The constitution protects religious freedom. The constitution recognizes Islam as the official religion, mandates that Islam be considered a source of legislation, and states that no law may be enacted that contradicts the established provisions of Islam. However, it also states that no law may be enacted that contradicts principles of democracy or the rights and basic freedoms stipulated in the constitution. Moreover, the constitution guarantees freedom of thought, conscience, and religious belief and practice for Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
Apparent contradictions between the constitution and other legal provisions have not been tested in court and leave unclear the full legal protection for religious freedom. Government regulations preventing the conversion of Muslims to other religions, a law that requires conversion of minor children to Islam if either parent converts to Islam, laws and resolutions that outlaw the practice of some faiths, and a law that overrides religious tenets of individuals adhering to non-Muslim faiths remain, but have not been tested in court. In practice the constitution is the framework through which the government protected religious freedom during the year.
The country’s civil and penal codes remain silent regarding legal remedies or penalties for conversion from Islam. In a change from her predecessor, the new minister of human rights is no longer advocating for the repeal of this law.
Law No. 105 of 1970 prohibits the practice of the Baha’i Faith, and a 2001 resolution prohibits the practice of the Wahhabi branch of Islam. Although provisions on freedom of religion in the constitution may supersede these laws, no court challenges have been brought to have them invalidated, and no legislation has been proposed to repeal them.
Article 41 of the constitution provides that citizens are free in their commitments to their personal status according to their religious groups, sects, beliefs, or choices. Required implementing legislation, however, has not yet been enacted, so the 1959 Personal Status Law (Law 188) remains in force, which calls for the adjudication of cases in accordance with Islamic law principles and applies to all citizens unless they are exempted by virtue of a special law. “Special law” might include foreigners, such as the British Proclamation No. 6 of 1917 and the Personal Status Law of Foreigners, No. 38, of 1931. Proclamation No. 6 provides that the civil courts consult the religious authority of the non-Muslim parties for their opinion under the applicable religious law and apply this opinion in court.
The constitution establishes the government’s commitment to assuring and maintaining the sanctity of holy shrines and religious sites and guaranteeing the free practice of rituals. The penal code criminalizes disrupting or impeding religious ceremonies and desecrating religious buildings, and specifies that it applies to religious minorities. Followers of all religious groups and sects are free in the practice of religious rites and in the management of religious endowments, their affairs, and their religious institutions.
Article 18 of the constitution protects all citizens of birth from having their citizenship withdrawn, establishes their right to demand reinstatement of their citizenship, and allows them to hold multiple citizenships. However, in practice, the government considers Jewish citizens who emigrated from Iraq to Israel as having renounced their Iraqi citizenship and the possibility of reinstatement. The criminal code 201 stipulates that any person promoting “Zionist principles,” or who associates himself with “Zionist organizations” or assists them by giving material or moral support, or works in any way towards the realization of “Zionist objectives,” is subject to punishment by death. Criminal code 201 was not implemented during the year.
In November 2011, the Iraqi Kurdistan Parliament (IKP) approved the first amendment of the Provincial Election Law No. 4 of 2009. The amendment did not include provisions sought by Christian representatives for the allocation of quota seats for Christians at both the District and Sub-District Council levels in geographical areas with Christian populations. In 2011, Christians held five quota seats of 111 total slots in the IKP.
Although individuals from minority groups hold senior positions in the national parliament and central government, as well as in the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), minorities are proportionally underrepresented in the unelected government workforce, particularly at the provincial and local levels. The government and the KRG continued to provide political representation and support to minority communities during the year. The Iraqi Council of Ministers (COM) contains one Christian member (environment). The KRG’s Council of Ministers includes one Christian minister (communication and transportation) and one Yezidi minister (agriculture and water resources).
The KRG provid some services, including payment of salaries for Yezidi religious instruction, at certain state-funded schools.
National identity cards denote the holder’s religion; however, passports did not specify religion.
Religious groups are required to register with the government. To register, a group must have a minimum of 500 adherents in the country and, if Christian, receive approval from the Council of Iraqi Christian Church Leaders, a quasi-governmental group consisting of representatives from each of the 14 officially recognized churches.
In April 2007 the Ministry of Interior’s Nationality and Passport Section canceled regulation 358 of 1975, which prohibited the issuance of national identity cards to those claiming the Baha’i faith. In May 2007 a small number of Baha’is were issued identity cards. The Nationality and Passport Section’s legal advisor stopped issuance of the cards thereafter, claiming Baha’is had been registered as Muslims since 1975 and citing a government regulation preventing the conversion of “Muslims” to another religion. Without this official identity card, Baha’is cannot register their children for school or acquire passports. Despite the cancellation of the regulation, Baha’is whose identity records were changed to “Muslim” after regulation 358 was instituted in 1975 still could not change their identity cards to indicate their Baha’i religion, and their children were not recognized as Baha’is.
The government maintains three waqfs (religious endowments): the Sunni, the Shia, and the Christian and Other Religions Endowments. The endowments, which operate under the authority of the prime minister’s office, disburse government funding to maintain and protect religious facilities.
The KRG, through the Kurdistan Region Ministry of the Endowment, pays the salaries of imams and funds the construction and maintenance of mosques. This funding is available for Christian religious establishments, but many churches prefer to be self-funded.
Article 92 of the constitution provides that the Federal Supreme Court shall be made up of a number of judges, experts in Islamic jurisprudence, and legal scholars. At the end of the year, no legislation had been enacted to regulate the number or method of selection of judges, or the work of the court, leaving unsettled the question of whether Islamic jurisprudence experts would serve as consultants and advisors to the judges or as members of the court.
The government provides support for Muslims desiring to perform the Hajj, organizing travel routes and assisting pilgrims with obtaining immunization documents for entry into Saudi Arabia. The government also provides funding to Sunni and Shia waqfs, which accept Hajj applications from the public and submit them to the Supreme Council for the Hajj. The council, which is attached to the prime minister’s office, organizes a lottery process that selects pilgrims for official Hajj visas.
The government requires Islamic religious instruction in public schools, but non-Muslim students are not required to participate. In most areas of the country, the curriculum of both primary and secondary public schools includes three class periods per week of Islamic education, including study of the Qur’an, as a requirement for graduation for Muslim students. Private religious schools operate in the country. To operate legally, private schools must obtain a license from the director general of private and public schools and pay annual fees. The Kurdistan Regional Ministry of Education funds Aramaic-language public schools (elementary and high school) in its territory, and the syllabus does not contain religion or Qur’an studies.
The government observes the following religious holidays as national holidays: Ashura, Arbai’n, Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha, Maulid al-Nabi, and Christmas. The official work week is Sunday to Thursday, in deference to the Muslim Sabbath on Fridays.