An Overview of Maldives Religion & Expectations

Maldives is a Muslim country with a specified state religion that requires citizens to adhere to it to a certain degree. The Maldives religion is Islam, specifically Sunni Islam, as the branch of religious beliefs.

What does this mean for the local people of Islam and the tourists that visit the country?

Keep reading to learn more about the religious beliefs of the people and the expectations of citizens and guests.

Sunni Islam – Primary Religion in Maldives

Religion in Maldives

The major religion of Maldives is Sunni Islam, as we mentioned. Since the earliest known Islamic history, Sunni Islam has undoubtedly been the predominant form of Islam practiced in the Maldives.

It is obvious that Sunni Islamic legal schools were implemented in the administration of justice and based on the teachings of Sunni scholars, even in the absence of written laws.

This belief must be upheld and supported by every citizen, and it must not conflict with their obligation to advance democratic principles and practices. In the Maldives, there is no place for any other belief or religion.

There are non-Muslims within the country, but they yield to authorities in terms of not following other religions and not speaking badly of Islam.

The non-Muslims will not be holding public office because of legal requirements. The Maldives religion percentage is estimated to be about 95-98% of the total population.

Some people do choose to practice their faith in the privacy of their homes rather than in mosques, and they are free to do so.

There are other known religions in the area, such as The Maldives’ Christian and Hinduism populations estimated to account for about 0.5 percent each of the total population. But they cannot publicize or worship publicly in any way.

In terms of citizenship or the right to vote, minorities namely Christians and Hindus, do not receive any basic rights.

Those with other religious practices are typically foreigners or foreign residents. They will not be granted citizenship.

Citizenship is only provided to Muslims, according to the law.

The Tenets of Islam

Remember that the freedom of religion does not allow non-Muslim believers to be citizens or hold office in order to protect the tenets of Islam. So what exactly does that mean?

Islam has five main pillars, and these are the tenets that are being referred to here.

The Islamic tenets include:

  1. Declaration of Faith
  2. Obligatory prayer
  3. Zakat, the act of giving alms to the needy.
  4. Fasting for Ramadan
  5. Pilgrimage to Mecca or Hajj

Citizens of Maldivian religion hold these five tenets very closely and try to abide by them.

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Religious Freedom Statement for Maldives

Maldives city and flag

According to the office of international freedom, there is very little religious freedom throughout Maldives. Citizens are Sunni Muslims, which is the state religion. Non-Muslim citizens of other countries are only permitted to practice their religion in private and are not allowed to convert people or spread their religious views.

Every resident is required to teach their children about Islam. Only Sunni Muslims must serve as president, ministers, parliamentarians, and atoll chiefs. The laws of the government are based on Islamic law. Fatawa can only be given by qualified Muslim scholars.

Many officials and interlocutors stated that most people saw Islam as one of their society’s most distinctive features and thought that making it the official religion would foster peace and national identity.

In some ways, the Islam religion is part of their national identity.

That being said, there are non-Muslims within the country and many tourists and visitors that are in no way even familiar with religious matters like Islam. This is not held against them, and they are allowed into the Maldives without being Islamic themselves.

They are expected to respect Islamic practices and follow the country’s dress code and instructions.

Some of that instruction includes the following in terms of Maldives religion:

  • May not transport or bring in alcoholic beverages
  • Avoid pork products
  • Wear appropriate dress when away from the resort
  • Be respectful of Islamic culture and religious areas
  • Avoid speaking negatively about Islamic affairs

Alcohol, pork products, and obscenity or nudity are strictly prohibited throughout the country.

Don’t worry, though, because resorts are allowed to serve alcohol under a special license, so you can still relax on the beach with a cocktail or other beverage.

What Islamic Religion in Maldives Looks Like

Coming from other countries that are not as familiar with the Islamic religion, there are a lot of common misconceptions about expectations.

Yes, there have been some more radical events in the Maldivian locations that have been shared on social media as threatening.

However, most of the Maldivian people are very kind and welcoming to tourists, visitors, and foreign workers.

In some Islam countries, women have no civil and political rights, but that is not the case in Maldives.

Instead, the Maldives are slightly more liberal in their approach, although they do still adhere to the religious rulings and worship or prayer requirements. In Maldives, women are not secluded and are not required to wear the full purdah that covers everything except their eyes in public.

