International Religious Freedom Report 2002
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

The 1997 Constitution designates the Sunni branch of Islam as the official state religion, and the Government interprets this provision to impose a requirement that citizens must be Muslims. The practice of any religion other than Islam is prohibited by law. Non-Muslim foreigners are allowed to practice their religion if they do so in private and do not encourage citizens to participate. The President is the "supreme authority to propagate the tenets of Islam." The Government observes Shari'a (Islamic law).

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report, and freedom of religion is restricted significantly.

Citizens regard Islam as one of their society's most distinctive characteristics and believe that it promotes harmony and national identity.

The U.S. Government does not maintain a resident Embassy in the Maldives; the U.S. Ambassador in Colombo, Sri Lanka, also is accredited to the Government in Male. The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The Maldives is an archipelago consisting of approximately 1,200 coral atolls and islands scattered over 500 miles in the Indian Ocean southeast of India, and its population is approximately 280,000.

It is believed that the entire indigenous population is Muslim, the vast majority of which adhere to the Sunni branch of Islam. Some foreign Muslims in the country belong to other branches of Islam. Non-Muslim foreigners in the country are allowed to practice their religion privately. Approximately 400,000 tourists (predominantly Europeans and Japanese) visit the country annually. There also are approximately 30,000 foreign workers in the country, primarily from Sri Lanka, India, and Bangladesh. The workers from these countries represent a mix of the religions prevalent in South Asia, and include Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and Christians.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

Freedom of religion is restricted significantly. The 1997 Constitution designates Sunni Islam as the official state religion, and the Government interprets this provision to impose a requirement that citizens be Muslims. The practice of any religion other than Islam is prohibited by law. However, non-Muslim foreign residents are allowed to practice their religion if they do so privately and do not encourage citizens to participate.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

In July 2000, President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom stated that the Government should take steps to ensure that Islam remains the only religion in the country. Following the President's statement, the Home Affairs Ministry announced special programs to safeguard and strengthen religious unity. The Government has established a Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs to provide guidance on religious matters. The Supreme Council also prepares a text to be used nationally for Friday sermons at mosques. The Government also has set standards for individuals who conduct Friday services at mosques to ensure adequate theological qualifications and to ensure that services are not dominated by radicals.

The President must be a Sunni Muslim and under the Constitution is the "supreme authority to propagate the tenets of Islam." Cabinet ministers also are required to be Sunni Muslims. Members of the People's Majlis (Parliament) must be Muslim. The Government observes Shari'a.

There are no places of worship for adherents of other religions. The Government prohibits non-Muslim clergy and missionaries from proselytizing and conducting public worship services. Conversion of a Muslim to another faith is a violation of Shari'a and may result in a loss of the convert's citizenship. In the past, would-be converts have been detained and counseled regarding their conversion from Islam. Foreigners have been detained and expelled for proselytizing, although there were no such reports during the period covered by this report.

The law limits a citizen's right to freedom of expression in order to protect "the basic tenets of Islam."

The Government prohibits the importation of icons and religious statues but generally permits the importation of religious tracts, such as Bibles, for personal use.

Islamic instruction is a mandatory part of the school curriculum, and the Government funds the salaries of instructors of Islam.

Under the country's Islamic practice, certain legal provisions discriminate against women. For example, under Islamic practice, husbands may divorce their wives more easily than vice versa, absent any mutual agreement to divorce. Shari'a also governs intestate inheritance, granting male heirs twice the share of female heirs. A woman's testimony is equal only to one-half of that of a man in matters involving adultery, finance, and inheritance.

Abuses of Religious Freedom

There were several reports of religious detainees during the period covered by this report. The law limits a citizen's right to freedom of expression in order to protect the "basic tenets of Islam." According to Amnesty International and other sources, in early 2002, four individuals were arrested for distributing Islamist and antigovernment literature. The four men were standing trial on these issues as of June 2002. In addition, a Muslim clergyman reportedly was questioned and temporarily detained during an investigation into accusations that he had made Islamist-tinged sermons in June 2002.

There were no reports of religious prisoners during the period covered by this report.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

Most citizens regard Islam as one of their society's most distinctive characteristics and believe that it promotes harmony and national identity.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Government does not maintain a resident embassy in the Maldives; the U.S. Ambassador in Colombo, Sri Lanka also is accredited to the Government in Male. The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.

[This is a mobile copy of Maldives]