The Maldives are a group of about 1,192 small coral islands that are grouped into 26 atolls (202 inhabited islands). The history of the islands begins with the early settlers from Sri Lanka and South India around 500 BC. Located along the ancient trading routes, the Maldives had, among others, Arab traders visiting them, on their way to the Far East, for cowrie shells (an international currency of the early days). This brought the island into contact with Islam, the religion practiced here today.