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Qatar


International Religious Freedom Report 2004
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
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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 Wahhabi order of the Sunni branch.

The status of respect for religious freedom improved somewhat during the period covered by this report. There was continued progress toward implementation of a Constitution that explicitly provides for freedom of worship, including the adoption of laws guaranteeing the freedom of association and public assembly. In April diplomatic relations between the country and the Vatican officially were formalized with the arrival of a papal nuncio. In May the second annual dialogue on Muslim-Christian understanding occurred. Non-Muslims may not proselytize, and the Government regulates the publication, importation, and distribution of non-Islamic religious books and materials; however, in practice individuals and religious institutions are not prevented from importing Bibles and other religious items for personal or congregational 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 discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has a total land area of approximately 4,250 square miles and its population is estimated at approximately 750,000, of whom approximately 150,000 are believed to be citizens. The majority of the 600,000 noncitizens 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

Legal/Policy Framework

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 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 the 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 Emir participates in public prayers during both Eid holiday periods and personally finances the Hajj journeys of 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 April the Government responded to concerns about the amount of space available for church construction by replacing the original site it designated with a new lot substantially larger than the previous site. However, the Government has not yet issued building permits for church construction. The Government does not maintain an official approved register of religious congregations.

In May 2003, the Government gave legal status to many Christian churches, allowing them to open bank accounts and sponsor clergy for visas.

The following religious holidays are considered national holidays: Islamic New Year, Eid al-Fitr, and Eid al-Adha.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Converting to another religion from Islam is considered apostasy and is technically a capital offense; however, since 1971 there has been no record of an execution or other punishments for such a crime.

The Government regulates the publication, importation, and distribution of non-Islamic religious literature; however, in practice individuals and religious institutions generally are not prevented from importing Bibles and other religious items for personal or congregational use. In addition religious materials for use at Christmas and Easter are available readily in local shops.

In 2003, some nongovernmental organizations raised concerns that the Government had deported several non-Muslims because of their religious activities. Although the Government does not normally provide official explanations of such cases, proselytization is often the suspected cause. During the period covered by this report, there were no reported cases of such deportations.

Religious services are held without prior authorization from the Government. 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.

No foreign missionary groups operate openly in the country. In June a new criminal code was enacted that established new rules for proselytizing. Individuals caught proselytizing on behalf of an organization, society, or foundation, for any religion other than Islam are sentenced to a term in prison no longer than 10 years. If proselytizing is done on behalf of an individual, for any religion other than Islam, the sentence is imprisoned for a term no longer than 5 years. According to this new law, those who possess written or recorded materials or items that support or promote missionary activity are imprisoned for no longer than 2 years.

Discrimination in the areas of employment, education, housing, and health services occurs, 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. Muslim children are allowed to go to 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 verses from 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 a child out of the country without permission of the citizen parent. Women may attend court proceedings, but generally they 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 woman is not required to convert to Islam upon marriage to a Muslim; however, many make a personal decision to do so. 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.

Abuses by Terrorist Organizations

There were no reported abuses targeted at specific religions by terrorist organizations during the period covered by this report.

Improvements and Positive Developments in Respect for Religious Freedom

In May 2003, the Government gave legal status to Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox, and many Asian Christian denominations. It provided them with registration numbers that allow them to open bank accounts and sponsor clergy for visas. Once each church group had a "number," it filed for visa and bank accounts. The granting of registration numbers represented major progress. During the period covered by this report, the Government issued the other paperwork that was required for the visas and bank accounts. Religious figures are now more likely to be, but still not usually, seen in public in Christian religious garb. During the period covered by this report, the Government approved a significantly larger land area than the location previously allocated for church construction. The Government has allotted a plot to each of the major registered churches. Christian denominations continued to make progress towards building churches on their designated plots of land.

In his address to the opening session of the Muslim-Christian Dialogue in May, the Prime Minister delivered a speech for the Emir calling for dialogue and mutual understanding between Islam and Christianity that received wide coverage in local media. The speech also called for broadening the dialogue to include representatives of Judaism in 2005, concluding that such dialogue would "build a decent human life where the principles of love, tolerance, and equality prevail for the good of mankind." This announcement has generated a national dialogue regarding Muslim-Christian-Jewish relations.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

There are generally amicable relations among persons of differing religious beliefs. The press and media generally treat non-Muslim religions in a respectful manner. During the period covered by this report, a number of public events promoted tolerance and understanding. The Indian Cultural Society staged a celebration of Onam in September stressing mutual understanding between the Muslim, Christian, and Hindu components of Indian society. The Syro Malabar Cultural Association organized a Christmas celebration featuring a portrayal of the life of Mother Teresa attended by 1,300 persons. The film "The Passion of the Christ" was widely advertised and attended in the country. 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 U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.

The Ambassador and other U.S. 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; it brought these issues to the attention of appropriate officials in the Government.



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