Maldives is a tropical country positioned on a submarine ridge that runs north to south, covering an area of approximately 90,000 square kilometres. Its 1,192 coral islands are arranged in 26 atolls with a total coastline of 871 kilometres. Maldives has been a stopover for many seafarers over the centuries and its culture reflects the myriad influences obtained from long and short-term visitors.
Islam is the state religion and alcohol consumption is prohibited outside of resorts. Women have traditionally enjoyed a high status in society, as attested to by the existence of four Sultanas, and their position has been strengthened since the introduction of Islamic laws. They typically wear the veil but are not secluded and have special sections reserved for them in public places such as stadiums and mosques. They do not take their husbands’ names upon marriage and maintain their maiden names, while inheritance of property passes through both males and females.
The majority of the population is Muslim, with a small minority of Christians and Hindus. The capital city, Malé, is home to the government and a large percentage of the economy. Tourism is the largest industry, providing employment to a significant proportion of the population. Fishing continues to be an important economic activity and is accorded the highest priority by the government. On inhabited islands, people gather to welcome fishing boats on the beaches in the late afternoon and everyone is invited to share their catch.