Mr. Chairman, Honourable Ministers and Distinguished Delegates from Bangladesh, Indonesia, Libya, Malaysia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Mauritius, India, Singapore, Thailand, Philippines and the Maldives:
It is a great pleasure for me to welcome you in the Republic of Maldives. We thank you for accepting our invitation to participate in this seminar and we are looking forward to the pleasure of having you with us for the next few days. I know that you have come to Male' for a very important purpose and that you will be very busy in the next few days deliberating on issues of vital concern to the Muslim peoples and Muslim communities who live in this region. I do hope, however, that all of you get time away from the meetings to relax and enjoy the beauty, the serenity and the holiday atmosphere of this country.
The Minister of Education and his staff have been at great pains to make the necessary arrangements for your comfort. I realize that there will be some shortcomings, but I am sure you will all understand the physical limitations that a small island country like the Maldives will have to cope with in providing all the facilities that you find in bigger and more developed countries.
Mr. Chairman, Honourable Ministers and Distinguished Delegates:
This seminar on "The Call for Islam in South and South East Asia" is the first of its kind to be held in the Maldives. We are a nation that has embraced Islam some 830 years ago and, though we have remained a 100% Muslim country ever since, we think that we are opening a new page in our history today.
The Maldive Islands, or Dhībat al-Mahal, as the Arab traveller of the 14th century Ibn Battuta called them, or Dībājāt as the early Muslim geographer and writer Al-Masoodi referred to them, are believed to have been inhabited at least 2,500 years ago. A modern explorer and traveller of international repute has recently told us that there is historical evidence to indicate that people have been living on these tiny Indian Ocean islands for about 3,500 years.
Whatever theories are proved or disproved in due course regarding the time when the earliest groups of people settled down on these islands, it is doubtful whether the Maldives ever functioned as a state with a specific national identity before the people of this country embraced Islam in the 12th century. The history of the Maldives before Islam remains lost in obscurity, but a wealth of information about the various kings and queens who ruled the country after that momentous event in 1153 is on record which probably shows that the people of this country recognized themselves as citizens of a sovereign state and regarded themselves as one nation only after conversion to Islam.
The situation remains true to this day. Every true Maldivian recognizes the inseparable link between Maldivianism and Islam. This unity of character between our national identity and our faith passed on to us from generation to generation over the past eight centuries has been enshrined in the laws of the country. Our laws do not permit a non-Muslim to become a Maldivian citizen. This does not mean, however, that we practise discrimination between religious faiths. The real essence of Islam, as you know, is that it is non-discriminatory. Its tolerance of other beliefs and religions is clearly established in the Holy Quran, the Sunnah of the Prophet (Peace be upon him!) and the constitutional precepts and practices of the Muslim Ummah since its inception. "There is no compulsion in religion. The right direction is henceforth distinct from the erroneous." (Holy Quran 2:256)
We Maldivians, as true believers of Islam, hold freedom of belief as sacred and we abhor discrimination between man and man on any grounds whether of creed, colour or race. It is only that we are such a homogenous and closely-knit society based on one national identity, one language, and one faith, that we are convinced that the preservation of this oneness in faith and culture is essential for the unity, harmony, and progress of the country.
Why the Maldives is hosting a seminar on "the Call for Islam" is self-evident in the fact that the Maldives itself is a living example of a nation converted to Islam through a peaceful process based on the Quranic injunction that the call to the path of Allah shall be by way of good counsel and persuasion. We also feel that this aspect of the spread of Islam in South and South East Asia has not been adequately studied. We realize too that in order that the Muslim peoples and communities of the region may protect their national, political and social rights, it is most important that the problems that face these peoples and communities are fully and clearly understood.
