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Religious Freedom Reports: Qatar


Executive Summary

The constitution stipulates that Islam is the state religion, and national law incorporates both secular legal traditions and sharia. The law recognizes only Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, and requires religious groups to register. Sunni and Shia Muslims practiced freely. The government permitted eight registered Christian denominations to worship at the Mesaymir Religious Complex, but required unregistered churches to worship under the patronage of one of the eight recognized denominations, and to be categorized as a subgroup of that religion. Non-Abrahamic religious groups were barred from registering or establishing houses of worship. Members of unregistered religious groups were allowed, however, to worship privately and with others in their homes and workplaces. The government prohibited non-Muslims from proselytizing, in addition to monitoring and censoring religious expression in the media and on the internet. In July an anti-Semitic sermon not written by the government was broadcast on Qatar TV, a government-owned station.

Anti-Semitic remarks continued to be published in the private media.

U.S. government officials met with local government officials, representatives of religious groups, and local quasi-governmental organizations to discuss issues such as restrictions on the number, type, and location of places of worship; the potential for government religious decrees to inhibit religious freedom; and government efforts to criminalize “religious defamation” internationally. The embassy organized an iftar for youth during Ramadan to discuss religious tolerance and diversity in international sports culture.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population is 2.1 million (July 2014 estimate). Citizens make up approximately 10.5 percent of the population. Sunni Muslims constitute between 85 and 95 percent of citizens, with the remainder Shia Muslims.

Most noncitizens are Sunni or Shia Muslims, Hindus, Christians, or Buddhists. While the government does not release figures regarding religious affiliation, noncitizen estimates are available from Christian groups and local embassies. The Hindu community, almost exclusively from India and Nepal, comprises more than 35 percent of noncitizens. Roman Catholics are approximately 20 percent of the noncitizen population, while Buddhists, largely from South, Southeast, and East Asia, are approximately 7 percent of noncitizens. Groups constituting less than 5 percent of the population include Anglicans, Egyptian Copts, Bahais of Iranian or Lebanese origin, and members of the Greek and other Eastern Orthodox Churches.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The constitution and other laws recognize the Abrahamic faiths (Islam, Christianity, and Judaism) and provide for freedom of worship. The constitution states that “freedom to practice religious rites shall be guaranteed to all persons in accordance with the law and the requirements of the maintenance of public order and morality.” The constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion. The law prohibits non-Muslims from proselytizing and restricts public worship. Islam is the state religion, and sharia is the main source of legislation. The law does not recognize religions other than Islam, Christianity, and Judaism.

Converting to another religion from Islam is considered apostasy and is a capital offense; however, since independence in 1971, there have been no recorded punishments for apostasy.

The law provides for a prison sentence of up to seven years for defaming, desecrating, or committing blasphemy against Islam, Christianity, or Judaism. The law stipulates a one-year prison term or a fine of 1,000 Qatari riyals (QR) ($275) for producing or circulating material containing slogans, images, or symbols defaming those three religions. The law also prohibits publication of texts provoking social discord or religious strife.

Christian groups must register with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) consular affairs department for legal recognition. For recognition, a denomination must have at least 1,500 members in the country. Registered groups may hold bank accounts in the organization’s name and may apply for property to build worship space. Unregistered groups can be disbanded at any time and the members can be deported. The government maintains an official register of approved Christian denominations and grants legal status to the Catholic, Anglican, Greek Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Coptic, Lebanese Maronite, Filipino Evangelical, and Indian Christian churches. Non-Abrahamic faiths are barred from registering and establishing houses of worship.

The law criminalizes proselytizing on behalf of an organization, society, or foundation of any religion other than Islam and provides for punishments of up to 10 years in prison. Proselytizing on one’s own accord for any religion other than Islam can result in a sentence of up to five years. The government’s policy, however, is to deport suspected proselytizers who are foreigners without formal legal proceedings. The law calls for two years’ imprisonment and a fine of QR 10,000 ($2,746) for possession of written or recorded materials or items that support or promote missionary activity.

The government regulates the publication, importation, and distribution of all religious books and materials, but permits individuals and religious institutions to import holy books and other religious items for personal or congregational use.

The law designates the minister of Islamic affairs and endowments as the final authority for approving Islamic religious centers. Non-Muslim houses of worship are approved by the MFA in coordination with the private office of the emir.

The Ministry Labor and Social Affairs must approve all religious charitable activities in advance.

A unified civil court system has jurisdiction over both Muslims and non-Muslims. National law incorporates both secular legal traditions and sharia, with the exception of a separate, limited dispute resolution system for financial service companies that is based purely on secular law. The unified court system applies sharia in family law cases, including those related to inheritance, marriage, divorce, and child custody. Non-Muslims are subject to sharia in cases of child custody, but in general have recourse to civil law for other personal status cases, including those related to divorce and inheritance. While a non-Muslim woman is not required by law to convert to Islam when marrying a Muslim, children of such a marriage are legally Muslims. There are also certain criminal cases, such as drunkenness, in which Muslims are tried and punished under sharia.

Muslim convicts may earn a sentence reduction of a few months by memorizing the Quran while imprisoned. A judicial panel for Shia Muslims decides cases regarding marriage, divorce, inheritance, and other domestic matters utilizing Shia interpretations of religious law. In other religious matters, the country’s family law applies across all branches of Islam. In matters involving religious issues, judges have some discretion to apply either Shia or Sunni legal interpretations depending on the affiliation of the parties in the case.

