Tagged: Maldives authoritarian reversal

An eye for an eye, or save the lives of mankind?

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by Shahindha Ismail

“…whereas, if anyone saves a life, it shall be as though he had saved the lives of all mankind” (Al-Mai’dah – 5:32)[1]

Some few of us have spoken on the penalty of death in the Maldives. We have discovered many, many flaws in the trials and processes of criminal justice that have led to the verdicts to kill. Those of us who spoke against implementing the sentence have faced some heavy criticism, if not harassment, for having spoken against it. We have been called anti-Islamic, defenders of criminals, and we have been labelled as disbelievers. It is quite interesting, the rigour with which some of us have defended the death sentence with Islam here in our small nation. A 100% Islamic state – at least according to the Constitution.

The first person to comment on my previous article about killing Humaam, Kirudhooni, concluded, “until a relative of the writer is brutally killed the voice is justified”. Allah forbid that a relative of anyone face such an end. I cannot speak for those who have lost loved ones to brutal murders, but I can certainly understand their pain. Little do you know, Kirudhooni, that I have had my relatives face some unimaginable pain and brutality around here. I don’t see any benefit in putting those perpetrators through the same pain. The benefit I do see, however, is to prevent them from causing further injustice to another, and it does not have to be through violent means. I do not believe in taking an eye for an eye – what would I do with that third eye anyway? The two that Allah blessed me with are just fine as they are.

وَجَزَاء سَيِّئَةٍ سَيِّئَةٌ مِّثْلُهَا فَمَنْ عَفَا وَأَصْلَحَ فَأَجْرُهُ عَلَى اللَّهِ إِنَّهُ لَا يُحِبُّ الظَّالِمِين 42:40

“But [remember that an attempt at] requiting evil may, too, become an evil: hence, whoever par­dons [his foe] and makes peace, his reward rests with God – for, verily, He does not love evildoers” (Ash-Shura)[2]

Thus the question that has burned a hole in my world of late: When did we become such a rancorous, unforgiving society?

It makes me wonder if our nation has always been like this. The answer I get every time is that no, we were a much gentler people. There were, of course, times when the whole country have shaken with the shock of those few events that we still hear of to this day – about the darkness, the iniquity of it. I do not believe it is our culture. It is what we call atrocities – what few people commit and the rest cannot relate with. There is the story of when Ibn Batuta, the Moroccan missionary who became a judge in the Maldives, first sentenced to cut the hands of a man, the people in the court fainted.[3]

Let us think about it. We have so much to think about, to do in a day, let alone a lifetime. Why should we resort to taking the life of another? I do not believe any of us have that right.

We, or at least many of us, have been raised with a common value. Forgiveness. As children our parents tell us to “let it go” many times. We carry that value close to heart through life, and eventually teach our children that vengeance serves no purpose, that bitterness is only a reflection of ourselves, and that forgiveness leads to peace. I wonder how many of the families who lost someone to brutal murders were reminded by the State of the concept of forgiveness in qisas. It appears to me that the notion of forgiveness associated with qisas in the Qur’an was deliberately omitted from the discourse. Why have our renowned sheikhs not spoken out about this issue? Not raised the aspect of forgiveness in these very trying times where a woman who lost her husband to a vicious slaying, the mother and father who lost a son in a blood bath, have faced the decision of whether they would like to have the man who is believed to have killed their loved one, killed in return? What state of mind are these families in when they are handed the fate of a man held captive? Was anyone asked if they would choose any other form of qisas?

وَكَتَبْنَا عَلَيْهِمْ فِيهَا أَنَّ النَّفْسَ بِالنَّفْسِ وَالْعَيْنَ بِالْعَيْنِ وَالأَنفَ بِالأَنفِ وَالأُذُنَ بِالأُذُنِ وَالسِّنَّ بِالسِّنِّ وَالْجُرُوحَ قِصَاصٌ فَمَن تَصَدَّقَ بِهِ فَهُوَ كَفَّارَةٌ لَّهُ وَمَن لَّمْ يَحْكُم بِمَا أنزَلَ اللّهُ فَأُوْلَـئِكَ هُمُ الظَّالِمُونَ 5:45

“And We ordained for them in that [Torah]: A life for a life, and an eye for an eye, and a nose for a nose, and an ear for an ear, and a tooth for a tooth, and a [similar] retribution for wounds; but he who shall forgo it out of charity will atone thereby for some of his past sins. And they who do not judge in accordance with what God has revealed – they, they are the evildoers!” (Al-Mai’dah)[4]

