I was once at a presentation where someone stated that ‘today, Maldivians are at a crossroads with Islam’. Coming from a country that likes to claim that it is a ‘100 per cent Muslim’ country and continues to believe and enforce the idea of religious homogeneity, at all costs, I thought it was a very interesting and daring statement to be said in the public domain. Whilst some of us like to deny the reality, these words hit home for me. It is a fact that many Maldivians, particularly the youth, are confused and disillusioned by the variety of religious messages and doctrines thrown at them.
Should I wear the scarf to avoid hell? If I keep my beard long enough would I go to heaven? I occasionally smoke weed and have sex with my girlfriend, but I do pray 3 times a day – heaven or hell?
For a country that has been practicing a moderate, peaceful version of Islam for 800 years, the current social landscape presents a rather different picture – a country that is divided strongly in its opinion of religion. Similar with many other countries that are experiencing challenges from religious fanatics, we have a section of society that calls for a return to a more radical form of Islam. Another section of society calls for a moderate, more tolerant form of Islam. But the majority I believe are in the middle, indifferent and/or conform to religious principles in public but deviate behind closed doors.
The louder voice is obviously the religious fanatics’, the radicals’ voice because they bother to shout and preach. Moderate Maldivian Muslims remain quiet because they are moderate, relaxed and are just trying to get through the daily challenges of living in the Maldives. The problem with this is that the religious fanatics in the Maldives are becoming stronger and louder. Today they are loud enough to drown and threaten the voices of those that oppose or criticize them. Anyone who challenges them is accused of apostasy or treason!
They are threatening the very basic rights we Maldivians have just begun to enjoy after a 30 year authoritarian regime.
The increase in religious fanatics or the so-called religious scholars and their minions in the Maldives worries me because they have already started clamping down on our freedom of thinking and have unleashed moral policing in the country. The hypocrisy of the Adhaalath Party and other religious fanatics is downright shameful and disgusting. Freedom of expression is a right only for them. Right to a peaceful life is only for them. Right to protest is only for them. Right to heaven is only for them! The rest of us are constantly judged; our faith questioned and our peaceful way of life threatened. The sad fact is that political parties such as PPM join these clowns and help religious groups to use religion as a weapon to drive a wedge in Maldivian society, only because of their desire to delegitimize the current regime.
The events leading up to the mass protest on 23rd December showcased the religious divide like never before. Following Navi Pillay’s (the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights) comments on the issue of public flogging in the Maldives and the consequent outcry by religious factions, to the protest held by group of people calling for freedom of religion in the Maldives and the mass protest, one undeniable truth is uncovered – there is no religious homogeneity in the country and there is no point in pretending to have one.
The truth is we simply cannot live the way Muslims lived 1400 years ago, so the government needs to stop debating as if it is an option and giving hope to these religious fanatics. People should think for themselves and accept the reality around them. We need to live in the context of our time on this earth and respect differences.
More importantly, if you, yourself cannot honour the basic morals and values subscribed to by all societies, stop preaching your sanctimonious bullshit to other people!