Divehi - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. All Divehis are Sunni Muslims, of the Shafi tradition, and will remain so because a non-Muslim cannot marry or settle there. Every island has its mosque with the katību in charge, who is paid by the government. Most men attend Friday prayers and give to charity. Women Perhaps more than men pray five times a day and read scripture. The ethos of Islam appears to be very strong, but some feel it tends to consist only of perfunctory fasting and prayers. Islamic mysticism and Sufi ideas are officially disapproved of as leading to emotionalism rather than to Sunni legal observance. Islam overlies an earlier religious system having many deities and spirits—originally Hindu, Buddhist, or Jain deities and local ghosts—but people now think of them as jinnis and deal with them by Islamic strategies. The outside world is unknown and fearsome, and people are concerned about strange lights on the ocean. There is a system of religious practice called fandita , which is used to chase away jinnis and fearsome lights, catch fish, heal disease, increase fertility, facilitate divination, make a person give up his or her spouse, cast out a spirit, or solve any problem in life. When a new boat is launched there is a fandita ritual combined with Arabic prayers for its good performance. Fandita is performed at Several stages in growing a taro or millet crop. Black magic is also known, but it is prohibited by law. Fandita has many elements similar to village religion in south India and Sri Lanka. Pre-Muslim concepts of the evil eye and pollution have been absorbed into Islamic values. Menstrual pollution is strongly observed.

Religious Practitioners. The katību of an island preaches Friday sermons, settles disputes, reports behavior deviations to the atoll office, and also runs the island office. He is assisted by a functionary to care for the mosque, make calls to prayer, and bury the dead. Fandita practitioners were at one time licensed by the state. Fandita men and women seldom go into trance, which they think Islam disapproves of; their purpose is to help others in difficult life situations. Larger Islands also have astrologers.

Ceremonies. Divehis know five calendrical systems: a naksatra or zodiacal system from India; an Indian solar calendar; an Arabic solar calendar; the Arabic religious calendar; which is ten days shorter than the solar year; and now the "English" calendar. Weather is keenly observed, along with fishing seasons and agricultural festivals, according to the naksatra ( nakai ) system. Other festivals are observed according to their respective calendrical systems, but the new-moon festival that came from Sri Lanka has now almost disappeared. Divehis are assiduous about observing the Ramzan holiday, enforced by the state. But at night in Ramzan the food is abundant. The two ïd festivals are important, and the Prophet's birthday is celebrated by special foods. Personal ceremonies include giving a name about a week after birth, circumcision of boys at age 6 or 8, symbolic circumcision of baby girls (which may be declining), and girls' puberty Ceremony as a carryover from Sri Lanka and south India. Marriage is less important as a life ceremony.

Arts. The arts are very poorly developed because of the isolated and scattered population. Divehi music is monorhythmic and infrequently heard; Radio Maldives tends to play Hindi cinema songs. Dancing has been disfavored by Islam. There is some artistry in living crafts such as lace making, lacquer work, and mat weaving.

Medicine. Most people seek healing from fandita which uses both mantras invoking Allah's power and factual advice. The diverse medical systems of India are not developed, but there are a few practitioners of the Islamic system of Unani. There is a government hospital in Male providing scientific medicine, and donors have funded the beginning of a healthcare system.

Death and Afterlife. The death ritual is important. The katību is informed and a conch shell is blown. Then the body is washed, tied, and shrouded as specified in Islam and laid in a coffin or in a leaf box. The grave is dug by family members or friends, and then the corpse is laid in with the face toward Mecca, while passages from the Quran are read. Death is not greeted with much emotion, and questions about life after death are not of much concern.


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