The Religious Unity Act has been hijacked by the very people against whom it was created. According to a news story published on minivannews.com last week, recommendations by the Wahhabi NGO Jamiyathul Salaf have been included by the Islamic ministry in the regulations being formulated for the Act.
It will come as a surprise for people to learn that former pop star Ali Rameez is now drafting legislature, but Wahhabism’s most famous convert and other colleagues appear to have been collaborating with the Islamic ministry, for some time, on these regulations.
In fact, the stated objective of formulating the regulations were to protect Maldivians from brutal practices in the name of Islam and combat religious divisions and antagonism. Jamiyathul Salaf has an unenviable history of openly supporting flogging, the marrying off of under-aged girls, and calling for harsh punishments for people who challenge what it says.
Now Salaf is recommending, among other things, for power to be given to a religious body (no doubt comprising of its supporters) to meddle with the national educational curriculum, crackdown on the print media, censor advertisements, and to take action against anyone they consider as defying Islam. If implemented, media and the freedom of expression will be even worse than they were during Gayoom’s dictatorship.
The Maldives Salafi movement rose to notoriety in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami, when Ali Rameez and his buddies produced an audio CD blaming women for the natural disaster, specifically women who refused to wear the veil. The CD had dramatic sound effects, which recreated the sound of the waves, and a voiceover by TVM’s Mohamed Asif Mondhu to lend it authority, and is said to have converted hundreds of women to the buruga.
The organization has been trying to spread Wahhabism across the country, allegedly with funds received from Saudi charities. Wahhabism originated in Saudi Arabia two centuries ago and has, since, been the dominant faith there. It insists on a literal interpretation of the Koran and strict Wahhabis denounce anyone who doesn’t practice their form of Islam as enemies. Wahhabism has been criticized as misinterpreting and distorting Islam and leading to extremists like Osama bin Laden and the Taliban.
With ever increasing resources and power, Jamiyathul Salaf produced an anti-music video in which it even got a Human Rights Commission member to denounce music and singing as haraam or anti-Islamic, a highly contested claim in Islamic scholarship. More recently, Salaf has tried to stifle debate about the disproportionate sentencing of women and under-age girls to flogging by Maldivian courts, and labeled critics of this cruel and degrading practice as anti-Islamic.
But Salaf’s lowest moment came when they brought in Wahhabi preacher Bilal Phillips to spout misogyny on the Maldivian populace and to state on live television that it was permissible in Islam to marry off under-aged girls. Studies have repeatedly shown that the Maldives has some of the highest (if not the highest) child-abuse rates in South Asia and, possibly, the world. Maldivian paedophiles have long argued that menstruation and not age, physical or psychological development, is the indication of maturity in a women. Philips’s claim can only be read as an endorsement of the sexual abuse of under-aged girls.
The Islamic Ministry, composed almost entirely of Adhalath Party members has, up until now, been coy about its relationship with Salaf. But commentators haven’t failed to notice that Salaf has grown in strength ever since President Nasheed gave a ministry to Adhalath. It has been observed that when Anni was declared president, and portfolio bargaining was in full swing, Adhalath members were so excited about the powers they were going obtain that they even forgot to go to the mosque for prayers.
It is unclear what Attorney General Husnu Sood will make of the Adhalath-Salaf regulations, but online responses to the Minivan News shows great dismay.
It seems that most Maldivians, certainly those that have access to the internet, recongise Adhalath and Salaf for what they are and will not surrender their hard-earned fledgling democratic rights without a fight.
But Maldivian politicians usually take longer to respond to threats to democracy when they come from “religious” groups. By the time they do it may be too late.