However, as the distinguished delegates will have taken note, this seminar has no political motivations. It is a purely scholarly exercise the purpose of which is to better comprehend the historical and social factors involved in the speedy spread of Islam in the region and review the role the call for Islam can play in strengthening the bonds of Islamic brotherhood between the Muslim communities of the region. I would like to put on record here that the Government of the Republic of Maldives which enjoys excellent relations of friendship with all the countries of South and South East Asia, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, acknowledges the concern of all governments of the region in protecting the rights of Muslim minorities in their respective countries.
Mr. Chairman, Distinguished Delegates:
It was over 1,400 years ago that in a month of Rabee-ul Awwal such as this the Holy Prophet Muhammed was born. It is both surprising and alarming to note that although mankind has made great strides in scientific, technological and material progress in the past fourteen centuries, it has not achieved any notable spiritual advancement. The political and social ills that had tormented the world then and had caused much bloodshed, destruction and hatred between nations have not been eradicated, nor have they been rendered less powerful in influencing the actions and deeds of men and states.
As in those early times, we find today in this enlightened 20th century, some powerful nations trying to dominate the world. In many international issues that confront the world today might is still regarded as right. Grave injustices are perpetrated on weaker peoples and nations, innocent peoples are being uprooted from their homes, war is waged for the purpose of acquiring new territories, and arsenals of deadly weapons are being stockpiled in the name of defending peace and security with the result that the threat of a nuclear holocaust is casting its terrible shadow on the destiny of mankind.
For these reasons, the present-day world needs Islam as it needed it fourteen centuries ago. Islam brought peace and harmony to a divided world. It brought justice and equality; and it taught mankind the ideals of compassion, love and human brotherhood. It laid the foundation of a great human civilization in which all human beings regardless of colour or ethnic origin, were regarded as equal, and in which knowledge was accepted as the ultimate means of recognizing the Creator. It was a civilization of enlightenment, mercy and understanding. These are the very ideals that the world most urgently needs today. The confusion, chaos and torment that the human community at large is experiencing today can only be remedied by a spiritual and moral awakening equal to the material advancement the world has achieved in the past few centuries. This spiritual and moral upliftment can only be attained by a civilization such as that brought about by Islam.
Mr. Chairman, Distinguished Delegates:
This is a seminar of scholars, men of learning and wisdom. If we examine the major problems confronting the Muslim world or the Muslim Ummah today in the light of our knowledge of Islam, its ideology and its practical approach to worldly matters, it will not be difficult for us to identify two kinds of threats that the Ummah is faced with. One is the threat from without, the threat posed by the enemies of Islam who, according to the graphic Quranic expression, "want to extinguish the light of Allah with their mouths", and who have waged a relentless war on Islam and Muslims and have succeeded in dividing the Muslim Ummah and depriving millions of Muslims such as the Palestinian people of their homes and national soil.
The other is the threat from within, which is undoubtedly a greater danger than the former. The internal ills that are sapping the strength of the Muslim Ummah are many. We see Muslim nations locked in deadly combat with each other. The blood that is shed is Muslim blood – not that of men and women of a particular country. The destruction caused is a loss to the whole Ummah. Relations that exist between many Muslim countries today are not those of Islamic brotherhood and understanding, but of suspicion and mistrust. These manifestations of armed and non-armed conflict, disunity and ill feeling between one Muslim country and another are, in my view, caused by three fundamental defects that have surfaced in the body-politic of Islam after the glorious first phase of the Islamic civilization.
The first of these defects is the inability of Muslims to understand the spirit of Islam in many of its teachings. The greatest strength of Islam lies in its flexibility which has given it its well-accepted characteristic – that of being suitable to all times and to all places. Many Muslims throughout the ages had lost sight of this great virtue of Islam and had created excessively strict regimens in many areas of human activity. This intransigent approach to new problems and situations in an ever-changing world is contradictory to the spirit of tolerance and broad-mindedness propagated by the Holy Quran and practised by the Prophet and the Guided Khalīfās. It is of vital importance today that we fully recognize the tolerance and flexibility of the teachings of Islam and, in so doing, bring back to Islam its main source of power and vitality which has enabled it to rise to unsurpassed heights of glory and to ward off the transgressions of other religious and non-religious systems throughout history.
