The 1997 Constitution designates Islam as the official state religion. The Government interprets this provision to impose a requirement that citizens be Muslims. Freedom of religion is restricted significantly. The law prohibits the practice of any religion other than Islam. The president is the "supreme authority to propagate the tenets of Islam." Government regulations are based on Islamic law (Shari'a). Non-Muslim foreigners are allowed to practice their religion only privately. Visitors must also refrain from encouraging local citizens to practice any religion other than Islam.There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report. Freedom of religion remained severely restricted.
President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom stated repeatedly that no religion other than Islam should be allowed in the country. During previous reporting periods, the Home Affairs Ministry announced special programs to safeguard and strengthen religious identity. The Government established the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs to provide guidance on religious matters. The Government also set standards for imams who conduct Friday services at mosques so that they have adequate theological qualifications and to prevent fundamentalism from gaining ground.
There were no places of worship for adherents of other religious groups. The Government prohibited the importation of icons and religious statues, but it generally permitted the importation of religious literature, such as Bibles, for personal use. The sale of religious items, such as Christmas cards, was restricted to the resort islands patronized by foreign tourists.
Parents must raise their children to be Muslim because citizens must be Muslim. Foreigners can raise their children to follow any religion as long as they practice only privately in their homes or hotel rooms and do not try to include local citizens in their worship.
The Government prohibited non-Muslim clergy and missionaries from proselytizing or conducting public worship services. Islamic proselytizing was also illegal unless the Government invited someone to discuss the religion. Conversion of a Muslim to another faith is a violation of Shari'a and may result in a loss of the convert's citizenship; however, there were no known cases of the Government discovering converts and rescinding citizenship as a result of conversion. Faith-based nongovernmental organizations were not specifically excluded by law from operating; however, in March 2006, the local press reported that the fisheries minister called on citizens to raze a marketplace structure constructed by a British firm. The organization had received funding from the UK-based charity Maldives Aid. According to the press, the minister claimed the building was donated by a "Christian missionary" group, a label Maldives Aid strongly refuted. Maldives Aid made public appeals to the people and the Government to retain the market building in order to benefit the populace. On May 3, 2006, Maldives Aid held a small ceremony to transfer the building's ownership to island residents. There was no action taken against the marketplace building by the end of the reporting period.
In the previous reporting period, when Friends of Maldives, a United Kingdom-based charity, had British school children pack buckets of school materials for children in the country, the Government inspected the packages, found Christmas stories, and removed the stories before the buckets were distributed.
The law prohibits public statements that are contrary to Islam.
The Government registered only clubs and other private associations that do not contravene Islamic or civil law.
By law the president and cabinet ministers must be Sunni Muslims. Members of the People's Majlis (parliament) must be Muslim; however, they are not required to be Sunni.
Under the country's Islamic practice, the testimony of two women is required to equal that of one man in matters involving Shari'a such as adultery, finance, and inheritance. In other cases, the testimony of men and women is equal. Shari'a also governs estate inheritance, granting male heirs twice the share of female heirs. The constitution provides that an accused person has the right to defend himself "in accordance with Shari'a."
There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees in the country.
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 Abuses and Discrimination
Most citizens regarded Islam as one of their society's most distinctive characteristics and believed that it promotes harmony and national identity. The president regularly encouraged all citizens to seek unity through shared religious beliefs.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy
The U.S. government does not maintain an embassy in the country. The U.S. ambassador in Colombo, Sri Lanka, is also accredited to the Government in Male, and Embassy Colombo officers traveled frequently to the country. The U.S. government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.