Report on International Religious Freedom Oman
Section I. Freedom of Religion
Islam is the state religion, which is affirmed by the 1996 Basic Charter. The 1996 Basic Charter provides that Shari'a (Islamic law) is the basis for legislation and preserves the freedom to practice religious rites, in accordance with tradition, provided that it does not breach public order.
Non-Muslim religious organizations must be registered with the Government, and the Government restricts some of their activities.
Most citizens are Ibadhi or Sunni Muslims, but there is also a minority of Shi'a Muslims. There is a small community of ethnically Indian Hindu citizens, and there is reportedly a very small number of Christians, who were originally from India or the Levant, and who have been naturalized.
Citizen children must attend a school that provides instruction in Islam; noncitizen children may attend schools that do not offer instruction in Islam. Non-Muslims, the majority of whom are noncitizen immigrant workers from South Asia, are free to worship at churches and temples, some of which are built on land donated by the Sultan. There are many Christian denominations in Muscat, which use two plots of donated land. Two Catholic and two Protestant churches have been built on this land. Hindu temples also have been built on government-provided land. The Government also provided land for Catholic and Protestant missions in Sohar and Salalah.
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 Government prohibits non-Muslim groups from publishing religious material, although material printed abroad may be brought into the country. Members of all religions and sects are free to maintain links with coreligionists abroad and undertake foreign travel for religious purposes. Ministers and priests from abroad also are permitted to visit Oman for the purpose of carrying out duties related to registered religious organizations in Oman. Due to government restrictions on public gatherings, there has been a substantial curtailment of non-Muslim religious celebrations in recent years.
The police monitor mosque sermons to ensure that the preachers 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.
The Government has sponsored forums at which differing interpretations of Islam have been examined; there are no known instances during the period of this report where the Government has publicly promoted interfaith dialog.
There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report.
There were no reports of religious detainees or prisoners.
There were no reports of the forced religious conversion of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the Government's refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.
Section II. Societal Attitudes
There are amicable relations between the various religious communities. 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.
The Basic Charter provides that discrimination against individuals on the basis of religion or sect is prohibited; however, decrees implementing the prohibition against religious discrimination have not yet been established.
Religious discrimination is largely absent; however, some members of the Shi'a minority claim that they face discrimination in employment and educational opportunities. Nonetheless, some Shi'a occupy prominent positions in both the private and public sectors.
Section III. U.S. Government Policy
The U.S. Embassy discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the overall context of the promotion of human rights. Members of the staff at the U.S. Embassy routinely participate in local religious ceremonies, and have contact with non-Muslim practitioners.
Source: U.S. Department of State, Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for 1999, Released by the Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Washington, DC, September 9, 1999.