Sunday, December 27, 2009
Friday, December 25, 2009
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.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Monday, August 17, 2009
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Thursday, August 6, 2009
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Monday, July 27, 2009
Monday, July 20, 2009
Saturday, July 18, 2009
Press freedom is under threat again, this time from a small group of the religious right and their supporters. Yesterday, about 150 people, believed to be proxies of the Adhaalath Party, gathered at the Artificial Beach to call for, among other things, a ban on the internet newspaper Minivan News, and the deportation of its writer Mariyam Omidi.
Omidi and other writers at Minivan News had recently covered a public flogging in the capital Male, and explored the debates surrounding it in a series of articles.
Protesters called the writings ‘anti-Islamic’, a label which in the past has succeeded in muzzling important debates and discussions. The crowd also called for the resignation of foreign minister Dr. Shaheed and the Maldvies embassador to the UK Dr Farhanaz Faisal, whose views on flogging to had been published in the Minivan News articles.
The public flogging at the centre of the controversy involves an18-year-old girl, but a disturbing aspect of the case appears to have gone unnoticed. It has emerged that the girl, who reportedly “confessed” to having had extra-marital sex with two adult males, committed the “crime” when she was under-18. If so, this would have grave implications for the Maldivian state. Not only has the state failed to protect a child from sexual abuse but has, in fact, been party to subjecting her to further physical abuse.
Sadly, this is not an isolated case. At least 22 girls under 18 years of age were sentenced to public flogging, in 2006, for fornication or giving birth out of wedlock.
Under Maldivian law child sexual abuse requires a confession by the alleged abuser, or testimony by four eye-witnesses, for a successful conviction to take place. This means that if a victim reports sexual abuse but the perpetrator denies it and there are no eye-witnesses, the court can find the child guilty of having consented to the sex. The state would then wait for the girl to turn 18 and then carry out the sentence of public flogging, in effect, punishing her for reporting the crime.
By continuing with the practice, the Maldives is violating no less than four UN conventions it has signed: the convention on the rights of children; the convention on civil and political rights; the convention against torture; and the convention against all forms of discrimination against women.
But the UN has remained silent on the issue, as has the human rights commission, and the government’s child protection services.
Recent studies suggest the Maldives may have one of the highest child sexual abuse rates in the world. A 2007 survey revealed that one in six Maldivian women aged 15-49 is sexually abused before they turn 15 years of age. A UNICEF study published earlier this year has found that one in five school girls experiences sexual abuse at least once in their lifetime. Although boys are sexually abused too, the majority of victims of child sexual abuse in the Maldives are girls.
While there have been numerous protests against child abuse, attended by governmental and non-governmental organizations, no one has yet organized a public gathering against child abuse by the state. And, although it has been fashionable in recent months for people to call for harsher penalties for perpetrators of child sexual abuse, there hasn’t been a call to introduce the necessary evidence laws to convict these people of their crimes. Public flogging disproportionately punishes women, many of them victims of child sexual abuse.
And now, the religious right are calling for a continuation of punishment. At yesterday’s rally, speakers invoked the Quranic verse 24:2 to support their argument:
“The fornicatress and the fornicator, flog each of them with a hundred stripes. Let not pity withhold you in their case, in a punishment prescribed by Allah, if you believe in Allah and the Last Day. And let a party of the believers witness their punishment.”
In fact flogging, as practiced in the Maldives, would appear to contravene this verse. In an overwhelming majority of cases the “fornicatress”, and not the “fornicator”, receives the lashings.
Chief judge of the criminal court Abdulla Mohamed explained to Minivan News that while men were able to deny the crime, women were often implicated due to pregnancy.
Zina or fornication is notoriously difficult to prove under Sharia Law because a confession by the parties or testimonies by four eye-witnesses, who saw the actual penetration, are needed. Some scholars have said that these conditions indicate that Islam does not intend to punish people as a matter of course.
But the all-male speakers at yesterday’s rally were vociferous in their support for public flogging, even if it meant that a disproportionate number of women would be punished. They also rejected the suggestion that DNA testing on males should be introduced to ensure both parties are punished equally.
“Women don’t know who they’ve slept with,” said one speaker. “How can we test all the men in the Maldives?”
It is this unmistakable misogyny that gives the game away, and lifts the lid on the real agenda of these pious men. They want to continue to punish women and girls but are happy to absolve men of their part in the crime. And, when they feel the status quo is threatened, they always look for a female to vilify.
