Mourning the brutal murder of Yameen Rasheed

April 24 14:19 2017

We’re shocked to hear Yameen Rasheed, a 29-year-old youth, has been stabbed to death. It is impossible to explain how we feel about this brutal killing. I write this as I mourn the death of Yameen, who I have known personally.

Like Yameen’s best friend, Ahmed Rilwan – who is still missing after his abduction in August 2014 – Yameen is known as one of the most prominent Maldivian bloggers.

Yameen is a brilliant critic of the corrupt Maldivian political system as his weekly satirical blog roundups testify.

He is a fierce critic of the Salafi-Wahhabi re-Islamisation that is revolutionising the face of Islam in the Maldives. He has consistently criticised Salafi-Jihadism that has recently emerged in the Maldives.

Yameen is a democrat. He is a humanist. He is a young critical rationalist. Like his best friend Rilwan, he is a master of irony and satire. He is a great writer and blogger. He is no doubt a very bright mind, an enormously kind heart.

For me, it is best to characterise Yameen as a critical youth exploring the many complexities of their modern life, but trying to stand against all forms of bullshit and injustices.

Since Rilwan’s abduction, Yameen has been tirelessly campaigning to seek justice and accountability for Rilwan.  That is, until the early morning hours of Sunday, when he was found stabbed under the stairs of the building where he lives in Male.

Recall that in 2013 religious scholar and Member of Parliament, Afrasheem Ali, was stabbed to death in a similar manner.

To date, the authorities have failed to solve any of these cases.

I have little doubt the authorities are complicit these cases to the extent of their utter failure to account for these cases.

A new type of violence

Although rare in the past, murders are not unprecedented in the Maldives. But as anthropologist Elizabeth Colton, who did research in the early 1980s, says, physical violence, in general, was not a prominent feature of the Maldivian culture.

It is only in the recent years there has been a steady increase in murders, to the point they may now be “normalised” in the society. Even then, a number of these murders were related to gang violence.

But these recent cases – Afrasheem Ali, Ahmed Rilwan, and Yameen Rasheed – may mark a qualitatively different level of violence: they constitute a metaphysic of violence.

These cases of violence share an ideological subtext. The metaphysic takes from religion-based discourses.

Afrasheem Ali is, of course, a religious scholar. He had been a prominent critic of the more militant Salafi-Jihadist views and certain Salafi-Islamist interpretations of Islam. For instance, he supported women’s political right to be a president. Contrast this with even otherwise moderate Salafi-Islamists such as the chancellor of Maldives’ Islamic University, Shaheem, who does not believe women have such a right under his version of sharia.

Similarly, both Rilwan and Yameen define a certain variety of new ideological development among some of the new youth of the Maldives. They both come from a secular humanist, sometimes fiercely rationalist, and other times, Sufi-oriented eclectic Islamic backgrounds.

They are certainly conscious of the erosion of the traditional Sufi-oriented Shafi’i Sunni Islam represented by great Maldivian religious masters such as Taj al-Din, Naib Tuttu and Hussain Salahuddin, which existed for over four hundred years. We sometimes see this in their mourning of this loss, and from their love of Maldivian culture, its traditions, and its rituals and its cultural legacies. 

These youth are also aware that Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s Egypt-influenced modernist Islam that rose to political prominence since the 1980s was overall a negative development.

They think this because of its “functionalisation” religion for undemocratic endeavours, its re-Islamising of Maldivian identity, and, of course, its suppression of Salafi-Wahhabists.

But they are even more concerned the liberal aspects of Gayoom’s Islam have been increasingly challenged in recent times.

Rise of Salafi-Wahhabism

It is no small feat that all prominent religious masters of the Maldives such as Salahuddin and successive governments had resisted Salafi-Wahhabism.

The modernising president Ibrahim Nasir (r. 1957-1978) suppressed Salafi-Wahhabism, a policy more brutally carried forward by Maumoon Abdul Gayoom between 1978-2004.

Thus, the spectacular rise of Salafi-Wahhabism since especially mid-2000s, is one of the biggest transformation of the religious landscape of the Maldives since its conversion to Islam around the 12th century.

Led by new religious figures educated in the madrasa centres in Pakistan and India, and more significantly, from Saudi Arabia, Salafi-Wahhabism has been attempting to make inroads since the 1970s.  In the 1970s, for instance, there were a few articles promoting Salafi-Wahhabism in the magazine Amaz. It is only with political liberalisation since mid-2000s, these new Salafi-Wahhabist and Islamist religious scholars have found both civil society platforms and political society avenues to vigorously change the faces of Maldivian Islam.

As a result, the long-standing state-society relations where the state had controlled Islam has come to an end in the Maldives. Increasingly, it is the Salafi-Wahhabist variety based in civil society organisations, mainstream media, and new media avenues (YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Viber, WhatsApp, etc.) that has dominated the version of Islam that is available to the public.

