Islam and politics in the Maldives: rethinking political Islam

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference paperChapter


This chapter examines the spectacular emergence of Islamism in the twenty-first century in the island nation of the Maldives, where Islam has existed for about 800 years. It problematises the conventional view that political Islam is the ‘other’ of the modern state or an outcome of an aberrant understanding of Islam. As counterintuitive as it is, the chapter argues that the genealogy of Islamism goes back to the institutional and discursive politicisation of Islam through modern nation building since the 1930s by state actors with Islamic modernist orientations. Those nation-building projects transformed Islam into a modern religion in two primary ways. First, instead of jettisoning Islam from the polity, Islam was institutionalised into modern institutional forms – constitutions, codified laws and rules, centralised state authority, a bureaucratised judicial system. Second, Islam was also transformed into an extra-institutional public political discourse of collective national identity. Both forms of statist political Islam in many ways conformed to the liberal expectations and sensibilities consistent with Islamic modernist orientations. However, instead of weakening Islam in the polity, it was deeply embedded in the political domain. The chapter shows that Islamism in the twenty-first century was indeed unwittingly nourished by those forms of political Islam in the polity, as Islamism finds the right ‘language’ already in the political domain. While Islamism agrees with the modalities of the forms of political Islam that emerged through modern nation building, it deeply contests the content, as it were, of them. Oppositional Islamism wants more substantive institutionalisation of Islam and more substantive religious identity for the people, threatening even the liberal aspects of statist political Islam.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRoutledge Handbook on Political Islam
EditorsShahram Akbarzadeh
Place of PublicationUK
ISBN (Electronic)9780429425165
ISBN (Print)9781138353893
Publication statusPublished - 2021

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