Reports on Religious Freedom: Oman
The Constitution or the Basic Statute of the State provides for the freedom to practice religious rites, in accordance with tradition, if their practices do not breach public order, and the Government generally respects this right in practice; however, there are some restrictions. The Basic Statute declares that Islam is the State religion and that Shari'a is the source of all legislation.
There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report, and government policy continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion. Non-Muslim religious worship is permitted, and Sultan Qaboos Al Bu Sa'id, the Monarch of the country, has given land for the construction of Hindu and Christian centers of worship.
The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom.
The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.
Section I. Religious Demography
The country's total area is 119,498 square miles, and its population is 2.33 million, of whom 1.8 million are citizens, according to the December 2003 national census. While no official statistics are kept on religious affiliation, most citizens are Ibadhi or Sunni Muslims. There also is a minority of Shi'a Muslims, particularly concentrated in Muscat's Muttrah area. 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.
While there is no information regarding missionary groups in the country, several faith-based organizations 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
The Constitution or the Basic Statute of the State provides for the freedom to practice religious rites, in accordance with tradition, if their practices do not breach public order, and the Government generally respects this right in practice; however, there are some restrictions. The Basic Statute declares that Islam is the State religion and that Shari'a is the source of all legislation. Within these parameters, the Government permits freedom of worship for non-Muslims. The Basic Statute prohibits discrimination against individuals on the basis of religion or religious group. Some non-Muslims worship at churches and temples built on land donated by the Sultan, including two Catholic and two Protestant church complexes. Hindu temples also have been built on government-provided land. In addition the Government provided land for Catholic and Protestant churches in Sohar and Salalah. Adherents of other religious faiths, typically among expatriate residents, practice their rites in less formal facilities, such as at company labor camps.
Non-Muslim religious organizations must be registered with the Ministry of Awqaf and Religious Affairs, and the Government restricts some of their activities. The criterion for registration is opaque. One non-Muslim religious organization present in the country for several decades has had its application for formal registration pending at the Ministry for several years. Anecdotal evidence suggests that visiting non-Muslim organizations are permitted to operate within legal boundaries if a registered entity agrees to sponsor them with the Ministry of Awqaf and Religious Affairs.
The Government has sponsored forums at which differing interpretations of Islam have been examined, and interfaith, government-sponsored dialogue takes place on a regular basis. During the period of this report, the Ministry of Awqaf and Religious Affairs hosted several Christian and Muslim scholars and lecturers of various schools of thought to discuss interfaith relations and the tolerance of Islam. In March the Sultanate also hosted the Organization of the Islamic Conference's 15th meeting of the Council of Islamic Fiqh (Jurisprudence). In September 2003, the Grand Mufti participated in a conference in Bahrain on "Rapprochement Between Islamic Sects" and in December 2003 he participated in a conference in Sudan on "Islam and the West in a Changing World."
The following religious holidays are considered national holidays: Eid al Adha, Islamic (Hijra) New Year, Birth of the Prophet, Ascension Day, and Eid al Fitr.
Restrictions on Religious Freedom
Citizens and noncitizen residents are free to discuss their religious beliefs; however, the Government prohibits non-Muslims from proselytizing Muslims. The Basic Statute does not specifically prohibit proselytizing, nor does any other law; however, in practice the Government uses immigration regulations and laws concerning morals against individuals deemed as being engaged in proselytizing.
Under Islamic law, a Muslim who recants belief in Islam would be considered an apostate and dealt with under applicable Islamic legal procedure. During the period covered by this report, there were no cases of to being punished for conversion. Non-Muslims are permitted to change their religious affiliation to Islam and proselytizing non-Muslims by Muslims is allowed. 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 records religious affiliation on national identity smart-cards for citizens, and on residency smart-cards for noncitizens. While religious affiliation was previously recorded on citizen passports, current citizen passports no longer contain this information.
The Government prohibits non-Muslim groups from publishing religious material, although non-Muslim religious 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. In April, the Jacobite Bishop of Syria attended Passion Week rites in the capital.
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 monitors sermons at mosques to ensure that the imams do not discuss political topics and stay within the state-approved orthodoxy of Islam. During the period covered by this report, there were credible reports of a number of imams being suspended for overstepping government boundaries. One suspension occurred after an imam delivered a sermon about Islam's emphasis on the accountability of rulers to the people. The Ministry of Awqaf and Religious Affairs inaugurated a new web site whereby questions on issues of the practice of faith and worship can be answered by the Grand Mufti or his representatives.
Some aspects of Islamic law and tradition as practiced 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.
Citizen children must attend schools that provide instruction in Islam; noncitizen children may attend schools that do not offer instruction in Islam. Instruction in Islam is a component of the basic curriculum in all public school grades K-12. The curriculum focuses on the Koran and Hadith, on the life of the Prophet Mohammed and his companions, and on the five pillars of the Islamic faith. In light of the Islamic diversity in society, the curriculum is designed not to emphasize any particular school of Islamic thought over any other.
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.
Abuses by Terrorist Organizations
There were no reported abuses targeted at specific religions by terrorist organizations during the period covered by this report.
Section III. Societal Attitudes
The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom. Religious discrimination in the private sector is largely absent. 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 dialogue are permitted to exist as long as discussions do not constitute an attempt to cause Muslims to recant their Islamic beliefs. Societal attitudes toward proselytizing and conversion generally are negative.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy
The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights. Members of the staff at the U.S. Embassy freely participate in local religious ceremonies and have contact with members of non-Muslim religious groups. During the period covered by this report, the Embassy sponsored the visit of a U.S. research specialist in the field of Islamic studies, who addressed audiences (including at the Sultan's Grand Mosque) on Islamic collections in the United States. The Dean of the Country's College of Shari'a and Law participated in an exchange visit to the United States focused on the rule of law.
Sources: U.S. State Department - Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor