The message this election from all sides of the Maldivian political spectrum has been clear. We do not want you. We do not respect you. We will not tolerate you.Read More
Street harassment is a huge issue in the Maldives. Many women share stories about how they get harassed almost every single day while just walking to work. This has led to many social movements, such as #Nufoshey (don't harass).
The Maldivian entertainment industry has historically led the charge against harassment, responding to this atmosphere of fear by creating some groundbreaking music videos that both shocked and enlightened, dramatically reducing the incidence of street harassment in their wake. Here are three shining examples.
There is not a moment where I am truly at ease. An innocent knock on the door in the middle of the day can create a crippling sense of dread. Is it just the postman? Or is it death come knocking? At night, it is even worse. What darkness lies at the end of the dim hall when I wake to relieve myself when all else is quiet?Read More
“How did you become an atheist?”
The question took me by surprise. I was prepared to answer why atheists and other minorities were under threat in the Maldives, but I hadn’t really thought about exactly how and when I chose to leave my faith. Leaving a cult is not something that suddenly happens, it’s a gradual process of coming to terms with the fact that it’s okay to question the very foundations of your entire life.
I rambled on about different situations I had encountered and the extreme cognitive dissonance one experiences trying to be religious while simultaneously trying to be a decent human being. About the disconnect between this apparently “beautiful” religion and the realities of my lived experience. It was quite a lot to get off my chest at once.
With this article I hope to once and for all express these feelings. There are so few stories about apostates such as myself. Mostly because even writing this is scary. It is not an easy thing to do. I know there will be consequences. I know that there will be people who will defend my murderers even if I do end up being killed for simply expressing my views. I know that there will be people who will dismiss whatever violence that is carried out in the name of Islam as not being representative of the “true Islam”.
I am sick of it! I too used to make excuses for Mohammed and his religion. Before I became an atheist, I thought of myself as an “agnostic” Muslim. I thought there probably was a god, and if this god was real, then it was probably Mohammed that was his prophet. When extremism started to grow in the Maldives I’d make statements like how the “prophet would be ashamed” of the behaviour of radicals. I too was a part of the honour brigade; hell bent on protecting the name of this apparently glorious religion that was so misunderstood.
But the atrocities kept piling up. Not just in the Maldives but globally. Then I learned uncomfortable truths like the true story of how the Maldives became a Muslim nation. There was no sea monster, no rannamaari, no mystical men saving our souls. There was just rulers and politics. There was death and slaughter. My Buddhist ancestors were murdered in the name of Islam hundreds of years before the “slandering infidel media of the West” even existed. Peaceful monks, gathered up and beheaded. Violence in the name of Islam, and indeed all religions, is not some new phenomenon. The proof was in the copperplates.
Soon I began to view Mohammed in a different light. Not as some innocent desert dweller who god was communicating with in order to selflessly save all our souls, but as a cunning politician. Perhaps witnessing firsthand the saturation of contemporary Maldivian politics with religion had something to do with this. Either way, once I began to view him in this light, it was hard to go back to my innocence; or should I rather say, ignorance?
It all just seemed far too convenient. Allah seemed to communicate with Mohammed whenever Mohammed needed something. Even the initial reluctance of Aisha’s parents were washed away once it was “revealed” that he had foreseen the marriage in a dream.
I started to see patterns to the preaching, patterns to the revelations. This is most evident when comparing the changing tone of the Quran as Mohammed gained more and more followers after fleeing to Medina. The Meccan verses in contrast, appear as if they were written by someone else entirely. Indeed it is from these Meccan verses that the majority of peaceful interpretations of Islam stem from.
I began to notice inconsistencies. For example Mohammed smashed the idols in the Kaaba without any regard for the existing culture; yet when it comes to slavery and child marriages, the excuse if often made that such practices are a “part of the culture” and would thus be difficult for Mohammed to completely change. If Mohammed can so brazenly destroy thousands of years’ worth of culture when he smashed those idols, why didn’t Allah command Mohammed to ban slavey? Is there any human concept more disgusting than slavery? Of course many apologists make the claim that Mohammed was kind to slaves. But why simply be kind when you have the supreme authority from the creator of every goddamn thing in the universe to simply ban and dismantle the entire concept all together? Did he not do the same thing to the concept of “idol worshipping”? Yet Saudi Arabia – the so called birthplace of Islam, and the place where all Muslims are expected to journey to at some point in the lives – banned slavery less than a century ago.