How unfortunate and unfair that the most beautiful and powerful portion of the verse has not been talked of in our society. “but he who shall forgo it out of charity will atone thereby for some of his past sins

وَإِنْ عَاقَبْتُمْ فَعَاقِبُواْ بِمِثْلِ مَا عُوقِبْتُم بِهِ وَلَئِن صَبَرْتُمْ لَهُوَ خَيْرٌ لِّلصَّابِرينَ 16:126

“Hence, if you have to respond to an attack (in argument], respond only to the extent of the attack levelled against you; but to bear yourselves with patience is indeed far better for you, since God is with] those who are patient in adversity” (An-Nahl)[5]

Did the courts ever remind a family that Allah is with those who are patient in adversity? That patience is better for them? More importantly, why have we, as a community, looked on when men and women, in their moment of great weakness and sorrow over the unjust killing of a loved one, have been fed with the tools to do away with another life, been fed more bitterness and vengeance in the face of that calamity that will have changed them forever from the gentle souls they were raised to be? I fear it may be too late if we look on.

ذَلِكَ وَمَنْ عَاقَبَ بِمِثْلِ مَا عُوقِبَ بِهِ ثُمَّ بُغِيَ عَلَيْهِ لَيَنصُرَنَّهُ اللَّهُ إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَعَفُوٌّ غَفُورٌ 22:60

“Thus shall it be. And as for him who responds to aggression only to the extent of the attack levelled against him, and is thereupon [again] treacherously attacked – God will most certainly succour him: for, behold, God is indeed an absolver of sins, much-forgiving” (Al-Hajj)[6]

وَلَكُمْ فِي الْقِصَاصِ حَيَاةٌ يَاْ أُولِيْ الأَلْبَابِ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُونَ 2:179

“for, in [the law of] just retribution, O you who are endowed with insight, there is life for you, so that you might remain conscious of God!” (Al-Baqara)[7]

Why have we not spoken of forgiveness entirely?

Have we been fooled to believe that Islam only teaches to take an eye for an eye? If this is so we will have a completely unforgiving nation a few generations down the line, would we not? Which turns my thoughts to the future. The generations that we will groom to lead us to peace and the right path – our children. Will we raise them to lead that dark life of hatred and vengeance?

No. The culture, the Islam, the identity of this small nation that our ancestors left us was something peaceful and gentle. We do not want to leave a legacy of blood for our children. We want them to learn that Allah is the ultimate owner of our souls, and that a life can only be given and taken by Him. Not on the streets and not by a state. We want them to have faith in truth and justice, and learn patience and forgiveness.

[1] www.islamicity.com

[2] www.islamicity.com

[3] Ibn Batuta in the Maldives and Ceylon, Albert Grey

[4] www.islamicity.com

[5] www.islamicity.com

[6] www.islamicity.com

[7] www.islamicity.com



Are we all going to kill Humaam?

Maldives state ready to kill Humam, and a way of life

Stop the death penalty, speak up

Shari’a and the death penalty: how Islamic is Marah Maru?

No sympathy for people like us

A tightening of the noose

Not in our name

Maldives state ready to kill Humam, and a way of life


by Azra Naseem

In the early hours of the morning on the 19th day of Ramadan, as most of the country slept, the Maldives Supreme Court upheld the verdict by lower courts to kill Hussein Humam Ahmed. The 22-year-old man was convicted of killing MP Dr Afrasheem Ali on 2 October 2012 in a trial laden with irregularities.

Regulations introduced recently say the sentence must be carried out within 30 days. Umar Naseer, Home Minister until a sudden resignation on Tuesday this week, has said the State is now ready to kill by hanging – the only thing missing was someone’s neck to put the noose around and squeeze the life out of. The Supreme Court delivered that last night in the shape of Humam.

Humam’s killing will be the first in the Maldives since 1953, even then a rare thing. Moroccan traveller Ibn Batuta wrote of the Maldives in the 14th Century:

The inhabitants of the Maldive islands are honest and pious people, sincere in good faith and of a strong will…In body they are weak and have no aptitude for combat or for war, and their arms their prayers. One day in this country, I ordered the right hand of a robber to be cut off; upon which many of the natives in the hall of audience fainted away.

Today’s Maldives could not be more different. Crime is rife. Murders are commonplace. Stabbings are almost a daily occurrence. Robbery is regular. Corruption is widespread. Deception is natural. Violence is culture.

Something has gone seriously awry with the society’s moral compass.

