Maldives fast acquiring a radical Islamic colour: Report

Fundamentalists are persuading locals to take to radical Islam, asking women to stay indoors and cover themselves from head to toe.

india Updated: Oct 05, 2006 17:35 IST

Till a few years back, Maldives, a declared Islamic state in 1997, had a very liberal way of life when women wore bright-colour body-fitting dresses and hair bands to keep their hair in place.

But, that way of life is fast changing, with fundamentalist preachers persuading locals to take to radical Islam, asking women to stay indoors and cover their bodies from head to toe.

The radical Islamic preachers spread hatred against Christianity, banning the citizens from listening to any radio stations having a missionary message.

The government also believes that the real threat to stability in the Maldives comes from Christianity and not due to a lack of democracy.

Men have begun growing beards and new grand mosques are springing up, paid for by donors in Kuwait, Libya and Iran, says an article in The Independent.

The women, whose husbands spend most of their time (in a year) away from home working in hotels and resorts, are asked (by Islamic preachers) to send their children to mosques to be taught by Islamic preachers.

A few years ago, some of the Opposition parties, who clamour for democracy, launched a tirade against the government.

Jennifer Latheef, a 32-year-old Opposition activist, was recently arrested and charged with terrorism in 2004 after she took part in public demonstrations and speaking out against the government.

"I was handcuffed and beaten on the base of my spine - it left no marks but I still need physiotherapy today, and it was all over made-up charges. They accused me of throwing a stone during demonstrations.

I didn't throw a stone, but even if I did, how does that make me a terrorist?" the paper quoted her as saying.

"The Islamic teachers go to the women in the villages and say - your men are working at these hotels, surrounded by loose women and alcohol.

If you want to save his soul and your marriage you must be virtuous - cover up, stay inside, and he will come back to you. These women then come under tremendous peer pressure to conform," she added.

Maldives, declared in 1997 as purely a Sunni Muslim state with Islam being the state religion, is largely a poor country with majority of the people surviving on a diet of rice and fish.

Islam has been practised here since the 12th century, and since President Abdul Maumoon Gayoom came to power in 1978, religion and government have become increasingly intertwined.

Christian missionaries became bogeymen, accused of trying to undermine the cohesiveness of Maldivian society, and citizens were banned from listening to any radio stations deemed to have a missionary message.

Though the consumption of alcohol is allowed to holidaymakers, but any Maldivian citizen, if caught drinking alcohol, faces 100 lashes.

Individual preachers have been advocating a more radical version of Islam on the poorer islands, which are cut off from the mainstream media.

In a country where 93 per cent of the population are illiterate, this word-of-mouth form of conversion can be remarkably effective, says an article in The Independent.

The general hatred against Christianity has attained such levels that in April, the minister of fisheries ordered the residents of one of the islands to tear down their new 75,000 dollars indoor market built by "Maldives Aid", a UK-based charity, because it was funded by "Christian missionaries".

Schoolteachers from nearby Sri Lanka and India are regularly expelled from the island for trying to convert Maldivian citizens to Christianity.

First Published: Oct 05, 2006 17:35 IST