It is celebrated on the first day of the Islamic month of Rabi al-thani. The date changes each year because the Islamic calendar is solar-based.
History of the Holiday
Buddhism was the predominant religion in the Maldives until the early 12th century. At that time, the last Buddhist king converted to Islam, adopting the Muslim title of Sultan. More than likely the conversion was due to the growing Arabian trade in the region. Islam is so prevalent in the Maldives today that the constitution forbids anyone who does not adhere to Islamic custom may not become citizens of the Maldives. The day was first celebrated in the early rule of Sultan Mohamed Fareed in 1954. However, for 33 years after that, there was no celebration. It was reinstated by His Excellency Maumoon Abdul Gayyoom in 2000.
Legend of the Conversion
Although historians believe that the reason the king converted the country to Islam was to improve trade relations, many natives believe in a different version of events. Legend has it that Rannamaari, an evil sea-demon, arose from the sea each month threatening to destroy villages unless a virgin was sacrificed. Each month, a young girl was chosen by lottery and left in a temple overnight as sacrifice. An Islamic traveller, Yousef Shamsuddin-al Tebrezi, was staying with a poor family whose daughter was chosen for sacrifice. He decided to disguise himself as a girl and take her place in the temple. All night, he recited the Quran. When the demon came to take the girl, it heard the words of the Quran and turned away. When the citizens arrived at the temple, they found Yousef alive and still reciting the Quran.
Yousef told the villagers that it was the powers in the Holy Quran that saved him. He asked the king to embrace Islam in order to keep the country safe from the dragon’s return. The king took his advice, converted to Islam and ordered the entire country to do the same.
Traditions and Celebrations
The day is meant to be a day of religious unity. Activities are arranged by the Ministry of Home Affairs which include lectures, speeches and religious ceremonies. Villages also have their own celebrations that include lectures about the history of the Islamic conversion in the Maldives as well as to promote religious unity throughout the country.