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Islam, Maldives & the Reform Movement
By Ali Rasheed
October 7, 2006

When I left the Maldives capital on February 26, 2005, to work as a columnist for Minivan News in Colombo, there were perhaps two to three defiant women donning hijabs; wearing veils that cover the entire face except for the eyes, and the locals used to call them ‘ninjas’ in a manner designed to offend.

Yet when I returned to the Maldives on February 3rd, 2006, veiled women were a common sight in the capital Male’ and I believe that today they are even looked upon with respect.

Those who gain pleasure from youthful girls with their alluring curves, wearing tight fitting jeans and exposing their midriffs, would no doubt be less than pleased with this change. A feast for sore eyes is no longer a feast.

Several articles have recently appeared on the subject of this radical change in the dress code of women, with various ideas being tossed back and forth to understand the sudden change. Fears are even being raised about Islamic extremists infiltrating the Maldives through rich Arab donors.

Hijab or no hijab, human nature does not go through a process of overnight change. Maldivian culture is not like other Islamic countries I have been to, or read of. Maldivian culture is unique.

To put it simply, if someone preys on another’s wife, in the Maldives, the tendency is to pay back in the same coin. Since the Maldives has the highest divorce rate in the world, there is little need to speak about the wantonness of our women, or our men, for that matter.

The Maldivian President Gayyoom, a self proclaimed Islamic scholar and the highest authority on issues of religion, is known to have divorced his wife Nasreena three times and remarried her a fourth time, after another male, his buddy Zahir Hussain, a Minister in Gayyoom’s kitchen cabinet, had consummated marriage with Nasreena and then divorced her so Gayyoom could marry her once more.

Whether Gayyoom had a go at Zahir Hussain’s wife remains a secret. My personal assumption is that Gayyoom would need Viagra for this task. It is a matter of national record that local historians who wrote about this issue in their private diaries were ferreted out by Gayyoom’s intelligence agents and jailed.

Men who grew their beard were simply pulled off the streets, taken into jail, forcefully shaved and released. Chilly sauce was used as shaving foam on a man named Lahuthu, who refused to be shaved. This act was carried out by members of Gayyoom’s security forces in charge of Maafushi jail.

What we are seeing today is a backlash against Gayoom’s repressive policies. During the last ten years, repression had reached extreme levels so much so that a single word of criticism of the Gayyoom regime could have the person jailed or exiled; Gayyoom’s pettiness even extending to the women and children of his perceived enemies.

The Minivan News website, which maintains a rigid policy on freedom of speech, is partly instrumental in the changes we see in the dress code of women in our society.

We, at Minivan, discussed the fates of preachers like Sheikh Muhammad Ibrahim and Sheikh Fareed, whose grievance was that they were tortured and jailed simply because this small-time dictator Gayyoom wished to silence them. We actually argued in their favour. They had an equal right as anyone else to be heard and their words judged by their listeners.

Since the Gayyoom regime could not control the electronic media – not that he didn’t try: he even lodged false allegations of gun running charges against Minivan through the Maldives Police Services, using the Interpol Branch of the Sri Lankan CID – he finally lost the media war.

Another factor which contributed to the rebirth of Islamic ideals is the Maldivian Society’s number one enemy: Brigadier Adam Zahir. Together with the former Defense Minister Ambaree Abdul Sattar and with the tacit backing of President Gayyoom, they ruined at least three generations of Maldivian youth by introducing brown sugar to the youth whom they perceived as the greatest threat to the regime’s hold on power. The idea was to keep the youth politically ignorant.

For almost the last ten years the 90 percent of the jails’ inmates were drug users. Even today, drugs are more easily available inside the jails than the capital, Male’.

Today, youngsters who spent their formative years in and out of jail and rehab centers, comprise the majority of the youth. They are completely devoid of morals and a law unto themselves.

The public recognition of this menace has re-awoken Islamic ideals. It is the lack of faith, they believe, that is the root cause of this social menace created by the drug culture. And Gayyoom and Adam Zahir are ultimately responsible for this degeneration in social values.

Allow me to present an argument. Shortly after Mahinda Rajapakse was elected President of Sri Lanka, he began a drive to remove drugs from the streets of Colombo. Within three months, he cleaned up almost the whole city. He used the military, the navy, the police and even trained dogs to wage war on drug dealers and he achieved almost 90% success.

By my reckoning, to clean up the Maldives would take less than 48 hours. This is proof enough that chemical warfare is being waged on the youth by Adam Zahir with the tacit backing of Gayyoom.

The way I perceive it, the Maldives is not becoming another Afghanistan. For most Maldivians, sex is like a second language, the only element missing is Caligula. Rather, I see every extra hijab and every extra beard is a symbol of rebellion against the present regime.



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