Dr Afrasheem’s murder was one of the most brutal and violent the country had ever seen. Afrasheem left behind young children, a wife, parents, siblings. They all deserve justice, like everyone else. But there’s too much doubt about whether or not Humam is his killer. Afrasheem’s murder was a contract killing, that much everyone agrees on. Did Humam do it? If he did, who gave the orders? His conviction is based on confessions, retracted as many times as they were given. The legal apparatus will not let a psychiatrist judge his state of mind despite an insanity plea.

And, too many people—Umar Naseer, former Commissioner of Police and current JP MP Abdulla Riyaz, former police and military intelligence officers to indicate just a few—have pointed fingers at people other than Humam, ranging from the very top of government and various political parties to religious extremists, for this verdict to sit well with any right thinking member of society. Today all of them are holding their tongues as Humam is readied for the noose.

The Supreme Court’s decision is political. And so is Afrasheem’s murder said to be.

Many offer informed speculation that the MP could have been murdered for his seat in parliament or for his intentions to contest in then forthcoming presidential elections. He would have given other members of his party a run for their money. He was a popular man. Some reports say there was involvement of radicalised religious elements in Afrasheem’s murder – but, even if so, not without a political connection.

The Supreme Court is controlled by the very same people interested in hiding who really killed Afrasheem, if the informed speculation is based on truth. The court has long since placed itself above the law, ensconced inside the pockets of political leaders. As those awake waited tensely for the ruling on Humam last night–which came over three hours later than billed–the court issued a press release warning potential critics of serious repercussions if they openly disagreed with the court’s rulings.

The Supreme Court’s decision is political in another way. It panders to the strict Salafi clerics and their philosophy of ‘progression through regression’ that now dominate Maldives society. It caters to their demands for a legal system in the Maldives based on Sharia alone. This is a demand expressed by the whole spectrum of Salafis in the Maldives from the apolitical to the radicals and the violent ‘Jihadists’ who have emigrated to SyriaThe Supreme Court decision will appease them.

It also panders to the overlords who facilitate, finance and continue to groom Maldivian Muslims to become Salafis: Saudi Arabia.

The noose around Humam’s neck will put an end to not just his life but to two problems the government encounters: rumours of President Yameen’s involvement in Afrasheem’s murder that just won’t die; and accusations that it is not following the path of ‘true Islam’, i.e, Saudi-led Salafi Islam.

There is still a significant part of Maldivian society today, like me, horrified by the Supreme Court decision which ignored even the last-minute pleas by the murdered victim’s family for a temporary reprieve. Without the Sharia concept of Qisas, which is what the entire case is based on, was lost. Yet the Supreme Court went ahead, making a mockery even of Sharia.

We should understand this verdict is a harbinger of things to come: a society characterised by injustice, faux piety, and appeasement of the radical. There was a time when none of us could have imagined life in Maldives dominated by strict Salafi ideology. Today it is a lived truth. Tomorrow seems likely to be totally ruled by it.

At death’s door is not just Humam, but what is left of the long-lived Maldivian identity as a peace-loving non-violent society of Muslims who practise their religion without committing violence and human rights abuses in its name.

Correction: This article previously said “When the Sharia concept of Qisas became unavailable, the court opted for Ta’zir.” This was not the case. The bench simply chose to ignore plea by Dr Afrasheem’s family for a temporary reprieve, and went ahead with the ruling, flouting the concept of Qisas.

Photo: Humam being brought to court, Raajje.mv

Yameen’s(?) Maldives


by Azra Naseem

The Yameen administration is putting in place a governance reform agenda with the help of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. There is no arguing that Singapore is a successful economy, and a well-ordered society; but a democracy it is not. Yet, although Maldives adopted a Constitution based on democratic values and principles less than a decade ago, it is Lee’s authoritarian capitalism that Yameen wants to practice in the Maldives. How likely is it that he will succeed?

Do I look good in your policies?

‘Singapore owes much of its prosperity to a record of honest and pragmatic government’, wrote The Economist in March 2015 on Lee’s death. Lee’s success in tackling corruption is legendary, and Singapore continues to score among the world’s top ten least corrupt countries. His government ministers were well paid, and he introduced harsh punishments for those who did steal from the public coffers. In sharp contrast, honesty is not in the Yameen government lexicon. While ministerial pay remains comparatively high, there is endemic corruption in the Maldivian government and society. And Yameen, not just his government, is implicated. “When you are handed a huge sum of money, no one would ask where it came from”, Yameen said this year in the aftermath of the worst corruption scandal in the history of the country involving at least US$79 million.

