This book examines Islam’s relationship to democratization in the Indian Ocean nation of the Maldives. It explores how and why an electoral democracy based in a constitution that has many liberal features but also Islam-based limitations, especially lack of religious freedom, emerged in the country by 2009. In doing so, the book interrogates a major approach to Muslim politics that assumes reformist interpretations of Islam are a positive, and even a necessary, force for liberalization and democratization in Muslim-majority contexts.

This book shows reformist Islam did play certain positive roles in democratization in the Maldives. However, the book suggests reformist Islam may not be an invariably uncontroversial force in the space of politics. It argues that modern nation building in the Maldives shaped by political actors with reformist Islamic orientations, since around the 1930s, has also completely transformed Islam as a modern institutional and discursive political religion. These transformations of Islam as a modern political religion have existed as path-dependent constraints on the depth of democratization, ensuring religion-based limitations and intensifying controversy over religion vis-à-vis the state and individual rights.

An original empirical contribution towards a better understanding of Islam and politics in the Maldives, this book will be of interest to academics and students working on democracy, and Islam in particular, and in the fields of political science and area studies, especially South Asian politics.