Reports on Religious Freedom: Oman
Islam is the state religion, and the Basic Charter preserves the freedom to practice religious rites, in accordance with tradition, provided that it does not breach public order. The Basic Charter also provides that Shari'a (Islamic Law) is the basis for legislation. The Government permits worship for 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 to proselytize Muslims to abandon Islam.
The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom.
The U.S. Embassy 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 land area is 79,035 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 are about 527,000 Sunni Muslims. There is a small community of ethnically Indian Hindu citizens and reportedly a very small number of Christian citizens, who originally were originally India or the Levant and who have been naturalized.
The majority of non-Muslims are noncitizen immigrant workers from South Asia. There are many Christian denominations in Muscat.
There is no information available regarding the number of atheists in the country.
There is no information regarding missionary groups. The Government prohibits non-Muslims from proselytizing Muslims.
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 it does not breach public order. The Charter also provides that discrimination against individuals on the basis of religion or religious group is prohibited; however, decrees implementing the prohibition against religious discrimination have not yet been established. The Government permits freedom of worship for non-Muslims as well. 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. The Government also provided land for Catholic and Protestant missions in Sohar and Salalah. However, non-Muslim religious organizations must be registered with the Government, and the Government restricts some of their activities.
The Government has sponsored forums at which differing interpretations of Islam have been examined; there are no known instances during the period covered by this report in which the Government has publicly promoted interfaith 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.
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 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 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.
Citizen children must attend a school that provides instruction in Islam; noncitizen children may attend schools that do not offer instruction in Islam.
Some aspects of Islamic law and tradition as interpreted in the country discriminate against women. Shari'a favors male heirs in adjudicating inheritance claims. Many women are reluctant to take an inheritance dispute to court for fear of alienating the family.
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 Government's 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. Embassy 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 non-Muslim practitioners.
Sources: U.S. State Department - Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor