The origin of the first settlers of the Maldives still remains a mystery. The historians date early settlers back to 5th century BC with the Aryan immigrants coming from the neighbouring countries India and Sri Lanka. The Maldivian language is said to be Indo-Aryan with influences from Sinhalese, Tamil, Sanskrit, Persian, Urdhu and Arabic. It is believed that Hinduism existed before Buddhism. The Maldivians were practising Buddhism until AD 1153, when a learned scholar converted the king to Islam.
The exact name and origins of this scholar is an ongoing debate. Some are of the opinion that he was a Moroccan traveller named Sheikh. Abul Barakaath Yoosuful Barubaree. Others say that he was from Persia and known as Sheikh Yoosuf Shamsudheenul Thabreyzi. Mr Mohammed Ibrahim Luthufi, an acclaimed contemporary historian and researcher, claims that the name of the person who converted Maldivians to Islam was Sheikh Aburikaab Yoosuf Thabreyzi.
Since the conversion to Islam, the Maldives boasts of a recorded history that is rich and colourful. The system of government was a monarchy with Sultans as sovereigns while Sultanas or queens ruled on rare occasions. Traders from Arabia, India, Sri Lanka and Persia visited the Maldives to exchange goods. Slaves were also brought from Africa. Quite often, sailors were shipwrecked in the treacherous reefs of Maldives. These visitors contributed much to the language and culture of the Maldives. However, the visitors' influence did not change the identity of the country as a secluded haven virtually unknown to the rest of the world.
The Maldives - A chronology of key events:
- 12th century - Islam introduced.
- 1558-1573 - Portuguese occupation, which ends after expulsion by locals.
- 17th century - Islands become a protectorate first of the Dutch rulers of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and later of the British who take control of Ceylon in 1796.
- 1887 - Status formalised as internally self-governing British protectorate.
- 1932 - First democratic constitution proclaimed. The sultanate becomes an elected position.
- 1953 - Becomes a republic within the Commonwealth as the sultanate is abolished. However, the Sultan is restored within months.
- 1965 - Full independence as a sultanate outside Commonwealth.
- 1968 - Sultan deposed after referendum; republic reinstated with Ibrahim Nasir as president.
- 1978 - Nasir retires, replaced by Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
- 1980s - Development of tourist industry fuels economic growth.
- 1982 - Rejoins Commonwealth.
- 1988 - Coup attempt involving Sri Lankan mercenaries foiled with the help of Indian commandos.
- 1998 - Gayoom re-elected for a fifth term in presidential referendum.
- 1999 November - Parliamentary elections take place, with more than 120 independent candidates contesting 40 seats.
- 2000 January - Amnesty International says three candidates in 1999 parliamentary elections were tortured after being detained on suspicion of instigating unrest.
- 2002 March - Concern over the Maldives' vulnerability to rising sea levels prompts government to announce decision to take legal action against US for refusing to sign Kyoto Protocol.
- 2002 July - Lengthy prison terms are handed down to four people found guilty of defamation and inciting violence.
- 2002 September - At World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, President Gayoom warns that low-lying islands are at greater risk than ever before, and calls on international community to take urgent action to prevent global environmental catastrophe.
- 2003 July - Amnesty International accuses Maldives government of political repression and torture. It says arbitrary detentions, unfair trials and long-term imprisonment of government critics are commonplace. The government rejects allegations as "false and baseless".
- 2003 September - Unprecedented anti-government riots break out in Male, sparked by deaths of four prison inmates.
Amnesty International blames unrest on political repression and human rights abuses. President Gayoom dismisses police chief, promises independent inquiry into prison deaths.
- 2003 October - Gayoom re-elected for unprecedented sixth term in presidential referendum, winning more than 90% of the vote.
- 2004 June - President Gayoom promises constitutional changes to limit presidential term and to allow formation of political parties.
- 2004 August - State of emergency imposed after a pro-democracy demonstration turns violent. Almost 100 people are jailed.
- 2004 December - Scores of people are killed and many islands suffer severe damage when a tsunami generated by a powerful undersea earthquake off the Indonesian coast hits the Maldives. The government says the disaster has set development work back by 20 years.
- 2005 June - Parliament votes unanimously to allow multi-party politics.
- 2005 August - Opposition party leader Mohamed Nasheed is charged with terrorism and sedition. The government says he made comments against President Gayoom and incited people to violence.
- 2006 August - President Gayoom pardons senior opposition figure Jennifer Latheef serving a 10-year term on terrorism charges, but she refuses to recognise the pardon and demands a retrial to clear her name.
- 2008 August - The new constitution was ratified by the president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom on 7th August 2008 paving way for multiparty and multicandidate presidential election.
- 2008 October – Maldives first multicandidate presidential election took place. After 30 year of rule Gayoom lost the election to the former political prisoner Mohamed Nasheed.
- 2008 November – Mohamed Nasheed became the 4th president of the Maldives and first ever candidate to be elected in a free multi party/multi candidate election.
- 2008 November - Former President Ibrahim Nasir passed away at the age of 82 in Singapore on Saturday, 22nd November 2008 after a prolonged illness. He was brought to the Maldives and given a state funeral.