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Extract from
Iron Armour - Maldives becomes a British protectorate, 1800-1900
by Mohamed Nasheed,
Male' 1996
translated by Fareesha Abdulla

The chief judges in a Maldivian king's court were distinct from the rest of the courtiers. They were religious scholars, and their appointment followed a tradition from the pre-Islamic period, when the Vedic religion was practised and monks were included in the king's retinue.

Generally, education was available to those connected with the temples, especially the monks. After the king converted to Islam there were changes at court, and the monks were replaced by Islamic scholars.

The original Maldivian scholars were Sufis, using music, song, and dance in their religious observances. If the king enjoyed these entertainments and rituals the scholars often became very close to the king.

By the time of the coronation of the Old King (1835-1882) the royal religious scholars were part of an ancient tradition which defined their role in court, their ideology, and their relationship with the king. The main justification for the presence and active involvement of religious scholars in court affairs was that they were seen as the guardians of the Maldivian religion, Islam.

Maldivians believed that one only attained the kingship in accordance with the will and blessing of Allah. Therefore the king was expected to show respect for God during his rule. Correct religious practice on the part of the king was a necessary corollary and further justification of his right to power.

To show respect for Islam, the king was obliged to have a religious scholar at court. In theory, he could chose whoever he wanted from among the ulama.

Traditionally, Maldivian kings exchanged letters and presents with the rulers of other countries. Foreign languages had to be used, and this was one of the functions of the scholars. Their knowledge of languages and understanding of the outside world meant they were active during times of negotiation and change, and could have a strong personal influence on royal decisions and national events.

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