The Maldives

Country: The Maldives

Population: 345,023

Estimated prevalence among women aged 15-49: Unknown

There have been no studies - local or national - conducted in the Maldives to estimate the prevalence of FGC in the country. It is therefore difficult to understand how widespread FGC is, and thus action to support the abandonment of FGC is inhibited.

Type practised:

Just like with the prevalence rate, there have been no studies conducted to understand what the most commonly practiced form of FGC is in the Maldives and so the types of FGC practiced are unknown. If we infer information from neighbouring FGC-practicing countries, it may be assumed that types I, II and IV are the most widely practiced.

Legal status:

FGC is legal in the Maldives, and is actively encouraged by leading figures.

History of FGC:

It is believed that FGC was practised in the Maldives until the 1990s when it died out. However, due to the resurgence of Islam in the country, FGC has proliferated. The resurgence of Islam is a result of the fact that the Maldives only has one university, and therefore young boys would often go to the nearby Pakistan and Saudi Arabia for their education. Upon completion of their studies in private religious schools, they would return to the Maldives with a more conservative Islamic vision. These young men then grew older and more important in society, which has subsequently led to the situation present today, where the Maldives is a central Islamic country. Notably, non-Muslims cannot be Maldivian citizens, and are not able to enjoy any of the benefits of the state. Instead, they are ostracised from the community and are subjected to much abuse.

The once matriarchal society is therefore coming under the new radical Islam, where interpretations are typically based on highly literalist and austere interpretations of Islam. This archaic form of religious conservatism is also being backed by the neighbouring Islamic countries, and therefore the Maldives are considered a leading example in regards to how to live with the teachings of Mohammad. Radical Muslims have been gaining political ground since former autocratic President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom began to woo them to oppose the more liberal anglophile Mohamed Nasheed, who succeeded him in the 2008 presidential election after three decades of unchallenged rule, but resigned in 2012.

FGC has become the practice/symbol that differentiates Muslims from non-Muslims. Women have wholly experienced the negatives of the new radical shift, where they are considered second class citizens to men. For example, in August 2013 a 15-year-old girl was given a sentence of 100 lashes for having pre-marital sex. The girl had been repeatedly raped by her stepfather while growing up, and her stepfather had also killed a baby she had given birth to from the rape. These judgements are concurrent with the treatment of women in the Maldives, and seek to explain the resurgence of FGC in recent years.

Current efforts to abandon FGC:

In December 2009, reports of FGC’s proliferation surfaced and the then Attorney General Husnu Suood raised concern about it. ‘According to my information, the circumcising of girls has started and is going on with a new spirit,’ he said. In addition, President Mohamed Nasheed conceded an emergent religious fundamentalism had changed the way women were viewed, and treated, in his country. He said he was distressed by religious groups who campaigned for girls to be circumcised or to be kept home from school. However, nothing has been done to combat the spread of FGC, and it still remains a legal practice.

Quilliam is the world’s first counter-extremism think tank set up to address the unique challenges of citizenship, identity, and belonging in a globalised world, standing for religious freedom, equality, human rights and democracy. They have recently spoken about their concern over the rise of FGC in the Maldives. Their Senior Researcher in Islamic Studies, Dr Usama Hasan, said: ‘FGM has no Islamic sanction – there are just two traditions on the subject, both of which are strongly disputed, with many jurists throughout history discounting them as having nothing to do with the Prophet of Islam, but, like the blasphemy and apostasy laws of medieval Islam, FGM became a theoretical juristic position even though it was rarely practiced. Contemporary Muslim scholars are increasingly opposed to and dismissive of FGM’.

The UN in the Maldives through offices of UNFPA, UN Women and the Office for the High Commission for Human Rights jointly promote women’s rights in the context of Islam. Building on initiatives from 2013, UNFPA claims that it is committed to work with the partners to end harmful practices including violence against women and FGC.

Ongoing challenges:

The Maldives follows the Shafa’I school of Islam, which is the only one of the four Sunni schools that makes FGC a compulsory religious obligation. Many imams promote FGC, and their endorsement holds significant influence, especially on the outer lying islands.

The most influential FGC endorsement came from the Vice President of the Figh Academy and political candidate for the Muslim Brotherhood offshoot, the Adhaalath Party, Dr Mohamed Iyaz Abdul Latheef.  This came about as he entered a Q&A on the online Islamic forum, mvislamqa.com, and a reader asked him his opinion of FGC. Dr Latheef resorted to the Quran for justification, arguing that there are several credible hadiths from the Prophet Mohamed that demonstrate that FGC is obligatory in Islam. According to Latheef, FGC is one of the five things that are part of fitrah, or nature, with the other four: ‘shaving the pubes, trimming the moustache, cutting the nails and plucking the armpit hairs’.

Shadiya Ibrahim, member of the newly formed Gender Advocacy Working Group and a long-time campaigner for women’s rights, said Maldivian society was growing more oppressive towards women. “Being a woman is harder now. The religious Wahhabist scholars preach more forcefully than anyone else can. They have this backing of religion as a tool. There are two hadiths in the Sunan collections (medium-level authenticity) relevant here. To paraphrase, these two hadiths say, “Cut, but don’t cut too much” and “Female circumcision is a way of honouring (!) Women.”

Major languages:

Dhivehi (Official)

Major religions:

Islam – 100%

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