Years ago, my heart became burdened for the people of Maldives. That’s because out of all of the countries in the world, it is one of the most oppressed.
This popular tourist paradise in the Indian Ocean is not what it’s cracked up to be, especially for Christians and other religious minorities.
The only recognized religion of the Maldives is Islam, and all other religious activities are strictly banned. If you are a tourist, you may practice your religion in the Maldives, but only in private.
My prayer for the people of Maldives is that they would see religious freedom grow. But over the past few days I’ve read several articles and reports that leaves me with little hope that this will happen anytime soon.
The Maldives and Lack of Religious Freedoms
- According to the Maldives 2015 International Religious Freedom Report issued by the U.S. Embassy to Maldives “A new penal code permits the administration of certain sharia punishments, such as stoning and amputation of hands. In October  for the first time in the country’s history, a magistrate court sentenced a woman to death by stoning for adultery, although the Supreme Court overturned the verdict. The government rejected recommendations by the UN Human Rights Council to change its laws, saying it would not grant freedoms it felt violated the tenets of Islam.” Additionally, “Propagation of any religion other than Islam is a criminal offense. Within Islam, proselytizing to change denominations is illegal and punishable by two to five years in jail or house arrest, depending on the gravity of the offense. If the offender is a foreigner, his or her license to preach in the country will be revoked, and he or she will be deported. Proselytizing of Muslims by adherents of other religions is illegal, and the penalty is the same as for intra-Islamic proselytizing.”
- The Business Standard, an Indian newspaper published in English and Hindi, reported today that the Maldives tourism has taken a downturn against western national tourism warnings and the rise of Maldives as an Islamic Jihadist breeding ground.
- In August of 2016, the Maldives government passed a defamation law that makes it illegal to speak out publicly against any tenet of Islam, or make any statement that goes against the social norms as prescribed by the government. This bill limits freedom of the press and freedom of religious expression further, and is punishable by hefty fines and up to 6 months in jail.
- Most countries issue travel advisories for its citizens to Maldives, but the U.K.’s warnings spell out how it relates to Christians and other religious groups:
” . . . Local laws reflect the fact that Maldives is an Islamic country. Serious violations of local laws may lead to a prison sentence. Public observance of any religion other than Islam is prohibited. You should respect local traditions, customs, laws and religions at all times and be aware of your actions to ensure that they don’t offend, especially during the holy month of Ramadan or if you intend to visit religious areas.
In 2017, the holy month of Ramadan is expected to start on 27 May and finish on 25 June. See Travelling during Ramadan.
It is an offence to import the following items into Maldives: explosives, weapons, firearms, ammunition, pornographic material, materials deemed contrary to Islam including ‘idols for worship’ and bibles, pork and pork products, and alcohol. . .” – Gov.UK
The Future of the Maldives
All of this is troublesome to the growth of Christianity in the Maldives, or any religion outside of Islam for that matter.
I also worry about the future of reliable news coming from the Maldives. Without a free press, we will only receive news that is state sanctioned which will be extremely biased. How will we know if Christians, members of other religious minorities, journalists or tourists are arrested and punished under the defamation law? There is a cute little saying in the Maldives when tourist are whisked away on speed boats to private resorts: “No News, No Shoes.” Everyone’s always talking about unplugging and escaping, so this tropical paradise where there is virtually no access to news appeals to many tourists. But, little do they know that this is part of the plan to keep tourists from seeing or hearing about the real Maldives.
“The official line is that tourists – and their polluting, infidel views – should be kept away from the Maldivian people for the sake of the people’s Islamic faith. But there is another side to it,” says Azra Naseem, a Maldivian who is visiting fellow at the International Institute of Conflict Resolution and Reconstruction at Dublin City University, where she is researching the Islamic radicalization of her country. “If tourists do not see or know about what is going on with the people of the Maldives, they will continue to keep coming. If they knew the truth they might stop.” – as quoted in the Irish Times, 16 Aug. 2014 by Mary Boland
Additionally, I read that the recent Star Wars movie Rogue One was filmed in the Maldives during much of the recent civil unrest. The Maldives president is hoping that by allowing Western production companies to film there, it will help boost tourism more. This is worrisome for two reasons:
- With multiple credible governmental and private sources warning of the growing Jihadist atmosphere, sharia law and defamation laws, who and what are we financially supporting by filming and vacationing in the Maldives?
- Will we have increased international incidents of western citizens arrested and jailed under sharia and defamation laws?
Over the years that I have been praying for the Maldives, this is the first scriptural passage that comes to mind and heart for the people there:
But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” – Romans 10:14-15
There are so many prayer concerns for the Maldives, but the one that I ask you to pray with me is that somehow, someway, someday soon God will clear a way for his Word to be heard and read in the Maldives so that the people will come to know the truth about God. Whether it be from one of the younger generation leaving for other countries to go to university or by other means, this is my greatest prayer. If it is God’s will, raise up some brave Christians to bring the good news of his Son to the people of the Maldives.
Please also pray that no one will suffer under the harsh, dire penalties of sharia law or the defamation law.