Maldives History & Interesting Tale On Why It Adopted Islam

Feature Image: Maldives History & Interesting Tale On Why It Adopted Islam

Maldives, from being Buddhist country until early 12th century to becoming an Islamic country. Here’s the tale behind why the entire country adopted Islam.

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How Maldives Became An Islamic Country – The Tale

The Republic of Maldives was famously known as the “Money Isles” in ancient history as one could find heaps of cowrie shells, which were the well-accepted international currency back then. Today, representation of the “Shell Money ” is used in the logo and as a symbol of Maldives Monetary Authority.

Imagine, the incredible place it must’ve been where Internationally accepted currency used to just wash up on the seashore!

Maldives Glorious Past
Cowrie shells were the well-accepted international currency
Maldives was famously known as the “Money Isles” in ancient history as one could find Cowrie Shells in heaps

Records from as early as the 2nd Century show references of Maldives, many Arab traders used to stop over at Dibajat while on their way to the Middle-East. Arabs used to refer to the Maldives by this name (Dibajat) during the early 11th & 12th century.

Until the early 12th Century, Buddhism was widely followed on the Maldivian Islands. However, it all changed with the arrival of Abu al-Barakat Yusuf al-Barbari, an Islamic scholar and trader by profession. It is believed that Al-Barbari was a Islamic-African merchant who used to visit Maldives for trade purposes.

People of Maldives and Rannamaari, The Sea-Demon

History suggests that there was an unholy-pact between the people of Maldives and Rannamaari, the sea-demon who demanded a virgin girl be sacrificed to it every fortnight to please it’s blood-lust; failing which the Kingdom would suffer from ill-fortune. The task of choosing the girl for sacrifice was assigned to the then King of Maldives, King Dhovemi who is also know as Sultan Muhammad ibn Abdullah.

It is believed that on every full moon night of the month, a virgin girl from the Kingdom was selected & dressed like a bride and left in the temple near the sea for Rannamaari, the sea-demon. The next morning when people used to visit the temple, all they could find were the mortal remains of the girl. People were promised that this would bring good-fortune for the Kingdom and pleasing the sea-demon would guarantee prosperity.

Secret Plan Of Al-Barbari

It so happened that when Al-Barbari was in Male on one of his trade visits, the girl which was chosen for sacrifice was from the same family with whom Al-Barbari was staying during his tour. When Al-Barbari learnt about this practice, he offered to volunteer to be placed inside the temple dressed as a girl, instead of the actually chosen girl.

No one knew about this arrangement made between the family and Al-Barbari. On the chosen full-moon night, Al-Barbari was dressed like a girl put inside the temple to please the sea-demon. Shut inside the temple, Al-Barbari – the Islamic scholar, waited for the sea-demon reciting verses from the Holy Quran.

From here on, this story allegedly breaks into 2 different outcomes, as follows:

Version # 1

According to the first story, it is believed that Rannamaari – the sea-demon, appeared from the sea then cried in pain hearing the Quran verses and returned to the sea, leaving Al-Barbari unharmed. The next morning when people visited the temple to collect the mortal remains of the sacrifice, they were surprised to see Al-Barbari inside the temple, virtually unharmed and reciting verses from the Holy Quran.

People reported this incident to their King and a pact was agreed upon between the King and Al-Barbari; that if Al-Barbari could vanish the sea-demon forever then the King himself along with the entire Kingdom would convert to Islam and recite verses from the Holy Quran for their entire life.

On the next full-moon night Al-Barbari was placed inside the temple; he again started reciting verses from Holy Quran while waiting for the sea-demon and upon Rannamaari’s arrival, Al-Barbari defeated the sea monster and drowned it in the sea forever.

From that day, as promised, the King converted to Islam and ordered Islam to be followed in his entire Kingdom.

Version # 2

Another variant of this story is that, when Al-Barbari and the family agreed on the secret arrangement of placing Al-Barbari inside the temple for sacrifice instead of the chosen girl, during his confrontation with the alleged sea-demon, Al-Barbari discovered that the sea-demon was none other than the King himself. The King allegedly used this method to satisfy his lust and instil fear in his Kingdom for better control.

Remember, the abundant presence of Cowrie Shells – the “Shell Money” in Maldives, we explained earlier; that gave Maldives an important status. After knowing the King’s secret, Al-Barbari – being a trader himself, decided to take advantage of the situation and convinced the King that he would not reveal his secret to the people if he would agree to convert to Islam along with his Kingdom.

Since that time in history, around the second half of the 12th Century, it is believed that Maldives became an Islamic country.

In the second half of the 16th Century when Maldives was under Portuguese colonial rule, there were actually two ruling dynasties; but this couldn’t influence the religious belief of the people and the Islamic traditions prevailed in Maldives.

Maldives as a British Protectorate

After repeated invasion attempts by the Portuguese and the Malabar’s from South India in the 17th century, Maldives accepted the protection of the Dutch, who ruled Ceylon at the time. They also maintained good relations with the British, especially after the British took possession of Ceylon (present day Sri Lanka) in 1796. These arrangements assured Maldives to be free from external threats while maintaining internal autonomy. 

However, the primary reason that Maldives was never colonised by the British or Dutch was its remoteness, lack of connectivity, unproductive land, lack of ports and proper infrastructure; by this time even the “Shell Money – The Cowrie Shells” lost its importance. Colonial powers that the British and the Dutch never really found any merit in establishing their colonies in Maldives during that period.

In the late 19th Century, Maldives invited Bohra traders from Bombay (Present day Mumbai, India) to Male to develop trade. But it was not long before the Bohra’s acquired a monopoly in Maldives foreign trade; soon Maldives feared of being under complete control of the Bohra’s and being acquired by them. In order to avoid this situation, the then King of Maldives signed an agreement with the British in 1887 recognising the Maldives’ statehood and formalising its status as a British protectorate.

Overview of Maldives Atoll
Maldives total area of 90,000 square kilometres and 99.9% of it submerged under water, Maldives is left with just 297 square kilometres of land surface.

Impact Of Tsunami in 2004

The Tsunami and Earthquake in the Indian Ocean on the 26th December 2004 devastated the countries around the region, including Maldives. 21 of the 26 atolls were severely impacted by the Tsunami which resulted in casualties with over 100 people who lost their lives, hundreds of people injured and several thousands displaced as their homes were washed away.

The impact of this event could’ve been much worse for Maldives; thankfully it’s unusual landscape came to its rescue, with its inter-atoll channels absorbing most of the strength of the strong wave.

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