In 2007 when the religious right condemned MDP’s Aishath Aniya for writing an anti-buruga article in Minivan Daily, they didn’t bother to actually read what she said or argue with her points. There was a known and tested shortcut: label your opponents “anti-Islamic” and nobody asks questions even when you call for their death. Mariyam Omidi is the new Aniya for the religious right.
Adhalath bigwigs were notably absent at the rally, even though many people believe they are behind it. An earlier statement by the party, while it didn’t name names, said visas to foreign nationals should be conditional on their respect of the Maldives constitution. The theme was very much part of yesterday’s rally where Omidi was singled out for deportation calls.
The recently formed Maldives Journalism Association, which likes to present itself as the champion of free press in the Maldives, is yet to condemn this attack on an individual writer, a newspaper and, indeed, press freedom in the Maldives. We can also expect silence from the human rights commission.
But the attitudes of the general public may be changing, apparent in the small numbers that turned up for rally. Moreover, the online community, which Adhaalath Party tried to ban earlier in the year, is alive with debates not only of the flogging in question, but also press freedom.
In the 1950s, Maldivians protested against president Mohamed Ameen’s ill advised introduction of Hadd punishment, particularly capital punishment and the amputation of hands. The public outcry is likely to have contributed to the downfall of the first president of the Maldives, because the subsequent revolutions committee had to ban the punishments.
More than half a century later, Maldivians are grappling with public floggings. A criminal court judge has told Minivan News that 200 more floggings are waiting to be carried out.
With the help of new technology and tools, such as the social networking websites like Facebook, Maldivians can put a stop to a cruel and discriminatory punishment that has never served a legal, religious or social purpose.
Friday, July 10, 2009
A worshipper sits on a bench in Masjidul Muslima in Kendhoo, Baa Atoll, reading the Quran. Simply and tastefully designed, the spotlessly clean mosque with its spacious, immaculately swept garden basks in the afternoon sunshine, a picture of serenity.
Masjidhul Muslima is one of the several exclusive women’s mosques in the Maldives. Women’s mosques and female imams are virtually non-existent in the rest of the Muslim word, except for parts of China which in 1997 was recorded as having 29 mosques. The Maldives has 210, probably the highest number of women’s mosques in a single country in the world at present.
But in June, the Islamic ministry announced that it was closing down all the women’s mosques in the Maldives. The official reason given was that the government wanted to cut down on expenditure and “the best place for a woman to pray is at home.”
In fact the government spends very little on women’s mosques. Apart from a token monthly salary for some female imams, the only government contribution to women’s mosques is an annual calendar, a few Qurans, and cloth for cleaning the floors. Almost all the women’s mosques in the Maldives have been built by the communities themselves and maintenance is carried out by volunteer worshippers.
Women’s mosques have existed in this country for as long as any living Maldivian can remember. According to a registry of currently operating mosques, the oldest is Masjidul Salat in Thakandhoo, Haa Alif Atoll, which was inaugurated in 1926. It is likely that women’s mosques evolved in the last century or so, since historical writings before that make no mention of these unique places of worship.
Women’s mosques are a common feature of north Maldives with some islands boasting more women’s mosques than men’s mosques. Dhidhdhoo, in Haa Alif Atoll, has no less than four women’s mosques.
A 61-year-old retired female imam said that one of the women's mosques on her island predated its oldest inhabitant. However, with the growth of the population, the community decided to build a second one. Both men and women worked tirelessly to raise funds and to construct the mosque, which stands proud today, grander than even the men’s mosque. The communities take great pride in these mosques and female worshipers clean and maintain them lovingly.
“Our women’s mosque is such a pleasant place that sometimes even men go there to pray, when there are no women in the mosque,” the former imam told me.
For the women of these island communities the women’s mosque is a safe, peaceful place, where they can pray without fear or intimidation at any time of the day or night. These mosques are revered by all members of the community and, to date, no harassment is known to have taken place in any of them. In contrast, many homes are too noisy, crowded and unfit for worship. Women’s mosques, as well as being a place of worship, offers women a space for social interaction.
These mosques exist in most parts of the country but are notably absent in the far south. There is no women’s mosque on Foah Mulah and only one in the whole of Addu Atoll. Instead, on Hithadhoo, every house has a namaadhu-ge or prayer room, where women and children worship. A Hithadhoo elder has pointed out that this tradition may be a legacy of the Buddhist practice of building a shrine inside the house for worship.
The namaadhu-ge also serves another function. When children see their mothers praying, it helps them to learn to pray at an early age. “The namaadhu-ge is an age-old tradition passed down from generation to generation,” a Hithadhoo woman told me. “Even the smallest house has one.”
