Maldives rehab extremists with 'true spirit of Islam'



MALE, Maldives (RNS) Despite its small population (about 400,000 residents) and small size (about twice as large as Washington, D.C.), this overwhelmingly Muslim nation is claiming success in rehabilitating hard-core Islamic terrorists. The string of more than 1,100 islands off India’s southern tip is now offering to export its success to nations seeking to combat extremism.

Skeptics, meanwhile, say the program is built on Saudi Arabia’s strict Wahhabi version of Islam, which some critics say actually foments extremism; 15 of the 19 hijackers in the 9/11 attackers were Saudi citizens.

The rehabilitation effort is sponsored by the country’s Ministry of Islamic Affairs. Minister Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari says there’s hope in the Quran for Muslims who have “gone astray.”

Starting with Iran’s 1979 Islamist revolution and worsening after the 9/11 attacks, extremist Islam fanned out across the Islamic world, eventually reaching the tiny island nation, said Bari, a graduate of Saudi Arabia’s Islamic University of al-Madinah.

Bari said extremism took root in the Maldives under former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who ruled for 30 years until the country’s first multiparty elections in 2008.

Gayoom’s government-sponsored version of Islam issued Friday sermons to be read in mosques, licensed preachers and banned the promotion of any opinion that was contrary to the official line from the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, he said.

“Citizens began to search for `true Islam,”’ Bari said. “Exploiting the situation, some unqualified preachers indoctrinated uneducated and gullible people.”

In 2007, a bomb in a park outside Bari’s office wounded 12 tourists. A week later, more than 50 suspected extremists were arrested when security personnel stormed a makeshift mosque on the island of Himandhoo and were confronted by masked men carrying swords and iron rods.

“The use of force,” claimed the minister, “made the people of the island more radical and anti-government. The whole island turned to extremism.”

After a 2008 conference of Islamic nations in Saudi Arabia that focused on combating extremism, current President Mohamed Nasheed’s government opted for “teaching the true spirit of Islam in lieu of force,” Bari said.


Religion NewsVishal Arora