The term Ishvalan (イシュヴァール人, Ishubārujin (also spelled "Ishbalan") refers to the indigenous people of the nation called Ishval, which would come to be a region in the southeastern area of greater Amestris. The Ishvalans are an ethno-religious group identified by their ethnicity but unified by common religious beliefs. Although they are usually characterized by brown skin and white or silver hair, Ishvalan people are most definitively distinguished by their red eyes, which persist as a dominant genetic trait regardless of whether or not Ishvalans marry outside of their ethnicity (in the 2003 anime series, only Scar and the older Ishvalans have white or silver hair; the children and many others have dark hair instead. In the 2009 anime series, all Ishvalans are portrayed with white hair regardless of age).
The culture of the Ishvalan people is steeped heavily in their religious ideology, which marks the earth god Ishvala as the sole true god and lord of all creation. They are called to pray fervently to Ishvala and live lives of simplicity and righteousness as part of his creed, as it has been passed down through prophets like Logue Lowe. It is likely that Ishvalans' strict code of religious conduct was borne from the severity of the land, which is not largely farmable and contains very few natural resources, if any. Ishvalans consider their names sacred, as gifts from God, and usually wear sashes striped with burgundy and gold, presumably as a sign of their faith. Ishvalan monks are also heavily trained in melee combat, presumably as a sort of meditative discipline, and are comparable on the battlefield to roughly ten standard soldiers. However, the most contentious point of the Ishvalan religion is its rejection of the craft of alchemy, considering it a practice based in hubris, perverting the natural creations of Ishvala into unnatural forms and thereby suggesting that human hands are more capable. In the 2003 anime series, alchemy is so hated by the Ishvalan people that those found practicing it are exiled from the community and branded with a mark of shame that prohibits faithful Ishvalans from interacting with them.
As a part of the annexation of Ishval, Ishvalans became normalized Amestrian citizens by law, allowed to practice their religion in keeping with Amestris' civil rights laws, able to participate in national practices as citizens as well as enlist in the State Military, but their radical cultural differences - particularly their aversion to alchemy - would put them at odds with the rest of the Amestrian population until tensions on both sides culminated in the Ishval Civil War in 1901. After seven years of constant fighting, the Führer of Amestris ordered that the Ishvalan race be completely eradicated by a new force with State Alchemists at the vanguard. By the end of the bloody struggle, the Ishvalan people had nearly died out, with refugees scattering to slums all over the country as well as places outside the border, such as the ruins of Xerxes. As a result, Ishvalans have become a focus of discrimination, fear and pity among the greater Amestrian population and have fallen below even second-class citizen status.
At the end of the manga storyline, however, Ishvalan refugees are granted amnesty and allowed to return to their holy land. In addition, an active mission to reestablish Ishvalan culture is headed by Major Miles and Scar (possibly as the new Grand Cleric) under the command of Brigadier General Roy Mustang. At the end of the 2003 anime storyline, the Ishvalan people are mentioned by Sheska in a letter to Winry Rockbell during the series epilogue that after Amestris' government had reformed they allowed the Ishvalan people to return to their homeland, and are aiding them in rebuilding their homes.
- The Ishvalan culture appears to be based on that of some Middle Eastern cultures, traditional Indian culture as well as North American Aboriginal culture. In addition, much of its tragic history as shown in the series mirrors those of these peoples in the anime and books.
- Despite the manga clearly stating that Ishvalans have dark skin, red eyes, and white hair, the 2003 series portrayed several characters (Scar's brother, Scar's master, Rick, Rick's mother just to name a few) with dark brown or even black hair, along with a lack of red eyes. This was all changed in the 2009 series with every Ishvalan given white hair, red eyes, and a dark complexion as the manga intended.
- In the original storyline, most of the population of Amestris believes that all of the Ishvalans were killed during the civil war, save for the few people living in the various slums with them. However, in the first anime, one of the thugs who attacks the slums where Scar is recovering says "Aren't [the Ishvalans] supposed to be living in designated camps?", leading to the conclusion that not only are Amestrian citizens aware of surviving Ishvalans, the government is spending money to keep them in camps. This is further supported when the Ishvalan group that Scar was traveling with were eventually going to be sent to one of these camps following their capture.
- Many people believe that the Ishvalans were like the Fullmetal Alchemist version of the Jews, like the Amestrians were the FMA versions of the Nazis, especially in the 2003 anime, when the Amestrians were ordered to execute Ishvalans by Bradley, similar to how the Nazis were ordered to kill the Jews by Hitler.