After communal feasts and traditional preparations, Maldivians joined Muslims around the world today to begin observing rituals of the holy month of Ramadan.
The Islamic ministry officially determined that Monday will be the first day of Ramadan after several Islamic countries announced the sighting of the new crescent moon last night.
The lunar month is expected to last 30 days.
During Ramadan, all adult and able-bodied Muslims are enjoined to fast from dawn to dusk, abstain from bodily pleasures, and focus on self-reflection, prayer, and charity.
Maldivians traditionally prepare for Ramadan by refurbishing homes, stocking up on food, and organising pre-Ramadan meals called maahefun for relatives, friends, and colleagues.
On Saturday, the Islamic ministry hosted a maahefun for the public at the Republic Square in Malé. First Lady Fathmath Ibrahim and senior government officials attended the function.
However, on the previous night, dozens of police officers moved to disperse supporters of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party gathered outside its office on Sosun Magu for the pre-Ramadan communal feast.
The police claimed the party failed to seek a permit to use the street. But the MDP has said the housing ministry ignored its formal requests.
The local market in Malé has been packed with shoppers in recent days. On the main road outside, retailers have been loading goods onto boats bound for far-flung islands, causing severe traffic jams.
Watermelons, mangos, papaya, and bananas are brought to the capital from across the country.
As expected, the price of eggs, potatoes, onions, and lemons have shot through the roof. According to newspaper Mihaaru, the price of a case of eggs has risen from MVR275 to MVR400.
While the State Trading Organisation has imported large quantities ahead of Ramadan, the price of a bag of onions or potatoes is MVR50 higher at the market.
Away from the capital, the public has reason to celebrate after several island councils announced plans to present “Ramadan gifts”.
The island councils of Gaadhiffushi in Thaa atoll as well as Maalhos and Bodufolhudhoo in Alif Alif atoll have decided to pay half of the electricity bills for all households.
The Gaadhiffushi council has also offered to pay half of the cable bills for every household.
In addition to covering 50 percent of electricity charges, the council of Baa atoll Thulhaadhoo decided to pay cable fees for all households and collect and dispose of garbage for free.
In Malé, the housing ministry has just completed a project to extend the praying area of the Islamic centre with a marble floor.
Marble tiles were laid on a floor area exceeding 4,200 square meters. The project was undertaken with grant aid worth US$1.14 million from the Chinese government.
As in previous years, government working hours have meanwhile been reduced to between 10am and 2pm. The economic development ministry also extended the closing time of shops from 10pm to 11pm.
Cafés and restaurants will stay open till 3am.
Workers in the Maldives are also entitled to a sum no less than one-third of their monthly salary as a Ramadan bonus.
The Employment Act was amended last year to both change the mandatory bonus to a flat rate of MVR3,000 and exclude migrant workers.
All Muslim workers were previously entitled to the bonus, but the law was changed to leave it to the discretion of employers in both the public and private sectors to pay the bonus to Muslim migrant workers.