Defamation Bill & Its Un-Islamic Defense

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Source: The English Law Students’ Association

It is being talked about with much fervor today, the Islamic viewpoint behind criticizing the leadership and governance of a country and its head of state. Last year, right after the Independence Day celebrations were held, I wrote about how the government was imminently going to pass legislature that is “required” to put us behind bars for exercising our right to free speech, especially when it concerns the government and its elites. Today would most likely be the day upon which this prediction is going to become a reality, depending on whether government aligned party members pay heed to the sentiments of the people or bow down to their own greed, which has seen them profit most handsomely in recent times.

With the Defamation Bill submitted to the Parliament for the second time around, it went into the committee stage where religious scholars from the Fiqh Academy in the country were invited to have their say. Unsurprisingly, the sheikhs who turned up were in fact in agreement that the Defamation Bill is crucial and an important bill that needs to be passed, and furthermore went onto cite that defamation in fact, is considered to be a criminal offense in Islam. These sheikhs further went onto elaborate how criticizing the leader of a country is not to be done, how Islam forbids this, how Islam asks of society to obey their leaders, even if they turn out to be tyrannical monsters.

Islam on Oppression

Up till now, I have tried to refrain from saying much on the issue, because for one thing, I might not be the best of people to talk about things from an Islamic perspective, given that my knowledge when it comes to the Sharia’ and laws via which Islamic jurisprudence is governed is pretty much limited in comparison to the high heeled scholars of the country, the ones who go through their entire lives with their third eye blind, unable to see or hear of the cries of the sheer injustice that has become the norm in this country of ours.

My knowledge of Islam, the religion I follow and love, which is very much a part of who I am, does not jive at all with what the esteemed sheikhs revealed at the committee floor. In fact, I went on to do some reading to find out what I could about the scriptures being quoted often by the sheikhs who are in support of such a law being passed.

I found out that Sunni scholars agree upon the point that a leader should be obeyed, regardless of how corrupt and tyrannical he or she becomes and tramples the law of the land as they see fit. The only avenue left, according to these groups of scholars, is to advise the despot in place, hoping that his non-existent conscience grows a limb or two before the whole country is engulfed in misery and suffering.

On this note, Shiite scholars disagree and goes as far as to say that a ruler needs to be even forcibly removed from office, if it were to come to the point where he or she starts to trample on the rights of the people, when corruption becomes the accepted norm along with injustice that becomes rampant. According to these groups of scholars, corrupt and tyrannical rulers are not to be obeyed, and they hold the viewpoint that it becomes a “must” upon the people to remove such a leader from that position of power upon which they reside.

Of course, given the Sunni-Shiite split that pretty much makes anything the other group has to say blasphemous over the other, this clearly does not give much insight when it comes to how exactly Islam views the concept of leaders, the sheer magnitude of the responsibility that is thrust upon them, and how society should react and be able to act when it comes to less than stellar behavior from the leaders that govern.

Islam as a religion comes bearing peace amidst above everything else. This does not mean the peace of the kind that exists merely on the surface, but peace of the kind that reigns when there justice to be had in a society, regardless of race, skin colour, blood line or your status of wealth.

Establishing justice in its truest form, the way Allah SWT decreed it might be an impossibility in the context of the world, with its inherently corrupt people, the shifting areas of grey within the established man-made laws and the differences of opinion that arises in defining what the laws mandate, which sometimes are as vastly different from the other as night is to day.

In Surah An-Nisa, Allah SWT says, “O you who believe, be persistently standing firm in justice as witnesses for Allah, even if it be against yourselves or parents and relatives. Whether one is rich or poor, Allah is more worthy of both. Follow not your desires, lest you not be just. If you distort your testimony or refuse to give it, then Allah is aware of what you do. [Ayah 135].

Abu Dharr reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:Allah the Exalted said: O my servants, I have forbidden oppression for myself and have made it forbidden among you, so do not oppress one another.

Furthermore, Anas (R.A) has narrated that Allah’s Apostle (PBUH) said, “Help your brother, whether he is an oppressor or he is an oppressed one. People asked, “O Allah’s Apostle! It is all right to help him if he is oppressed, but how should we help him if he is an oppressor?” The Prophet said, “By preventing him from oppressing others.” Volume 3, Book 43, Number 624: Sahih Bukhari.

