Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Bastardising Islam

When Islamic Democratic Party leader Umar Naseer declared that only Muslims would have Maldivian citizenship, he was going against a fundamental right in Islam.

The Quran is very clear on its position on the freedom of religion. According to verse 2:256, "There is no compulsion in religion", while verse 109.6 states "Unto you your religion, and unto me my religion". A third, verse 18:29 says "Whosoever will, let him believe, and whosoever will, let him disbelieve". 

Religious belief and practice, therefore, is a personal matter as, indeed, only Reeko Moosa Manik seems to have had the courage to say openly. Anyone who wants to force Islam on others are operating outside the religious mandate.

This is the central premise of "Apostasy and Islam", which presidential hopeful Hassan Saeed wrote with his brother. The book seems to have suddenly offended the Adhalath Party and the IDP and its spineless co-writer has chosen to bend down under the pressure and distance himself from the book, in much the same way Anni and Munawwar looked the other way when the religious right literally called for former MDP assistant secretary general Aishath Aniya's blood after her anti-buruga article. 

The Adhalat Party, a political party that appears to devote most of its meetings to misogynistic rants and women's clothing, has declared the book anti-Islamic. As with their criticism of Afrasheem, the only openly liberal Islamic scholar in the Maldives, the party hasn't bothered to provide any intelligent argument against the book. Only ignorance and extremism can explain the Adhalat-IDP vilification of a book that so strongly argues for an essential Islamic right.

Umar Naseer, in his condemnation of Hassan Saeed for having been part of the book, has called for a ban. His main argument is that it might encourage Maldivians with lesser intelligence than himself to renounce Islam. In fact, its people like Umar Naseer and Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari that put people off Islam.

A former cop, probably still in Gayoom's payroll, Umar Naseer has been accused by 'backbone' Mahir of torturing him in prison. Although Naseer denies the allegation, he has always been pro-police. Recently, he even justified the notorious 2003 police shooting of unarmed prisoners, which sparked all the political developments in the Maldives and, in fact, allowed him to form a political party. 

Maldivians have habitually been easy-going Muslims. But Maumoon Abdul Gayoom changed all that when he came into office in 1978. Together with his buddy Zahir Hussein, Gayoom spread religious right wing ideology to remote islands and is today under threat from this very ideology. MDP's Kalhube Abdul Latheef, among others, helped Gayoom in the campaign and has since switched sides to carry on with the same work inside MDP.

The Maldives today must surely boast the most number of political parties per capita in the world. Although fragmented, these parties show a strange unity when it comes to religious matters. The religious right, whichever party they may belong to, always joins forces to oppose any attempt to educated Maldivians in more liberal interpretations of Islam. 

Some years back, when Amina Wadoud gave a lecture in the Maldives and 'scholars' of the religious right failed to challenge her, she was declared a lesbian. When Afrasheem started to introduce liberal interpretations of Islam, he was physically attacked  and called a stooge of Gayoom.

The outlook doesn't look healthy for Maldivians who want true democracy, including the right to the freedom of religion. Although the New Maldives manifesto appears to promise liberal teachings of Islam, this is yet to happen. For now, the Maldives is in the hands of the religious right and extremists, who have hijacked and bastardised Islam, and no  'reformist' will utter a murmer against them.