The Maldives is a 100% Islamic country. What does this mean? Let’s take an illuminating dive into what to expect when you plan to visit this paradise in the Indian ocean.
It’s important to understand how Islam was introduced to the islands and how that history plays a part in what you may experience on your visit here. If you are unfamiliar with the social customs of Islam, it will also be beneficial to learn just a little bit more about it.
This will help you understand the people, the culture, and even the Maldives, which will lead to a far richer experience on your holidays. As you go about your list of things to do here, here are some insights into what it means to visit a 100% Islamic country.
History of the Maldives and Islam
It is worth knowing just a little about the Maldives and its history. Islam arrived as early as the 1100s, when the last Buddhist ruler converted to the Muslim faith, taking the name Muhammed Ibn Abdulla. Before this, much of the Maldives was influenced by Buddhist teachings. Some ancient ruins are still on the islands, though these are hard to find.
The Maldives gained independence from Britain in 1965, becoming an Islamic Sultanate before eventually becoming a republic in 1968. Over that time, the dominant religion and culture were that of Sunni Muslims, which is still in the vast majority today.
In 2008, a change to the constitution meant that Islam became the official and only religion practiced in the country. All Maldivian citizens are Muslim.
Islamic Customs Observed in the Maldives
The towns of the Maldives are marked by the presence of several mosques. The capital Male itself has more than 30 within its boundaries. Calls to prayer can be heard throughout the day in these areas, adding to the atmosphere of the islands.
Many places will be closed for large stretches of the day during the month of Ramadan. Certain services will also be limited. Ramadan and its associated celebrations are a special time in many Muslim countries.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Muslim calendar. It may be useful to check when it happens and plan your trip accordingly.
As mentioned, Islam is the only publicly practiced religion in the Maldives. Other religions are observed in private homes.
A Quick Note on the Term “Haram”
When visiting a Muslim country, you may come across the term “haram.” This is basically a description given to anything (food, object, or action) that is forbidden according to Islamic law. For example, the consumption of pork or alcohol, for Muslims, is haram.
When it comes to non-Muslim visitors to the Maldives, they may not understand all the tenets of Islam that exists. However, some acts are considered more offensive than others, so it’s worth getting to know your environment; what’s tolerated, and what is not.
What is Halal Food?
In Islamic culture, only Halal food is permitted for consumption. “Halal” basically means “allowed” or “permitted” (the opposite of “haram”) and refers to the decree by God pertaining to certain rules around food and other habits.
In general, food restrictions revolve around harmful ingredients, intoxicants, poisons, and, specifically, pork. Animal products must be prepared in a specific method, from the point of slaughter. This process is referred to as Zabihah.
This is a cornerstone of faith for Muslims, but certain resorts catering to foreigners may be more relaxed about serving pork-related products. In general, however, pork products will not be available outside of these specific resorts.
Labels and packaging of prepacked foods are thoroughly checked for ingredients. Meat products are also strictly supervised for proper slaughter, cleansing, and preparation. Halal foods are never prepared with the same utensils as non-halal foods.
In basic terms, you will have to specifically request non-halal food in the Maldives.
Alcohol and Islam
Alcohol is considered an intoxicant and, therefore, generally not considered Halal in Islam. This extends to any foods that may contain ethanol as well. Perfumes that contain alcohol will not be used by Muslim women.
As with food, certain resorts will relax their rules when it comes to serving alcohol to foreign visitors. This will likely be restricted to the resort itself, and consumption in public spaces outside the resort’s designated areas will be strongly discouraged.
Alcohol is not available in shops. You may also not bring alcohol with you. Rather, enjoy the resort hotel’s services in this regard. Several floating bars will be available to you, and there is usually a fine selection to enjoy.
Resorts and Tourism
Resorts in the Maldives largely cater to tourists and their various tastes. In that sense, some will have pork products and alcohol available. Nonetheless, it’s worth observing that most of the staff will be Muslim.
In addition, many Muslim visitors to the islands can take advantage of the considerations a Muslim-focused resort and country can bring. There will be plenty of facilities catering to the specific needs of its Muslim clientele.
Several women-only facilities will be available, as well as spaces like salaah rooms (prayer rooms).
Alcohol in the Maldives
Most all-inclusive resorts will offer alcohol for consumption. Note that not all alcohol options may be included under the äll-inclusive” banner. Certain high-end champagnes and spirits may be excluded, for example. The all-inclusive deal usually covers beers, cocktails, and some spirits.
Note that some of the smaller resorts and local islands hotels will not serve alcohol.
Tip: Some resorts host a “happy hour” in the afternoons, where alcohol is discounted significantly.
Food in the Maldives
Similar to alcohol, non-halal food may be available in some of the best restaurants at resorts. However, tourists may not bring any pork products to the islands with them.
Moreover, almost all other meat products will be halal. This is usually an issue for tourists, as the difference is really in the manner of preparation and not in the makeup of the meat itself.
Halal and non-halal meals are separately prepared when they are offered. Many resorts request that you specify your food requirements upon arrival. This is to ensure no cross-contamination of the food, as Muslim visitors cannot consume food prepared with the same utensils used for pork products or other non-halal foods.
It’s interesting to note also that many foods are imported to the Maldives. Most fish, some seafoods, some fruits and vegetables and herbs are sourced locally. But all meat and meat-related products are imported.
As a Muslim country, Maldives is fairly reserved as a society. Tourists visiting the towns and local public areas should be aware of and observe appropriate social etiquette. For example, observing the prayer times respectfully, clothing appropriately (or at least, not inappropriately), and respecting the people and their customs.
This applies to both men and women. It is generally considered ill-mannered and possibly offensive for men to walk around bare-chested in polite society.
Tourist resorts seem to feel more relaxed and western in their approach, allowing some leeway when it comes to social behavior. For example, it is more common to see westerners sunbathing in swimming costumes. That said, many Muslim tourists may still be seen wearing hijabs and other traditional Muslim clothing.
Social Interaction in the Maldives
While tourists aren’t expected to know every single custom, some basic things will go a long way to making your stay even more pleasant. For example, it’s worth remembering that men will shake hands with you as a greeting, while women will likely not.
When interacting with people, especially elders, always give and receive items with your right hand. Overly amorous, affectionate, or boisterous behavior is frowned upon in Maldivian public life. Even aggressive or angry behavior is considered insulting and barbaric.
An interesting parallel with Buddhist custom is the pointing of feet. It is considered rude and deeply insulting to point your feet at someone or at something of social value. In that vein, putting your feet up on tables or chairs is a no-no. Exposing the soles of your feet in this way is not welcome.
Final Thoughts: Maldives and Islam
The declaration that the Maldives is a 100% Islamic country mainly pertains to its citizenship and general law. Socially, it abides by the customs of Islamic tradition, which extends to the use of alcohol, drugs, and food.
But with all that said, there’s every opportunity for tourists and visitors to enjoy the islands and all their beauty. Most top resorts are aware of and cater to all needs. There is absolutely no reason to not consider the Maldives as a total getaway, with nature and culture to explore, while enjoying the best that luxury has to offer.