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Reports on Religious Freedom:
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(2000)


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There is no constitutional protection for freedom of religion. The Official State religion follows the conservative Wahhabi tradition of the Hanbali school of Islam. The Government officially prohibits public worship by non-Muslims; however, it tolerates private worship for "peoples of the book," (i.e., Christians and Jews).

During the past year, the Government took substantive steps that somewhat improved respect for religious freedom by recognizing Christian clergy and proceeding with plans to construct Christian churches in the capital, Doha.

There are generally amicable relations among persons of differing religious beliefs. However, much of the population opposes the construction of Christian churches. Discrimination in some areas occurs, at times along religious lines. In general Muslims hold all positions of authority in the Government, with citizens holding higher level positions and foreign Muslims holding lower positions. Shi'a Muslims experience discrimination in employment in sensitive areas. Non-Muslims may not proselytize, and the Government formally prohibits the publication, importation, and distribution of Bibles and other non-Islamic religious literature. However, in practice individuals generally are not prevented from importing Bibles and other religious items for personal use.

The U.S. Ambassador and embassy staff meet regularly with government officials to discuss issues of religious freedom. Other embassy officers have taken the lead in bringing government officials and lay church leaders together to discuss the modalities of expanding toleration and understanding of non-Islamic worship. The Government has been receptive to quiet dialog and has offered to donate land for and assist in the construction of Christian churches.

Section I. Government Policies on Freedom of Religion

Legal/Policy Framework

There is no constitutional protection for freedom of religion. The state religion is Islam, as interpreted by the conservative Wahhabi order of the Sunni branch. The Government officially prohibits public worship by non-Muslims; however, it tolerates and protects services conducted privately with prior notification to the authorities. The Government allows Shi'a Muslims to practice their faith freely; however, community leaders have agreed to refrain from certain public practices, such as self-flagellation.

The Government and ruling family are inextricably linked to the practice of Islam. The Ministry of Islamic Affairs controls the construction of mosques, the administration of clerical affairs, and instruction in the Koran. The Minister of Islamic Affairs is a member of the Emir's cabinet and participates in policymaking at the highest level. The only official government holidays aside from the independence day are the Eid Al-Fitr, following the holy month of Ramadan, and the Eid Al-Adha, which commemorates the end of the Hajj. The Emir participates in widely publicized "Eid prayers" and each year personally finances the Hajj pilgrimages of many who cannot afford to travel to Mecca.

During the period covered by this report, the Catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox churches in effect received de facto official recognition. However, formal recognition apparently has not yet been granted. There reportedly is a verbal commitment by the Government to allow the churches to operate openly in a manner that apparently reflects de facto government recognition.

Religious Demography

There are no reliable population figures available; however, the population is estimated to be about 650,000. Of that number, about 170,000 are believed to be citizens. It is estimated that the majority of the remaining 480,000 persons are Sunni Muslim foreigners, and that the rest are Shi'a Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, and Baha'is.

A large foreign population practices other faiths, albeit privately and quietly. Most foreigners are concentrated in and around the capital city of Doha. In addition to Muslim foreigners, there are a significant number of Christians (Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, and other Protestant denominations), as well as smaller numbers of Hindus, Buddhists, and Baha'is living and working in the country. The Christian community consists of a diverse mix of Americans, Europeans, Arabs, Indians, and Filipinos. The Hindu community is almost exclusively Indian. Buddhists are found among the East Asian community, and a small number of ethnic Persians make up the Baha'i community. The Shi'a community has a small number of mosques.

Police provide traffic control for authorized Catholic masses, which may be attended by 1,000 or more persons at Easter and Christmas. In December 1999, Christmas cards and decorations were readily available in several shops in the capital, even though the holiday coincided with the holy month of Ramadan. During March and April, Easter merchandise was widely available.

Governmental Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Non-Muslims may not proselytize, and conversion from Islam is theoretically a capital offense. However, there is no record of an execution for such a conversion since independence in 1971.

The Government formally prohibits the publication, importation, and distribution of Bibles and other non-Islamic religious literature. However, in practice individuals generally are not prevented from importing Bibles and other religious items for personal use. In previous years, there were sporadic reports of confiscation of such materials by customs officials. During the period covered by this report, some Christian worship groups reported having no trouble importing instructional materials (i.e., Sunday school materials and devotionals) for use by the groups.

There are no restrictions on non-Muslims providing religious instruction to their children; however, the public schools provide compulsory instruction in Islam. The public schools generally are closed to foreigners, most of whose children attend any of a number of private schools.

Practice of Islam confers advantage in civil life. For example, non-Muslims do not have the right to bring suit in the Shari'a (Islamic law) courts. These courts are utilized to settle the majority of civil claims; thus, non-Muslims are at a distinct disadvantage.

Improvements in Respect for Religious Freedom

The overall trend during the period covered by this report has been toward somewhat more religious freedom for Christian worship. Private discussions between the Government and the ambassadors of the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Romania, and South Korea have yielded progress in the area of religious freedom. The Government apparently has recognized the Catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox churches on a de facto basis and allowed them to operate more openly. For example, priests of the three churches have been asked to wear their clerical garb and can apply to be sponsors for visitor visas for other church representatives. In addition, church representatives can import reasonable amounts of Bibles and other religious literature for use by their congregations. In February 2000, the Government identified a parcel of land on which it plans to allow the construction of three churches, one each for the Catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox communities. Officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Agriculture met with diplomats and representatives of the churches to discuss initial design plans.

Such progress for Christians is due, in large part, to their status as "people of the book;" the Koran accords special status to Christians and Jews. The Government intends neither to permit Hindus and Buddhists to worship openly nor to establish temples because it claims that there is no Koranic justification for tolerance of polytheistic religions.

There were no reports of religious detainees or prisoners.

There were no reports that the Government forcibly converted any individuals. However, a criminal may have his or her sentence reduced by memorizing the Koran. For non-Muslim prisoners, this may create an incentive to convert to Islam.

Forced Religious Conversion of Minor U.S. Citizens

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

Relations between persons of differing religious beliefs generally are amicable and tolerant. However, a sizable percentage of the citizen population opposes the construction of Christian churches.

Discrimination in the areas of employment, education, housing, and health services occurs, at times along religious lines. Non-Muslims hold jobs in the Government and military; however, they are generally technical positions. In general Muslims hold all positions of authority in the Government, with citizens holding higher level positions and foreign Muslims holding lower positions. Shi'a Muslims experience discrimination in employment in sensitive areas, such as security. However, the critical factor in most cases of discrimination is citizenship. Muslim and non-Muslim foreigners face the same challenges. Health care, electricity, water, and education are provided free-of-charge to citizens, while foreigners must pay for these services. Citizens also may receive low- or no-interest home loans from the Government. Foreigners must rent housing because they are not permitted to own property.

Section III. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Ambassador, Deputy Chief of Mission, and the Embassy's political officer meet regularly with government officials at many levels to address the issue of religious freedom, both in public and in private. The issue has been raised with the Emir, the Foreign Minister, and several other government officials. Efforts to emphasize religious freedom are also being coordinated with the Embassies of the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Romania, and South Korea.

The Government has been receptive to the pleas from foreign governments to allow the construction of Christian churches, as evidenced by recent progress (see Section I). Its main concern is that the process should proceed slowly so as not to create undue opposition among more conservative elements of the population in the hope that, by taking the time to lay the groundwork, opposition will be minimal.


Sources: U.S. State Department - Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor

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