More and more I began to notice that this great universal religion seemed to hold some sort of grudge against women; almost as if had been conceived of by a man. Many of the Islam teachers I have had (Islam is a mandatory subject in the Maldives from grades 1 to 12) told us about the “fact” that the majority of the inhabitants of hell are women. That this was because women were inherently untrustworthy and more likely to lie than men.
In the 90’s and early 2000s’ the hijab was a rare sight in the Maldives. It was almost always worn by older women – maama’s (grandmas) who seemed more concerned about greying hair than some lofty vision of “modesty” – and it was rare to see it worn by younger generations unless they were attending some special religious school. These schools were an invention of the Egypt trained dictator and “religious scholar” Maumoon Abdul Gayyoom. Although Maumoon is viewed by many radicals as being “anti-Islam”, I firmly believe that it was his 30 years of dictatorship that moulded the Maldives into the hotbed of intolerance and extremism that it currently is. He hammered in the myth that the Maldives is “100%” Muslim – a made up statistic that many people repeat to this day. This is despite the fact that he had a ban on the niqab and tortured religious scholars whom he perceived as radical – no doubt afraid of the competition. After all we are talking about a dictator who took the religious conditioning of his subjects so seriously that he personally led many Friday prayers.
So when the tsunami of 2004 hit our shores, it was the uncovered hair of women that took the majority of the blame. The combination of the fear of god’s wrath and the growing global Islamic conservatism since September 11th 2001 has created a Maldives where now women without the hijab are in the minority. If you want to see the difference for yourself just compare any photographs of any current public gatherings of those from the last century.
How does this affect my apostasy though? Well first of all it began to dawn on me the ridiculous importance placed upon this garment by this all powerful being known as Allah. Why does Allah care so much that he would cause natural disasters simply because someone’s hair is exposed? Of course the tsunami was also attributed to other causes as well such as people not praying enough, having pre-marital sex, people losing faith, and of course the existence of homosexuals. Which just begs the question even more. Why does this all powerful being care so much? What is the end game here? Heaven?
The very concepts of heaven and hell began to bother me. At first the logic seems simple, be a good Muslim and you go to heaven, be a bad Muslim and you go to hell. Of course this meant that all non-Muslims were also going to hell. This isn’t some casual thing. The terrors of hell were hammered into our brains since we were children to the point of desensitization; from all those Islam classes, sermons and even from adults who used the concept to scare us into behaving. A hell so hot that we would be eternally parched but would only have fruits made of pus for hydration.
So I was expected to believe that the majority of the human population were going to this hell. Even the people that seemed perfectly fine and whose only crime was not believing in Allah. It all seemed a bit extreme.
Then there was heaven. The reward for all the prostrating, for saying bismi before eating something, for making sure I never touched the Quran without performing full ablutions, for reading the entire Quran end to end, for reciting the shahaadahi’ before sleeping, for the endless list of neurotic behaviours that form the basis of a lived religion. What awaited me there? What would be my reward for being such a good Muslim?
I still remember the glee in my grade 9 Islam teachers eyes when he described the virgins. They will be so skinny and fair skinned that you will be able to see their bones and veins, he described joyfully. His expression was such that it was almost as if he was picturing himself surrounded by such a harem. There would be rivers of wine; which would of course be non-alcoholic for some perplexing reason. There would be all the dates and olives you could ever want. And riches as far as the eyes could see.
The more I was taught about it, and the more I researched it myself, the less it sounded like some ultimate transcendent nirvana and the more it sounded like the fantasy of some dessert dwelling Arabian warlord trying to convince his followers that they were doing the right thing; that it would all pay off in the end.
More and more the whole operation began to sound like a scam. A cult.
I still believe the people who know the most about Islam are the ex-Muslims and radicals. Both mind states exist from knowing too much about Islam. It is almost as if you have to be ignorant to a certain level in order to blissfully believe that you are truly beholden to this “ultimate truth”.
The only way for me to remain a Muslim would be to be ignorant in such a manner. To be ignorant of the various interpretations of nasty verses such as 4:34 – where the almighty god appears to sanction domestic abuse. You could argue about the “metaphorical” nature of this verse and how it’s not “what it sounds like” till the end of time; it doesn’t cancel out the fact that it exists in a book that is supposed to be some sort of ultimate guide for humanity. There are even many new age arguments for “Muslim feminism”, yet these feminist themselves also seem more concerned about the reputation of Islam rather than the lives of women – and as a result never even mention the matter of ex-Muslim women; and LGBT women are treated as some fanciful myth. Why is god so consistently ineloquent? Why do we humans constantly have to make excuses for god?
