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The Maldive Islands, Dhibat-ul-Mahal part 2
Chapter 16 from the English translation by Dr. Mahdi Husain
The Rehla of Ibn Battuta - India, Maldive Islands and Ceylon - translation and commentary
Oriental Institute, Baroda, India 1976



Women of these islands
The women of these islands do not cover their heads, nor does their queen and they comb their hair and gather it together in one direction. Most of them wear only a waist-wrapper, which covers them from their waist to the lowest part, but the remainder of their body remains uncovered. Thus they walk about in the bazaars and elsewhere. When I was appointed qazi there, I strove to put an end to this practice and commanded the women to wear clothes; but could not get it done. I would not let a woman enter my court to make a plaint unless her body were covered; beyond this, however I was unable to do anything.

The clothes of some of them consisted of a shirt (qamis) besides the waist-wrapper and their shirts had short wide sleeves. I had slave girls whose clothing was like that of the women of Dehli and who covered their heads. But far from being an ornament, it looked like a disfigurement since they were not used to putting it on.

The female ornaments consist of arm-rings; a certain number of which a woman wears on both forearms in such a manner that the space between the wrist and the elbow is covered completely. These rings are made of silver, while gold rings are not used except by the wives of the sultan and his relatives. They wear also ankle-rings called baail and gold necklaces coming down to their breasts called basdarad.

A strange thing about them is that they seek employment as servants at a fixed rate of five dinars or less, getting their keep free from their employers, and they do not consider it a slight. Most of the girls do so, with the result that you will find ten to twenty of them in the house of a rich man, and any utensil broken by a girl is charged up against her. When a girl leaves one house for another, the new employers give her the sum for which she is indebted. She makes it over to the owners of the house whence she came; thus to the extent of this amount she remains indebted to her new employers. The chief occupation of these hired girls is the spinning of coconut fibre.

It is easy to marry in these islands because of the smallness of the dowries and the pleasures of society which the women offer. Most people do not even fix any dowry; only the witnesses are recorded and a suitable dowry consistent with the status of the woman in question is given. When the ships put in, the crew marry; when they intend to leave, they divorce their wives. This is a kind of temporary marriage (muta).

The women of these islands never leave their country, and I have seen nowhere in the world women whose society was more pleasant. A woman in these islands would never entrust to anybody else the serving of her husband; she herself brings him food and takes away the plates, washes his hands and brings him water for ablution and massages his feet when he goes to bed.

One of the customs of the country is for the women not to dine with their husbands and the husband does not know what his wife eats. In these islands, I married several women; some of them dined with me after I had tackled them, but others did not. And I was not able to see them eat and no device on my part was of any avail.

Cause of the conversion to Islam of the inhabitants of these islands and the demons from among the genii who molest them every month
Reliable men among the inhabitants of the islands, like the jurist (faqih) and teacher (mu'allim) Ali, the judge Abdullah - and others besides them - told me that the inhabitants of these islands were once infidels, and that every month a demon of the genii appeared to them: he came out of the sea and had the appearance of a ship full of lamps. It was customary with the islanders that when they saw him, they took a virgin maid whom they adorned and brought into a budkhana, that is, an idol-house which was built on the seashore and had a balcony commanding a view of the sea. They left the girl there overnight and the people, as they returned at daybreak, found her ravished and dead. Every month they cast lots and whoever was chosen gave his daughter.

Subsequently a Moroccan named Abul Barakat the Berber who knew the great Quran by heart came to them. He put up at the house of an old woman in the island of Mahal. One day as he saw her, he found that she had called her family together and the women were weeping as if they were in mourning. He enquired about their condition but they could not explain it to him. Then there came an interpreter, who informed him that the lot had fallen on the old woman who had no child except one daughter whom the demon was to kill.
'This night,' said Abul Barakat to the woman, 'I shall go in place of your daughter.' And, curiously enough, he had absolutely no beard.

He was brought at night into the idol house after he had performed his ablution. He kept reciting the Quran, and as the demon appeared to him through the balcony he continued his recitation. As the demon drew close enough to hear the recitation he plunged into the water and the westerner continued reciting as before until the dawn. Then the old woman, her family and the islanders came to take away the maiden and burn her as had been the practice. But they found the westerner reciting the Quran; so they took him to their king called Shanuraza and told him of the news. The king was astonished. The westerner then proposed to the king to embrace Islam and persuaded him to do so.
Shanuraza said to him, 'Stay with us till next month. If you act once more as you have already acted, and if you escape the demon again, I shall accept Islam.'

He stayed amongst them and God opened the heart of the king to Islam and he accepted it before the end of the month; and his wives, children and courtiers followed it. At the beginning of the next month, the Moroccan was brought into the idol house but the demon did not appear while he continued reciting the Quran till morning. Then the king and the people came to him, and they found him reciting. They broke to pieces the idols and razed the idol house to the ground. The islanders embraced Islam and sent missionaries to the rest of the islands, the inhabitants of which also became Muslims.

