According to the museum director, Ali Waheed, 35 exhibits, or 99% of the museum's pre-Islamic artifacts from before the 12th century, were destroyed by a mob of suspected Islamic extremists. Most of the destroyed artifacts were images and representations of Hindu and Buddhist deities, some dating as far back as the 6th century.
"The barbaric destruction of these Hindu and Buddhist artifacts is shocking and reprehensible," said Samir Kalra, Esq., HAF's Director and Senior Fellow for Human Rights. "These types of incidents are unfortunately becoming increasingly common in Muslim majority countries, such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Malaysia, where there are systematic attempts to erase all signs of pre-Islamic religion and culture."
Maldives, a small island nation situated in the Indian Ocean, is best known as a high-end vacation destination attracting wealthy tourists from around the world. It is also a country where Islam is the official state religion, and its constitution prohibits the open practice or preaching of any religion other than Islam. The constitution further restricts citizenship to only Muslims and requires all laws to be in conformity with the principles of Islam. Prior to the 12th century, however, the majority of Maldives' inhabitants were Hindu and Buddhist.
Maldives has recently been racked by political unrest culminating in President Mohammed Nasheed's removal from office last week. Media reports indicate that Nasheed's Islamic credentials have come under fire from political opponents and that Islamist activists, who are demanding the government implement stricter Islamic policies, may have played a role in his ouster.
"The attack is yet another example of the growing religious intolerance and Islamic fundamentalism plaguing Maldivian society, " said Ramesh Rao, PhD, HAF's Human Rights Coordinator. "The international community has a responsibility to protect religious freedom in Maldives and prevent it from becoming Talibanized."