So even though I could view the Quran and the Hadith strictly in their historical context, even though I could view the Quran as some metaphorical tome of the ultimate philosophy for life, to do so would be to lie to myself. To be intellectually dishonest. To live in a state of constant cognitive dissonance.
Indeed the more you study the life of Mohammed in its historical context the more it becomes apparent that he was no prophet but a politician. An extremely smart politician who knew how susceptible people are to the claws of religious dogma. A great story teller. A great warrior and tactician. A great leader even. But no prophet. And certainly not someone I would want to base my entire life around.
Slowly but surely the false sense of kinship I felt with other believers, other “peoples of the book”, began to fade. The notion that even the Abrahamic faiths are worshipping the “same god”, and the comfort that one feels from that notion, started to sound ridiculous. The loathing towards the “idol worshippers” began to sound disgusting.
On top of it all was this fear. The sheer terror I feel even when writing this. Apostates have never been treated kindly in Islam. It is firmly a one way street. You are free to enter but you may never leave. Even now apostates such as myself represent a minority within Islam – a minority within a minority if you will – that often gets neglected because of the world’s obsession with saving the face of the entire concept of “Islam”.
The Maldives is not a safe place for one to be an apostate. The world is not a safe place to be an apostate from Islam. So called intellectuals and “moderates” can weave an apologist narrative full of metaphors, culture and “historical contexts” as much as they’d like; it doesn’t change the fact that by writing this I am putting my life in danger. I am putting my family’s life in danger. So much so that many Maldivian apostates and peoples from other minorities are simply told to shut up and deal with it.
No more! I am sick of it. While minorities such as myself are told to be quite by “moderates” these same moderates do not lift a finger to question the words of extremists. The extremists are free to do as they please, preach what they please. If they commit some atrocity it is dismissed as “warping” the “true” Islam. The people who have attacked minorities in the Maldives walk free; under Maumoon’s, Mohamed Nasheed’s , under Yameen Abdul Gayoom’s. Apostates and other minorities are seen in a worse light than heroin addled gangsters who’d murder their best friend for a hit. Meanwhile politicians bark about religion from podiums and pray for the demise of their opponents as if the almighty is going to swoop down from the heavens and stuff ballot boxes for them first hand.
To top it all off the entire basis of all of this, the quran and the hadith, are incredibly sketchy sources. Was Mohammed even a real person? Or an invention of some smart politicians who thought their global domination plans required a figurehead? Is the one Quran really the one true Quran for eternity? More and more evidence is emerging of different versions existing. So despite them being documents of immense historical value; they in my opinion are not something worthy of basing your entire life upon. It is frankly quite depressing to hear well-meaning people endlessly try and come up with new interpretations to make do with the rapidly aging texts. For example the mental hoops that a practicing LGBT Muslim will have to jump through to rationalize their faith with their sexuality is just mind boggling. Which is why in my opinion the billions of people who follow Islam are good people not because Islam is inherently ethical, but because all humans have an inherent capacity for empathy. In other words, these people are “good” not because of Islam but despite of it.
Why do I need to refer to such dodgy texts to know whether or not another human being has the right to freedom of conscience when my capacity for empathy and critical thinking can let me arrive at the same conclusion? If you asked me when I was a believer whether or not apostates should be killed I would have said no, not because it says so in Islam, but because the concept of murdering someone for their lack of belief is something that I found disturbing, disgusting and vile. When you look into the scripture, the answer is not as clear and often leans towards sanctioning this murder. Why muddy our mirror neurons with such nonsense? Tell someone to kill another like themselves and he will hesitate, tell someone to kill someone who differs from themselves for their god and they will do it with gusto.
Despite all of these grievances I still like to think of myself as a cultural Muslim*. There were good things about eid. There were good things about Ramadan. Such activities really do bring communities together and I would still like to take part in them. Yet even the most cherished memories seemed to exist despite of Islam and not because of it. Most of the cultural activities carried out during Eid in the Maldives for example have no basis at all in scripture and are fast disappearing as a result of their perceived relations to our “infidel” past. Roadhamas now seems like a practical exercise in Stockholm syndrome. There is nothing commendable about forcing people to starve. Let’s not forget that being caught eating something during Ramadan will get you arrested in the Maldives.
