People and Religion

The language, beliefs and culture in the Maldives reflect the diverse nature of the original inhabitants of the islands, brought here by the significant east-west trading routes.

Indeed, the people can look different from island to island, the Maldives having been a melting pot of Arab, African and South East Asian mariners. The national language, Dhivehi, also differs in dialect from region to region. 

Maldivians are a close-knit community, based around faith and the family.  The women are used to running the family alone whilst the menfolk are fishing, often away for long periods.

The government here gives each family a piece of land measuring about 15m (50ft) by 30m (100ft).  People are allowed to build a house on this land. Traditionally these homes were made from large pieces of coral held together with a special lime made by long, slow burning of the coral.  However, in an effort to protect the precious coral reefs, this practice is now discouraged and building blocks are made with local sand and cement.

As with many island communities, superstition and folklore play a central part in the life here.  Locals believe that spirits (jinni in Arabic) inhabit the earth and can be either helpful or harmful. 

The locals also tell a story about the early settlers in the Maldives dying in great numbers.  A great spirit came along and made the life-giving Coconut Trees grow from their skulls.  Thus the Coconut Tree holds a central place here, even in modern Maldivian life.

In terms of more formal religion, the earliest recorded people on the Maldives practised a form of Hinduism, which contained many specific ritualistic traditions. This comes from archaeological evidence of Hindu deities dating from the eighth and ninth centuries.

By medieval times, a Sri Lankan form of Buddhism was practised.  Writings and art from the period verify the fact that the ancient Maldivian kings supported Buddhism as the main religion on the islands for over 1000 years.

However, the country converted to Islam in the twelfth century with the arrival of Middle Eastern traders to the region.  It has remained Muslim since that time, with Islam the only religion currently practised on the islands.  Faith is taken very seriously here and the law states that no non-Muslim can become a citizen.

Malé, the capital city, has over 30 mosques with shops and offices closing around 11am on a Friday in order for residents to attend the sermon.  During Ramadan, which takes place during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, working hours are limited and many restaurants closed.  However, observing Islamic holidays does not affect most tourist resorts.