Country overview: Maldives
Maldives is an island country and archipelago in the Indian Ocean. Historically linked with the Indian subcontinent, Maldives is a Muslim-majority country. The country is ruled by a president and its government is authoritarian. The Maldivian economy is dominated by tourism and fishing.
Religion: Sunni Islam
Ethnic groups: 100% Maldivians
Government type: Unitary presidential constitutional republic
The 1997 Constitution of the Maldives designates Islam as the official state religion. The Government interprets this provision to impose a requirement that all citizens must be Muslims. Freedom of religion is restricted significantly. The law prohibits the practice by Maldivian citizens of any religion other than Islam, and the Constitution precludes non-Muslims from voting, obtaining citizenship, and holding public positions. The president, who is required to be a Sunni Muslim, is the “supreme authority to propagate the tenets of Islam.” Government regulations are based on Islamic law. Non-Muslim foreigners are prohibited from worshiping publicly, or from encouraging local citizens to participate in any other religion. Only certified Muslim scholars can give fatawa. As of 2007, freedom of religion remained severely restricted, with some individual societal abuses or discrimination based on religious belief or practice. According to many officials and interlocutors, most citizens regarded Islam as one of their society’s most distinctive characteristics and believed that it promotes harmony and national identity (http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/irf/2007/90231.htm)
Duality of Fundamentalist regime and tourism
- To the tourist on a resort, the Maldives is as liberal and free as any place in the West, but outside the resorts, the Maldives is repressive and controlled,” says Aishath Velezinee, a human-rights advocate who served in the administration of pro-democracy president Mohamed Nasheed before he was ousted in 2012. “Bikinis, alcohol sales and consumption, unmarried and homosexual sex are all permitted in tourist resorts,” says Velezinee, “but they are all crimes outside resorts.” Punishment for such transgressions is harsh. More than 100 public floggings are carried out each year for “fornication”, the majority on women and girls. Last year an international outcry saved a 15-year-old rape victim from 100 lashes. British prime minister David Cameron was urged to intervene, and rights groups appealed to honeymooners to avoid destinations with poor human rights records.
- “The official line is those tourists – and their polluting, infidel views – should be kept away from the Maldivian people for the sake of the people’s Islamic faith. But there is another side to it,” says Azra Naseem, a Maldivian who is visiting fellow at the International Institute of Conflict Resolution and Reconstruction at Dublin City University, where she is researching the Islamic radicalization of her country. “If tourists do not see or know about what is going on with the people of the Maldives, they will continue to keep coming. If they knew the truth they might stop.”
- “The changing of an entire population’s religious beliefs and practices within the space of a decade – in ways that roll back almost all progressive ideas that it has embraced over centuries – is extremely serious,” says Naseem.
- “Salafi and Wahhabi ideologies have become not just dominant but almost the only religious ideology in town. Counter-narratives are non-existent,” he says. “An increasing number of parents are opting to home- school children rather than ‘spoil’ them with education. Little girls are being made to wear headscarves, sexualizing them as early as five or six. But to foreign observers it’s not serious because people aren’t killing each other – yet. Perhaps now that Maldivians have been found fighting in Syria with some of the most violent Islamists there may be more attention paid to the desperate situation in the country.”
- Predominantly Buddhist for hundreds of years, the Maldives converted to Islam in the 12th century. A relatively relaxed version of the religion was practised under Gayoom until 2004, when an influx of preachers, funded mainly by Saudi Arabia, arrived after the tsunami. It had caused widespread damage and killed some 100 people.
- The nation’s president must be a Sunni Muslim. Furthermore, the government uses all its power to enforce religious conformity, considering the protection and promotion of Sunni Islam as one of its primary tasks, viewing Islam as the glue that holds the islands together as one harmonious nation.
- The result is a society transformed beyond recognition, says Velezinee: “A decade ago, women wearing the veil were a minority and women wearing the full black hijab were hardly seen. Today the Arab-style full veil is common.”
- The administration will be hoping tourists continue following the “No news, no shoes” advice. So far, there is no reason to fear they won’t (Link).
- It is obviously illegal to import explosives, weapons, firearms, ammunition and drugs, but in addition the importation of material deemed contrary to Islam such as pornography, pork and pork products, alcohol, idols for worship, bibles or any non-Islamic religious text is also illegal. Although in practice tourists travelling to the resort islands are usually allowed to bring in religious material for private use… but that means one bible, a whole crate-load will raise some suspicions about one’s true intent.