Given its short history, Salafi-Wahhabism’s outreach is indeed mind-boggling, to say the least.

This variety of Islam is presented as the normal and true Islam. Many ordinary Maldivians may take Salaf-Wahhabism exactly in the terms it presents itself – as the “true Islam” of the Prophet Muhammad and his pious processors.

Salafi-Wahhabism’s critics

But many people like Rilwan and Yameen Rasheed do not think Salafi-Wahhabism is right. They believe there could be a culturally moulded, ethics-based Islam that sees the true heart of Islam in the hearts of people, not in their garments and lifestyles.

They are certainly fiercely critical of Salafi-Wahhabism: of its misogynist views; its decrying of Maldivian rich culture such as music, dancing, and singing; its intolerance towards religious freedom; its intolerance towards alternative sexual orientations; its insular worldview of creating hate or dislike towards entire groups of people like Jews; its pseudoscience of explaining everything through religion; its uncritical take on issues in the Middle East; and, its utter hypocrisy when it comes to corrupt states like Saudi Arabia.

They believe there could be an Islam that assumes the integrity of religiosity exists when it is separated from the contingencies of power as much as possible.

In this, they show positions in line with certain views of the great religious masters of the Maldives. We could recall the eighteenth-century Maldivian judge, Hasan Taj al-Din, who advised one should have a certain distance to political power or the Sufism-oriented Islam of the great sixteenth century Maldivian scholar Muhammad Jamaluddin who wanted to stay away from Malé-based elite politics.

Some of the new youth prefer Muslim Mu’tazilites and Sufis such as Jalaluddin Rumi. They love singing and dancing and poetry. They in fact love people like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, a favourite of Rilwan.

Of course these young people love science. They detest bullshit of all varieties. In this, they may sometimes border on scientism, and may be influenced by New Atheism. But, above all, they value humanism.

But they do not come in ideological straitjackets.

Salafi-Wahhabi re-Islamisation and violence

I’m of course not suggesting Salafi Wahhabi scholars or their affiliates are behind the murders of Afrashim Ali and Yameen and the abduction of Rilwan.

On the contrary, I want to clarify what I believe where Salafi-Wahhabism stands in these qualitatively different cases of violence.

Salafi-Wahhabism has contributed to a metaphysical discourse that sympathises with, if not outright promotes, intolerance, sometimes bordering on violence.

Such intolerance exists especially towards the variety of secular humanist rationalism and Sufi-oriented eclectic Islam represented by people like Ahmed Rilwan and Yameen Rasheed.

To be precise, what I am suggesting is the more militant version of the recent Salafi-Jihadism has benefited from this larger intolerant discursive context of Salafi-Wahhabism. In this regard, Salafi-Wahhabism has contributed towards discursive radicalisation.

Salafi-Jihadism sees the Maldives as a land of infidels. It sees most of its inhabitants as infidels, and the government and its politicians as idolatrous. It sees violence as necessary and justified. It also sees Salafi Wahhabist scholars as hypocrites.

So Salafi-Jihadism is not the same as Salafi-Wahhabism. Salafi-Wahhabism does not hold these specific views. Salafi-Wahhabism does openly condemn religion-based violence in specific contexts too. But what it does not do is to condemn intolerant attitudes and decontextualized violence.

Thus, many Salafi-Wahhabist figures have targeted individuals like Yameen Rasheed portraying them as enemies of Islam and their secularism as anti-religion.

Corrupt politics and violence

Although all these cases do represent a religion-based metaphysic element, it is quite likely they may have non-religious dimensions too.

Individuals like Rilwan and Yameen have been fierce critics of politics of oppression and corruption that prevail in the Maldives. They are therefore threats to prevailing politics in the Maldives. Politicians may therefore easily ignore them.

But there is another related possibility too, which involves corrupt politics. We do know that certain non-religious politicians have developed interdependent relationships with gang members in order to achieve political ends.

Political violence has always been an intrinsic feature of Maldivian elite political culture. Coups, counter-coups, violent plots, suppression, torture, banishments, are basic features of politics of the elite political culture. But elite politics has hitherto been using such means as political banishment, its own security personnel, prisons, or mobs of ordinary people, to achieve political ends.

The linking up with gang members have been largely recent developments that take violence to a different level.

Now, what we also do know is that Salafi-Jihadists have been “re-Islamising” these socially radical youth members of gangs. A number of individuals who have joined the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, for example, come through this “Islamisation of radicals” route.

It is quite possible the interdependencies between criminal gang elements of the society and politics on one hand, and their recent absorption into a metaphysic of religion-based violence on the other hand, has allowed the murder of Dr Afrasheem Ali and the abduction of Rilwan go unpunished.

It is therefore quite possible this was what happened to my friend Yameen too.

Full details are available from the link below:


Source URL:  Maldives Independent

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