International Religious Freedom Report: Oman
Islam is the state religion, and the Basic Charter protects the freedom to practice religious rites, in accordance with tradition, provided that such practices do not breach public order. The Basic Charter also provides that Shari'a (Islamic Law) is the basis for legislation. The Government permits worship by non-Muslim residents; however, non-Muslim religious organizations must be registered with the Government, and the Government restricts some of their activities.
There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report. Christian and Hindu worship is permitted, and Sultan Qaboos has given land for the construction of centers of worship for these religions. It is illegal for non-Muslims to proselytize Muslims.
The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom.
The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.
Section I. Religious Demography
The country's total area is 82,031 square miles, and its population is approximately 2,553,000. Most citizens are Ibadhi or Sunni Muslims, but there also is a minority of Shi'a Muslims. There is a small community of ethnically Indian Hindu citizens and reportedly a very small number of Christian citizens, who came from India or the Levant and who have been naturalized.
The majority of non-Muslims are noncitizen immigrant workers from South Asia. There are a number of Christian denominations represented in the country.
There is no information available regarding the number of atheists in the country.
While there is no information regarding missionary groups in the country, several nonproselytizing faith-based organizations reportedly operate. Clergy of the Anglican Church, the Reformed Church of America, and other Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox groups are present in the country.
Section II. Status of Religious Freedom
Islam is the state religion, which is affirmed by the 1996 Basic Charter. The 1996 Basic Charter provides that Shari'a is the basis for legislation and preserves the freedom to practice religious rites, in accordance with tradition, provided that such practice does not breach public order. Within these parameters, the Government permits freedom of worship for non-Muslims. The Charter also provides that discrimination against individuals on the basis of religion or religious group is prohibited. Some non-Muslims worship at churches and temples built on land donated by the Sultan, including two Catholic and two Protestant churches. Hindu temples also have been built on government-provided land. In addition the Government provided land for Catholic and Protestant missions in Sohar and Salalah. Non-Muslim religious organizations must be registered with the Government, and the Government restricts some of their activities.
Citizen children must attend a school that provides instruction in Islam; noncitizen children may attend schools that do not offer instruction in Islam.
The Government has sponsored forums at which differing interpretations of Islam have been examined. During the period covered by this report, the Government sponsored a seminar on the tolerant nature of Islam as practiced in the country and on promoting interfaith and intercultural dialog.
Restrictions on Religious Freedom
Citizens and noncitizen residents are free to discuss their religious beliefs; however, the Government prohibits non-Muslims from proselytizing Muslims. Under Islamic law, a Muslim who recants belief in Islam would be considered an apostate and dealt with under applicable Islamic legal procedure. Non-Muslims are permitted to change their religious affiliation to Islam. The authorities reportedly have asked members of the Baha'i community not to proselytize, in accordance with the country's law and custom. There was one case in which an anonymous and apparently unfounded accusation of proselytizing led to the revocation of the residence permit of a long-term foreign national resident, despite attempts to address the accusations against him.
The Government prohibits non-Muslim groups from publishing religious material, although material printed abroad may be brought into the country. Members of all religions and religious groups are free to maintain links with coreligionists abroad and to undertake foreign travel for religious purposes. Ministers and priests from abroad also are permitted to visit the country for the purpose of carrying out duties related to registered religious organizations.
The police monitor sermons at mosques to ensure that the imams do not discuss political topics and stay within the state-approved orthodoxy of Islam. The Government expects all imams to preach sermons within the parameters of standardized texts distributed monthly by the Ministry of Awqaf and Religious Affairs.
Some aspects of Islamic law and tradition as interpreted in the country discriminate against women. Shari'a favors male heirs in adjudicating inheritance claims. While there is continuing reluctance to take an inheritance dispute to court for fear of alienating the family, women increasingly are aware of and taking steps to protect and exercise their rights as citizens.
There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees.
Forced Religious Conversion
There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.
Section III. Societal Attitudes
The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom. Religious discrimination in the private sector largely is absent. In the past, some members of the Shi'a minority claimed that they faced discrimination in employment and educational opportunities.
Christian theologians have met with local Islamic authorities and with members of the faculty at the country's major university. Private groups that promote interfaith dialog are permitted to exist as long as discussions do not constitute an attempt to cause Muslims to recant their Islamic beliefs.
In May 2001, the Sultan invited Islamic leaders from many countries and all major branches and schools of Islam to the opening of the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy
The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights. Members of the staff at the U.S. Embassy routinely participate in local religious ceremonies and have contact with members of non-Muslim religious groups. At the request of embassy officers, the Office of the Grand Mufti met publicly with members of the diplomatic community and others to reiterate the tolerant nature of Islam as practiced in the country and to promote interfaith and intercultural dialog.
Source: U.S. Department of State, 2002 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom, Released by the Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Washington, DC, October 2002..