Islam in the Maldives

Mosque in Hulhumalé

Sunni Islam is the state religion of Maldives, and adherence to it is legally required for citizens by a revision of the constitution in 2008: Article 9, Section D states that a non-Muslim may not become a citizen of the Maldives. The islands converted from Buddhism in the 12th century, and the indigenous population is effectively all Muslim. According to Moroccan traveller Ibn Battuta, the person responsible for this conversion was a Sunni Berber-Muslim visitor named Abu al Barakat sailing from Morocco. An entirely different account says that the Maldives were converted to Islam after miracles were performed by a Tabrizi named Maulana Shaikh Yusuf Shams-ud-din according to the Tarikh, the official history of the Maldives and it contradicts the claims by Ibn Battuta.[1]

Prominence of Islam

The Islamic Centre, housing the mosque Masjid-al-Sultan Mohammed Thakurufaanu-al-A'z'am.

Islam overtly impacts Maldivian law. The traditional Islamic law code of shariah, known in Dhivehi as sariatu, forms the Maldives' basic code of law, as interpreted to conform to local Maldivian conditions by the president, the attorney general, the Ministry of Home Affairs, and the Majlis. On the inhabited islands, the miski, or mosque, forms the central place where Islam is practiced. Because Friday is the most important day for Muslims to attend mosque, shops and offices in towns and villages close around 11 a.m., and the sermon begins by 12:30 p.m. Most inhabited islands have several mosques; Malé has more than thirty. Most mosques are whitewashed buildings constructed of coral stone with corrugated iron or thatched roofs. In Malé, the Islamic Center and the Grand Friday Mosque, built in 1984 with funding from the Persian Gulf states, Pakistan, Brunei, and Malaysia, are imposing elegant structures. The gold-colored dome of this mosque is the first structure sighted when approaching Malé. In mid-1991 Maldives had a total of 725 mosques and 266 women's mosques.

Prayer sessions are held five times daily. Mudimu, the mosque caretakers, make the call. Most shops and offices close for fifteen minutes after each call. During the ninth Muslim month of Ramadan, cafés and restaurants are closed during the day, and working hours are limited.

Ismail Khilath Rasheed controversy

In November 2011, the blog of journalist Ismail Khilath Rasheed was shut down by Communications Authority of the Maldives (CAM) on the order of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, on the grounds that the site contained "anti-Islamic material".[2] Rasheed, a self-professed Sufi Muslim, had argued for greater religious tolerance.[3] The blog closing was condemned by Reporters Without Borders[4] and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay[5] as representing a rise in religious intolerance.

When Rasheed organized a rally in favor of greater religious freedom on 10 December, the rally was attacked and Rasheed's skull fractured.[3] He was subsequently arrested at the urging of the orthodox Sunni Adhaalath Party,[6] which also set up a counter-demonstration on 23 December to defend Islam's heavy influence upon the nation. One website associated with these demonstrations also advocated strongly in favour of his murder.[7] Rasheed was released on 10 January following protests by groups such as Amnesty International (which named him a prisoner of conscience[3]) and Reporters Without Borders[6] on his behalf.

See also


  1. Kamala Visweswaran (6 May 2011). Perspectives on Modern South Asia: A Reader in Culture, History, and Representation. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 164–. ISBN 978-1-4051-0062-5.
  2. Eleanor Johnstone (21 November 2011). "Blog crack-down "is just the beginning", warns censored blogger". Minivan News. Retrieved 12 January 2012.
  3. 1 2 3 "Maldives' Police Arrests Campaigner Seeking Religious Tolerance and Allows His Attackers Impunity". Amnesty International. 21 December 2011. Retrieved 12 January 2012.
  4. "Government shuts down blog in climate of growing religious intolerance". IFEX. 23 November 2011. Retrieved 12 January 2012.
  5. "Opening remarks by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay at a press conference during her mission to the Maldives". United Nations Human Rights. 24 November 2011. Retrieved 12 January 2012.
  6. 1 2 "Journalist detained, charges unclear". IFEX. 21 December 2011. Retrieved 12 January 2012.
  7. JJ Robinson (11 January 2012). "Prison conditions "unchanged since Gayoom's time": detained blogger". Minivan News. Retrieved 12 January 2012.
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