Such is the existence apostates and other minorities are forced to live in the Maldives. Like rats we are left to scramble for crumbs. For the sake of people who would want us dead at the hands of an angry mob we keep our silence. For the sake of a people who are so insecure in their faith that they use the Maldivian constitution itself to outlaw diversity and faithlessness.
No more! I am sick of it! It is time to wake up from this bad dream.
*Update August 2016 - I no longer think of myself as a cultural Muslim.
“In the social sciences there is a standing debate over the primacy ofstructure or agency in shaping human behavior. Structure is the recurrent patterned arrangements which influence or limit the choices and opportunities available. Agency is the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices. The structure versus agency debate may be understood as an issue of socializationagainst autonomy in determining whether an individual acts as a free agent or in a manner dictated by social structure.”
Maldivian Example :
During Maumoon's dictatorship (1978 - 2008), one of the structures that shaped our behavior can be defined as his authoritarian regime. Agency was severely limited in the way that criticizing his regime, even though it was not technically illegal, would still land you in a lot of trouble. As such freedom of press was severely controlled. This is evident in the way that all newspapers had to tow the government line and in how the state broadcaster TVM (Television Maldives) was the only local television station to allow to air for almost the entirety of his dictatorship.
The legacy of Maumoon's dictatorship is clear in the insistence by most Maldivians that the Maldives is "100% Muslim". This is maintained by the Maldivian constitution (the structure) and how it restricts the freedom of consciousness (in other words the agency) of Maldivians by stating that all citizens are required to be Muslims .
How is this useful practically though? Well for instance one could analyse the influence of structure and agency on the suicide of Ismail Mohamed Didi, a 25 year old atheist who committed suicide after being refused asylum. What structures of Maldivian society drove him to the decision to take his life? Was his dramatic death, hanging himself off the airport control tower of a nation so reliant on tourists, a final scream demonstrating his autonomy?
"In dramaturgical sociology it is argued that the elements of human interactions are dependent upon time, place, and audience. In other words, to Goffman, the self is a sense of who one is, a dramatic effect emerging from the immediate scene being presented. Goffman forms a theatrical metaphor in defining the method in which one human being presents itself to another based on cultural values, norms, and beliefs. Performances can have disruptions (actors are aware of such), but most are successful. The goal of this presentation of self is acceptance from the audience through carefully conducted performance. If the actor succeeds, the audience will view the actor as he or she wants to be viewed. "
Consider politicians, religious scholars, the MNDF and the police. They are all wearing their own uniforms and when they wear this uniform, they act in a certain way. Politicians wear the uniform of suits and ties and go to great lengths to appear "professional". A politician would not wear a mundu to parliament as this would clash with the image they are trying to present. Similarly, religious scholars also put considerable effort into maintaining their appearance. This is apparent to the extent that you can even somewhat discern the sect the preacher is affiliated with through their appearance. A salafi preacher for instance, would almost never take to the stage without his beard or rolled up trousers . As such, politicians and preachers, when they interact with the public, put on a performance. The way they speak with the public will not be the same way that they speak with their peers and it will not be the same as the way they speak to their families. This is how you get alcohol drinking politicians and adulterous preachers giving incendiary speeches about how natural events such as the tsunami occurred because of a lack of morals on our behalf.
This is of course not limited to just people of a certain profession but to everyone; except perhaps a hermit living by themselves. Simply consider how your parents act around you and then how they act around themselves, or how you act around your parents compared to how you act around your close friends .
"Labeling theory is the theory of how the self-identity and behavior of individuals may be determined or influenced by the terms used to describe or classify them. It is associated with the concepts of self-fulfilling prophecy and stereotyping. Labeling theory holds that deviance is not inherent to an act, but instead focuses on the tendency of majorities to negatively label minorities or those seen as deviant from standard cultural norms. The theory was prominent during the 1960s and 1970s, and some modified versions of the theory have developed and are still currently popular. A stigma is defined as a powerfully negative label that changes a person's self-concept and social identity."
Are you from the MDP? A yellow person? According to the PPM you must be a ganja smoking alcoholic!
Are you from the PPM? A pink (or is it magenta?) person? According to the MDP you are a brainwashed drone incapable of thinking for yourself.
Are you an atheist? According to the MDP and PPM you are a nasty Islamophobe funded by zionists and you're probably addicted to heroin too.
