Before anyone accuses me of apostasy, the title of this post is more or less clickbait. I’m not going to talk about religion (too much) or the nature of God, and I’m not going to suggest that the Maldives go back to Buddhism or some form of neo-paganism to fight the extremism that seems to be growing more and more popular every day.
This post is to simply explore the Maldivians’ use of scripts when it comes to writing about God.
Pretty much all Maldivians are familiar with the use of “ﷲ”, whether it is a translation of the Quran, or simply to write a name like ޢަބްދުﷲ. Script-mixing is the norm when it comes to such things.
There are a few ways one can feel about this (and some people feel very strongly about it), but I will try to consider all perspectives as objectively as possible*.
This first perspective puts script-mixing into a positive light. Historically, Maldivians have been literate in two scripts, so it makes sense that they would use both. The Arabic language contained sounds which could not be accurately represented with Thaana (and earlier, Dhives Akuru) so the simplest solution was to forego any attempt at transliteration and just use the Arabic script. This would not be a problem for anyone reading the text because they too would be literate in both scripts.
This bi-literacy is still the norm today. Hence, texts in multiple scripts exist as a testament to the intelligence (?) of Maldivians. There are few countries which can boast of having all its citizens literate in two scripts (Japan and Brunei come to mind).
However, the Bi-literacy theory does not explain the peculiar case of “ﷲ” which consists entirely of sounds which can be represented using normal Thaana letters. It is likely due to the nature of the name itself and all its connotations, which I shall try to sum up in the next section.
A strange respect for God coupled with a cultural inferiority complex
I would say that this explanation is more realistic. Or at least that it is the root/ultimate cause while bi-literacy is merely the proximate cause.
Allow me to explain.
Religion is very important to Maldivians so it is crucial that their religion (and anything or anyone associated with it) be respected. Islam is the religion of Maldivians, Arabic is the sacred language of Islam, and ﷲ is the Supreme Deity in Islam (see what I did there?). Therefore, writing ﷲ in any script besides Arabic is disrespectful to ﷲ, Muslims and Islam.
Strangely enough, this line of thinking goes out the window when it comes to writing names in English. No one would write “Abdﷲ”, as pointed out in the article I linked to before.
This is where the inferiority complex comes into play. By writing “ﷲ”, Maldivians are subconsciously accepting the “fact” that their own script is unworthy. By the same token, when Maldivians do not write “ﷲ” when writing in English, they are elevating the Latin script above their own. The vicious cycle just continues the more this happens.
އަހަރެންގެ ދެލާރި (My two cents)
Obviously not everyone thinks this way. Most likely very few people think this way. But there are certain people who would have you believe this. And I feel like the silent majority simply want to appease those people, lest they be accused of heresy.
If it turns out I’m wrong, and people actually do believe their own script is unworthy, I’d have them look at all the languages in which script-mixing is not a common practice (or even a practice, for that matter). Hopefully they would see their own hypocrisy too.
I would also point out to them that there is nothing inherently sacred about the Arabic language or the Arabic script. In fact, there are very few things which are inherently sacred. The Arabic language, like all languages can be used to express all facets of the human experience – even the parts which aren’t so nice.
Finally, I would tell them that by being so sensitive about the “proper” way of writing is basically a weakness which ideological opponents will use to their advantage. The only reason Maldivian atheists write “އައްލޯހު” is because they know the mentality of Maldivian Muslims (which I outlined just before), and they know that the Muslims will be offended. In reality, there is nothing offensive about “އައްލޯހު” (personally, though, I prefer “އައްލާހް”).
I suggest that Maldivians scrap the use of “ﷲ” when writing in Dhivehi. Mainly on the principles of linguistic integrity and aesthetics. There does not have to be any religious element whatsoever. Anyone who disagrees should ask themselves “Does changing the script I use to write change my beliefs? Does it make me any less of a Muslim? Does it change my relationship with ﷲ?” I think the answer is obvious.
*In retrospect, objectivity was not possible.