I learned that Maldives is much more than a collection of high-end island resorts catering honeymooners. According to legend, in the twelfth century a Muslim traveller found the Maldives haunted by a sea monster, Rannamaari. To appease the monster, every month a virgin was sacrificed. The traveler went instead of the virgin to the sacrificial site on the night of the offering to read verses from the Quran. And thus the traveler ridded the Maldivians of the monster, and the people embraced Islam. The woman who told me the story pointed out that - in fact - the Maldives were Buddhist before, adding in a most matter of fact way "it's not true".
Resort tourists may miss out on the religion and culture of the Maldives, as islands perfectly isolate the paradise experience. My friend asked when the women start to wear head scarfs, she explained that head scarfs are actually a relatively new phenomenon. Since the devastating Tsunami in December 2008, some mullahs preached that it was because women not wearing head scarfs. She told us how Saudi Wahabists are funding local groups, opposing the current government. She refers to Mohamed Nasheed, once opposition leader against the authoritarian president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. President Nasheed has made a point of allowing for opposition and even extremist voices, having himself been imprisoned many times before under the former regime. Some Malivians would rather have Nasheed acting more decidedly against extremism. However, it is hard not to admire the current President for leading his country towards democracy. If only for that Nasheed should be considered a man greater than one would expect to find from such a small country. However Nasheed really claims a place among world leaders as an climate activist. In preparation of the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Change Conference, the President and his cabinet held a much televised underwater meeting; as a sort of gloomy forecast of what would become of the Maldives if seawater levels would continue to rise and coral reefs would die. He also announced the bold target for the the Maldives to become the world's first carbon neutral country in 2020.
Currently the government seems to put a great effort to realize the 2020 goal. Whether the targets will be entirely reached or not, the Maldives are clearly leading the way in a world that is reluctant to switch from carbon fueled development.