The Maldives Islands are located in the Indian Ocean, southwest of India. Only about 200 of the nearly 2,000 islands are inhabited. The Maldivians speak a language called Divehi, which is related to the Sinhalese language of Sri Lanka but has its own script. The Divehi word atoll ("a ringlike coral island") has even been adopted into English usage.
Officially called Divehi Rajje, Maldives gained its independence in 1965 and has been a member of the United Nations since then. The republic is divided into 19 administrative atolls, each of which is governed by an atoll chief and his assistants. Each inhabited island also has its own chief. No one is allowed to leave or come onto the island without the chief's knowledge. Most of the Maldivian are fishermen, merchants, and boat builders who take advantage of their position in the center of Indian Ocean trade routes. Despite their trade travels, the Maldivian have been influenced little by the outside world.
What Are Their Lives Like?
The Maldivian economy is based on fishing. The fishermen still use lines and hooks for catching bonito and tuna fish. The men trade their dried fish for items like flour, rice, sugar, kerosene, and cloth. Very little agriculture takes place on the islands. A few grains are grown, as well as yams and tapioca in the south. The islands also support breadfruit, banana, and papaya trees. Tourism is becoming popular on the islands, with hotels built even on some of the regularly uninhabited islands. Sadly, most of the income from the tourist trade goes to a few wealthy families.
Traditional houses on the islands are made of local vegetation and thatch or coral stones. Sometimes the roofs are made of imported iron or tile. A common diet for the islanders consists of grains or yams, fish broth, and coconut; few vegetables are eaten.
The divorce rate among the Maldivian is the highest among United Nations countries. In 1974, there were 85 divorces for every 100 marriages. It is not hard to meet someone who has had 10 or more spouses. Families are often loosely structured. The children live with their mothers and get support from their fathers. Marriages are not arranged and have very little ceremony.
What Are Their Beliefs?
Islam is the official religion of Maldives, and virtually all of the Maldivians are Shafiite Muslims. Islamic law is the law of the land. No one may legally marry a non-Muslim, and all children are given Arab names. One of the requirements for the island chief is that he must be a qualified religious leader. Ironically, however, the Islamic religion is really only a ritualistic tradition that most people follow. Children are taught to pronounce Arabic so that they can recite the words of the Koran; however, they do not know the meanings of most of the words. A majority of the people do not understand the diversity and depth of Muslim philosophy. They just blindly go through the rituals that are supposed to bring them salvation. While fasting, the people will not only abstain from food, but also drink. They may even try not to swallow their own saliva. To satisfy their spiritual hunger, many Maldivians consult fanditas ("learned people") who conduct rituals for healing, solving problems, and becoming successful. The fanditas make their occupations valid by using Islamic terms and chanting Arabic-sounding chants.
The Maldivians are very fearful, often running at the sight of strangers. They have a fear of the "evil eye" (curses caused by a fixed gaze) and of evil spirits. They also fear jinnis, which are-according to Muslim legend-spirits capable of assuming human or animal form and exercising supernatural influence over people. Most houses keep a lamp burning all night and have no windows in order to keep out the jinnis.
What Are Their Needs?
Many Maldivians follow folk beliefs and often live each day in fear. They need to know that peace and security can only be found through Christ. Currently, there are few Christian resources available in the Divehi language. Increased prayer efforts are needed to reach Maldivians with the Good News.
Ask the Lord to call people who are willing to go to Maldives and share Christ with the Maldivians.
Ask God to strengthen, encourage, and protect the small number of Maldivian Christians.
Pray that the Lord will save key Maldivian leaders who will boldly declare the Gospel to their own people.
Ask the Lord to deliver those who are tormented by fear and restore those who have been broken by divorce.
Pray that God will call forth teams of intercessors who will faithfully stand in the gap for the Maldivians.
Ask the Lord to raise up strong local churches among the Maldivians.
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