How strong can your faith be when you never consciously chose it, but rather were born into it? Ponder that.
Maldives is a 100% Muslim country, or so the authorities say. It is common knowledge, however, that understandably, there are people among us of various faiths and some who harbour no faith at all. And what else can you expect? Is it reasonable to expect all 394,999 (July 2011 est.) of our citizens to think in the exact same manner, to have the same values and to believe the same thing? No. We are all human and we all have our reasons to believe or not believe certain things.
What is worrying, though, is the imminent danger presented by certain political games. The hatred being spread among one religious group towards the rest of us. And sadly, it seems to have very little to do with the religion itself in any case.
A large part of the 300,000 or so Maldivan citizens share the political ideologies of about 3 major political parties and 11 comparatively smaller parties. There is, of course, a fraction who does not follow any particular political party. With this much difference between political ideologies, it hardly surprises me that religious beliefs also differ from person to person.
Since the new president, Mohamed Nasheed (Anni), was sworn in with promises of a progressive democracy on November 11th, 2008, this country has been slowly descending into a dark pit of religious, and perhaps even cultural, intolerance. Adhaalath Party, a religion-focused political party unhealthily bent towards more fundamental/radical Islam, backed Anni during the presidential elections. This led to Anni granting them an Islamic Ministry, which gave them a louder voice and more credibility than ever before. In my view, things moved alarmingly downhill from then. Today, the country is caught in a web of intolerance and rage against our own people. Who is to take responsibility for the sorry state of our state? Adhaalath? Anni? Foreign influence? Or us citizens, and for whatever reason, our civic lethargy?
In November 2011, Ms. Navanethem Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, visited the Maldives and voiced out her concerns about the Maldives. Of all that was said by her, the religious conservatives reacted most strongly to her statements about the how she feels that the practice of flogging still being carried out in the Maldives is 'inhumane and degrading violence against women'. I agree wholeheartedly with the said statement. Of course, being stout believers of a religion and its doctrine, I can see how these people might be offended by Pillay's statement. But the reaction. The reaction that came, and is still unfortunately coming, is appalling.
Maldives, especially the little capital city Male', erupted in anger and protests and intolerance. The religious fanatic groups set to the streets in a series of protests, holding placards insulting Pillay in the worst possible ways and some even calling to kill her. They were outraged. Here was a 'western' 'kafir' coming into 'their' land and questioning 'their religion'. To add insult to injury, this was a woman. Those feeble objects created out of a mere rib to serve men and please men. Such a submissive creature was here criticizing their way of doing things. Thus the outrage. But these protests were, to my knowledge, attended by at the most a hundred or so people. But these were angry people who were bound by similar faith. People who could be easily manipulated into further acts of rage which can easily be justified as 'protecting the religion'. This was when the politicians decided to step in.
The new opposition party PPM, led by our former president, joined forces with Adhaalath and moved in on the action. Other parties vying for power decided that religion was probably the most powerful weapon to use against the current government, and joined in with PPM and Adhaalath. A huge protest, 100,000 strong they say, is now being planned for the 23rd of December. A claim to gather 100,000 protestors for a religious stand in a relatively moderate Male', with about as much people in it, seems rather far-fetched. However, this is now political. We now see people who obviously don't have a religious bone in their body supporting the protest, loudly proclaiming their love for a religion they aren't seen to practice. Of course they are muslims, we all are, by constitution. But how can a law put down on paper dictate the beliefs of a person? And yet, more and more moderate muslims and perhaps even non-muslims are claiming to join this protest to 'protect Islam', for the sake of following the political leaders that they idolize.
So here's what we have now. Party-blinded members and religious fanatics planning to protest to 'protect Islam' in a constitutionally 100% muslim country. The protest's official website portrayed the dangerousness of these people blinded by their obsession with religion. They openly called out for protestors to kill 'unbelievers and all those who supported them'.
To make matters worse, our President, a proper sensationalist with a flair for dramatizing everything, has made equally ridiculous statements with regard to this protest. On December 12th, at an MDP rally, he made a seemingly bold statement that anyone who tried to kill another Maldivian would need to kill the President himself first. Very brave and heroic of him (not considering the fact that we average citizens walk around alone while he has his horde of bodyguards around him all the time). However, I feel this is the time for debate and discussion, not dramatic statements that would further enrage the protest participants. Instead, the ruling party has announced it's intention to come out against the opposition protestors on the same day. And guess what, their objective is identically to 'protect Islam'.
What exactly is Islam being protected from? Islam has been here for centuries, and so far we have 'protected' it rather well. We constantly have tourists visiting (tourism being a major economic industry), we have access to the internet and cable TV services, our households are often filled with TVs blasting hindi or western programmes and even our youngest seem to know well the Hindu religion and many of its practices. And yet no one has miraculously lost their belief owing to these influences.
I refuse to believe that the faith of a truly religious being will be so weak as to be shaken with such outside influences. So why all the alarmism now?? Politics, nothing else.
If you are still of the belief that these protests are of religious nature and feel it's justified, please reflect on these words from the Quran itself.
"Unto you your religion, and unto me my religion," [Quran, 109:6]
"Whosoever will, let him believe, and whosoever will, let him disbelieve," [Quran, 18:29]
"There is no compulsion in religion. The right direction is distinct from error," [Quran, 2:256]
Islam in the Maldives will stay as the major religion of the country for decades, probably centuries to come. However, it would be healthy for all concerned if the state would stop refusing to acknowledge the existence of non-muslim citizens.
I call for tolerance. I call for dialogue and discussion. I call for equality. I call for the application of common sense and humanity. I call for the acceptance of individuals of any or no faith.
Lakum deenakum waliya deen.