On Tuesday, June 21, an enraged mob disrupted a Yoga event in Maldives. The Yoga event was organized by the Indian mission in Maldives on the eve of International Day of Yoga. The event was held early in the morning at the National Football Stadium. A mob with flags and posters broke into the stadium and disrupted the event. Officials and diplomats from the Indian mission were also present at the event.
The incident drew strong condemnation from India. The incident had especially triggered right-wing Hindutva extremists. Most of them expressed concern over the growing Islamic radicalism in Maldives and around the world.
Yoga is against Islam?
The mob claimed that they disrupted the Yoga event because Yoga goes against Islam. The posters carried by the mob contained messages that denounced Yoga as un-Islamic. Whether Yoga is consistent with Islam or not is a subject of a religious debate. There is no consensus among religious scholars on this issue.
However, the appropriation of Islam to justify the disruption of the Yoga event in Myanmar gave fuel to Hindutva extremists in India. They were quick to label the mob “extremists” and “Islamists”.
Ironically, Hindutva extremists were offended by the incident. In India, Hindutva extremists militate against the offering of Namaz by Muslims in public places. They have also sought a ban on the use of loudspeakers by mosques.
The ruling right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has banned the offering of Namaz in public places in several states. Recently, the government of Uttar Pradesh state, led by Hindutva leader Yogi Adityanath, banned the use of loudspeakers in mosques.
Hindutva extremists argue that India is a secular country. A secular country does not allow the practicing of a religious activity like Namaz in a public place.
Maldives is an Islamic Country
Unlike India, Maldives is not a secular country. Maldives is an Islamic country. According to its constitution, Maldives is a “democratic republic based on the principles of Islam”. Further, the constitution also mentions that the “religion of the State of the Maldives is Islam”.
If Hindutva extremists can enforce a ban on religious practices in public places in a “secular” India, it is not clear why the people of a state that recognizes Islam as its official religion cannot disrupt an event they consider un-Islamic.
Who better knows how to make an issue out of religious practices in public places and force the government to ban Namaz in public places than Hindutva extremists. Hindutva mobs constantly disrupted Friday Namaz at public places in the Gurgaon area of Haryana. The BJP-led government in Haryana responded by revoking permission for offering Namaz at the designated public places.
It is pertinent to mention that the Yoga event in Maldives was also held in a public place. The event was held at the National Football Stadium.
It is hypocritical of Hindutva extremists that they do not allow Muslims to offer Namaz in public places in their secular country but want an Islamic country to allow Yoga in public places.
The irony is lost on no one when Hindutva extremists express concern about the growing Islamic radicalism but refuse to see their own radicalism.
Geopolitics and Internal Politics in Maldives
India is also a subject of bitter internal politics in Maldives. The ruling government led by President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih is pro-India. The main opposition party, the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM), led by former president Abdulla Yameen has been running a long “India Out” campaign. Since Yoga is related to India, the incident was also a manifestation of partisanship in Maldivian politics over relations with India.
India-China Power Competition
It is not India per se but the power competition between India and China in Maldives that bitterly divides the ruling and the opposition parties. The ruling government is pro-India and that itself means it is anti-China. The opposition is pro-China and that implies it is anti-India.
The highly divisive issue of relations with India has escalated to such an extent in Maldivian politics that the ruling government has banned anti-India protests in the country. In April this year, President Solih issued a decree banning anti-India protests citing a threat to national security. The decree called out the India Out campaign for aiming to disrupt relations between the two countries.
Recently when several Islamic and Muslim-majority countries condemned remarks made against the Prophet Mohammad by a leader of India’s ruling BJP party, the Maldivian government did not condemn the remarks until the opposition mounted pressure on it.
Hence, the controversy over the disruption of the Yoga event in Maldives is not simply about Islam, Muslim, or Islamism. It is a complex issue. While the people who disrupted the Yoga event might dress their politics in the language of Islam, it does not seem entirely about Islam.
Hindutva ideologues should first condemn the ban on offering Namaz in public places in their own country and then show concern about the growth of Islamic radicalism in Maldives.