by Azra Naseem
Political prostitutes who pose as religious scholars and sell their Islamic learning to the highest bidder have become some of the biggest contributors to the current socio-political and economic turmoil in the Maldives.
Chief among them is Sheikh Imran Abdulla, current president of Adhaalath Party—an organisation which uses the religion of Islam as its chief recruitment and fundraising tool, and proudly exploits people’s faith for political purposes.
Sheikh Imran Abdulla was one of the chief choreographers of the Islamists’ role in the downfall of the Maldivian democracy. On 2 February 2012, he issued an ultimatum to the then President Mohamed Nasheed: resign within five days or be forced out of office.
Nasheed was forced to resign on 7 February.
Yesterday, Sheikh Imran, now a chief mover and shaker in the current ‘Coalition Government’ issued another ultimatum. This time to the government he helped put in place: get out of the 25-year contract with India’s GMR Group for upgrading and running the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport within six days (by 15 November), or else.
He issued the ultimatum at a public rally widely believed to be funded by rich tourism tycoons, currently openly fighting over the country’s airports, and who have vested interests in getting GMR out.
The rally was a colourful affair, aimed chiefly at rousing the masses into a fervour by making the GMR issue into a religious one. The aim, it appears, is to incite enough public discontent to pressure the government into reneging on its agreement with GMR.
Ahead of the rally, held at the Artificial Beach in Male’, leaflets were distributed all over the island, encouraging people to attend the rally in the name of Islam, to save the Maldivian airport from foreign ‘economic invaders’ of ‘other religions’.
Songs were played on loudspeakers attached to pick-up trucks that went round and round the island, stopping at mosques after Friday prayers for maximum effect.
One of the songs has the title—Maldivians’ Prayer: Maldivian airport to Maldivians. Another is called simply Maldivian Airport to Maldivians. The latter raises the volume on nationalism and the former suggests ending the agreement with GMR is a religious duty of Maldivians.
Here’s some of the lyrics from Maldivians’ Prayer:
You get the picture.
The rally was not as big as the Mother of All Rallies, or the so-called Mahaasinthaa, held on 23 December 2011 to ‘Defend Islam’ by removing President Nasheed from office and endorsing his then Vice President Dr Waheed as his replacement.
But there was still a sizeable crowd of hundreds gathered around the nationalistic/religious banners.
Sheikh Imran told them it was their religious duty to deliver the airport from India’s GMR. Men and women (strange this, given that Imran has repeatedly stated that women should stay home and breed instead of joining political rallies) stayed listening to Sheikh Imran and his fellow Islam-sellers long after midnight and in the pouring rain.
Before ending the rally for the night, another ‘scholar’ led a prayer calling on Allah to bring his wrath upon GMR and cause it great destruction.
Such rhetoric not only fools a lot of people into accepting this economic/political issue as a religious matter, it also helps increase the intolerance and xenophobia which have become defining characteristics of the Maldivian society today, thanks mainly to the religion-political-tourism industry complex that now reigns supreme over Maldivian affairs.
Moreover, as former Maldivian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom Farah Faizal quickly highlighted, turning the issue into a religious one also has the potential to make life very difficult for the tens of thousands of Maldivian immigrants in India by creating tensions between them and the largely Hindu majority Indian population.
@haaghee No only that. Making this an Islamic obligation against Hindu-majority India could endanger Maldivians living in #India. It's scary— Farah Didi (@FarahDidi) November 9, 2012
The rising radicalisation of Maldivians has been a cause for concern in India for several years, and it is well-known that a Maldivian was involved in the Mumbai attacks of 2008, as is the fact that the terrorist organization Lashkar e Taiba has been operating and recruiting in the Maldives.
Young disaffected Maldivians are many, and most are highly vulnerable to ideological indoctrination by individuals who propagate extremist ideologies.
Sadly, many do not see beyond ‘The Scholar’ façade behind which these individuals operate. Tens of thousands remain incapable of looking further than the carefully cultivated beards, or the Pashtun garb—no more Islamic or Maldivian than GMR itself.
Hundreds everyday accept these individuals as devout religious scholars and remain blind to how they turn Islamic teachings into a commodity that can be bought and sold to equally unscrupulous businessmen/politicians.
It is these individuals, worked into a frenzy by individuals like Sheikh Imran, who have travelled abroad to kill themselves and others in the name of Islam.
Several government officials were at yesterday’s rally, including the President’s Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza. Riza loudly accused Indian High Commissioner to the Maldives D.M. Mullay—a key figure behind India’s quick acceptance of Dr Waheed’s government as legitimate—of taking bribes to ensure GMR was awarded the Maldives airport contract.
Here’s Dr Waheed’s spokesperson Abbas Riza at the rally:
But, as is now coming to be expected, the government has stayed wholly silent on the rampant exploitation of religion for political purposes, further reinforcing the perception that it is complicit in this phenomenon and condone it as a valid political strategy.
It is still silent, for instance, on the Salafists’ call last week to have Maldivian girls declared women at puberty. A children’s Afternoon with Ali Rameez remains scheduled to go ahead on 15 November as planned, despite the fact that Ali Rameez is the man leading the call to end girl-childhood at puberty.
And, as we shall see on 15 November (also the date of the GMR ultimatum), there will be many parents who would take their children to this pop-singer turned ultra-religious conservative without pausing to think about what they are doing.
These people will represent the thousands of Maldivians who have already bought into the dogma, among others, that it is their religious duty to have their girl-children married off at puberty to men old enough to be their grandfathers.
The official silence over ‘religious scholars’ and their exploitation of Islam to suit various socio-political and economic purposes must end. Such voices must be strongly countered and condemned.
The long term consequences of their actions will not be seen only in the political economy, but in the Maldivian identity itself which has already changed so drastically in the last decade as to be unrecognisable.
From a laid-back island community of moderate and tolerant Muslims whose relationship with God was their personal affair, Maldives has become a highly radical and tense society in which a large percentage of the population is bigoted, intolerant and xenophobic.
Among them will be the few who will join the violent militants.
What is of equally great concern are the tens of thousands of Maldivians who fail to see these political prostitutes for what they are, and willingly give up their own human rights and dignity and deny others theirs in the name of Islam.
This post was updated at 19:00 on 10.11.12 to include video of Abbas Riza threatening the Indian High Commissioner.