Arabisation of Maldive culture


11 September 2003

"Is the fate of gradually becoming an Arab nation the Maldive Islanders' only option? This is the Maldivian dilemma since they made the decision to accept the Arabs as their undisputed cultural masters and began to sever their links with their own past. Nowadays Maldivians are culturally restless people who can never be at ease. The intense indoctrination of the 1980s and 90s, when Islamization was imposed on the islands at a much higher gear than at any time in the nation's history, has made Maldivians feel uncozy in their own country. The changes brought about have been of such magnitude and in such a short time, that there is now a whole young generation of Divehi people who, having not known how things were previously, take for granted that their home nation has always been so orthodox and impersonal."

- Xavier Romero-Frias
in THE MALDIVE ISLANDERS, A Study of the Popular Culture of an
Ancient Ocean Kingdom

Subservient school girls forced to wear Arab garb

Unveiled royal ladies from a past era. The Arabs were not their cultural masters. Read more in Veiled women in the Maldives

The Maldive indigenous culture has been on notice of annihilation by the Arab culture for many centuries. The indigenous Divehi heritage has never been under such intense threat over this long period as it is now.

Arab imperialist expansion began in the 7th century AD and was originally in the form of violent military conquest accompanied by pillage, plunder and ethnic cleansing in many parts of the world such as Greater Syria (Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria), Mesopotamia, Persia, India, North Africa, Asia Minor and Europe. The momentum of military conquest could not be sustained largely due to internal strife among the Arabs. Consequently Arab expansion into the Indian Ocean, and eastern Asia mainly took the form of colonialism by infiltration.

Like many other imperialist nations before and since, the Arabs genuinely believed that they were a civilising influence bringing salvation to mankind. It is ironic that most of the peoples they "liberated" from "ignorance" were culturally more civilised than the Arabs themselves.

As the Arab empires disintegrated and returned to their pre-imperial existence, far-flung cultures such as the Maldives that were earmarked for "salvation" were reprieved, temporarily at any rate.

The oil crisis of the 1970s and the accompanying prosperity of the Arabs have put the world community on notice of conquest once again. Terrorist assaults such as the September 11 attacks on the United States are mounted to fast-track the conquest.

Peoples such as Maldivians, with whom the stage had previously been set for Arab colonialism by infiltration are under attack again. The indigenous mode of dress, way of life and the language are again being assaulted more confidently than ever before.

There does not seem to be a shortage of willing native mercenaries for the Arab colonial cause. History is being rewritten to tell compliant natives that it all began with the Arabs. Native names, greetings and attire are symbols of jahiliyaa or the so called "Age of Ignorance". National survival and identity depend on subservient pandering to the colonialist culture.

Unlike the subjects of other imperial powers, the native collaborators of the Arabs appear to be as zealously loyal to the cause as the Arabs themselves. Their willingness to condemn the culture of their ancestors is amazing indeed.

Arabisation of mosque names and architecture

Takibey Miskiiy Takibey's mosque
Bodugalu Miskiiy Big boulder mosque
Karukehey Miskiiy Throat-clearing mosque
Atthaarafai hifaneen ge Miskiiy Eight pail bearers' mosque
Vabberu Miskiiy Round drum mosque
Faifuhey Miskiiy Feet-wiping mosque
Dholhidhaan Miskiiy Palanquin mosque
Miyalani Miskiiy Steel mosque
Fauru Rivethi Miskiiy Beautiful wall mosque
Bodu Kaarhi Miskiiy Big coconut mosque
Aiykandaa Miskiiy * Hand-amputation mosque *
Dharumavantha Rasgefaanu Miskiiy Charitable King's mosque
Bihuroazu Kamanaa Miskiiy Lady Bihuroazu's mosque
Hukuru Miskiiy Friday mosque
Fandiyaaru Miskiiy Judge's mosque
Gas-dharhu Miskiiy Mosque under the tree

These were the names (and their translations) of some of the 40 odd mosques of Malé. Without exception, all mosques had Divehi names. They were colourful and descriptive and at the same time had a common touch about them. Most of them no longer exist.

It took about six centuries of cultural engineering by the mullahs before Maldivians adopted the word miskiiy for mosque. Miskiiy was borrowed from the Arabic word masjid. Up until then, the purely Divehi word dhanaalu was used to mean mosque. Sparing use of the word dhanaalu continued for several more centuries as can be seen in surviving title deeds and grants.

From about the middle of the 20th century, as new mosques were built to replace the older-style ones, the names were Arabised. These days one comes across Masjid el-Zikra, Masjid el-Sultan Mohamed Thakurufan el-A'dham, Masjid- el-Noor and so on. They sound foreign to the locals because they are foreign.

They are unpronounceable and too guttural. It is as though they are specifically deigned to assault the the Maldive vocal chord.

Until the last quarter of the 20th century, mosques were built in the traditional style. Traditional Maldive ecclesiastical architecture emulated the more sophisticated styles of the former Buddhist temples that were either converted to or replaced by mosques. Older mosques were carved with coral stone blocks. Newer mosques were built in much the same style but with contemporary building material. These mosques had neither domes nor slender minarets. The architecture was distinctly Maldive.

Until early in the 20th century many old mosques had ancient bo trees (ficus religiosa) next to them indicating that the sites were once occupied by Buddhist temples. Tradition has it that Gautama the Buddha attained enlightenment (nibbana) under a bo tree. As the power of the mullahs increased these ancient bo tress were vandalised and removed.

The older-style mosques are being demolished and in their place, Arab structures are being built to complement their foreign names. Highly trained architects do not seem to be able to design modern mosques in traditional local styles.

