The constitution and other laws and policies protect religious freedom; however, the constitution also states that citizens will draw governing principles and rules from Islamic tenets. A constitutional referendum passed in May 2009 states that “Islam is the state religion,” but in practice there was no change in the legal status of religious freedom. In general, the authorities enforced all laws, including those protecting religious freedom, in an inconsistent and unpredictable manner.
Proselytizing for any religion except Islam is illegal. Foreigners caught proselytizing for religions other than Islam were subject to deportation under the law, though no such cases have been brought before the courts in recent memory. Consequences for citizens caught proselytizing are unknown. Converts from Islam may be prosecuted under the law, though penalties are ill-defined and the law has not been tested in practice.
Nominated by the president, the grand mufti is part of the government and manages issues concerning religion and religious administration. The grand mufti’s position is attached to the Ministry of Justice, Public Service, Administrative Reforms, Human Rights and Islamic Affairs, and he counsels the government on matters of the practice of Islam and Islamic law. The grand mufti periodically consults with a group of elders to assess whether the principles of Islam are being respected, and he regularly addresses the country on the radio regarding social and religious issues such as delinquency, alcohol abuse, marriage, divorce, and education.
The government does not require religious groups to be licensed, registered, or officially recognized.
While the study of Islam is not compulsory in public schools, the tenets of Islam were sometimes taught in conjunction with Arabic in public schools at the middle school level. The public school system is in disarray and curricula vary widely; private schools with French curricula and madrassahs fill the gap. There were no provisions for religious education of religious minorities in public schools; however, foreigners can request that their children not receive Islamic instruction or Arabic language training. Individuals who belong to minority faiths do not protest that their tenets are not taught in the schools, accepting the benefits of an education as the overriding value. Almost all children between the ages of four and seven attend private schools at least part-time to learn to read and recite the Qur’an. Although attendance is subject to social pressure, there is no government sanction for opting out, amounting to de facto respect for the right to choose one’s level of practice of the religion.
The government funded the country’s only public university to assure the availability of local educational opportunities, in part due to concerns that youth who have studied abroad in countries with differing or no Islamic traditions could return home and attempt to influence the traditional moderate Sunni tradition on the islands.
The government observes the following religious holidays as national holidays: the Birth of the Prophet Muhammad, Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Kabir, and the Islamic New Year.