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May 12, 2010

By Fareedha

My Forbidden Face’ by Latifa, ‘In the name of Honour’ by Mukhtar Mai, ‘Afghanistan where God only comes to weep’ by Siba Shakib, are all stories about women suffering under extremist religious doctrines. Latifa was only 16 when the Taliban seized power in 1996 and her story describes how their lives changed overnight and how they were forbidden to go out on their own, how they were prohibited from working or going to school. The same pattern is repeated in the other two stories.  I read these stories with mixed emotions. I felt extreme compassion for the women who are struggling to come to terms with extremist beliefs and rules. At the same time I felt enormous relief that I come from a country claiming to be 100% Muslim yet I could enjoy the freedoms and liberties that these women cannot perhaps even fathom.

However, the million dollar question today is ‘For how long?’ The creeping Arabization, a term I would use for the lack of an alternative, is something that we can no longer ignore. What is even more damning is the lack of distinction between Arab culture and Islam. Are we Maldivians no longer allowed to have our distinct identity? Maldivian women had long practiced Islam alongside being proud of a rich heritage and culture. I refuse to accept that my grandmother and her mother before her and her mother before her and so on who were pious women in their own right, who I am told, prayed dutifully five times a day, were kind to the poor, fasted during Ramdan and did the Haj at a time when it was extremely difficult to travel to Mecca, will be dwellers of hell just because they did not wear the black garment that Arab women wear. They were practising believing Muslim women who wore their ‘libas’ and ‘kandiki’ or ‘feyli’ as the occasion may be; and wore it with pride and dignity. I cannot fathom that the God I believe in, will condemn these women to eternal damnation just because they did not follow their Arab ‘cousins’ in their manner of dressing.

But in today’s climate of intolerance and prejudice, Maldivian women are fast becoming replicas of women belonging to another culture. This cultural colonization by the Arab-sponsored ‘cultural’ mercenaries (I refuse to call them Islamic scholars!) is nothing different from the colonizers that came from Europe, mainly from the 15th century onwards and forced their ways and traditions on the indigenous populations of Asia and Africa, etc. The colonization of these regions by countries that claimed racial and cultural superiority is not far different from what is happening now – ie Dominance of Arab culture and language over other native cultures. Nevertheless, what is different is that this cultural colonization is not physically carried by ‘invading’ hordes of Arabs but by local people, trained and brain-washed abroad; who are then unleashed upon the native people of Maldives and other such vulnerable countries. And the weapons they use are not the musket or the cannon but religion; something that we find extremely difficult to counter and leave us helpless and full of dispair.

How do we meet this threat of Arab colonization? There is no quick-fix answer to this. However, we too have a weapon that we can combat this cultural invasion. And that is something that our forefathers and foremothers believed in and practiced for centuries. And that is Islam. We have to ensure that our faith remains strong and our beliefs in the religion practiced by our ancestors for centuries is something that cannot be twisted and dragged away from us just because someone came and told us that we have to dress like an Arab woman and speak like an Arab woman and behave like an Arab woman. Islam is a religion that was sent to all cultures and all nations. If Allah wanted all of us to be Arabs, then the Almighty would have made us so.  We must, therefore, stand together and be proud of our religion and our heritage – something that co-existed side by side for centuries. We must not let our faith be swayed by this cultural colonization. We must differentiate between Arab culture and Maldivian culture. Otherwise we will be reading ‘My forbidden Maldivian culture’ sooner rather than later.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Nadya permalink
    May 13, 2010 6:03 am

    Great article. I fear for my country. Tolerance is the only way forward.

  2. May 14, 2010 7:09 pm

    Abu al Barakat’s vision of complete takeover of Dhivehi culture is arriving at fruiting 8 or more centuries on thanks to the invasion of highly organized and well-funded (by petro-dollars) groups trained from Saudi Arabia.

    Over the centuries what little historical evidence that remained of our ancestral heritage has been all but destroyed. We are indeed hanging by the thinnest thread of our culture. Soon that too will be broken.


  3. Ruk permalink
    May 16, 2010 1:07 pm

    Fareeda highlights an excellent point. Taking her point and Simons comment a step further, it is for those who support to uphold Dhivehi culture to get together and brainstorm ways to overcome the infiltration of Saudi Arabian customs into Dhivehi society. Until 1980 Dhivehin managed to keep their heritage and traditions separate from the religion they believed, so it is possible.

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