off, therefore penises of people who fornicate with children must be cut off! That’s the end of that! (Liked by 13, disliked by 3)

CNM.mv a recently established online publication with a rapidly increasing readership led with the headline: “A ‘small’ ["minor"?] Maldivian girl has given birth a second time”. Why was small in inverted commas? Was it the paper’s stance that she is not that small after all, you know, given that she had given birth twice and all that?

22 hours after publication, there were two comments:

Do not believe that a child can give birth…

Very sad news…I call for heavier penalties for child abusers like this.

Such harsh views as expressed by many in the translated comments above would have been unlikely in the Maldivian society of even a decade ago. Unfortunately though, today it is more the norm than shocking. A substantial percentage of the Maldivian population believe that a girl becomes a woman as soon as she hits puberty; that she should then be made to marry so that she can avoid the sin of fornication; that it is possible for a child to consent to sex with an adult; that anyone who has sex outside of marriage whether they are forced to or underage, should be punished with a hundred lashes in public.

A large number of the world population currently expressing their sadness for the plight of the Nigerian girls via hashtags and other such modern means is also likely to be aware of the plight of the 15-year-old Maldivian girl who was condemned to a 100 lashes for fornication. A popular petition did make the rounds after all. Following the international ‘outrage’, her punishment was suspended. For now. But, as can be seen from the commentary translated above, the radicalisation of Maldivian society continues unabated. Meanwhile Maldives remains top of the world’s most desirable tourist destinations. It is only when the Shekaus begin to reign that worldwide virtual ‘outrage’ translates into something even resembling action.

Islamic extremism in the Maldives: alive and killing

by Azra Naseem

Islamic extremism is very real in the Maldives. It affects the daily lives of every Maldivian, and is gaining in scope, intensity and violence every day with the pseudo-democratic government that came to power on 7 February.

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