Regressing for progress

Maldives embraces a Salafi future

Authored by: Azra Naseem

Routledge Handbook of South Asian Religions

Print publication date:  November  2020
Online publication date:  November  2020

Print ISBN: 9780367150778
eBook ISBN: 9780429054853
Adobe ISBN:


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The Maldives is the only ‘100 percent Muslim’ country in South Asia, the only one of two countries in the world claiming this status. Since the previously Buddhist kingdom adopted Islam in the 12th century, there is no official record of Maldivians practising any other religion. This chapter provides a brief overview of the central role Islam has played in Maldivian society and politics for the last 800 years, identifying the factors which have enabled the long-lasting religious homogeneity. It then provides a history of its present relationship with Salafism which, in the last decade, has rapidly replaced the almost syncretic Islam that had evolved in the country over centuries. How did Salafism—a philosophical outlook followed by only a small minority of Muslims across the world seeking a return to ‘true Islam’ by ‘progression through regression’—come to acquire such dominance over a majority of Maldivian society? This chapter answers the question by analysing the factors contributing to this revolutionary change in how Maldivians practise Islam and asserts that it will be difficult for democracy to thrive in an environment so dominated by Salafism.

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