What does all of the above indicate? The simple fact that establishment of justice becomes paramount in a society, more so when we claim ours to be an Islamic one, standing firm in its principles. Thus, it becomes the duty upon the ruler appointed by the people to manage their affairs to establish the system of justice that remains removed from other influential forces at work. It becomes a must upon the ruler to appoint judges who are able and remain uninfluenced by corrupt practices, and to create check and balance mechanisms that works properly to weed out vile practices that breaches the establishment of trust that is forged between a people and their government.

Hence, it becomes imperative upon the people to voice out against injustice, corruption, and mismanagement of the kind that hurts the people and society. What the Defamation Bill is geared to do is to stop any voice of reason out there that sheds light on any such practices of the government in the management of our affairs. It is targeted towards instilling fear in the hearts of those that do not want tyranny, injustice and corruption to be the way of life for Maldivians, but are helpless to do much more than voice out their discontent. With humongous fines cited as punishment, not to mention jail terms if people are unable to cough up the fines payable to the state in millions, the Defamation Bill closes the door on the rights of the citizen when it comes to “preventing the oppressor from oppressing others”.

Islamic History & Its Lessons

Looking into the history of how Islam as a religion was propagated through different times, up until the last of the Prophets, Prophet Muhammad PBUH was sent, there exists lessons for all of us in what took place then.

If one were to ponder upon, for instance, why Prophet Musa (AS) was sent upon the people of Egypt, the Pharaoh being notorious in the tyranny that he was imposing upon his people, I believe we would identify what is wrong with the statements of the Sheikhs from the Fiqh Academy. Of course, Prophet Musa (AS) undoubtedly was sent to show the people the right way, but he was also sent to liberate the people who had been suffering for years under the tyrannical rule of a leader that was becoming more and oppressive and paranoid by the day. Paranoid enough that he wanted all male offspring born to the people be killed, for fear that the vision of a leader who would end his reign may come true.

A lot of people talk about how Prophet Lut (AS) was sent upon the people of Sadoom and how it all relates back to acts of homosexuality that was rampant amongst their people, to the extent which men preferred their own gender over women. But what most fail to pinpoint is the fact that there existed more severe problems in their society than homosexuality. Injustice was the law of the day, where judges were corrupt, awarding justice to the highest bidder. The poor bore the brunt of the unequal practices of the state and no message that Prophet Lut (AS) delivered upon the people were heeded upon. The sheer injustice of the people of Sadoom, who had become a law unto themselves was a pivotal reason why they perished under the punishment of Allah SWT. But few of the esteemed Sheikhs remember to tell this part of the story when they regale the life of Prophet Lut (AS).

Moving on, let us think of why Prophet Muhammad PBUH was sent to us, as a blessing upon mankind. Of course once again, he was sent as a guidance for the Ummah, until the Day of Judgement is upon us. He was sent as the last Prophet, not only for the Arab race, but for all mankind, across the globe. But while establishing the principles of Islam such as oneness of Allah SWT and that one should turn to Him and only Him, what else did the Prophet PBUH propagate and teach and establish during his life?

He taught the Ummah the importance of establishing justice, the benefit of seeking knowledge, the peace that would never be found in a society unless the rights of the collective people are seen to and established. He taught us to listen to the voices of the people, to hear both sides of an argument and the importance in establishing the truthfulness behind testimonies taken into as evidence when delivering punishments and verdicts on civil and criminal cases that arose during his time.

He showed the value behind respecting the other, regardless of the differences, even be it when it comes to their faith. He liberated the people that were suffering under the tyranny of the rich and elite in Mecca from a life of servitude or worse, and he showed us that democracy is not a “modern” or rather “un-Islamic” concept as most would like to point out, but democracy in its truest form comes from the practice all of the above.

Subjugation of the People – What makes it so Easy

Why are societies so afraid of giving power back to the people where it rightfully belongs, so inherent in subjugating the people? Why do tyrannical leaders such as Bashar Al-Assad of Syria, late Saddam Hussain of Iraq, Hitler from Germany and even Pol Pot who led the infamous Khmer Rouge, find their footing in society and are able to repress people in a manner that is incomprehensible to the freethinker?

