Religious Beliefs In The Maldives

Grand Friday Mosque in the Maldives.
Grand Friday Mosque in the Maldives.

The South Asian country of the Maldives is an island nation located in the Indian Ocean. The country has an area of about 298 square km and hosts a population of around 392,709 individuals. The Dhivehi are the largest ethnic group in the Maldives. The Dhivehi are mainly an Indo-Aryan people who speak the Dhivehi language. Bangladeshis are the largest group of foreigners living in the Maldives. Most of them have immigrated to the country in search of work in the thriving tourism industry in the Maldives. The vast majority of the Maldivian population (98.4%) is Muslim.

Buddhism, The Former Predominant Religion In The Maldives

Buddhism was the religion of the majority in the Maldives at least until the 12th century CE. Little is known about how the religion actually arrived in the country. The religion was possibly introduced by traders or settlers from the Indian subcontinent. Buddhism was accepted and promoted by the ancient kings of the region. The National Museum in Malé, the capital city of Maldives houses important collections from the Buddhist period in the Maldives. Sadly, Islamic extremists destroyed many important Buddhist artifacts stored in the museum in 2012.

The Introduction And Growth Of Islam In The Maldives

Islam is the official religion of the Maldives. It replaced Buddhism as the country’s predominant religion after the 12th century. The religion was introduced in the region by the Arab traders who became highly influential in the Indian Ocean in the 12th century. In 1153, the Buddhist king of the Maldives named Dhovemi converted to Islam. Thus, a long rule of Islamic rulers began in the country. It ended in 1932 when an elective government came into force in the country. The person responsible for converting the Maldivian ruler to Islam was a Sunni Muslim named Abu al Barakat. His tomb can be seen in the oldest mosque in the country, the Hukuru Mosque.

Influence Of Islam In The Maldives

Today, Islam plays an important role in deciding the way of life of the Maldivian. A citizen of the country must be a Muslim. The Islamic code of law is followed here. Friday is a holiday in the country and all the shops and offices remain closed on this day. The people are expected to visit the mosque every Friday to offer their prayers.

Freedom Of Religion In The Maldives

Freedom of religion is officially non-existent in the Maldives as all citizens of the country are required to be Muslims. The law of the country prohibits its citizens from practicing any other religion than Islam. The President of the country must be Muslim. Non-Muslims cannot vote or be granted citizenship in the Maldives. Non-Muslims cannot influence the Maldivians to convert to other religions nor practice their own religions in public. Citizens who deny Islam in the country can be subjected to capital punishment.


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