Maumoon Abdul Gayoom was born on 29 December 1937 in Malé, capital of Maldives. He was the tenth of the 25 children of his father, Abdul Gayoom Ibrahim, who worked with the government of the Maldives and eventually became attorney general. His mother was Khadheeja Moosa. He was educated at Al-Azhar University in Cairo where he obtained a post-graduate degree in Islamic history and philosophy. His early career in academia began as research assistant at the American University in Cairo. He taught at Ahmadu Bello University in Nigeria before returning to teach at school in the Maldives in 1971. Soon recruited into government service, Gayoom held the positions of under secretary to the prime minister, deputy ambassador to Sri Lanka, Maldives' first permanent representative to the United Nations (UN), and deputy transportation minister before becoming president in 1978.
His personal interests are reading, journalism, photography, astronomy, calligraphy, cricket, and badminton. He is married to Nareena Ibrahim; they have two sons and two daughters. Nareena takes a keen interest in all issues relating to women, children, and health. She is a founding member of a national Society for Health Education (SHE), which endeavours to raise awareness on health and family issues.