by Wesley Kawato
If you look at a globe you could easily miss the Maldive Islands. They are so small that maps often don’t include them. This former British protectorate is located in the Indian Ocean, just south of Sri Lanka and southern India. The Republic of the Maldives includes a grouping of 1200 islands with a total land area of 300 square kilometers. Only about 440,000 people live on these islands, making the Maldives one of the smallest countries in the world. Hundreds of cities in our world have a larger population than this entire country. Yet their capital, Malé, packs so many people into so few acres that the Republic of the Maldives is the second most densely populated island nation on Earth.
Why care about a nation that is so small? We who follow Christ care because God cares. No people group is exempted from the reach of the loving-kindness of Jesus Christ. Maldivians live under subjection to spiritual forces and spirit beings that are in rebellion against Christ. Before He returns, we must pray them into His kingdom. And His word clearly tells us that there must be some from every tribe, tongue, and nation worshipping Him before He returns.
After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9-10, NIV).
From Buddhism to Islam
People from Sri Lanka and what is now southern India settled the Maldive Islands prior to the 5th Century BC. These early settlers were Dravidian goddess worshipers and Buddhists.
Around 1153 AD a Muslim missionary named Abu Al Barakat sailed to the Maldives and converted almost the entire population to Sunni Islam. No one knows how long it took him to do that. We also don’t know if all of these conversions were sincere. It is possible that small groups of people continued to worship as Buddhists in secret, at least for a while. Such secret worship ended when a group of Buddhist monks, who had refused conversion, were beheaded.
Most of what we know about Barakat’s activities comes from the writings of Ibn Battuta, who visited the Maldives in the 1340s. That was about 200 years after these events had taken place. By then the activities of Abu Al Barakat may have become semi-legendary. But what’s important is that each year, on the first day of the Islamic month of Rab’ al-thani, the Maldives celebrates Conversion Day. This national holiday reminds the people of the Maldives of the reputed collective decision in A.D. 1153 to embrace Sunni Islam. This event affects the psyche of the Maldives to this day.
Yet pre-Islamic beliefs don’t die out easily in this island nation. One observer who lived there for years points out that people get dogmatically attached to various forms of folk Islam that violate the teachings of the Qur’an. Today the local people in the Republic of the Maldives are almost entirely unreached by the gospel and uninterested in spiritual answers that could lead to salvation and an abundant life.
Colonial Powers and Rocky Democracy
During the 1500s Portugal briefly ruled the Maldives. A century later the Maldives became a Dutch protectorate. The British expelled the Dutch in 1796, and these islands more or less maintained internal autonomy. In 1887 an agreement with the British brought formal recognition of the Maldivian statehood with protected status under Great Britain. That year the Maldives became a British protectorate.
The British allowed an Islamic sultan to rule the Maldives. At first the sultans were absolute rulers. They could do anything that didn’t offend the British. In 1953 the British established a republic in the Maldives, including a written constitution and election of a president and parliament, but these institutions quickly collapsed. By early 1954 the sultan had regained absolute power.
In 1965 the Maldives became independent. In 1968 the sultanate was abolished and a second republic was established. In 1978 Maumoon Abdul Gayoom was elected the country’s president. He ruled for 30 years. For all practical purposes Gayoom ruled as a dictator.
In 2008 the Maldives wrote a new constitution and held its first multi-candidate presidential election. Mohamed Nasheed was elected president, driving Gayoom from power. This peaceful revolution brought a short season of democracy to the Maldives.
Nasheed’s political enemies engineered his forced resignation in February of 2012 after he arrested a judge who opposed his policies. In the 2013 presidential election Nasheed received the most votes among four contenders, but not a majority, forcing a run-off. Yameen Abdul Gayoom, half brother of former dictator Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, was elected president. Since then he has moved the Maldives in an increasingly hard-line Islamic direction, possibly to gain favor with wealthy Saudi Arabia. But taking the Maldives towards a more orthodox form of Islam has its downside; the country is becoming a breeding ground for ISIS terrorists. Today it is estimated that some 200 Maldivian citizens are fighting in Syria for ISIS or ISIS allies.
• Pray that the current problems with Islamic militants will give Maldivians an incentive to seek true righteousness and holiness.
• Pray for a strong disciple-making movement among the Divehi-speaking Maldivians. (Divehi is the official Maldivian language)
• Life is difficult for Maldivian followers of Christ, estimated at only a few dozen. A person who converts to another faith loses his citizenship. Pray that these believers would be protected from persecution.
• Because of the high cost of betrayal, most Maldivian followers of Jesus are afraid to meet with other believers. Ask God to break through the spirit of fear to enable people to gather for fellowship and spiritual growth.
• Discriminatory laws make it difficult for Christ’s ambassadors to gain a hearing in the Maldives. For example, it’s against the law for a non-citizen to invite a citizen to a non-Islamic worship service, which must be held discreetly in private. The penalty for that “crime” could range from expulsion to fines to a long prison sentence depending on the judge who hears the case. There is also a law forbidding the importation or distribution of non-Islamic religious literature. Ask God to establish freedom of religion in the Maldives.
• Right now the Maldives are a stronghold of Satan, but concerted prayer can bring dramatic change. Pray that one day soon a community of Christ followers will be established in the Maldive Islands.
by Keith Carey, editor-in-chief, GPD
Dear Praying Friends,
Have you ever looked over the tropical waters during a bright, sunny day? It is so bright that you are often forced to close your eyes; you must view darkness, you can’t take in any more light. In our natural spiritual state, we are much like this. We can only take so much of the light of truth.
It is much like what we see in 2 Chronicles 7:1-3, NIV. “When Solomon finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the LORD filled the temple. The priests could not enter the temple of the LORD because the glory of the LORD filled it. When all the Israelites saw the fire coming down and the glory of the LORD above the temple, they knelt on the pavement with their faces to the ground, and they worshiped and gave thanks to the LORD, saying, ‘He is good; his love endures forever.’”
The fire provided the light, and the children of Israel could see and experience His glory. They responded by worshiping and giving Him thanks. As you pray for the unreached Muslim people groups of southern India, Sri Lanka, and the Maldive Islands, pray that they will see and respond to His light. Each day our Bible verses will reflect this theme.