- Islamic law doesn’t exactly leave much room for tolerance of other religions, and public observance of any religion other than Islam is illegal. Religious practice is allowed within private residences, but it is illegal to either invite or encourage Maldivian citizens to attend such meetings. To show they’re serious about this, they can throw anyone in jail for it. So if you’re thinking about being friendly and inviting a Maldivian along for a some gospel singing, be aware that yes, they can put you in jail for that and at the lighter end of the scale you may face deportation or fines. Or all three if they really want to make an example of you.
- Alcohol is generally prohibited under Islamic law, and in the Maldives it is only allowed on the resort and really should not be taken off a resort island.
- Islamic law encourages modesty of dress so, nude or topless sunbaking is prohibited everywhere in the Maldives including on resort islands. Likewise, homosexuality is against the law and if you’re convicted of this offence you may face lengthy prison sentences, fines, deportation or – if you’re a born-again same-sex naturist couple – all three.
- Be extra respectful during the holy month of Ramadan. People are likely to be sensitive to anything they perceive as a slight during this month and generally speaking, you should take steps to avoid eating, drinking, or smoking in public. Ramadan involves Muslims not eating or drinking from dawn to dusk and it’s rude to ignore this custom – akin to taking a bucket of the colonel’s finest and a quart of soda to a Weight watcher’s meeting!
- When in the capital Malé or on non-resort islands, they’re not as accustomed to the sight of men’s legs in board shorts or women’s’ uncovered shoulders, so dress conservatively. Likewise, public displays of affection, including holding hands and kissing is likely to offend people in the non resort areas of the Maldives.
- Drug enforcement in the Maldives is strict and penalties severe. They don’t have the death penalty for drug offences, but they do have mandatory prison time for anyone caught with even ‘soft’ drugs. Possession of minor amounts of can be considered trafficking, with a life sentence in prison attached to it.
- For serious crimes such as murder on the other hand, they do have the death penalty (Link).
- To be a citizen of Maldives one has to be Sunni Muslim and publicly no other religion but Islam can be practiced. No non-muslim can get any government job and any job in human right department. (http://thebesttropicalvacationspots.com/human-rights-commitee-report-the-maldives-7272012/)).
- The Maldivian constitution states that the president’s foremost duty is to protect and promote Islamic principles and does not permit the public practicing or propagation of any other religious faith (https://www.academia.edu/4679385/Maldives-Religious_Practices)
- The display of symbols of other religions, as well as the importing of icons, religious statues, and religious literature, is forbidden. Expatriate residents, however, are permitted to practice their religion in their private lives and may own a restricted amount of religious books, such as a Bible, for personal use (https://www.academia.edu/4679385/Maldives-Religious_Practices).
- Islamic radicalism is viewed by Maldivian traditionalists as the spreading of sectarianism and division (fitna), upsetting the balance of the nation. As a result, the government of Maldives has undertaken to curtail the influence of Islamic militants, including Wahhabi hardliners. A Muslim converting to another faith is considered in violation of Islamic law, resulting in severe punishment and the loss of the rights to citizenship.
- In recent history there was only one distinct religious minority in the Maldives, the Bohra merchants. These were Ism’ili Shiite Muslims who used to live in Malé as a separate trading community. They were originally from Bombay and Gujarat and owned the main shops in the capital,
- Ever since the government endorsed the Al Quds Fund campaign in the 1980s and portrayed Jews as enemies of Muslims, virulent anti-Semitic rhetoric has been common in the Maldives, above all among Wahhabis and other religious hardliners.
- There has also been an increasing use of religious issues in politics, often leading to derogatory statements about Christianity and Judaism, as well as accusations of cooperating with foreign Christian missionaries among politicians. The intimidation of Maldivians calling for a more tolerant interpretation of Islam led in October 2012 to the murder of a prominent member of parliament, a Muslim scholar supporting the traditional Shafi’ school of thought (https://www.academia.edu/4679385/Maldives-Religious_Practices)
Converting from Islam means forfeiting Maldivian citizenship, and owning a Bible is punishable by death. Churches are banned; Christian migrants and tourists also have to meet in secret and cannot own Bibles (Link).
- A Christian worker shared “It is often difficult for them to reach out to fellow believers outside of their small community. They are often wary of sharing their stories with outsiders because they are afraid of being arrested. There is a culture of mistrust in the country. The very few believers are fearful to be known much less to be discovered having connection to foreigners who are Christians.” “To be a Maldivian is to be a Muslim,” she continues. “To be a Christian in Maldives is to be a secret believer, and they are unable to practice their faith, especially worship and fellowship, because someone could be watching them all the time.” It will take a miracle to see more freedom for Maldivian Christians in the future,” she says (Link).
