Defamation Bill & Its Un-Islamic Defense

Censorship

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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#EkehFaheh15; The Rising of the People

Ibra's tweet when the protests began on 1.5.15. Moving!

Ibra’s tweet when the protests began on 1.5.15. Moving!

Vote in a government. Give them a year or two. Take to the streets. Mount the pressure. Topple the elected leader. Change government. Rinse and repeat as needed. This is a formula that Maldivians seem to have taken to like a duck to water, and it has got to stop. This is exactly what President Nasheed warned us about when he was toppled from power through a coup d’état on the 7th of February of 2012.

Government MPs threaten the public via social media

Government MPs threaten the public via social media

Believe it or not, pose your various excuses or not, it was indeed a coup, brought about with the aid of the mutinying police and military officials. This sentiment becomes fact when you take into account the recent MayDay rally or #EkehFaheh15 as it was referred to in social media circles. Government vehemently denied that there existed any pressure, but press conferences and tweets from government aligned MPs and bots attested to fact that government was indeed jittery.

Government MP Nihan threatens boat owners who ferried people to MLE for the protest.

Government MP Nihan threatens boat owners who ferried people to Male’ for the protest.

Yet, after brutal crackdowns on protestors, the rally ended with the state marking its victory with fireworks the very next night. The government remained unchanged unlike the culmination of events of 7th February 2012.  MP Nihan called out to terminate those that are sympathetic to the oppositions cause from their government jobs & for the boats that carried people to the protests from the islands to Male’ be cancelled of their permits to travel. But there definitely was no pressure.

The art of changing governments via coups is not something that is new to the Maldivian history. This has happened many times before and is set to continue unless the elected governments are ready to listen to its people and work with them to ensure harmony and development that is beneficial for the people, not just to a couple of ‘loyalists’ to the leader in power. The blatant disregard to the people is shown more so when the opposition continues to talk about Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb’s corruption and stronghold on the government & the President telling the opposition that Adeeb would be the one who would represent him in any negotiations or meetings that would take place with the opposition movement.

Prior to 2008, Maldives has weathered through tough 30 years of torture and fear where if your family member even expresses a desire to see a different leader take over was jailed & tortured, coming out from the experience a shell of the person he or she was before. Oh how well the people have forgotten. I weep over the many accounts that remain untold even today, of the many ways in which President Maumoon’s regime ruined the lives of families by rendering a person unfit to even take care of personal needs after being taken in for reprogramming at the infamous jails in Dhoonidhoo.

All that changed through nonviolent political movements that wasn’t easy, and yet Maldivians persevered. Yet again today we are sliding rapidly into the same rut, unless the government acts to rectify their mistakes & the people raise the collective voices to end this tyranny. President Nasheed calls for perseverance from his jail cell where he is set to spend the next 13 years of his life, all because he wants a life of dignity and equal rights for the people of the Maldives.

President Nasheed's message to the people.

President Nasheed’s message to the people.

It was quite obvious that during the MayDay rally, the police targeted the vocal on social media and otherwise, the ones who dare criticize the government and its actions or lack of without fear. A prime example would be Hamid Shafeeu, a staunch supporter of democracy and its values, whose wife was snatched first which ultimately led to his arrest during the next couple of minutes. Arrests numbered in the 100’s before the night was through and none of it was easy to watch.

Sentiments of a government supporter; their government doesn't have to warn protestors before pepper spraying!

Sentiments of a government supporter; their government doesn’t have to warn protestors before pepper spraying!

The fear and intimidation that we thought ourselves rid of is back, and if I have to put my money’s worth on it, I would say it is back to stay. Accounts of civil servants and other government employees being threatened with dismissal or worse if they took part in the protests continue to pour in and I for one have this foreboding we are headed towards the era where we would have to huddle in fear every second of the day.

Coup of 07.02.2012; still afresh in our minds

Coup of 07.02.2012; still afresh in our minds

I can never be a supporter of a coup d’état that topples a government. But just like the CoNI report that actually legalized this form of government change if there exists the weight of a couple of hundreds of citizens behind the movement, then I guess there’s no reason that a government cannot be changed legally in the said manner.

But deep in all of our hearts we know that ain’t right. We know that the power lies within the people who cast their votes to decide who their leader should be for the next FIVE years. Not ONE or TWO or even FOUR, but FIVE. Let us not forget that. Nor should the government ever forget that they are elected to do RIGHT by the PEOPLE. Not by those that work their own agenda, filling their pockets with the taxpayers money, making the best of it while their government thrives.

My wish for the Maldives and its people is a simple one. One that aligns with the vision that President Nasheed has for this country. That we be able to live a life of dignity regardless of our ideological differences. That we be a nation that prospers amongst a just and able society wherein which the government doesn’t serve its people based on their political color of choice. A government which listens to the concerns of the people who put them there, without openly challenging them and calling for war.

From the manner in which things have proceeded since the elected president was toppled from power back in 2012, little remains of the democratic changes that were brought about owing to the new Constitution. What remains or is in the process of happening is silencing the voice of dissent, the vocal who are not swayed by the threats this government, it’s MPs & associates seem to dole out on a daily basis. With the leaders of the opposition behind bars, perhaps to be prosecuted & doled out with equally horrific sentences as given to Nasheed, Maldives is on the verge of becoming the next Egypt. The government is adamant that its foreign policy reflect this tyranny and that is exactly what’s being conveyed through the diplomatic channels. The single flickering light of hope at the very end of the long winding tunnel remains on the international community, the actions that they would be willing to take to put this tyrannical government to bed.

Future of the country looks bleak, no matter in whichever direction you look at. The struggle that is currently ongoing, the people trying to let their voices be heard to a tyrannical government that not only actively challenges the people, but also celebrates with fireworks their “victories” over the people doesn’t seem promising. Inevitable seems the breakout of a civil war, rendering this country totally unlivable. On the surface, the scars left over by the coup might have scabbed over, but inside the wounds are deep, festering with hatred, resentment and a deep disillusionment over a country whose justice system continues to fail the public over and over again. And as every infamous quote tells us, only time alone will tell whether those fighting for rights, justice and democracy would emerge victorious or whether we’d all be browbeaten to embrace a culture of corruption, nepotism, injustice & abuse for years and years to come.

May God help us all.