Muslim Countries of the World: Maldives

The Republic of Maldives is a state in South Asia, stretching in a chain of 26 atolls in the Arabian Sea of the Indian Ocean, just beyond the southern tip of the Indian Peninsula. An atoll is a circle or semicircle of reefs with a lagoon inside. An atoll can be formed by islands arranged in a circle. Thus, the atolls of the Maldives consist of 1200 islands and islets. For example, North Malé Atoll, where the capital Malé is located, consists of 107 islands.

The state religion of the Maldives is the Islam of the Shafi’i madhhab. All administrative and spiritual affairs of Muslims are directed by the state, in particular by the President of the country and the Ministry of Islamic Affairs (formerly, the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs). In addition, there is a spiritual leader of Muslims in the country, which is the Imam of the Mosque of Sultan Thakurufaanu al-Auzam (the so-called Islamic Centre), the main spiritual centre of Maldivian Muslims responsible to the government for the observance of Sharia law in the country. In December 2018, Sheikh Ibrahim Rasheed Hassan was appointed Imam of the Islamic Centre and the spiritual leader of the Maldivian Muslims. The Sultan Thakurufaanu al-Auzam Mosque is the largest on the island, with a capacity of 5,000 people. The building of the Islamic Centre houses all the religious authorities of the country, including the Ministry of Islamic Affairs.

Islam penetrated the Maldives in the 12th century, along with Arab and Indian merchants and preachers. Before Islam, Buddhism was widespread in the Maldives. But in 1153, the Maldivian Raja Dhovemi, upon hearing reports of the righteous faith in the One God, converted to Islam and became the first Maldivian Muslim sultan under the name of Muhammad ibn Abdullah. Sultan Mohamed immediately destroyed any traces of Buddhist idolatry on all the inhabited islands, began building mosques and inviting imams from neighbouring India. In 1166, the sultan went on a Hajj to Mecca, from where he never returned. However, the seeds of true faith sown by him during the 13 years of his Muslim rule had grown stronger and flourished. The Maldives became part of Dar al-Islam (Muslim territory).

For many of us, the Maldives are associated with sandy beaches and blue sea, with sun and a riot of tropical colours. However, the tourist Maldives and life outside the tourist oases are very different from each other. Tourism is the main part of the national income of the Maldives, therefore, special zones have been created for tourists, where a special tourist life flows. As for the rest of the Maldives, the country lives according to strict Muslim laws, in compliance with Sharia and zeal for piety and Muslim morality.

For a long time, the practice of Sufism, the mystical teaching of spiritual approach to God, has been widespread in the Maldives. All kinds of dhikr practices (prayer repetition of short formulas from Sufi practice), performed during mawlids (lavish celebrations with music and flowers on various occasions, the term comes from the custom of celebrating the Prophet’s Birthday, the holiday of Mawlid), are tremendously popular.

Each inhabited island of the Maldives atolls has at least one, or even several, coral stone mosques with richly decorated interiors. There are 725 mosques and 266 women’s mosques in the Maldives. The popularity of strict observance of Sharia law has become increasingly popular among Muslims in the Maldives, especially in the last 20 years. Currently, the Maldives is a true Muslim country in which Islam plays a key role.