In 1987, a women’s mosque was opened in the adjoining island community of Maradhoo and this lead to Hithadhoo women demanding their own mosque.
“We told them women’s mosques were un-Islamic but they persisted,” recalled a former Katheeb or Island Head. “Fortunately, the funds never materialized and Hithadhoo, to this day, doesn’t have a women’s mosque.”
Addu people’s religious education has traditionally been different to the rest of the country. The atoll is believed to have converted to Islam at least half a century before the rest of the Maldives and has a history of exposure to visiting scholars from the Middle East. Many people also go to countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Pakistan to study Islam, and bring back with them religious sensibilities that are hostile to women’s mosques.
Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari, who heads the Islamic ministry, hails from Addu Atoll. While his ministry is gearing to ban women’s mosques from the rest of the country, it has not bothered to consult the women whose lives are going to be impacted. Instead, the ministry is recommending that women pray in the small designated corner of men’s mosques, behind the male congregation. But many women, used to the independence and security of their own mosques, are likely to feel intimidated in men’s mosques.
Although the Islamic ministry advocates women to pray at home, there is no evidence that women were banned from mosques by the Prophet Muhammad. Indeed, no restriction or segregation is imposed on them in the largest Islamic gathering in the word, the Hajj pilgrimage.
If the Islamic ministry goes ahead with its proposed ban, it can only be read as a government crackdown on women’s right to worship in a safe and secure place that they have build for themselves.
“Many women, especially older ones, will be heartbroken,” the former imam told me. “For them, the exercise of walking to the mosque, worshipping there, and the social interaction are an important daily routine.”
The Islamic ministry recently threatened to ban Airtel dish antennas, but the outcry from angry citizens successfully thwarted it. It remains to be seen whether we'll hear enough noise to prevent the impending ban on women’s mosques too.
Monday, July 6, 2009
Sunday, July 5, 2009
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Sunday, April 12, 2009
Last week, the family court in Male registered a marriage between a man in his 20s and a 17-year-old girl. The terrified girl confided to a schoolmate that her family of religious conservatives had pushed her into the marriage and how frightened she had been that her husband might turn out to be really old. Under Maldivian law, any form of coercion would disqualify the marriage but neither the court nor child protection, in this case, seems to have noticed the immense pressures exerted on the girl by her parents.
In the Maldives, a person is legally of age only after he or she is 18 years of age, but a provision allows 16-18 year olds to marry at the discretion of the judge. Family law was introduced to the Maldives in 2001 and judges, to their credit, have used their powers to prevent marriages involving minors. But after 2005, the courts transferred the responsibility to child protection authorities in the ministry of gender and family. Ironically, this only saw a lifting of the restraint on marriages involving children. When questioned by national and international child rights groups, officials attempt to justify the state-condoned child abuse by citing overwhelming religious pressure.
There has been an increase in the number of marriages between older men and under-aged girls in the Maldives. Religious conservatives argue that once a girl attains puberty she is an “adult” and draw on the example of Prophet Muhammed’s marriage to Aisha. Even sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali, the state minister for Islamic affairs, is reported to have “approached” a 16-year-old girl for marriage.
In addition, “unregistered marriages” involving girls as young as nine years of age, have taken place across the country in the last couple of years, notably in Himendhoo, in Alif Atoll, and parts of Raa Atoll.
The state has also institutionalized another form of child abuse. According to statistics (see page 75) from the Maldives judiciary, 174 people were convicted of zina or fornication in 2006, and sentenced to public flogging. An overwhelming majority of those sentenced, 146, were women, 19 of who were under 18 years of age. In the same year, seven women, including three minors, were convicted of giving birth out of wedlock.
Usually, the state waits until the under-aged girls it has failed to protect are legally of age, and then subjects them to a cruel and degrading public flogging. Gayoom's government has a well-documented history of complicity in child sexual abuse, but there is no sign that the change of government will protect Maldivian children.
At least one of MDP's candidates for the upcoming parliamentary elections, Ibrahim Manik, who is contesting a Dhaalu Atoll seat, was convicted of sex offense involving a minor. When concerned people contacted the party about it, they were told the candidate would be removed from the party ticket. But at the time of the publishing of this post, he was still on the MDP list of candidates.
Maldivian laws, particularly evidence laws, have been criticised for their failure to protect children from child sexual abuse. With erstwhile abusers poised to become lawmakers, the future looks bleak for Maldivian children.