The Maldives welcomed the holy month of Ramadan on Monday after pre-fasting preparations involving the refurbishing of homes, last minute shopping for new kitchenware, and meals called maahefun with relatives, friends and work colleagues.
Following most other Muslim countries, the Islamic ministry declared May 6 as the first day of Ramadan because the new moon was not sighted on Saturday. The sighting of the new moon marks the beginning of the Muslim lunar month, which lasts between 29 and 30 days. As the moon was not visible on Saturday (the 29th of Shaban), Sunday was the 30th of the month.
During Ramadan, all adult and able-bodied Muslims are enjoined to fast from dawn to dusk, abstain from bodily pleasures, and to focus on self-reflection, prayer and charity.
In the Maldives, the pace of life slows dramatically during the month.
Most people stay up well past midnight and start the day late in the morning. As in previous years, schools will begin late around 9am for a shorter session and government working hours have been reduced (9am to 1pm).
Restaurants are closed during the day but some are authorised to discreetly serve food to tourists and expatriates.
Cafés and restaurants stay open until 3am. The closing hours of shops have been extended to 12am until the end of the Eid al-Fitr holidays, a week after the end of Ramadan.
The demand for food items soars during Ramadan as Maldivians traditionally break the fast with a variety of dishes and fruit juices.
Despite the inactivity elsewhere, the heavy traffic of the capital did not ease on Monday as food shopping continued. Malé’s northern waterfront with its fish markets and local produce markets was a bustling centre in the afternoon.
Anticipating traffic congestion, police announced last week that a section of the outer ring road near the markets will be closed to vehicles from 12:30pm to 6:30pm. Police officers would also be stationed outside mosques and 14 other areas identified as traffic hotspots.
A ban on transporting or delivering goods in Malé between 3pm and 9pm was also imposed for Ramadan. The Sinamalé bridge can only be used to transport between 1am and 3pm. Access to the bridge was also limited to the outer ring road side.
Late afternoon motorbike rides around the island is a popular pastime in the capital.
Ahead of Ramadan each year, Saudi Arabia donates about 50 tonnes of dates to the Maldives. Last week, the government decided that the dates will be distributed first to the more than 8,000 people who registered as poor and eligible for Zakat (alms) last year.
Several island councils also distribute gifts for Ramadan, such as canned tuna and dates. As in 2018, the Ungoofaaru council pledged to pay electricity bills of all households.
The Uligan council decided to gift a case of eggs and canned tuna to each household. The Ramadan gift on Hoarafushi island was a bag of flour and sugar. Each household on Narudhoo island got a bag of onions.
Muslim workers in the Maldives are also entitled to MVR3,000 (US$195) as a mandatory Ramadan bonus.
Meanwhile, in his Ramadan message on Sunday, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih urged businesses not to raise the prices of food during Ramadan. He advised business owners to forgo short-term benefits to “seek spiritual rewards for being generous and compassionate”.
According to media reports, prices are on the rise at the local market in Malé with the price of watermelons reaching MVR40 (US$2.5) per kilo, double the price sold by farmers.
The price hike was attributed to high demand as watermelon juice is the most popular Iftar drink for Maldivians.