Although it is his own Vice President, under his direct watch, that is said to have masterminded siphoning off of the millions, Yameen has conveniently distanced himself from the whole affair. “The buck stops here”, he said, jailing Vice President Ahmed Adeeb. Apart from keeping Adeeb and associates under lock and key, no action has been taken to recover the lost moneys, or investigate how it was taken. This is a far cry from Lee’s unwavering stand against corruption.

The failure to stem embezzlement and bribery has had negative effects on foreign investment in Maldives. Multiple attempts to attract private foreign investment have resulted in few projects that are transparent, and of obvious benefit to society as a whole. This is the exact opposite of Singapore where foreign investment ‘poured in’ under Lee’s stewardship. Lee hired economic managers that, ‘kept the government small, the economy open and regulation simple, transparent and effective’. And, to attract foreign investment, Lee’s Singapore relied upon massive investments in specialised physical infrastructure, efficient bureaucratic and administrative systems, generous tax incentives to attract capital, and politically docile labour. In Yameen’s Maldives all of these variables are lacking in most areas and non-existent in others.

There is another crucial difference. In Singapore, Lee did not access the funds for its infrastructure through international borrowing or printing money, but through government imposed savings. In the Maldives, Yameen is borrowing like there is no tomorrow.

“I only have two and a half years left,” he said in a recent speech. “Short cuts have to be taken”, he asserts, if he is to undertake massive infrastructure projects—like the development of a new airport. By shortcuts he means loans. A US$800 million loan to develop the airport, he says, is justified. Debt levels are thus skyrocketing, standing at over 80% GDP this year, and forecast to rise up to over 100% of the GDP by 2018.

Added to the corruption and the bad debt scenario, which the World Bank Group sees as unsustainable, is how far the Maldives lags behind Singapore in the world ‘ease of doing business rankings’.  Singapore is No.1 out of 189 countries while Maldives at No. 128. In terms of reliability in enforcing contracts, Singapore leads the world once again while the Maldives, with the costly GMR debacle fresh in investor minds, and with its endemic corruption, is at No.95.

With such big shoes to fill, following in Lee’s economic footsteps will be a difficult, if not impossible, task for Yameen.

Bookworms and burger technicians

Yameen also lacks Lee’s vision of education as central to the growth of the nation he wanted to create. Singapore’s National University is among the top 25 in the world, and the country taken pride in having an ‘unabashedly meritocratic’ education system where ‘high quality education is available for all levels of academic aptitude’. Things cannot be more different in the Maldives—high quality education is only available in Male’, the capital. The quest to provide good education to their children is the driving force behind mass migration to Male’ from other islands. Even in Male’, a parallel system of expensive tuition is necessary for children to attain levels of education necessary to gain admittance in universities abroad.

On top of systematic failures in the education sector, Yameen’s personal approach to education is lukewarm. Yameen has moved to reduce importance of academic achievement, decreasing awards for and celebration of high achievers; encouraged vocational training for the ‘not as clever’ majority; and has spoken disdainfully of ‘bookworms’. Lee, on the other hand, is said to have read Lewis Carroll, Jane Austen, and Shakespeare’s sonnets—among others—to his wife when she lay ‘bedridden and mute for two years’ before her death.

Whereas Lee worked hard to make the Singaporean workforce one of the key strengths of the country’s economy, Yameen sees the Maldivian labour force as hopeless, unskilled, and unqualified for the tasks he has in mind for them.  He lamented recently that the biggest challenge to running a world-class airport in the Maldives would be having to do so with Maldivian staff.

Significant variables that contributed to Lee’s economic success is thus missing in Yameen’s equation, making it unlikely that the latter can emulate the former in a positive way. Latest World Bank Group report predicts a debt-ridden bleak economic future far removed from Singapore.

Me Yameen, You Lee

This is not to say that Yameen will fail altogether in his mission to mimic Lee. More than a few similarities are already evident in both men’s curtailment of people’s democratic freedoms. Lee locked up members of the opposition to stamp it out, stifled press freedom, and legally hounded critics and opposition politicians, including the foreign press. Lee also arranged the electoral process in such a way as to make it almost inconceivable for his People’s Action Party (PAP) to lose power. In the space of just two and a half years, Yameen has managed to take almost all those steps, and then some, against democratic freedoms. His main project at the moment appears to be emulating Lee’s role as a disciplinarian, the man in charge of creating a politically docile workforce.

