The Constitution provides for freedom of worship in accordance with the law and the requirements of protecting the public system and public behavior; however, the Government continues to prohibit proselytization by non-Muslims and places some restrictions on public worship. 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 adoption of a Constitution that explicitly provides for freedom of worship; the establishment of diplomatic relations between the country and the Vatican; and the conduct of a dialog on Muslim-Christian understanding. The Government has given legal status to many Christian churches, allowing them to open banking accounts and sponsor clergy for visas. 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.
The U.S. Government discussed 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 has a total land area of approximately 4,254 square miles and its population is estimated at approximately 600,000 of whom approximately 150,000 are believed to be citizens. The majority of the 450,000 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.
No foreign missionary groups operate openly in the country.
Section II. Status of Religious Freedom
The Constitution provides for freedom of worship in accordance with the law and the requirements of protecting the public system and public behavior; however, the Government continues to prohibit proselytization by non-Muslims and places some restrictions on public worship. The state religion is Islam, as interpreted by the conservative Wahabi 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, clerical affairs, and Islamic education for adults and new converts. 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 has given legal status to Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox, Coptic, and many Asian Christian denominations; however, the Government does not allow the building of new non-Muslim public places of worship without permission. In May it provided them with registration numbers that will allow them to open bank accounts and sponsor clergy for visas. During the period covered by this report, Christian church officials continued to seek authorization to construct churches on land reserved by the Government for Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox, Coptic, and other Christian communities; however, the Government has not issued building permits. The Government does not maintain an official approved register of religious congregations.
During the period covered by this report, the Government established diplomatic relations with the Vatican. The Government also hosted a seminar on Christian-Muslim understanding, which drew 30 prominent scholars including the Archbishop of Canterbury to the capitol in April.
The following religious holidays are considered national holidays: Islamic New Year, Eid al-Fitr, and Eid al-Adha.
Restrictions on Religious Freedom
The Constitution provides for freedom of worship in accordance with the law and the requirements of protecting the public system and public behavior; however, the Government continues to prohibit proselytization by non-Muslims and places some restrictions on public worship.
Converting to another religion from Islam is considered apostasy and is technically a capital offense; however, since 1971 there is no record of an execution for such a crime.
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 addition, religious materials for use at Christmas and Easter are available readily in local shops.
Some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have raised concerns that the Government has deported several non-Muslims because of their religious activities. Though the Government does not normally provide official explanations of such cases, proselytization is often the suspected cause.
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, Baha'is, or members of other religions to operate as freely as Christian congregations; 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.
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 imposes significant restrictions on Muslim women. 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. The press and media generally treat non-Muslim religions in a respectful manner. On a few occasions, privately owned newspapers or public television stations have carried articles or sermons with anti-Semitic or anti-Christian content.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy
The Ambassador and other Embassy officials met with Government officials at all levels to address religious freedom issues. The Embassy facilitated contacts between religious leaders and the Government, and coordinated initiatives with other Embassies to increase their impact.
The Ambassador and other Embassy officials also met with representatives from a number of religious communities in the country. The Embassy discussed with them strategies for increasing religious freedom in the country, protection of the interests of minority congregations, and allegations of discrimination on religious grounds, and has brought these issues to the attention of appropriate officials in the Government.