That battle had been won. Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s 30 year rule had come to a close. Maldivians had finally arrived in the “anneh dhivehiraajje” (other Maldives) that was promised by Mohamed Nasheed and the Maldivian Democratic Party. A different Maldives. One with liberty and justice, where people would be free to express themselves, to be themselves.
It was in this intoxicating atmosphere of promised progress that Mohamed Nazim boldly asked Zakir Naik what the punishment for apostasy in Islam was. He said the question was important to him as he himself was an atheist. What was the penalty for him, he asked, standing in the middle of a crowd buzzing with shock and rage. One can only imagine the fear, clearly visible through his body language, that he must have felt at that moment. Naik, perhaps not wanting the bad press of a murder happening at one of his events, deflected the question and said that it would be up to the Maldivian government to decide. And decide they would.
Mohamed Nazim would have likely not left the stadium alive if not for a police escort that promptly swooped him out of the stadium and into police custody. This, of course, was for his own safety. Amidst an outpouring of national rage and hatred, the likes of which the Maldives had never seen before, Nazim was counselled on the error of his ways by religious scholars. Which was also obviously for his own safety as well. We wouldn’t want him to go to hell after all. Before long, Nazim had repented, and publicly apologised for his lapse in judgement. His question and confession was on the 28th of May 2010, his repentance was on the 1st of June. He hadn't even lasted a week. The elephant thoroughly shot and buried, the nation rejoiced. Was this final act sincere, or was it also out of fearing for his own safety? We may never know exactly what was going through Mohamed Nazim’s mind at that point, but for Maldivian minorities the message was clear. Keep quiet or die.
During his jailing there was no outcry from local politicians, NGOs, or activists calling on the Maldivian government to respect the UDHR and the right to freedom of conscience. The right to think for oneself, the right to choose your own belief is a universal human right that is respected everywhere in the world (at least on paper) except for a handful of countries - the Maldives sharing the most similarities with Saudi Arabia; where citizens are legally obligated to be Muslim in order to be citizens. Maumoon had hammered in the myth that the Maldives was a 100% Islamic nation. What happened to Mohamed Nazim proved that this statistic would be enforced, no matter the cost.
Where was the promise of freedom? Where was the promise of liberty? Within underground discussion groups, both online and in the real world, the vibe had changed from hopeful to a sense of looming dread. Was it alright to speak our minds? Were we free to believe what we want? Were we truly living in the “other” Maldives, or was this just business as usual?
If Mohamed Nazim’s treatment was the turning point, the events that would transpire in just a little over a years time was the dagger in the back.
On 10th December 2011 a small group of protesters gathered at artificial beach to have a silent gathering in the name of tolerance. In uncertain times they tested the waters, and found it to be full of sharks feasting on the blood of hypocrites.
They were attacked in broad daylight. Hilath Rasheed would have his skull fractured. Photographs of the attackers were taken and their names were known. Reports were made to the police. Yet, under Mohamed Nasheed’s “other” Maldives, the police decided to investigate the protestors instead. Soon politicians were calling for the incident to be investigated, not because of the gross violation of the rights of the protestors, but because the protestors posed some threat to the nebulous concept of Islam.
The dagger was thrust deep, and there in our backs it has stayed. The message was clear. Stay quiet or die. No one would help us. No one would protect us. No one would even acknowledge us. This is why first hand accounts from Maldivian minorities are so rare. This is why you will most likely never hear from a Maldivian minority who does not use a pseudonym or alias. The danger is too great. Not only from the extremists who would carry out the deed, but also from the broader population who would enable them.
We know first hand that even if Abdulla Yameen’s dictatorship were to fall, nothing would change for us. Those that tell us to work with them for the greater good would abandon us the moment their own factions gain power. History would repeat itself and the other Maldives would be nothing more than another mirage.
So, for our own safety, we stay quiet. Thousands of Maldivian ex-Muslims, atheists, buddhists, christians, LGBTQIA+ people, and countless others, suffering in silence because we cannot even trust our own family members, let alone the police, to keep us safe. Thousands of Maldivians whose stories you have never heard. Someday you will hear from us all, and history will not remember kindly those who told us to stay silent.