- In the absence of codified laws governing apostasy, the courts automatically fall back on Islamic Sharia – and could potentially recommend the death penalty. The Cabinet Minister of Islamic Affairs, Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari has publicly stated that, ultimately, the punishment for apostasy in Islam is death.
- According to the revised constitution, in article two, it says that the republic “is based on the principles of Islam.” Article nine says that “a non-Muslim may not become a citizen of the Maldives”; number ten says that “no law contrary to any principle of Islam can be applied in the Maldives.” Article nineteen states that “citizens are free to participate in or carry out any activity that is not expressly prohibited by sharia or by the law.”
- When a Maldivian man, Mohamed Nazim, declared to a visiting Indian Islamic preacher that he was struggling to believe in Islam, an instantaneous mob pounced on him, and tried to physically attack him before cops took him into custody (http://uglyy.blogspot.ca/2011/08/religious-persecution-in-maldives.html). Nazim claimed he was “Maldivian and not a Muslim” during a public question-and-answer session with Islamic speaker Dr Zakir Naik, the first time a Maldivian has publicly announced he is not a Muslim.The 37 year-old angered many in the approximately 11,000-strong crowd with his statement during Dr Naik’s ‘Misconceptions about Islam’ lecture on Friday. Dr Naik responded that Nazim had read the wrong books and “deviated from Islam”, and requested him “to read correct books on Islam, and Inshallah, you’ll come back to Islam.”However Nazim did not relinquish the microphone and pressed Naik to clarify the penalty for apostasy.
- The Islamic Foundation of the Maldives issued a press statement calling on judges to give Nazim the opportunity to repent “and if he does not, then sentence him to death as Islamic law and Maldivian law agree.”“The Islamic Foundation believes that the person who announces apostasy should be punished according to Islamic laws,” the NGO said, warning that Nazim represented “a disturbance to the religious views and the religious bonds that exist with Maldivians.” (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2010/05/31/death-penalty-could-await-man-who-broke-free-from-islam/)
- The Haveeru newspaper report also stated that a crowd gathered outside the police station and demanded that Mohamed Nazim be handed over to the crowd. The Haveeru newspaper report stated that “They shouted anti-atheism slogans and called for Nazim’s beheading.”( http://christianchat.com/christian-news-forum/100667-maldives-man-attacked-threatened-death-freedom-conscience-aka-apostasy.html)
- The rate of divorce has been very high throughout the history of the islands. The Maldives is listed in the Guinness World Records as the country with the highest divorce rate in the world with 97 divorces per 1,000 inhabitants per year (https://www.academia.edu/4679385/Maldives-Religious_Practices).
- Polygyny was frowned upon in traditional society, but it is legally allowed in the country with about 1 in 11 men having more than one wife. Most polygamous families are religious hardliners, such as Wahhabis, who disregard local social norms (https://www.academia.edu/4679385/Maldives-Religious_Practices)
- There have been repeated reports on Maldives government publicly whipping of women and the Maldives is in the bottom rankings of nations with a global gender gap.
- The veil and hijab are must for women, schools and Islamic teacher’s put pressure to force female students to wear veil. A student describing teacher’s words,”None of us in class can stay in class without wearing it. For three days teacher gave lectures why should we cover ourselves and the last thing he said, go home, light a candle, put your finger in the flame and see how much you can bear it. If you can’t bear it how will you bear it in hell?”(page 103, Domestic Violence in Asia: Globalization, Gender and Islam in the Maldives by Emma Fulu).
- Recent events have put a spotlight on Islamic fundamentalism in the Maldives after a 15-year-old girl who had been repeatedly raped by her stepfather was sentenced to 100 lashes for “fornication”. A petition by the global advocacy group Avaaz has been signed by more than two million people demanding a tourist boycott until the flogging sentence is annulled.
- In a recent statement, Adhaalath backed the flogging, saying: “The purpose of penalties like these in Islamic shariah is to maintain order in society and to save it from sinful acts. We must turn a deaf ear to the international organisations which are calling to abolish these penalties.”( http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/world-news/darker-side-of-the-maldives-public-lashings-religious-extremists-and-a-gay-blogger-with-his-throat-slashed-29189177.html)
Arts,Science, Music and Education
- In 1980 the few establishments where Maldivians of both sexes used to dance together, such as Icege in the capital, were closed.
- Staged dances of the traditional kind were permitted, but discotheques were restricted to tourist resorts.
