Maldives President Abdulla Yameen was Sunday accused of lying about everything, after sculptures that he said would be removed from a high-end resort by the end of last month are still in place.
The exquisite pieces, at the Maldives Sirru Fen Fushi, are nestled in the world’s first semi-submerged museum and were created by British artist Jason deCaires Taylor. They are based on casts of real people, about half of whom are from the Maldives.
But the government faced criticism from religious scholars and politicians who deem human-form sculptures to be anti-Islamic.
The President’s Office said there was “significant public sentiment against the installation of underwater sculptures” and ordered their removal – also setting a deadline – with Yameen being praised for his religious integrity.
The artwork is still there two weeks later, however, popping up in social media posts and foreign news reports.
“Yameen lies about everything,” said opposition spokesman Ahmed Mahloof. “Even in this case, he’s doing his best to deceive the public.”
The Maldives Independent contacted the President’s Office and the Tourism Ministry to ask if the removal had been announced to curry favour from religious voters in an election year. There was no comment at the time of going to press.
It had also previously contacted both government departments to ask if the order had even been communicated to the resort. There was no answer to this question either.
The Dhivehi language lacks words for statutes, dolls or monuments and such objects are generally referred to as budhu (idols), the worship of which is a sin in Islam.
While the English statement from the President’s Office used the word sculpture, the Dhivehi language version used the more provocative term budhu.
The issue had become very sensitive, said Mahloof.
“We have a need to define what idols are. Religious scholars or the fatwa council must deliberate on this and specify what things can be labeled as idols. Some people on social media are even saying if these are idols, then mannequins are idols too.”
Islam is used in Maldivian political rhetoric to appeal to voters and also to malign liberal voices. Those supporting democracy or pluralism are branded as irreligious or anti-Islamic, with sometimes deadly consequences.
A presidential election is due on September 23 and religion has been a hot-button campaign issue during past polls.
Senior figures from Yameen’s administration have stressed the country’s 100 percent Islamic identity and cited it in various contexts, including its link to the Maldives’ economic success and external “jealousy.”
“Everyone always use this debate for political advantage,” added Mahloof. “Even in the MDP’s time, during the SAARC Summit, it was politicised.
“We need serious religious debate to determine what idols are so that no one can use this argument (religion) for a political motive.”
The Maldives Independent contacted the resort, its PR representatives and the artist to ask if they were aware of the president’s statement, intended to comply with his order or had received any kind of communication from the government regarding the removal of the sculptures.
Nobody was available for comment.
Photos: Jason deCaires Taylor