13th July 2011 – Foreign Minister of the Maldives, Ahmed Naseem meets Hillary Clinton in Washington and states “Both the United States and Maldives have the same ideals, and we strive to create democracy in Maldives…. we have been successfully broaching the democratic transition (in the Maldives). I think that was the pivoting of the Islamic awakening … And we are working very closely on the – in the areas of human rights in Geneva”.
27th November 2011 – Following Navi Pillay’s comments about flogging, Foreign Minister Ahmed Naseem states to the media in the Maldives “What’s there to discuss about flogging? There is nothing to debate about in a matter clearly stated in the religion of Islam. No one can argue with God”.
This is coming from the supposedly ‘educated, diplomatic, cultured, open-minded’ appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs that represents us, the Maldivian people, abroad and this is his idea of ‘Islamic awakening’. Which human rights is he working on in Geneva? Unfortunately, this is a typical example of Maldivian statesmen who often use human rights language without any action or sincerity. Human rights is the most distorted and misused concept in the country.
Let me open this discussion for those who are afraid of a little debate!
First of all, what is so outrageous about Navi Pillay’s comments about flogging? All she really said was that the practice of public flogging of women as a punishment for extramarital sex should be debated simply because it is a cruel and degrading punishment. This is an issue people discuss behind closed doors all the time in the Maldives and I am baffled by the public reaction to her statements. The demonstrations, the threats to Navi Pillay and the UN in Maldives; and the public statements by every other politician to condemn her and reaffirm their devotion to Islam only showed insecurity, cowardice and hidden agendas of politicians and religious mullahs.
The same way we have stopped chopping hands or stoning people (because we consider it inhumane and outdated, remember!), why can’t we open this issue for discussion? I remember the way hoards of men gather around the Justice Building in Male’ to witness public flogging, of which a large majority are inflicted on women. Men gather around to jeer and watch this public spectacle as if they have never committed a sin deserving a public flogging according to shariah. Just because a man/woman has sex outside marriage do they deserve to be publicly humiliated, bent over in front of a large jeering crowd and struck on their bottoms until their spirit breaks?
Theft, intoxication, violence and murder are considered modern, social problems of society that need to be addressed with modern forms of rehabilitation and humane punishment. BUT lo and behold, public flogging of women is considered the embodiment of Islam in the Maldives. It is simply irreversible and any discussion of this matter is considered heresy! I’ll tell you why religious factions are outraged with Pillay’s comments – it is because public flogging is a punishment predominantly inflicted on women. If the published official statistics are accurate, out of 184 people sentenced to flogging in the Maldives in 2006, 146 were women. In other words it is another tool used to suppress women in our male dominated society. If a man simply denies having extramarital sex he can walk away free but the women is often left pregnant, humiliated, defamed, and her child denied a father. How can this be humane, justifiable and fair?
Any person with local knowledge would know that extramarital sex is commonplace in the country. I am saddened by the fact that so many people remain quiet or indifferent to the pain and humiliation endured by the women who are caught. I am not saying that extramarital sex should not be considered a sin under shariah, because I DO respect cultural values people uphold. I am only arguing that there needs to be a more humane way of punishment if the culture/religion of the country deems it absolutely necessary to punish people for extramarital sex. It is very clear that public flogging in the Maldives is discriminatory, unnecessary and inhumane, and if we are genuinely moving forward in the path of democracy this issue needs to be reassessed. Furthermore, nobody has a right to say that this cannot ever be discussed; particularly if they are simultaneously arguing that we live in a democratising society!
In all matters of life, whether science or religion, there is always room for debate. Without Shura (mutual consultation), debate and discussion, and the use of our god-given brains and ability to adapt we are nothing but mindless animals. Islam is a faith for all those who believe, be it open-minded and close-minded. People like you and me have as much a right to debate and reassess religious issues as any religious scholar. The Quran encourages propagating Islam with wisdom and consideration. So let me end on this verse from the Quran:
Call to the way of your Lord with (great) wisdom and solicitude and argue with them in ways that are most appropriate. (And remember that) your Lord knows best those who have strayed from His path and (also) those, who are rightly guided. (16: 125).