Mosques

Mosque in Maldives

The mosques in the Maldives are among the most distinctive and stunning in the entire world. The first mosques were constructed out of wood, coconut, and palm leaves. Coral stone mosque architecture developed and flourished between the late 17th and early 19th centuries

Mosques are available for worship and attended by both men and women in the country. These buildings are simple and serve a purpose. The resort islands also sometimes have mosques available or a place for prayer, but not always.

These are the practices to be familiar with the most for Maldivians religious practices:

  • They have several prayer times per day. If you are not going to attend, simply be respectful and do not interfere. These times occur before sunrise, around noon, 3:30 in the afternoon, at sunset, and early evening hours. You will find that most businesses or offices close for 15 minutes at each prayer interval. Some people go to the mosque, some kneel there, and some choose not to participate.
  • Ramadan is an important time for all Maldivians. Although the month of Ramadan varies from year to year, it usually falls sometime between February and April at the full moon. During this timeframe, they are prohibited from eating, drinking, smoking, and having sex anytime between sunrise and sunset as a fast. Young children, women who are pregnant or menstruating, and people who are traveling all receive exceptions. Since there are no cafés open during the day and everyone is on edge, it is a challenging time for tourists. On the other hand, the evenings are extended and enjoyable.
  • The political affiliates are never foreigners unless they have been Muslim for more than five years and become citizens. Otherwise, the President and all leaders are Muslim citizens of Maldives.
  • There is no US embassy in Maldives, but the Indian embassy ambassador does represent the US there.

Government Approved Sermons

Islamic religious practices do take some pieces from both Judaism and Christian religious practices. Because of this, while the government does not allow anyone to practice any other religion, there is the ability to hear government-approved sermons that may contain pieces of either the New Testament or Old Testament to some degree.

The official reference under the government constitution is still Maldivian religion, but the context may be familiar to foreign tourists looking for a sermon or church service of some sort.

Be aware that even as tourists, you should respect the government’s requirements not to practice other religions while in the Maldives. If you do practice anything, it should be in private.

It is recommended that you don’t bring other religious materials into the country with you either. This could get you in trouble with local authorities.

Foreign workers must follow the same government expectations.

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What the National Religion and Laws Mean for Tourists

In more recent years, the government did amend the law to offer alcohol with certain restrictions. You cannot bring your own alcohol into or out of the country, and it is only available under very strict standards.

The government does enforce this, so just follow the rules to stay out of trouble.

As a non-citizen, you are not required to practice Muslim activities while you are here. However, you should avoid speaking or acting in any way contrary to Islam, including being modest in the way you dress.

You do not have to dress exactly as the citizens, but be sure to cover from shoulders to knees and don’t wear anything revealing or provocative when in public locations.

You’re welcome to join local citizens to participate in prayer and worship, but if you are not Muslim, it is not required. You should show respect for their designated prayer times. The law and constitution do not require you to be Islamic.

International visitors and workers are more than welcomed on the islands.

While some threats have been reported at times, this is rarely an issue. The reported problems have stemmed from radical extremists which can happen anywhere in the world. These practices are not allowed by the constitutional law of the islands. If you do receive threats, be sure to report them to local law.

Here you can read more about Maldives safety.

Longstanding History Rests Behind Maldivian Religion

The Maldives nation has been a Muslim nation for as far back as memories date for the country. The Maldives religion is Sunni Islam, which is a liberal form of religion that allows more freedom for children, women, and youth than more conservative branches.

International travelers are always welcome and provided security while they are here. They are only asked to show respect for it while they are in the country, even if they choose not to practice the local religion.

FAQ

What is the Main Religion of Maldives?

Sunni Islam, a Muslim belief, is the primary religion followed by approximately 98% of the island's population.

Is Christianity Allowed in Maldives?

The Maldivian law prohibits practicing anything besides Islam within the country. But people choose to practice their faith in the privacy of their homes rather than in mosques, and they are free to do so.

How Many Muslims are in Maldives?

It is estimated that over 95-98% of the people are practicing Islam. However, the law requires you to be Muslim to become a citizen. There are plenty who live here who are not Muslim, but they are not considered citizens of the country.

Is Maldives Safe if You Aren’t Muslim?

Yes, you will find they welcome others into the country. There are some rules that you will need to follow out of respect for the Islamic practices, but you are not expected to follow their beliefs while you are there or to convert.

Can You Drink Alcohol in Maldives?

Because of the official religious practices, it has been reported you can’t drink here. While this is true in most areas, the resort islands are allowed to serve alcoholic beverages with their special licenses. It is prohibited outside of these locations. You can check this with your resort.

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