Islamic instruction is compulsory for Muslims attending state-sponsored schools. While non-Muslims may provide private religious instruction for their children, most foreign children attend secular private schools. Muslim children may attend secular and coeducational private schools.

Government Practices

Adherents of most major religions in the country worshipped with limited government interference, although there were some restrictions on worship space, registration, and official recognition.

The government reviewed foreign newspapers, magazines, and books for “objectionable” religious content. Journalists and publishers continued to self-censor when reporting on material potentially considered hostile to Islam. On July 18, however, Qatar TV televised an anti-Semitic sermon delivered by Sheik Tareq Al-Hawwas in which he prayed for Jews to be killed in retaliation for the conflict in Gaza. The sheik’s sermon was not government-written.

In contrast to prior years, there were no reports of government censorship of the peaceful expression of religious views on the internet, although restrictions on proselytizing and speech deemed blasphemous or provoking social discord remained in force, and online commentators practiced self-censorship.

New religious groups, especially small groups, continued to have difficulties gaining or maintaining registration, citing requirements that groups consistently demonstrate they have over 1,500 members, bureaucratic inefficiencies, and lack of governmental support in facilitating registration. Religious leaders stated the inability to register made it difficult for religious groups to conduct financial activity. The MFA was still reviewing one application for registration at year’s end. The government continued to bar non-Abrahamic religious groups from registering.

Hindus, Buddhists, Bahais, and other unrecognized religious groups did not have authorized facilities in which to practice their religions. The government generally considered members of religious groups other than Islam, Christianity, and Judaism as transient members of the community not requiring permanent religious facilities or clergy. The government permitted adherents of unrecognized religions, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, and the Bahai Faith, and small Christian congregations, to worship privately in their homes, workplaces, and with others.

The government prohibited Christian congregations from advertising religious services or using religious symbols visible to the public, such as outdoor crosses. The Mesaymir Religious Complex, widely known as “Church City,” provided worship space for thousands of Christians. Christian leaders reported the government continued to make significant efforts to facilitate the construction of new worship space and improve roads and other infrastructure in Mesaymir. The government’s infrastructure improvements at Church City made it easier for disabled worshippers to participate.

The government permitted the eight registered Christian denominations to worship at Church City, but required unregistered churches to worship under the patronage of one of the eight recognized denominations, and to function as a subgroup of that religious group. For example, Protestant congregations registered as a denomination of the Anglican Church. The MFA reportedly allotted land for the Lebanese Maronite and Filipino Evangelical congregations, the most recently registered religious groups, to construct their own churches.

The government restricted the number and type of bank accounts churches could hold, and imposed reporting requirements on contractors doing business with the churches, as well as on donors supporting them, similar to its approach to the registration of foreign businesses. These restrictions limited the ability of churches to collect and disseminate charity both locally and internationally, leading some smaller, unregistered churches (either under the patronage of one of the recognized churches or not) to use personal accounts of religious leaders for church activities.

The MFA led a permanent intergovernmental committee charged with addressing the concerns of non-Muslim religious groups, including legal incorporation and sponsorship of religious leaders. Clergy members reported they maintained good relations with the government during the year.

The government did not enforce nondiscrimination laws despite reports of employers discriminating based on religion in employment decisions.

The government and ruling family remained strongly linked to Islam. All members of the ruling family and virtually all citizens were Muslim. Most high-level government positions were reserved for citizens; therefore most government officials were Muslims. The emir participated in public prayers during both Eid holiday periods and personally financed the Hajj for some citizen and noncitizen pilgrims who could not otherwise afford to travel to Mecca. As in past years, the government issued a decree during Ramadan describing its view on the correct way to practice Islam.

The Ministry of Islamic Affairs and Endowments controlled clerical affairs, Islamic education for adults and new converts, and the construction of mosques. It also provided thematic guidance and occasionally reviewed content but did not require prior approval of Friday sermons at mosques. The government reserved the right to take judicial action against individuals and facilities when the guidance was not followed, but there were no public examples of the government doing so, primarily because clerics adhered to the guidance. The Ministry of Islamic Affairs hired clerics and assigned them to specific mosques.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Some of the country’s privately owned Arabic-language newspapers carried cartoons depicting offensive caricatures of Jews and Jewish symbols. These occurred primarily in the daily newspapers al-Watanal-Sharqal-Arab, and al-Raya, and drew no government response.

The quasi-governmental Doha International Center for Interfaith Dialogue (DICID) continued international and domestic engagement to promote interfaith dialogue. The DICID hosted its 11th annual conference on interfaith dialogue in March, bringing together over 300 participants from 70 countries.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Ambassador, embassy officers, and visiting State Department officials met with local government officials and quasi-governmental organizations (created through government endowments or those for which the government controls the organization’s board of directors), such as the Qatar Foundation, to discuss restrictions on the number, type, and location of places of worship, the potential for government religious decrees to inhibit religious freedom, and efforts to criminalize “religious defamation” internationally. The embassy facilitated contacts between religious leaders and the government. Embassy officers met with representatives of religious groups to determine the needs of their communities, their perspective on the government’s efforts to create a system of religious tolerance, and the importance of interfaith cooperation in the country.

The embassy sponsored the visit of an American Muslim football player to promote understanding about religious diversity and tolerance in sports culture. During the visit he attended several iftars with youth and sports figures, where he discussed the U.S. approach to religious freedom.

Source:US State Department