The constitution and other laws and policies restrict religious freedom. The constitution designates Sunni Islam as the official state religion and government regulations are based on Islamic law. The government interprets these provisions as imposing a requirement that all citizens be Muslim. Non-Muslims may not obtain citizenship. The constitution does not provide for the right to freedom of religion or belief, nor does it prohibit discrimination based on religion. The constitution bars non-Muslims from voting and holding public positions. The constitution also stipulates that judges, cabinet ministers, members of parliament, and the president must be Sunni.
The government follows civil law based on Islamic law. Civil law is subordinate to Islamic law. In a situation not covered by civil law, and in certain cases such as divorce and adultery, Islamic law is applied.
The law prohibits public statements that are contrary to Islam and violators face penalties ranging from two to five years in prison or house arrest.
Mosques are required to register with the government. The government maintains and funds most mosques.
Several articles in the constitution make the practice of Islam mandatory. Schools are required to “inculcate obedience to Islam” and “instill love for Islam.” According to the international nongovernmental organization (NGO) Forum 18, this is understood to mean that parents must educate their children as Muslims, whether they are Muslim or not.
The Ministry of Islamic Affairs mandates Islamic instruction 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 may not prepare sermons without government authorization.
The Decentralization Law requires that local councils approve preaching in mosques and other public locations.
The “Protection of Religious Unity among Maldivians Act” states that both the government and the people must protect religious unity. Any statement or action found contrary to this aim is subject to criminal penalty. Specific crimes listed in the act include working to disrupt the religious unity of Maldivians, any discussions or acts promoting religious differences, and delivering religious sermons or engaging in public discussions in a way that infringes upon the independence and sovereignty of the country, or limits the rights of a specific section of society.
Violators are subject to sentences ranging from a fine to imprisonment or deportation for foreigners. Regulations passed in 2011 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 access to education or health services in the name of Islam, or demean the character or create hatred towards people of any other religion. In addition, the regulations require any scholar to have prior written approval from the Ministry of Islamic Affairs to preach in the country. Foreign scholars may not criticize domestic policies and laws in their sermons.
The regulations state, “It is illegal to propagate any other religion other than Islam.” Penalties for violations range from two to five years in prison or house arrest, depending on the gravity of the offense. Islamic proselytizing of Sunnis and non-Sunnis 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. Proselytizing of Muslims by adherents of other religions is also illegal, and the penalty is the same as for Islamic proselytizing.
Non-Muslim foreign residents may practice their religions only in private and may not encourage local citizens to participate. Foreigners may raise their children to follow any religious teaching as long as this is done privately in their homes or hotel rooms and they do not include citizens in their religious activities.
By law, foreigners may not 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 is against the law to offer alcohol to a citizen. The government 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 registers only clubs and other private associations that do not contravene Islamic or civil law.
By law, a Maldivian woman cannot marry a non-Muslim foreigner unless he converts to Islam first. A Maldivian man, however, can marry a non-Muslim foreigner, if the foreigner is from a religion that is allowed under Islamic Shariah, i.e., Christianity and Judaism. A Maldivian man cannot marry a non-Muslim foreigner from a religion not allowed under Islamic Sharia unless that person converts to Islam prior to marriage.
The government observes the following Islamic holy days as national holidays: Milad un Nabi (Birthday of the Prophet Muhammad), the first day of Ramadan, Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha, and Al-Hijra (Islamic New Year).