The Moroccan stood in high regard with them, and they accepted his cult which was that of Imam Malik. May God be pleased with him! And on account of him, they honour the Moroccans up to this time. He built a mosque which is known after his name. On the railed gallery (maqsura) of the congregational mosque, I read the allowing inscription carved in wood - Aslama as-sultan Ahmad Shanuraza ala yade Abil Barakat al-maghiribi (the sultan Ahmad Shanuraza accepted Islam at the hands of Abul Barakat the Moroccan). And the king assigned one third of the evenues of the islands to charitable purposes for travellers, since his conversion had taken place through them; and this portion of the state revenue is still disposed of for the same purpose.

Through this demon, many of these islands had been depopulated before they were converted to Islam. I had no knowledge of this at the outset when we visited this country. But one night as I was busy with my affairs, I suddenly heard the people shouting in a loud voice - 'There is no God but God, and God is great', and I saw the children carrying copies of the Quran on their heads and the women beating copper cups and vessels.
I wondered at their behaviour and asked, 'What are you doing?'
Someone answered, 'Do you not see the sea?'
I looked and saw what seemed to be a large ship full of lamps and torches.
'That is the demon,' they said. 'It is customary with him to appear once a month; but when we act as you see, he goes away and does not harm us.'

Queen of these islands
One of the wonders of these islands is that its ruler (sultana) is a woman named Khadija, the daughter of sultan Jalaluddin Umar, son of sultan Salahuddin Salih of Bengal. Sovereignty was exercised first by her grandfather, and then by her father. When the latter died, her brother Shihabuddin became king. He was still young and the vezir Abdullah son of Muhammad al-Hazrami married the mother of Shihabuddin and overpowered him. And it was he who married also this sultana Khadija after the death of her husband, the vezir Jamaluddin, as we shall relate further.

When Shihabuddin attained his majority he expelled his step-father - the vezir Abdullah - and exiled him to the Suwaid islands and established his own rule firmly. He then took one of his freed men named Ali Kalaki as his minister, whom he dismissed after three years and banished to Suwaid. It is related about the aforesaid Sultan Shihabuddin that he often illegally visited at night the harems of his dignitaries and courtiers. He was therefore deposed and banished to the region of Haladummati and subsequently a man was sent there who put him to death.

The only survivors from the ruling house were his three sisters, namely Khadijat-ul-kubra, Mariyam and Fatima. The inhabitants of the Maldive islands preferred for sovereignty Khadija and she was the wife of their orator (khatib) Jamaluddin who became vezir. He took over the reins of government and gave his own position of the orator to his son Muhammad, but orders were issued in the name of Khadija only. The orders were written on palm leaves with a bent piece of iron similar to a knife, while paper was not used except for writing the Quran and books of learning.

The orator mentions the queen in the Friday prayer and also on other occasions. 'O my God!' says he, 'help Thy female slave whom Thou in Thy wisdom hast chosen from all creatures and made an instrument of Thy grace for all muslims - verily, that is, sultana Khadija, the daughter of sultan Jalaluddin, bin sultan Salahuddin.'

It is a custom in the islands that a foreigner coming to the country and going to the council hall called daar must bring two pieces of cloth. He makes an obeisance in the direction of the sultana and throws down one of the said pieces; he then bows before her vezir - who is her husband Jamaluddin - and then throws down, the other piece.

The troops of the sultana who number about a thousand men consist of foreigners, though there are some natives also. They come daily into the council hall, make obeisance and then withdraw. Their pay is given to them in the form of rice every month from the bandar. When the month comes to a close they go into the council-hall, greet the sovereign and say to the vezir, 'Pay our respects to the sultana and tell her that we have come to ask for our pay'; thereupon appropriate orders are given.

The judge and the officials who are called wuzara also appear daily in the council hall; they pay their respects to the sultana through the bearers and then retire.

Officials and their duties
They call the grand vezir, who is also the deputy of the sultana, by the name of kalaki; and the qazi as fandayarqalu. All sentences proceed from the qazi, who is the most influential man with them, and his orders are carried out like those of the sultan or even more punctiliously. He sits on a carpet in the council hall and has three islands, the income from which he, appropriates for his personal use according to an old custom introduced by sultan, Ahmad Shanuraza.

The orator is called handijari; the chancellor of the exchequer famaldari; the minister of public works mafakalu; the magistrate (hakim) itnayak; and the admiral manayak - all these officials are styled 'vezir'.

There are no prisons in these islands and criminals are looked up in wooden houses which were originally prepared to hold merchandise. Each of them is secured by means of a piece of wood as is done in Morocco with European prisoners.

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