Are you a salafi? According to the atheists you are a brainwashed drone incapable of thinking for yourself.
Are you a police officer? According to almost everyone in the Maldives you're a brainwashed drone incapable of thinking for yourself that has no sincere intent of even trying to adhere to the motto of "protect and serve".
Are you not straight? According to almost everyone in the Maldives you're probably having sex with animals too.
Are you a drug addict? According to almost everyone in the Maldives you're a lost cause and a waste of oxygen.
With this last example, think about the effects this stigma would have on such a person in terms of getting out of the situation that led them to the addiction in the first place. Do you think they would see the error of their ways or would their addiction worsen as they attempted to ease the pain of further ostracization? This might also explain why so many people from Maldivian minorities (they themselves being severely ostracized ) appear to also suffer from some kind of drug addiction.
This can also apply to members of Maldivian gangs who are often discriminated against and stereotyped by using the term "partey(s)". A person joins such a gang because society has rejected them, because they find acceptance within that community; do you honestly think rejecting them further is the solution to get people out of those situations?
"Social constructionism or the social construction of reality (also social concept) is a theory of knowledge in sociology and that examines the development of jointly constructed understandings of the world. It assumes that understanding, significance, and meaning are developed not separately within the individual, but in coordination with other human beings. The elements most important to the theory are (1) the assumption that human beings rationalize their experience by creating a model of the social world and how it functions and (2) that language is the most essential system through which humans construct reality."
What is the difference between a "raajje' therey meehaa" (literally - someone from within the kingdom, but often used as a derogatory term in the way someone might call someone a "country bumpkin" ) and a "Male' meehaa" (literally - someone from the capital city of Male', but often used as a derogatory term in the way someone might call someone a "city slicker")?
The differences are entirely constructed by society and it is maintained by several structures of Maldivian society; including the language itself which is divided into several levels of "politeness" and "sacredness" depending purely on class.
The same can be said for our performances of gender. Consider our constructions of gender in terms of our change of garments from the past to those of today. From the libaas and feyli to either the Western garbs of globalisation or the Arabian garbs of religious indoctrination. At the moment many people believe that women are somehow deficient in their capacity to lead and use religious justifications to make arguments against the idea that a woman may become the leader of a nation. As Maldivian society progresses, these ideas will be left by the wayside; but it doesn't mean that women suddenly became inherently more or less capable, it simply means that our perceptions around the idea have changed.
Ritzer highlighted four primary components of McDonaldization:
Efficiency – the optimal method for accomplishing a task. In this context, Ritzer has a very specific meaning of "efficiency". In the example of McDonald's customers, it is the fastest way to get from being hungry to being full. Efficiency in McDonaldization means that every aspect of the organization is geared toward the minimization of time.
Calculability – objective should be quantifiable (e.g., sales) rather than subjective (e.g., taste). McDonaldization developed the notion that quantity equals quality, and that a large amount of product delivered to the customer in a short amount of time is the same as a high quality product. This allows people to quantify how much they're getting versus how much they’re paying. Organizations want consumers to believe that they are getting a large amount of product for not a lot of money. Workers in these organizations are judged by how fast they are instead of the quality of work they do.
Predictability – standardized and uniform services. "Predictability" means that no matter where a person goes, they will receive the same service and receive the same product every time when interacting with the McDonaldized organization. This also applies to the workers in those organizations. Their tasks are highly repetitive, highly routine, and predictable.
Control – standardized and uniform employees, replacement of human by non-human technologies
With these four principles of the fast food industry, a strategy which is rational within a narrow scope can lead to outcomes that are harmful or irrational. As these processes spread to other parts of society, modern society’s new social and cultural characteristics are created. For example, as McDonald’s enters a country and consumer patterns are unified, cultural hybridization occurs.
What would make the Maldives a perfect luxury tourist destination? The subtraction of the local population of course. But until that day, drones will have to do. It will be a very uninteresting society, but it will be absolute perfection in terms of providing a predictable service. For this one I'd like you, if you'd please, to think about this one for yourselves a bit. Where do you think the Maldives is truly heading? Do you think enough is being done to preserve our history and culture - especially it's ancient past? Do you think the Maldivian society elevates an individual to be all they can be, or does it mould a person for subservience?
Note: All of the examples I have provided are very basic and might not even be that accurate in terms of the broader theories involved. Do not listen to anyone expecting easy answers about any of these things. As with everything else I highly suggest you do your own independent research and come to your own conclusions.