Yameen has taken to performing this task like a duck to water. Armed with an award for excellence in governance, and security guards with machine guns, Yameen travels the country to tell people that if they want prosperity ‘like Singapore’, they must accept ‘government knows best’. Not just in terms of economy, but socio-politically as well. People must put aside their fight for civil and political rights, they must demonstrate obedience, be reverent, docile.

Everyone must accept Economies of Scale is king. Bowing to its power, over two thirds of the population must move to what Yameen is calling the Greater Male’ Area—Male’, Villingili, and the artificial island of HulhuMale’—being expanded at breakneck speed with borrowed capital. For a successful economy, Maldivians living on small islands scattered across 90,000 square kilometres of the Indian Ocean must all relocate—willingly, submissively—to living in purpose-built high-rises. It is impossible, Yameen has said, to provide basic services to Maldivians who do not fall in line with the plan.

Yameen’s speeches are often a scolding; full of rebukes and dressing-downs for some wrong committed by an individual or imagined societal groups. ‘Good Maldivians’ are not concerned about assembling freely, press freedom, or any other ‘minor’ civil liberty. Those who speak up for rights are mocked as street performers. When journalists objected to the fast receding press freedoms in April this year, for example, Yameen described them as political activists who had lost all semblance of order. He decries the last decade as one of futile resistance; not for democratic rights but against progress. The agitation for democracy and the short transition period were costly detours on the road to progress. The lesson must be learned from it that fighting for civil and political freedoms will only bring more of the same chaos. Therefore, work with Yameen and his PPM loyalists to make money at any cost, notwithstanding that they may come at the expense of human rights, the environment, and the Maldivian ways of life.

While Yameen may be on the same page as Lee on placing democracy behind economic progress, there are vast differences in how the two leaders persuade their peoples of the suitability of their plans for their countries.  Whereas Lee led by example, Yameen leads by fiat. In Singapore, Lee was ‘incorruptible, capable, and completely committed to Singapore’s interests’.

There is a long way to go before Yameen achieves that kind of credibility with the people of Maldives. Almost half the population is vehemently opposed to his rule; he has not proven his capabilities as an economist, nor has he proven himself incorruptible. Given these factors, it is going to be difficult, if not impossible, to cultivate belief among the majority that he is completely committed to Maldives’ interests.

Lee admitted to being Machiavellian in his approach to being loved or feared. “If nobody is afraid of me, I’m meaningless” he said. President Yameen, wants people to fear him—Gatu Raees, President with Guts, PPM supporters call him. A crucial difference remains, though. Whereas Lee was both feared and respected, there is little respect for Yameen among most people. There is fear, and there is intense dislike. Respect, despite legal and administrative demands for it, has not been forthcoming. The question of love is not even entertained—either by people, or by Yameen.

Go boldly forth, to realise someone else’s dreams

Yameen’s vision for the Maldives is problematic in a variety of ways.

Most fundamentally, it is plagiarised; somebody else’s idea for another country. It is not an organic vision shared by, or arrived at through consultation with the Maldivian people about their wants, aspirations and ways of life.

Yameen was not elected to change the system of governance in the Maldives but to govern according to the 2008 Constitution in place for  five years when he came to power. As president he has no right to curtail the rights provided by the Constitution, or to deviate from the democratic path.

Under the plan for reform, Yameen is making criticism a crime, is removing all opposition through legal and other means, wants to establish a one party system, and will engineer the electoral system or the voting system in such a way that he will remain in power for a long time to come.

Economic success that line pockets can, as Lee showed in Singapore, be a ‘winning’ strategy if it provides people with opportunities for better lives. Without such success, the politically docile society will remain a pipe dream.

These reasons, and other differences with Singapore that have not been discussed here–such as cultural background, religious controls, intolerance, xenophobia and a foreign policy rapidly moving away from democracies to align with autocracies–make Yameen’s attempts to morph Maldives into Singapore unlikely to succeed.

It is also important to recall here that the ongoing attempt by Yameen to super-impose Lee’s ideas for Singapore in the Maldives is not the first time its been tried. Someone else had this same plan before, and 30 years in which to make it a success:

The government now wants to attract international investment, as it is keen on the concept of profit and is not committed to sociologist ideology. Male’ is a free port, and, inspired by the example of Singapore, the government wants to bring in banking, insurance, ship bunkering and other clean but profitable enterprises. Whether Male’ can fulfil its hopes in this regard is doubtful, for it lacks the economic infrastructure.

That is a description of Maumoon’s government, by Clarence Maloney, at the start of the 1980s. Did we get anywhere near being a Singapore?

Further reading: Fareed Ahmed, 2015, Can Maldives Replicate Singapore Story: A Comparison