The Islamic Post Blog

Maldive Islands Debate End to Extremism by Khalida

By Mubeen Khaleel
Islamic Post Staff Writer

While U.S. presidential candidates were engaging in the final rounds of fierce political debate before the elections, their counterparts in the Maldives, a conglomerate territory of more than one thousand small islands, had a larger topic added to the agenda: the correct manner of adhering to religion.
In a local editorial, columnist for the Maldives’ MiniVan News, Shawna Aminath, wrote that the government’s Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party accused the largest opposition, the Maldivian Democratic Party of not setting a broad Islamic example; the MDP, in turn, accused President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom of secularism. “The key topic of discussion by both parties, in the country’s first multi-party elections, has become baseless accusations over religion. However, the threat Islam is facing in the Maldives is not over the invasion of another religion. It is over the widening gap within our culture,” Ms. Aminath said.
The journalist went on to accuse the candidates in the elections of focusing on each other’s practice of Islam; whereas, she claimed, a united front was more important –regardless of party politics– against extremism which –having invaded the adherents of Islam and other religions- remains a politically and socially destructive force.
While religious discussion is a rarity in most political arenas, in the Republic of Maldives, things have been done differently, even when compared to most nations that also have a majority of Muslim citizens. In 1978, the Maldivian government was declared Islamic, as it forms laws based on the wide spectrum of the Islamic societal, economic, administrative and punitive laws, collectively and commonly known as Sharia law. Maldivian law is also complemented by a body of English common laws. There is a democratic parliament of representatives –the People’s Majlis– which gathers the consensus of the local authorities who administer the approximately 200 inhabited islands of the Maldives. There is also a Cabinet of Ministers, which is appointed by the president.
Maldives’ president of more than two decades, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, made strides to honor his promises of an Islamic system.
The outgoing president also achieved a more representative political system by legalizing political parties. This left an open door for a new political party, the Maldivian Democratic Party, and Mr. Gayoom’s ultimate defeat by MDP party leader, Mohamad Nasheed, the president-elect.
During the campaign, numerous messages had been recorded on the website of Mr. Nasheed, while still a member of the People’s Majlis, requesting him to give the extremism concern serious consideration as, according to Ms. Aminath’s report, there is a “genuine crisis of Islam in the Maldives.”
Some went so far as to suggest that “Wahhabis,” whose teachings form the foundation for extremist –and often ignorant– groups such as Al Qaeda and the Taliban, be outlawed.
Although marginalized, the ranks of the “haabees,” as the group is known in the Maldives, are augmenting in the islands of the republic. According to one commentator, the members promote their teachings not as Wahhabism but as “Unitarianism,” as the term Wahhabi is often considered a slur. Another reason is that the extremist group considers other Muslims to be polytheist if they show respect to holy people, visit the grave sites of the same, or  even pay tribute to the Holy Last Messenger, Muhammad, peace be upon him.
Wahhabism is named after Ibn Abdul Wahhab, who helped initiate Saudi rule. Since the Saudi kingdom began, the graves of virtually all the Holy Companions and the members of the Blessed Household of the Holy Last Messenger, Muhammad, peace be upon him, have been destroyed, an act which has drawn immense criticism from the Muslim world.
With such a modified position on what is permissible or not, some adherents to the sect have also been known to actually disapprove of those who follow the accepted, codified law.
Sometimes disapproval leads to violence.
An attempt in January on the life of President Abdul Gayoom, by an assailant alleged to be a Wahhabi, was followed by the September bomb attack that left 12 tourists dead, and Maldivians outraged. Leaders in the Maldives, thereafter, transcended political contentions in order to focus attention on the spread of violence, and resultant danger to innocent victims (primarily Muslim). In the words of President-elect Mohamed Nasheed, “Maldivian politicians have shown a rare show of solidarity in standing united through these testing times. Despite differences of political thought or opinion, they have given out a very clear message that the Maldives cannot afford to have a [another] similar incident and that comprehensive and effective action must happen on all fronts to make sure a 9/29 (the date of the Sultan Park bombing) never repeats on Maldives soil.”
Maldivians are watching to see whether the new administration will hold true to this stance.


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