The second shortcoming, sectarianism, may be the direct result of this intolerance and rigidity of outlook. It is unbelievable and unacceptable that a nation that Allah ordained to be one community when He said: “Surely, this nation of yours is but one community" (Holy Quran, 21:92), should be divided and sub-divided into numerous sects and factions. One is a Sunnī, the other a Shī'ī, the third a Khārijī and the fourth belongs to yet another faction. It is not less than tragic that the followers of Islam have forgotten the admonition of the Holy Prophet not to allow themselves be divided into sects and factions as has been the case with the Jews and the Christians. Had Muslims heeded this prophetic warning and preserved the political and religious unity of the Ummah, we would undoubtedly have been a most powerful community of nations today.
The third internal sickness from which the Muslim world is suffering is its lack of self confidence. Today, Muslim nations possess great human, spiritual and material resources second to none. One out of every five who live on the globe today is a Muslim. The moral and spiritual strength available to the Muslims is enormous. Their material wealth is staggering. It is a matter of the utmost grief for any right-thinking Muslim to note that the Muslim nation is oblivious of the great power and strength that it can wield in the world. This ignorance of the true potentials of the Muslim Ummah, or the lack of confidence in its own strength, has led different Muslim countries to follow different paths. A resurgence of Islam can never occur unless we, the Muslims of the world, fully recognize our spiritual and material strength and follow the independent path of Islam – the path of truth, justice, and compassion.
The inevitable result of these inner ills and defects is that Muslims have misrepresented Islam and its values to such an extent that the non-Muslim world is equating Islam with qualities that are totally alien to its true character. To many people in the world, especially in the west, Islam has today become synonymous with hatred, brutality and terror. Nothing can be farther from the truth, for it is Islam which brought peace to a war-torn world, replaced injustice with justice, ignorance with knowledge, confusion with enlightenment, and introduced harmony and understanding to a troubled and disunited mankind fourteen centuries ago.
Mr. Chairman, Honourable Ministers, and Distinguished Delegates:
Today, as I have the honour and privilege of declaring open this seminar on "The Call for Islam in South and South East Asia", I call on the leaders of all Muslim countries to forget their differences and to work for the unity of the Muslim Ummah. Any initiative taken in this direction and any effort made to create conditions favourable to the settlement of all issues that divide the Muslim world by peaceful means will be blessed by Allah and have our fullest and unconditional support. I beseech all Muslims to remember that when the Muslim Ummah was united under one Khalīfā in the first few centuries of Islam, it was the most powerful and the most respected nation in the world. It was the Muslim Ummah that laid the foundations of a truly human civilization which enabled the world to attain both material and spiritual progress through dedication to the word of Allah – the word of truth, and to the task of establishing a happy and prosperous life as His vicegerent on earth.
Mr. Chairman, Distinguished Delegates:
The Republic of Maldives may be a very small nation but it is, nevertheless, an integral and a sincere part of the great Muslim Ummah. It is, as such, prepared to shoulder its responsibilities in furthering the cause of Islam in this region and promoting unity and fraternity between its peoples. We would therefore welcome any responsibilities that you, Honourable Ministers and Distinguished Delegates, may wish to entrust us with in respect of the Islamic Call activities in the region if they fall within our capabilities.
It is a matter of utmost pride to us that the Maldives has remained a fortress of Islam in the midst of the Indian Ocean for over eight centuries. Our forefathers have defended with their life-blood the glorious light of Allah that had lit their hearts with His eternal love. The sacred torch has been handed down from generation to generation, and it is our duty and privilege now, as true believers, to honour and protect the source of all our blessings – the message of Islam. We are firmly committed to this great objective with the grace of Allah. "If Allah is your helper, none can overcome you, and if He withdraws His help from you, who is there who can help you? In Allah let believers put their trust!" (Holy Quran 3:160)