Islam in the Maldives

Islam in the Maldives

Islam is the state religion of Maldives, and adherence to it is legally required of 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." With the exception of Shi'a members of the Indian trading community, Maldivians are Sunni Muslims.

Prominence of Islam

Islam is important in Maldives. The traditional Islamic law code of sharia, known in Dhivehi as sariatu, forms the basic law code of Maldives 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 724 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.

The isolation of Maldives from the historical centers of Islam in the Middle East and Asia has allowed some pre-Islamic beliefs and attitudes to survive. Western anthropologist Maloney reports being told by a Muslim cleric during his 1970s fieldwork in Maldives that for most Maldivians Islam is "largely a matter of observing ablutions, fasting, and reciting incomprehensible Arabic prayer formulas." There is a widespread belief in local evil spirits (handi, furētha) leading to the use of various charms and spells for protection. The popularity of these beliefs has led some observers to identify a magico-religious system parallel to Islam known as fanditha, which provides a more personal way for the islanders to deal with either actual or perceived problems in their lives.


Islam was introduced in 1153 by travellers. The king converted to Islam and told his subjects to do the same; the country had been Buddhist for hundreds of years prior to that.

ee also

*Islam by country



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