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Reports on Religious Freedom: Qatar


The Constitution provides no explicit protection for freedom of religion and the Government continues to prohibit public worship by non-Muslims; however, it permits private religious services by people of the book (Christians and Jews). The official state religion follows the conservative Wahhabi tradition of the Hanbali school of Islam.

The status of respect for religious freedom improved somewhat during the period covered by this report due to the Government's action in allowing more visibility for the Christian community and by announcing its intention to organize a conference bringing together representatives of Islam, Christianity and other religions in order to promote dialog among religions. Non-Muslims may not proselytize, and the Government formally prohibits the publication, importation, and distribution of non-Islamic religious books and materials. However, in practice, individuals generally are not prevented from importing Bibles and other religious items for personal use. There are no Shi'a employed in senior national security positions.

There are generally amicable relations among persons of differing religious beliefs; however, many Muslims oppose the construction of permanent Christian churches.

The U.S. Government discussed religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights. The U.S. Ambassador and embassy officials meet regularly with government officials to discuss issues of religious freedom.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has a total land area of approximately 4,254 square miles and its population is estimated at approximately 650,000 persons, of whom approximately 170,000 are believed to be citizens. The majority of the 480,000 non-citizens are Sunni Muslims, mostly from other Arab countries working on temporary employment contracts, and their accompanying family members. The remaining foreigners include Shi'a Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, and Baha'is. Most foreign workers and their families live near the major employment centers of Doha, Ras Laffan/Al Khor, Messaeed, and Dukhan.

The Christian community is a diverse mix of Indians, Filipinos, Europeans, Arabs, and Americans. It includes Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, and other Protestant denominations. The Hindu community is almost exclusively Indian, while Buddhists include South and East Asians. Most Baha'is come from Iran. Both citizens and foreigners attend a small number of Shi'a mosques.

There is no information regarding the number of atheists in the country.

No foreign missionary groups operate openly in the country.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

There is no constitutional protection for freedom of religion, and the Government officially prohibits public worship by non-Muslims; however, it does permit private services. The state religion is Islam, as interpreted by the conservative Wahhabi order of the Sunni branch. While Shi'a practice most aspects of their faith freely, they may not organize traditional Shi'a ceremonies or perform rites such as self-flagellation.

The Government and ruling family are linked inextricably to Islam. The Minister of Islamic Affairs controls the construction of mosques, the administration of clerical affairs, and Islamic education. The Amir participates in public prayers during both Eid holiday periods, and personally finances the Hajj journeys of poor pilgrims who cannot afford to travel to Mecca.

The Government officially celebrates Eid Al-Fitr, following the holy month of Ramadan, and Eid Al-Adha, which commemorates Abraham's sacrifice, as well as the country's Independence day.

The Catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox churches received de facto official recognition in the latter part of 1999, when the Government made a verbal commitment to allow the churches to operate without interference. The Government has respected this commitment in practice, but it still had not granted these churches formal recognition by the end of the period covered by this report. The Government does not recognize any other religions, officially or unofficially. During the period covered by the report, Christian church officials continued to press the Government for authorization to construct churches on land reserved by the Government for the Catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox communities; however, the Government has not issued building permits. The Government does not maintain an official approved register of religious congregations. In the past, the Government has raised concerns that a rapid pace of progress may provoke opposition among more conservative critics.

During the period covered by this report, the Papal Nuncio from Kuwait, as well as the Archbishop of Canterbury and his accompanying delegation, visited the country and met the Amir. In March 2002, the Government sponsored a conference on democracy and development, in which the topic of Muslim-Christian dialog was featured prominently and in which a representative of the Faculty of Shari'a at Qatar University participated. In May the Qatar International Christian Ministries--an umbrella group comprised of seven Christian churches--sponsored a Christian Gospel music concert which brought together an unprecedented number of spectators (1,300) in a public space (a major cinema). In June 2002,the Amir met with the Cardinal Glemp of Warsaw, Chairman of the Council of Polish Bishops, and later announced in Arabic on the Al-Jazeera Satellite Channel that the Government intended to organize a religious conference bringing together representatives of Islam, Christianity, and other religions in order to promote dialog among religions.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

There is no constitutional protection for freedom of religion, and the government officially prohibits public worship by non-Muslims; however, it does permit and protect private religious services. Nevertheless, the lack of formal government recognition limits the ability of non-Muslim religious organizations to obtain trade licenses, sponsor clergy, or to open bank accounts in the name of the denomination.

Non-Muslims may not proselytize, and the Government officially prohibits public worship by non-Muslims. However, it does permit and protect private services. Converting to another religion from Islam is considered apostasy, and is technically a capital offense; however, there is no record of an execution for such a crime since 1971.

Congregations coordinate the holding of large religious services with the Government in advance, while smaller services are held without prior authorization. Although traffic police may direct cars at these services, the congregations may not publicly advertise them in advance or use visible religious symbols such as outdoor crosses. Some services, particularly those on Easter and Christmas, can draw more than 1,300 worshippers.

The Government does not permit Hindus, Buddhists, Bah'ais or members of other religions to operate as freely as Christian congregations. (The Koran specifically enjoins toleration only for Christians and Jews.) However, there is no official effort to harass or hamper adherents of these faiths in the private practice of their religion.

Discrimination in the areas of employment, education, housing, and health services do occur, but nationality is usually a more important determinant than religion. For example, Muslims hold nearly all high-ranking government positions because they are reserved for citizens. However, while Shi'a are well represented in the bureaucracy and business community, there are no Shi'as employed in senior national security positions.

The Government formally prohibits the publication, importation, and distribution of 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; however, during the period covered by this report, Christian worship groups reported having no trouble importing religious instructional materials (e.g., Sunday school materials and devotionals) for their use. In addition, religious materials for use at Christmas and Easter now are available readily in local shops.

Islamic instruction is compulsory in public schools. While there are no restrictions on non-Muslims providing private religious instruction for children, most foreign children attend secular private schools.

Both Muslim and non-Muslim litigants may request the Shari'a courts to assume jurisdiction in commercial or civil cases. Convicted Muslims may earn points for good behavior and have their sentences reduced by a few months by memorizing the Koran.

Shari'a law and local tradition impose significant restrictions on Muslim women. These restrictions do not apply to noncitizen women. For example, a woman is prohibited from applying for a driver's license unless she has permission from a male guardian. The Government adheres to Shari'a as practiced in the country in matters of inheritance and child custody. Muslim wives have the right to inherit from their husbands. However, they inherit only one-half as much as male relatives. Non-Muslim wives inherit nothing, unless a special exception is arranged. In cases of divorce, Shari'a is followed; younger children remain with the mother and older children with the father. Both parents retain permanent rights of visitation. However, local authorities do not allow a noncitizen parent to take his or her child out of the country without permission of the citizen parent. Women may attend court proceedings but generally are represented by a male relative; however, women may represent themselves. According to Shari'a, the testimony of two women equals that of one man, but the courts routinely interpret this on a case-by-case basis. A non-Muslim women is not required to convert to Islam upon marriage to a Muslim; however, many make a personal decision to do so. A noncitizen woman is not required to become a citizen upon marriage to a citizen. Children born to a Muslim father are considered to be Muslim.

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

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

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Ambassador and other embassy officers regularly meet with government officials at all levels to address religious freedom issues. The Embassy coordinates with other embassies to increase the impact of its initiatives. Embassy officers also facilitate contacts between leaders of the religious communities and government officials to advance progress on specific initiatives involving freedom of religion.

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