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Oman


International Religious Freedom Report 2003
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
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The Constitution or Basic Charter protects the freedom to practice religious rites, in accordance with tradition, provided that their practices do not breach public order, and the Government generally respects this right in practice; however there were some restrictions. The Basic Charter also declares that Islam is the State religion and that Shari'a is the source of all legislation. The Government permits worship by 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 for non-Muslims to proselytize Muslims.

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom.

The U.S. Government 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 area is 119,498 square miles, and its population is approximately 2.8 million, of whom 1,889,910 are Omani. Most citizens are Ibadhi or Sunni Muslims, but there also is a minority of Shi'a Muslims. 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 nonproselytizing 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

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution or Basic Charter protects the freedom to practice religious rites, in accordance with tradition, provided that their practices do not breach public order, and the Government generally respects this right in practice; however, there were some restrictions. The Basic Charter also 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 Charter 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. 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 organization present in the country for several decades has had its application for formal registration pending at the Ministry for several years. Anecdotal evidence suggest 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.

Citizen children must attend schools that provide instruction in Islam; noncitizen children may attend schools that do not offer instruction in Islam.

The Government has sponsored forums at which differing interpretations of Islam have been examined, and inter-faith, government-sponsored dialog takes place on a regular basis.

The following religious holidays are considered national holidays: Eid al Adha, Islamic (Hijra) New Year, Birth of the Prophet, Ascension Day, 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. 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 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 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.

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.

Some aspects of Islamic law and tradition as interpreted 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.

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

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom. Religious discrimination in the private sector largely is 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 dialog are permitted to exist as long as discussions do not constitute an attempt to cause Muslims to recant their Islamic beliefs.

In 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. Government 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 freely participate in local religious ceremonies and have contact with members of non-Muslim religious groups.



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