Perhaps, the answer lies in a mix of factors which includes religion in its midst. Religion that is used as a political tool to suppress, a tool that is used to silence the voice of dissent, the discontent that people feel, to impress upon them the fear of the sovereign being upon which their faith resides, all the while forgetting that the Creator looks upon leaders of society just as much as its people.

Leaders tend to forget that we all share the commonality that is death. Whether one believes in the Hereafter or not, we are all going to die someday. Humans, though we would like to assume that we are the most advanced of species to walk the Earth, have not yet figured out a way to prevent death, or perhaps the secret to an eternal life. Thus lies the stupidity in thinking that as leaders they are invincible. That just because they sit on that throne today, they will be there forever.

We the people cast our votes to elect our leaders, be it our representatives at the Parliament or the head of state of the country. While the system has in place organizations specifically geared towards establishing the check and balance mechanism that should rightly work to remove the unhealthy practices of corruption and injustice, when that mechanism fails, there should be other avenues for the people to address the issue, be it even the last resort of removing an elected official from office. There should be legal avenues that protects the rights of the people to this extent, so that they are not left vulnerable in the hands of madmen who are willing to cross every single line out there to serve their needs.

The lesson that leaders, especially those that claim to be Muslims need to learn is that even if people were to listen and obey them forever because they are left with little choice but to do so, there would indeed come a day when that power would be stripped from them, where they too would face the bitter taste of death. Where I believe that they would face a worse torment than what the people could have delivered if they had the inclination to, where they would be answerable to their Creator for all that they had done in this world.

“The best jihad is the word of justice in front of an oppressive sultan.”

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Dhivehin – Always Maldivian, Forever Independent

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Official logo used in marking the Golden Jubilee of Independence of Maldives. Source: Twitter

President Abdulla Yameen’s speeches since he assumed office in 2013 has always been about issuing thinly veiled threats targeted at the public. The dissenting voices of the public of course. The public that keeps fighting against the rising tide, the insurmountable odds being stacked against them with every day that has come and gone since then. The official function and banquet to celebrate the Golden Jubilee since the independence of Maldives from the British was held just tonight. President Yameen spoke at length, delivered a speech more or less of the same caliber and tone. This time around though, there was a slight difference. The public weren’t the only ones that were targeted.

The public indeed did get an earful on the differences of opinion that has divided society so much. According to the President, all the woes that exists in society today, the social problems that seem to grow worse by the day, all of this is due to the rising voices within us for freedom, democracy, good governance, accountability & transparency. In other words, the fight for freedom has left a huge gaping hole in our society that needs to be plugged – and fast. In a nutshell, the President seems to be talking about the multi-party system of governance that Maldives saw come to light with the Maldivian Democratic Party coming into being in 2005.

If there is one thing that the current regime knows how to do, and they do it very well, it is to operate under the guise of law and do whatever it is they need to do to stifle the movement of the people, to shut down the voices of the people; the people who see through the thin veil of legitimacy that their actions are shrouded in and are not happy about it. What I believe that the President was hinting at tonight was the ultimate move to abolish the political parties that operate in the country. The new anti-terrorism bill that has been submitted to the Parliament recently hints at the ultimate weapon that would be utilized in destroying the last vestiges of the democratic movement that exists within us.

New anti-terrorism laws while needed to curb and take action against the rising extremist elements within societies are being used by despotic governments across the globe to stifle the opposing political movements within their countries. Malaysia was one country that passed such a bill recently, all under the guise of taking action against those with extremist ideologies within their country.

A closer look at the bill drafted in the Maldives, as per an article on The Diplomat reveals that certain offenses listed in the newly submitted anti-terrorism bill contains offenses that can be attributed to political activists. Offenses such as murder, causing bodily harm, damaging property, causing suspension of public services, for instance, if carried out under the guise of (1) “unduly” influencing the government, (2) creating fear, or (3) promoting “unlawful” political and religious ideologies, can be charged under terrorism and thus pose a highly worrisome threat to our already ailing democracy, if one can even call it that now.