- By limiting dance and music among the Maldivian people, militant Islamic groups were successful in largely stifling popular entertainment on the islands in recent decades. Nonetheless, there were some islands in which the youth managed to avoid restrictions and stage light merriment (Mali neshun, Kodi kendun), particularly during religious festivals such as Bodu Idu.
- For primary level two education systems co-exist in parallel among the islands known as the Maldives. The older schools are traditional Islamic ones where the medium of education is Dhivehi. Over the years, the government has been introducing more modern English-language ones and literacy levels are now high. Primary school begins at age 5, and takes 5 years to complete (http://www.classbase.com/countries/Maldives/Education-System).
- Formal preschool education caters to children aged 4 to 5 years and lasts two years. In recent years, preschools have expanded into the atolls, as more and more edhuruge (gathering of children in a private home to learn to read the Quran) are being transformed into modern preschools, with either fully trained or partially trained teachers (http://www.ibe.unesco.org/sites/default/files/Maldives.pdf).
- In Islam and spirituality, students learn about the teachings of the Noble Qur’an and Sunnah, develop a firm belief in Allah and practice Islamic principles (http://www.ibe.unesco.org/sites/default/files/Maldives.pdf).
- In 2008, secondary education was offered in 168 schools. However, given that all schools do not offer all academic subjects, a significant percentage of students choose to follow the commerce stream while the development of science and arts subjects are neglected. The net enrolment percentages were low: 67.3% for lower secondary (67% for girls and 67.8% for boys), and 5.9% for higher secondary (5.7% for girls and 6.1% for boys).
- Maldives’ top Islamic scholars was to participate in a video which showed the scholars – including officials from the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs, the Human Rights Commission, and political parties – saying in turn that they believe music is ‘haram’ (forbidden) according to Islam. (The video link can be seen below). The scholars who took part in the video denouncing music included Sheikh Mohamed Nasheed Adam and Sheikh Mohamed Moosa, Supreme Council members Ahmed Farooq Mohamed and assistant director Hassan Moosa Fikuree, Adhaalath party president Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari and Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) religious council member Adam Naseem, two staff members from Malé’s Centre for the Holy Qur’an, Usman Abdullah and director Sheikh Abdullah Aziz Yusuf, as well as Sheikh Ahmed Abdul Kareem of the Human Rights Commission. Video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GHkBJZyt0aw)( http://freemuse.org/archives/1162)
- Islamic hardliners, many trained in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, have become a shadowy but powerful presence here. They are blamed for a raid on the national museum last year in which a priceless collection of ancient Buddhist artefacts was destroyed. They are also thought to be behind the killing in October of a member of parliament who had spoken out against extremism (http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/world-news/darker-side-of-the-maldives-public-lashings-religious-extremists-and-a-gay-blogger-with-his-throat-slashed-29189177.html)
- An openly gay and secular Maldivian blogger called Ismail ‘Hilath’ Rasheed who had his throat slashed outside his home in Malé (the capital of The Maldives) after years of campaigning for free speech, religious tolerance and secularism. Fortunately he survived and fled to Sri Lanka. The offending blog (hilath.com) has been taken down, but he is still semi-active on his new blog (http://www.towleroad.com/2015/02/nomadicboys-gay-maldives-2/).
- Local police in the island nation of the Maldives arrested two men on Aug. 29,2015 on charges of homosexual activity, the London-based LGBTI activist group Rainbow Warriors reported.
- The organization reported earlier this month about changes that the Indian Ocean nation made in this laws:
“Same-sex relations are illegal in the Maldives under Sharia law, and with the publication of a new Penal code in 2014, also under national law, and may be punishable by death penalty. The new Penal code transposes into national law provisions which were previously just in Sharia law and applicable to Muslim citizens. In any case these new provisions have not been put into legal practice so far and there is no record of trials for homosexual practices in the aftermath of the new penal code.”
- The laws in Maldives had been more lenient, as described in the 2015 State-Sponsored Homophobia report from ILGA, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association. According to that report, the nation’s Penal Code of Maldives did not directly apply to sexual conduct, which instead was left to Sharia law, applying only to Muslims. The ILGA report stated:
“[Sexual conduct] is instead regulated by uncodified Muslim Sharia law, which criminalizes same-sex sexual acts between both men and between women. For men, the punishment is banishment for nine months to one year or a whipping of 10 to 30 strokes, while the punishment for women is house arrest for nine months to one year.”
- A panel of refugee appeals officers in the Immigration New Zealand Agency recognized that individuals are forced to flee persecution based on their sexual orientation throughout Maldives in 2014 (Link)
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