Maldives Minicoy Mahl Dhivehi
Maldive calendar

26 December 2003

Feedback from el-Azhar

Current calendar and its usage

Currently the main official calendar of the Maldives is the Gregorian calendar with the year counted in the Christian era.

While Christianity is illegal in the Maldives, it appears that Maldive officialdom would fall apart without the Christian era and a calendar instituted by the order of Pope Gregory XIII on 24 February 1582. As such, the Papal Bull inter gravissimas issued on that date holds the force of law in and over the Republic of the Maldives.

The civil and fiscal year corresponds to the Gregorian calendar year. The current constitution of the Maldives came into force on 1 January AD 1998- the beginning of a calendar year. Political tenures are measured in Gregorian years and the age of eligibility to such office is also determined in Gregorian years.

Official letters and other documents have reference numbers ending with the Christian year.

When a Gregorian date with the Christian year is written in Divehi language documents, it is conventional to add a Thaana (Maldive) letter meemu (M) following the year, in much the same way as AD (Anno Domini). The meemu stands for meelaadee (which means "of birth" in Arabic) and refers to the birth of Christ. This is probably the only way official Maldives celebrates Christmas!

While Christianity is illegal in the Maldives, it appears that Maldive officialdom would fall apart without the Christian era and a calendar instituted by the order of Pope Gregory XIII on 24 February 1582. As such, the Papal Bull inter gravissimas issued on that date holds the force of law in and over the Republic of the Maldives.


Usually most Maldivians are paranoid about even mentioning the word Christmas in the presence of other Maldivians, lest they be accused of being Christians.

At least one Maldive research student in New Zealand makes it a point to be online using his university account during most of Christmas day, probably for fear that he may be accused of celebrating the dreaded Christmas. The religious police back in the Maldives would know that this student is not out doing what he is not supposed to be on December 25.

Maldivians go to extraordinary lengths not to wish people "merry Christmas". They would wish you "season's greetings" and "happy new year" around Christmas. The irony is that when they say "happy new year" they are referring to the Christian new year. While they shun Christmas, they are quite happy to count years from the birth of Christ.

Christmas is marked in the Maldive tourist resorts. In all walks of life, outsiders are shown a façade of open-mindedness.

Historic Maldive calendars

From 1962 until about 1983 only the Gregorian calendar and the Christian year were used for official purposes. Under pressure from brotherly Arabs with petrodollars, lip-service is now paid to the Islamic lunar calendar of the Hegira (Islamic) era. A complete restoration of the lunar calendar was deemed impractical because of the clumsiness and unpredictability of the Islamic calendar. With the current arrangement, brotherly Arabs are kept happy and at the same time sanity of chronology prevails. The current regime that conceived this duplicitous solution must be credited for its pragmatism in this instance.

In 1959, the Gregorian calendar and the Christian year were adopted for certain official purposes while still retaining the clumsy Islamic lunar calendar. In 1962 the Islamic calendar was abandoned altogether from official use.

There is no doubt that the Islamic calendar was introduced for ecclesiastical use with the Islamic conversion in the twelfth century AD. However there is little evidence as to when it was fully adopted for civil and official use. Until 1933 when a written constitution was adopted and the administration of government organised along much the same lines as it is now, many official documents, particularly those called Faiykolhu (royal edicts) used the Islamic calendar but not the Hegira year. Years were counted from the accession of the reigning monarch.

When the Islamic calendar was the only one used for official purposes, the fiscal year began on 7 Rajab. All other fiscal months too began on the seventh day. That way the vagaries of the sighting of the new moon were circumvented.

The Nakaiiy seasonal calendar

Largely as a result of the clumsiness of the Islamic calendar Maldivians had found it necessary to retain a more sensible pre-Islamic system to determine the seasons. This was the Nakaiiy system which corresponds to the Gregorian calendar.

There are 28 nakaiiy (literally constellation) periods in the year. With some exceptions, most nakaiiy bear the Maldive names of celestial constellations. Each nakaiiy is either 13 or 14 days long. For a time, a system of 29 nakaiiy was in use.

