The Maldives, officially known as the Republic of the Maldives (Maldivian: ދިވެހިރާއްޖޭގެ ޖުމްހޫރިއްޔާ Dhivehi Raajjeyge Jumhooriyya), is a country composed of islands and atolls in the Indian Ocean, to the west of the Indian subcontinent. It has a long history of control by foreign entities – In the mid-15th century, it was ruled by Portugal (which at the time also controlled Ceylon). Then in the 17th century, the Dutch held the islands for four months. By the 19th century, it had fallen, along with most of the rest of the subcontinent, under the control of Great Britain, who made the islands a protectorate administered from Ceylon. Throughout these centuries, the Sultan still technically ruled the islands (a situation similar to India's Princely States). The islands became an independent Kingdom in 1965.note In 1968, the monarchy was abolished and the islands became an authoritarian republic. It remained a member of the Commonwealth until it was suspended in 2012 following the questionable circumstances of the then-President's resignation amidst street protests. The Maldivian people are related to the Sinhalese of Sri Lanka (a.k.a. Ceylon) by language and ethnicity. However, they are set apart by religion. Whereas the Sinhalese are quite adamantly Buddhist, Maldivians converted en masse to Islam in the 12th century after traders from North Africa introduced the religion to the islands. It's Serious Business. Today, being (Sunni) Muslim is a legal requirement for Maldivian citizenship, sharia law is considered superior to civil law in most cases, and freedom of religion is nonexistent. Maldives has the lowest high-point of any country on earth – eight feet (just over two meters) above sea level. Considering that sea levels are expected to rise a significant amount over the next century, by 2100 there may not be a Maldives. This has led the government to be an active participant in climate change discussions, and to commit to becoming carbon-neutral by 2019. One of the mainstays of the Maldivian economy is tourism – no shock considering the islands are well-known for their lush wildlife and white-sand beaches. The islands were badly hurt by the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, which caused damage totalling over 3/5 of the country's GDP. The tourist industry has been slowly recovering since. The Maldivian flag
The red field stands the people's courage and readiness for sacrifice. At the foreground is a green rectangle, symbolizing peace, and at its center is the white crescent of Islam.