the only South Asian country that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s outreach has
not covered since he was elected in 2014, has its controversial president
Abdulla Yameen visiting India on a two-day visit that began on Sunday. Given
the size and population of the Maldives, his visit will not evoke any TV
channel discussion or much newspaper coverage.
imprisonment and treatment of the first democratically-elected president
Mohamed Nasheed has been one of the most prominent actions since he assumed
power but, what Yameen has embarked on in the past two-and-a-half years should
cause concern among security experts and those studying the spread and
acceptance of Saudi-sponsored ultra-conservative Islam across South Asia.
90,000 square kilometres and 1,200 islands south of the Lakshadweep Islands,
the Maldives has for centuries been on the trade route from East to West and
vice versa. Considered a major tourist destination with its azure waters and
silver sands, the Maldives gets more than a million tourists annually. Declared
an Islamic country in 1997 by dictator Mamnoon Abdul Gayoom who successfully
managed to attract foreign tourists while keeping the local population
insulated from “corrupting influences”. Islam was propagated and mosques built
to counter growing liberal Opposition.
half-brother Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom has gone ahead in not just restricting
but scuttling democratic voices, and in recent days closed down the islands’
only newspaper. Simultaneously he has got Saudi Arabia’s orthodox monarchy to
finance, dictate and brainwash Muslims into believing and accepting an Islam
that has been alien to them. Ironically, Yameen says Saudi Arabia will help
with propagating “moderate” Islam!
government has watched with serious reservation the manner in which Yameen has
rolled out the red carpet for China and the treatment of Indian companies and
existing investment like, in say the Male Airport project, which was struck
off. While growing Chinese presence and Yameen’s open embrace of Beijing should
cause alarm, it is the widening footprint of Saudi sponsored radical Islam in
Maldives that needs investigation by security experts.
as its official religion and strong laws in place against any attempt to
challenge existing religious beliefs, the majority are now forced to follow an
'Arabised' version of Islam that Saudi Arabia professes as “true” Islam.
In last two
years the Saudi Arabian embassy has come up in Male, President Yameen has made
three trip to the kingdom, and officially the two countries have signed
agreements that would allow Riyadh to build mosques, send clerics and Imams to
teach and train Maldivians “true” Islam, and spread ideas across the archipelago’s
Muslims who follow less restrictive religious and social practices.
way Saudi money has helped indoctrinate millions across South Asia, including
in India and across the world, a similar campaign has been unleashed with much
zeal by the Saudi government across the Maldives. The recent suicide attacks in
Brussels revealed how an innocuous decision by a Belgian government decades ago
that laid out a red carpet for Saudi radicalism now threatens to consume that
country and rest of Europe.
is an area where India and Maldives have decided to join hands, and New Delhi
expects to assist Yameen. In last few years Maldivian radicals have been found
to be active in Kerala, which is the route for money and men passing through. In
2007, a radical Muslim arrested by Kerala police was said to be an accused in
the Malé bomb blast. The historic connection between the Maldives and Kerala
has now become an umbilical cord for the transmission of ultra-conservative
Islam that threatens not just the Maldives, but Indian security as well.
in the number of mosques, adoption of headscarves and Burqas by more women, and
the free flow of Maldivians to Syria and Iraq to fight along with radical
Islamic groups has become a visible sign of the path the island nation of
350,000 people has embarked on. Imagine in this background the government of
President Yameen decides to embrace Saudi manufactured ultra-conservative Islam
and supplant it amongst his people. Indian foreign secretary S Jaishankar
played down the number of Islamic State recruits from the Maldives saying only
40 had joined the group.
pertinent to note that Kerala has itself for decades been a hotbed of radical
of concern is that why should Maldives — a country that had and still retains a
very “liberal” attitude to Islamic beliefs — should be officially pushed
towards ideas that are alien to that society. Saudi notables ranging from then
Crown Prince and now King Salman to Shura Council chief, Islamic Affairs
Minister, official clerics and many other ministers have made a beeline to Malé
in less than 24 months.
King Salman as Crown Prince pledged $1.2 million to build 10 mosques across the
country and donated $1.5 million to the health sector and $1 million to the
Islamic ministry’s Waqf fund.
Maldivian minister of Islamic affairs Ahmed Ziyad deputed to actively transform
the country gave a strong indication of what the government had entered into
when he said Saudi Arabia would help maintain “religious unity” and would not
look away when the island nation faces “challenges” from western influence.
quoted as having said, “Maldives and Saudi Arabia are 100 percent Muslim
countries. We do not want any change to this percentage, and neither would the
Maldives… Opening up to the world does not mean a change in a country’s
Saudi Arabia would help the Maldives improve the collection of Zakat, an
Islamic tax, publish books on Islam in English, expedite ongoing mosque
projects and train Imams.
scholars will now have more opportunities to visit Saudi Arabia and learn from
them, he added.
Minister Narendra Modi has just returned from Saudi Arabia where he was
honoured and treated like a royal. Given that over 2.5 million Indians work in
the Gulf kingdom and as the top exporter of crude oil to the country, India
needs to be careful in dealing with the issue.
Saudi financing of radicalism in India was and remains a major problem that
needs to be tackled through identification and control of money flows and check
on its end use. While India gears up to sign an agreement on counter-terrorism
with the Maldives, it would be pertinent to start discussions on the threat
posed to India by radical Saudi ideas, and initiate steps to break the Kerala
link with Saudi-Maldives radicalism.