Maldive word for God

The most common word used in the Divehi language of the Maldives and Minicoy for god is kalaan'ge. Maaiykalaan'ge is the word used to refer to the monotheistic God. This literally means "respectable god". Often the adjective for almighty is added and the divine name becomes Arahurhi Maaiykalaan'ge. Until the middle of the 20th century it was more common to use the term Maaiyraskalaan'ge for the monotheistic God. Literally this means "respectable royal God".

The oath of office of His Majesty the King of the Maldives and the Maldive president of the republic in the first republic employed the terms "Maaiyraskalaan'ge" as the deity by whom the oath was sworn. All official documents, religious texts and Islamic sermons written or spoken until about the middle of the 20th century used the terms Maaiyraskalaan'ge or Maaiykalaan'ge to refer to God.

Some Islamic texts and occasionally sermons used the term Dheyvathaain to mean God.

In the early part of the 20th century, mullahs returning after being indoctrinated in Arab and Indian seminaries began insisting that it was sinful to call God anything else other than Allah. They were largely ignored at first mainly because Maldivians did not find it easy to pronounce the word.

Faced with the threat of being sent to hell, many people made poor attempts at pronouncing this foreign word being imposed on them by the mullahs. Men were particularly concerned about the prospect of missing out on the virgins (both male and female) promised to them in paradise. The best that many people could pronounce was "Avvoahu".

Al Hadis, Vol. 4, p. 172, No. 34: Ali reported that the Apostle of Allah said, "There is in Paradise a market wherein there will be no buying or selling, but will consist of men and women. When a man desires a beauty, he will have intercourse with them."


Koran 76:19: And round about them will serve boys of perpetual freshness: if thou seest them, thou wouldst think them scattered pearls.

Moazanu Ali Fulu, a family retainer, who was an old steward to my grandfather, appeared quite happy with "Avvoahu". He told me that he could not cope with tongue-twisting foreign words and said "Avvoahu" until he died. Ali Fulu was probably being mindful of the virgins

Maldive doctor lashes out
The following email traces to Madras in India

From: Dr Mauroof Hussain
Sent: Thursday, 25 September 2003

It is amazing that you still think you have any relevence in the Maldives, when you cannot even identify with its inhabitants.

You fail to recognise that our roots (and your forefathers' as well) lay in Islam and not in Christianity or Semetism.

Drinking water tastes better here, doctor!

No wonder the Maldivians cannot care less for the likes of you and you are living as you ought to live, as self exiled outcasts.

However much you may lament, it remains a fact that Maldivians will not support the likes of Goerge Bush and Arial Sharon. Apart from a few, like you who are happy as second class, converted 'black Europians' who survive on crumbs thrown around for your 'service'.

Until the 16th century (in some atolls until much later) the Divehi language was written in an indic script called Divehi akuru, also known as Divess akuru. This script appears to have been adopted in the 12th century and replaced another indic script called the Eveylaa akuru

Woman's tombstone inscribed in the Divess script: Koagannu Cemetery, Midu

The Thaana script used to write modern Divehi was invented in resistance to the drive to Arabise and strip the Maldives of its national heritage by the Islamic "intelligentsia". In that regard Maldivians proved to the mullahs to be resilient and a tougher nut to crack than the Persians, Islamised Indians, Turks and the Malays who all abandoned their indigenous writing systems and/ or adopted the Arabic script. The Turks and the Malays have since dropped the clumsy Arabic alphabet in favour of the Roman alphabet

The old indic scripts were written from left to right. The mullahs objected to that and tried to impose a modified Arabic script which they called hedhi akuru. The civil intellectuals refused a bar of that and devised the compromise Thaana script.

Until the 1980s, Arabic words used in Divehi were written in the Arabic script. In a written Thaana passage, it was common to have parts written in Thaana and parts written in Arabic script.

In the late 1950s, the Maldive government introduced several new Thaana consonants to write borrowed Arabic words. With the backing of the mullahs, people frowned on and boycotted these as they were seen as a conspiracy to undermine Islam

Man's tombstone inscribed in the Divess script: Koagannu Cemetery, Midu

From 1977, an attempt was made to Romanise Divehi writing. This was spearheaded by a group of mullahs indoctrinated at the el-Azhar seminary in Cairo. The system was clumsy and bore all the hallmarks of one devised by amateurs. In the Romanised system, even their sacrosanct Arabic words were Romanised. This demonstrated the callous disrespect these mullahs had towards their own native Thaana script. Although it was regarded as a sign of respect for Islam to bastardise the Thaana script with Arabic, the Roman script was not bastardised. Romanisation was fast-tracked and did not prove popular. With the regime change at that time, Romanisation was quickly blamed by the incoming mullah-led regime on the outgoing secular-oriented government.

When the Thaana typewriter and computerised fonts were introduced over the next few years, technical expediency required that the partial use of the Arabic script be dropped. Only one word was retained and continues to be written in Arabic within Thaana. The word is Allah. No one insisted that Romanised Divehi writing be bastardised with this Arabic word. Thaana writing continues to be assaulted and bastardised with one Arabic word.

These same people would write Allah in the Roman script when writing passages in English. It is ironical that those who pander to the mullahs appear to show more respect towards "infidel" Western languages than to their own.

An example of how Thaana writing is bastardised with Arabic. The above reads "Abdullah". Abdu is written in Thaana and Allah is written in the Arabic script. It is possible to write the name in Thaana as shown below.

Maldivians who bastardise their own native Thaana do not bastardise languages written in the Roman script. They show more respect towards "infidel" Western languages.