With the parliament having become an organization that just basically rubber stamps what the government requires of them, I have no hopes of anything in contrary happening. The government will push this bill through, most likely citing the statistics that they’ve been refusing to reveal up till now, the numbers of the droves of people from our country who have fled to Syria to fight in the “global jihad” that is being waged. Once the bill goes through & becomes law, which I believe would happen before this year is through, will signal the death & destruction of every political party & ideology that exists in Maldives. Either conform to the governing party’s mentality or be ignored or perhaps worse.

Moving back to tonight’s speech, while the people got off a tad “easily” this time around, since the last time I watched the President deliver a speech it nearly burnt my ears off, President Yameen’s criticism tonight was also targeted at the international community. That’s right. The meddling international community that wants to judge whether our installed government is actually constitutional. Whether our trials are being conducted fairly, whether due process is being followed and so on and so forth. The President’s hardline stance tonight suggests that leaving the Commonwealth is a foregone conclusion, the Parliament having debated on the issue on just the 20th of this month. The President with his speech is issuing a threat at the international community at large, that he’d play hardball with any and every organization, country or agency that is willing to make this country conform to the accepted norms of democratic governance in the world. Civil societies & organizations such as Transparency Maldives that work towards educating the masses on their rights, on making their governments accountable to them? Well lets bid sayonara to them.

That brings me to the newly drafted law on freedom of expression that is yet to darken the doorways of the Parliament, which is set to criminalize four types of “expressions contrary to national interest” as per a report published on Maldives Independent. According to the article, “free expression can be restricted on the grounds of national security only if the following circumstances arise: if there is a need to protect the nation or its territory, if Maldivians or foreigners threaten national security with the use of force, and if the government’s ability to defend the nation is endangered.” The President’s whole speech tonight was more or less targeted towards just the above. Protecting our nation, territory and national security. Rhetoric that governments like ours are famous for using to thwart all forms of dissent.

While the above said laws would definitely curtail our freedom & civil liberties, it would also move towards rendering the Article 4 of the Constitution utterly and irrevocably useless. That all the powers of the State of Maldives are derived from, and remain with, the citizens. The government is smart enough not to do too much at once. Rather, they plan & strategize carefully, this “war” being waged on our freedom & liberties that are guaranteed on the piece of paper that we call our Constitution. I say a piece of paper because it becomes just that, an easily perishable piece of paper if the governing forces that be aren’t willing to protect the basic principles and tenets of the document.

So, on this day where which we are supposed to be celebrating with glee the Golden Jubilee of Independence of Maldives, where the government has spent an excess of MVR 150 million (a figure equivalent to or greater than US$ 9 million), I really wonder at what we are celebrating. As per the 2006 census, 1/3rd of the country’s population lives in the crowded capital of the country Male’. The numbers much have shot up exponentially since then, exacerbated by the expatriate employee population that resides within as well. With zero opportunities available in own islands & atolls apart from working in the tourism sector, most are forced to leave their homes and live in crowded apartments and rooms costing their entire salaries for rent. Yet, we call ourselves independent, clapping with glee when millions of MVR of taxpayers money go up in flames at every single fireworks festival that has sort of become the norm since this government took over.

So whose independence are we really celebrating? Corruption runs rampant, organizations are held hostage by those with zero integrity and our police and military lie dormant, content with a couple of badges & promotions that alleviate their difficult standards of living, albeit be it even briefly. The judiciary has become a place where injustice is dolled out at will, and the parliament, well the parliament is the place that passes every bill that is sent by the government, without so much as a thought to the consequences on the freedom, sovereignty & rights of the generations to come.

I think we would be forced to bid farewell to the freedom that we’ve enjoyed for a brief period of time. It was good while it lasted, though it might not have been perfect. Shortly will emerge the campaign by the government to make us submit or be of those that perish in the government’s greed and ambition to squeeze every bit of revenue they can from this land of ours until there’s nothing left. Let us never forget. Hitler did what he did under the guise of laws passed in his country. So will we learn the bitterness of it all, in the years to come.

Dhivehin, always Maldivian. Forever independent. Or so it goes.