Nakaiiy Starts on Highlights
Assidha April 8 Westerly winds become predominant
Burunu April 22  
Kethi May 6  
Roanu May 20  
Miyaheliya June 3  
Adha June 17  
Funoas July 1  
Fus July 15  
Ahuliha July 29  
Maa August 11  
Fura August 24  
Uthura September 7  
Atha September 21  
Hitha October 4  
Hey October 18  
Vihaa November 1 Native sea birds hatch
Nora November 14  
Dhorha November 27  
Mula December 10  
Fura Halha December 23 Easterly winds become predominant
Uthura Halha January 6  
Huvan January 19  
Dhinarha February 1  
Hiyavihaa February 14  
Fura Badhuruva February 27  
Fas Badhuruva March 12  
Reyva March 26  
Curiously, the easterly (mainly dry) season or the north east monsoon called Iruvai begins on the day after the northern winter solstice.

By the middle of the last century, only one official occasion was observed according to the Nakkaiy calendar even though all Maldive calendars, even today, include the nakaaiy. Badi-helun (handling of the cannons) ceremony took place on Mula 3 (December 12). The royal militia went on a war footing on that day. Fortification walls were checked for repairs and the royal artillery hardware received its annual service commencing on that day. Foreign invaders who came from the neighbouring sub-continent always took advantage of the prevailing easterly winds between December and April.

Historic examples of the inconvenience of the Islamic calendar

The Maldives was not the first Muslim country to recognise the clumsiness of the Islamic lunar calendar.

In AD 1677 the Ottoman Empire adopted the Julian calendar for civil use while still counting the years from the fleeing of Mohamed from Mecca to Medina (Hegira). At that time the large Christian populations of the Ottoman Empire still used the Julian calendar. Under the Ottoman system, the Julian month names (identical to the Gregorian month names) were slightly Turkified but retained with the new year's day falling on March (Mart) 1. This was called the Marti system in Turkish. With the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, Turkey adopted the Christian era in 1921 while still retaining the Julian calendar until 1927 when the Gregorian calendar was adopted.

Persia (Iran) too, having experienced a more advanced and civilised culture before being conquered and colonised by Islam, found the Islamic calendar clumsy and anachronistic. They modified and retained the old Persian calendar (now called Jaloli) which corresponds to the Gregorian calendar. The present Jaloli calendar was devised in the 11th century AD by Omar Khayam and others and adopted into official use by Shah Reza of the Pahelavi Dynasty in 1925. The Persian month names were retained while counting the years from the Hegira. Iran (in spite of the mullahs) and Afghanistan still observe the Jaloli calendar for civil and official use. The Jaloli new year's day (1 Farvardin) falls on 21 March.

The Islamic Calendar

Until the time of Mohamed, the Arabs used a luni-solar calendar similar to that of the Jews. Each month began at sunset on the day of the birth of the new moon. A purely lunar year such as the Islamic year is approximately 11 days shorter than the solar (e.g.: Gregorian) year. For this reason the Arabs inserted an intercalary (leap) month from time to time. The intercalation was arbitrary and was abused by the priests and sheikhs for pecuniary and fiscal advantage. This was justifiably recognised as a grievance and a source of continued exploitation.

In typical knee-jerk fashion the intercalary month was abolished and the physical sighting of the new moon by at least two male Muslims who are not slaves (or 4 non-menstrual female Muslims who are not slaves or prisoners of war kept for sex) was instituted in the Sharia as evidence of the birth of the new moon. These two factors made the Islamic lunar calendar illogical for civil use.

The Islamic calendar is based on two verses of the Koran. They are verses 36 and 37 of Surah el-Tawbah according to the Usman version of the Koran shown below, with translation by Yusuf Ali.

The number of months in the sight of Allah is twelve (in a year)- so ordained by him the day he created the heavens and the earth; of them four are sacred: that is the straight usage. So wrong not yourselves therein, and fight the Pagans all together as they fight you all together. But know that Allah is with those who restrain themselves. (36).

Verily the transposing (of a prohibited month) is an addition to unbelief: the unbelievers are led to wrong thereby: for they make it lawful one year, and forbidden another year, in order to adjust the number of months forbidden by Allah and make such forbidden ones lawful. The evil of their course seems pleasing to them. But Allah guideth not those who reject faith (37).