Maybe I was living under a rock, but somehow I had never heard that Maldives was a muslim country, until it was time to plan my trip! Well, it’s not entirely my fault. Thanks to the tourist industry, the images you conjure of Maldives are islands, white beaches and people sunbathing and that’s true for most of the tourist islands but not so much for the locals.
Here are 5 interesting facts I discovered about Islam in Maldives during my trip.
1) The Republic of Maldives is a South Asian island country with Islam is the official religion. It has been a muslim country since the 12th century AD after a mass conversion from Buddhism. Although there are alternative accounts but the most probable seems to be that the then Buddhist king converted to Islam influenced by the moroccan traveler Abul Barakat whose tomb stands to this day in the capital city of Malé.
2) Salafi Islam. The above said tomb is locked and bolted from the outside. Our tour guide informed us that it had become a place of veneration since a long time and people would go there for prayers – a practice that is common in the Indian subcontinent but not considered a part of Islam by many scholars. However, since a few years this practice was banned. Online sources claim that these changes occurred after the 2004 tsunami due to an influx of Salafi preachers from Saudi Arabia which led to the gaining of salafi ideology (i.e. Ideolgy which follows the teachings of the Prophet, his companions and the early scholars )
3) The full veil for women is common. The moment we landed on the airport, I saw a lot of ground staff were young girls in their hijaabs. And a variety of styles at that too! I did come across a few women on the island who wore the niqaab or face veil. As a woman who wears it herself, it was indeed liberating to know that I could practice this just like back home without facing skeptic glances and stares from every other person who passes by.
4) No alcohol in Male, the capital island and most other local islands are completely dry. An exception of hotel at the airport and the resorts are another story.
5) You don’t need to worry about halal food. We enjoyed eating non-vegetarian, something we can’t always do when traveling in addition to the delicious Maldivian cuisine which of course features a lot of seafood especially local tuna. The cuisine was quite close and pleasing to the Indian palette.
As we spent a lot of time in Malé, soaking in the culture, some of my best memories of the trip are made of chatting with the locals and learning so much about their lives. I was very happy to meet my brothers and sisters in Islam.