The constitution and other laws and policies restrict religious freedom. The constitution designates Islam as the official state religion and government regulations are based on Islamic law. The government and many citizens at all levels interpret these provisions as imposing a requirement that all citizens be Muslims. The language of the constitution relating to the fundamental rights and duties of citizens does not provide for the right to freedom of religion or belief. Furthermore, the constitution precludes non-Muslims from voting and holding public positions. The constitution does not prohibit discrimination based on religious preference. It excludes religion from a list of attributes for which people should not be discriminated against. The constitution also stipulates that the president must be Sunni.
Several articles in the constitution make the practice of Islam mandatory. Article 36 states it is imperative for parents and the state to provide children with primary and secondary education. Section (c) of that article states education shall strive to inculcate obedience to Islam and instill love for Islam. According to Forum 18, a foreign nonprofit group that promotes religious freedom, in practice this wording is understood to mean that parents must educate their children as Muslims, whether they are Muslim or not.
In 2008 then-president Mohamed Nasheed replaced the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs with a new Ministry for Islamic Affairs. He appointed the head of the religiously conservative Adaalath Party, Sheikh Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari, as the head of the new ministry. Although the Adhaalath Party left the ruling coalition, Bari remains as the minister.
The Ministry of Islamic Affairs mandates Islamic instructions in schools, funds salaries of religious instructors, and certifies imams, who are responsible for presenting government-approved sermons. By law no one may publicly discuss Islam unless invited to do so by the government, and imams could not prepare sermons without government authorization. During the year, Minister Bari maintained that there was no reason to allow other religions in the country, since it is “a very unique country” where all citizens are Muslims.
In February 2009 then-president Nasheed inaugurated an independent council of religious scholars called a “fiqh (jurisprudence) academy.” The council consists of 17 religious scholars, all of whom were appointed by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs. The council’s stated purpose is to debate religious matters, issue fatwas, and link with fiqh academies in other countries. The vice president of the academy stated one of the aims is to tackle religious divisions in the country.
The Protection of the Religious Unity Among Maldivians Act states both the government and the people must protect religious unity. Any statement or action contrary to this law is subject to criminal penalty; if a person is found guilty, sentences range from a fine to imprisonment or deportation for foreigners. In September the government published new religious unity regulations under this act. The new regulations stipulate stricter requirements for preaching in the country, and the regulations contain general principles for the delivery of religious sermons. The regulations prohibit statements in sermons that may be interpreted as racial and gender discrimination, prevent people from access to education or health services in the name of Islam, or demean the character or create hatred towards people of any other religion. Foreign scholars preaching in the country are asked not to talk against the country’s social norms, or criticize its domestic policies and laws. The regulations also state, “it is illegal to propagate any other religion other than Islam.” The penalty for contravening the Religious Unity Act regulations is two to five years in jail or house arrest, depending on the gravity of the offense.
Mosques are required to register with the government. The government maintains and funds most mosques.
Non-Muslim foreign residents are allowed to practice their religious beliefs only if they do so privately and do not encourage local citizens to participate.
The government follows civil law based on Islamic law. Civil law is subordinate to Islamic law; in the event a situation is not covered by civil law as well as in certain cases such as divorce and adultery, Islamic law is applied.
Foreigners are not allowed to import any items deemed “contrary to Islam,” including alcohol, pork products, or religious statues for worship. Alcoholic beverages are available to tourists on resort islands, but it remains against the law to offer alcohol to a local citizen.
The Human Rights Commission reported that there are female imams who, in that role, interact with women only.
Islamic instruction is a mandatory part of the school curriculum, and the government funds the salaries of instructors of Islam. Islamic instruction is only one component of the curriculum used in the majority of schools. Arabic-medium schools focus primarily on Islam. Those who seek further religious education obtain it in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, or other Muslim-majority countries. Schools offer religious education for women.
Parents must raise their children to be Muslim in accordance with the law. Foreigners can raise their children to follow any religious teachings as long as they practice privately in their homes or hotel rooms and do not try to include local citizens in their worship.
Islamic proselytizing is illegal unless a government representative is present. The penalty for Islamic proselytizing is two to five years in jail or house arrest, depending on the gravity of the offense. If the offender is a foreigner, his/her license to preach in the country would be revoked, and he/she would be deported.
Proselytism of Muslims by adherents of other religions is also illegal, and the penalty is the same as for Islamic proselytism.
Islamic faith-based nongovernmental organizations (NGO) are not specifically precluded by law from operating.
The law prohibits public statements that are contrary to Islam. The penalty for contravening this law is two to five years’ imprisonment or house arrest depending on the offense.
The government registered only clubs and other private associations that did not contravene Islamic or civil law.
The constitution states the president and cabinet ministers must be Sunni Muslims. Furthermore, the constitution also states members of the People’s Majlis (parliament) and the judiciary must be Sunni Muslims. Under the previous constitution, atoll chiefs had to be Muslims; however, they were not required to be Sunni. The same was also true of members of the Special People’s Majlis.
Family law permits men and women to marry non-Muslim foreigners only if the foreigners convert to Islam before marriage.
The government prohibits the importation of icons and religious statues, but it generally permits the importation of religious literature, such as Bibles, for personal use. The sale of religious items, such as Christmas cards, is restricted to the resort islands patronized by foreign tourists.
The government observes Islamic holy days as national holidays.