The government has banned Christmas celebrations in guesthouses operating on inhabited islands, saying the practice is contrary to Islam and Maldivian culture.
The Local Government Authority – chaired by Home Minister Umar Naseer – sent a letter to the presidents of island and atoll councils as well as the mayors of Malé and Addu cities today asking the councils to inform guesthouse owners not to conduct any celebratory activities for tourists tomorrow.
The letter noted that the current period is the peak season for the tourism industry and that it has come to the LGA’s attention that “tourists are carrying out activities to celebrate Christmas in the Maldives.”
“However, as activities such as celebrating Christmas are contrary to Islam and the Maldives’ culture and traditions, celebrating Christmas in any inhabited island is not allowed under Maldivian law,” reads the letter signed by the home minister.
But guesthouse owners who spoke to The Maldives Independent stressed that the celebrations are intended for tourists and not locals.
“We don’t celebrate it publicly, just at the guesthouse. We have put up decorations and a dinner buffet this time too,” said a guesthouse owner from Thohdhoo.
The dinner will go ahead as planned, he added, noting that the lights and decorations are similar to the ones used locally for circumcision parties.
“We’re actually planning to celebrate New Years, but in banning Christmas celebrations I don’t think it should be a problem unless locals are involved,” said a guesthouse owner from the island of Rasdhoo in Alif Alif atoll.
“We’re doing it to satisfy our guests, if they go out of this place unsatisfied there will consequences for that, too.”
Christmas is observed annually on December 25 as a religious and cultural celebration to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ.
The practice of religions other than Islam is strictly prohibited in the Maldives and the constitution requires all citizens to be Sunni Muslims.
Before the advent of guesthouse tourism in 2009, the thousands of tourists visiting the Maldives each year were largely segregated from the local population as high-end resorts were developed on uninhabited islands.
The LGA is tasked with monitoring councils, ensuring standards, improving technical capacity, and coordinating with the central government.
The LGA board consists of a cabinet minister appointed by the president, four atoll councillors elected from among members of atoll councils, a representative from civil society appointed by parliament, a member of the general public appointed by parliament, and members elected from the Addu and Malé city councils.
Additional reporting by Shafa Hameed.