1st Edition

Islam and Democracy in the Maldives Interrogating Reformist Islam’s Role in Politics

By Azim Zahir Copyright 2022
    224 Pages
    by Routledge

    224 Pages
    by Routledge

    This book examines Islam’s relationship to democratization in the Indian Ocean nation of the Maldives. It explores how and why an electoral democracy based in a constitution that has many liberal features but also Islam-based limitations, especially lack of religious freedom, emerged in the country by 2009. In doing so, the book interrogates a major approach to Muslim politics that assumes reformist interpretations of Islam are a positive, and even a necessary, force for liberalization and democratization in Muslim-majority contexts.

    This book shows reformist Islam did play certain positive roles in democratization in the Maldives. However, the book suggests reformist Islam may not be an invariably uncontroversial force in the space of politics. It argues that modern nation building in the Maldives shaped by political actors with reformist Islamic orientations, since around the 1930s, has also completely transformed Islam as a modern institutional and discursive political religion. These transformations of Islam as a modern political religion have existed as path-dependent constraints on the depth of democratization, ensuring religion-based limitations and intensifying controversy over religion vis-à-vis the state and individual rights.

    An original empirical contribution towards a better understanding of Islam and politics in the Maldives, this book will be of interest to academics and students working on democracy, and Islam in particular, and in the fields of political science and area studies, especially South Asian politics.


    1 Interrogating the Reformist Islam Approach

    2 The Seeding of Islam as a Modern Institutional Political Religion (1932-1978)

    3 Reformist Islam and Modern Nation Building (1932-1978)

    4 Islam’s emergence as a modern discursive political religion and institutional consolidation (1978-2003)

    5 Reformist Islam, Human Rights, and Democratisation (2003-2009)

    6 Explaining Institutionalisation of Islam and Religion-Based Limitations



    Azim Zahir is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Muslim States and Societies, the University of Western Australia, Perth, Australia.

    The history of religion and state in the Maldives used to be uncharted territory, but no longer. Azim Zahir charts the history of the transformation of Islam into a modern political religion through processes of modern nation-building. Far from representing the ‘other’ to the modern state, he shows that ‘political Islam’ is among its most enduring legacies. Elizabeth Shakman Hurd, Professor of Political Science and Religious Studies, Northwestern University, USA

    This book is a formidable study of the interactive relationship between Islam, politics and democracy in the Maldives. It is deep and rich in its analysis of how this relationship has evolved within a framework of mutual influence among the three variables. It deserves to be read very widely not only for a very informed understanding of the Maldives’ political and religious settings, but also for lessons learned from the Maldives’ experiences that could be applicable to other parts of the Muslim world. Dr Zahir is uniquely qualified to write such a book, given his background and high academic standing. Amin Saikal, Adjunct Professor of Social Sciences, University of Western Australia