The constitution states the country is a republic based on the principles of Islam and designates Islam as the state religion, which it defines in terms of Sunni teachings. It states citizens have a “duty” to preserve and protect the state religion of Islam. According to the constitution, non-Muslims may not obtain citizenship.
The constitution states citizens are free to engage in activities “not expressly prohibited” by sharia, but provides for limitations on rights and freedoms “to protect and maintain the tenets of Islam.” In making a decision about whether a limitation on a right or freedom is constitutional, the constitution states a court must take into account the extent to which the right or freedom “must be limited” to protect Islam.
The constitution makes no mention of the freedom of religion or belief. Although it contains a provision prohibiting discrimination “of any kind,” it does not list religion as a prohibited basis of discrimination. The constitution states individuals have a right to freedom of thought and expression, but in a manner “not contrary to tenets of Islam.”
The law states 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 infractions include working to disrupt religious unity, any discussions or acts promoting religious differences, and delivering religious sermons in a way infringing upon the independence and sovereignty of the country or limiting the rights of a specific section of society. According to law, sentences for violators range from a fine of up to 20,000 Rufiyaa ($1,303) or imprisonment from two to five years, and may include deportation for foreigners.
The law prohibits the conversion by a Muslim to another religion and specifies a violation may result in the loss of the convert’s citizenship, although a judge may impose harsher punishment per sharia jurisprudence.
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.
By law, prayer houses remain under the control of the MIA rather than by the country’s island councils. The law prohibits the establishment of places of worship for non-Islamic religious groups.
By law, citizens may not deliver sermons or explain religious principles in public without obtaining a license to do so from the MIA. Imams may not prepare Friday sermons without government authorization. To obtain a license to preach, the law specifies an individual must be a Sunni Muslim, must have a degree in religious studies, and must not have been convicted of a crime in sharia court. The law also sets educational standards for imams to ensure they have theological qualifications the government considers adequate. Government regulations stipulate the requirements for preaching and contain general principles for the delivery of religious sermons. The regulations prohibit statements in sermons which may be interpreted as racial or gender discrimination; discourage access to education or health services in the name of Islam; or demean the character of, or create hatred towards, people of any other religion. The law provides for a punishment of two to five years in prison or house arrest for violations of these provisions. Anyone who assists in such a violation is subject to a jail term or house arrest of two to four years and a fine of between 5,000-20,000 rufiyaa ($326-1303). The law requires foreign scholars to shape their sermons in line with the country’s norms, traditions, culture, and social etiquette.
The law prohibits noncitizens living in or visiting the country from conducting religious activities in public.
By law, a Maldivian woman may not marry a non-Muslim foreigner unless he converts to Islam first. A Maldivian man may marry a non-Muslim foreigner if the foreigner is Christian or Jewish; other foreigners must convert to Islam prior to marriage.
The law prohibits importation of any items deemed contrary to Islam by the MIA, including religious literature, religious statues, alcohol, and pork products. Penalties for contravention of the law range from three months to three years imprisonment. It is against the law to offer alcohol to a citizen, although government regulations permit the sale of alcoholic beverages on resort islands. Individuals may request permission to import restricted goods from the Ministry of Economic Development.
The constitution states education shall strive to “inculcate obedience to Islam” and “instill love for Islam.” In accordance with the law, the MIA regulates Islamic instruction in schools, while the Ministry of Education funds salaries of religious instructors in schools. Islam is a compulsory subject for all primary, secondary, and higher secondary school students.
The constitution states Islam forms one basis of the law and “no law contrary to any tenet of Islam shall be enacted.” The constitution specifies judges must apply sharia in deciding matters not addressed by the constitution or by law. The law prohibits public statements contrary to Islam, and violators face penalties ranging from two to five years in prison or house arrest.
A new penal code, which entered into force in July, continues to prescribe flogging sentences for a small number of crimes, including fornication. Other sharia penalties are not specified, but the new code grants judges the discretion to impose sharia penalties for hadd and qisas offenses – including murder, apostasy, assault, theft, homosexual acts, drinking alcohol, and property damage – if proven to a standard of practical certainty.
An amendment to the new penal code passed by the parliament in August requires all appeal processes be exhausted prior to the administration of sharia punishments specific to hadd and qisas offenses, including stoning, amputation of hands, and similar punishments.
Antiterror legislation passed by the parliament on October 27 includes as a crime “unlawfully” promoting any religious, political, or other ideologies.
The constitution states the president, cabinet ministers, members of parliament, and judges must be Sunni Muslims.