The constitution and other laws and policies protect religious freedom and, in practice, the government generally respected religious freedom. The constitution provides for the freedom to practice the rites of one’s religion and faith in accordance with the customs that are observed in the kingdom, unless they violate public order or morality. The constitution further stipulates there shall be no discrimination in the rights and duties of citizens on grounds of religion; however, the constitution also notes the state religion is Islam and the king must be Muslim.
The constitution also provides that matters concerning personal status, such as religion, marriage, divorce, child custody, and inheritance, are under the exclusive jurisdiction of religious courts. Muslims are subject to the jurisdiction of Islamic law courts, which apply Islamic law adhering to the Hanafi school of Islamic jurisprudence, except in cases that are explicitly addressed by civil status legislation. Matters of personal status of non-Muslims whose religion is recognized by the government are under the jurisdiction of denomination-specific tribunals of religious communities, as outlined in the constitution. During the year, there were three tribunals, one each for Catholics, Greek Orthodox, and Anglicans, which oversaw their denominations’ respective religious courts. Members of Protestant denominations registered as “societies” must use the recognized Anglican tribunal. There are no tribunals for atheists or adherents of unrecognized religions, such as the Baha’i Faith. Such individuals must request that one of the recognized courts hear their personal status cases. There is no legal provision for civil marriage or divorce. Members of religious groups that have no legally recognized religious divorce sometimes converted to another Christian denomination or to Islam in order to divorce legally.
Islamic law governs all matters relating to family law involving Muslims or the children of a Muslim father. All citizens, including non-Muslims, are subject to Islamic legal provisions regarding inheritance if no equivalent inheritance guidelines are codified in their religion or if their religion does not have official state recognition. Minor children of male citizens who convert to Islam are considered Muslims. Adult children of a male who has converted to Islam become ineligible to inherit from their father if they do not also convert to Islam.
The head of the department that manages Islamic law court affairs (a cabinet-level position) appoints Islamic law judges, while each recognized non-Muslim religious community selects the structure and members of its own tribunal. All judicial nominations must be approved by the prime minister and commissioned officially by royal decree.
Neither the constitution, the penal code, nor civil legislation bans conversion from Islam or efforts to proselytize Muslims. However, the government prohibits conversion from Islam in that it accords primacy to Islamic law, which governs Muslims’ personal status and prohibits them from converting. This practice contradicts the constitution’s religious freedom provisions. The government freely allows conversion to Islam and from one recognized non-Islamic faith to another.
As the government does not allow conversion from Islam, it also does not recognize converts from Islam as falling under the jurisdiction of their new religious community’s laws in matters of personal status; rather, converts from Islam are still considered Muslims. In general under Islamic law, these converts are regarded as apostates, and any member of society may file an apostasy complaint against them. In cases decided by an Islamic law court, judges have annulled converts’ marriages, transferred child custody to a non-parent Muslim family member, conveyed an individual’s property rights to Muslim family members, deprived individuals of many civil rights, and declared non-Muslim minors as “wards of the state” and without any religious identity.
On January 21, 2009, the cabinet officially recognized the Council of Church Leaders as the government’s advisory body for all Christian affairs. The council consists of the heads of the country’s 11 officially recognized Christian churches and serves as an administrative body to facilitate official Christian matters, including the issuance of work permits, land permits, and marriage and birth certificates, in coordination with government ministries, departments, and institutions. Unrecognized Christian denominations, despite not having full membership on the council, also must conduct business with the government through the council. During the year, concerns continued over the council’s capacity to manage all Christian affairs effectively and fairly.
Christians have served regularly as cabinet ministers, and in October the king appointed five Christians to the upper house of parliament. Of the 120 seats of the lower house of parliament, nine are reserved for Christians. Christians are prohibited from running outside of these designated seats. No seats are reserved for adherents of other minority religious groups. The government classification of Druze as Muslims permits them to hold office.
The government traditionally reserves some positions in the upper levels of the military for Christians, anecdotally estimated at about 4 percent; however, all senior command positions are held by Muslims. Division-level commanders and above are required to lead Islamic prayer on certain occasions. While there were only Sunni Muslim chaplains in the armed forces, Christian and Shia Muslim members of the armed forces are not prohibited from practicing their religion.
The Press and Publications Law prohibits the publication of media items that slander or insult “founders of religion or prophets” or that are deemed contemptuous of “any of the religions whose freedom is protected by the constitution” and imposes a fine of up to 20,000 dinars ($28,000).
Religious institutions must be accorded official recognition through application to the prime minister’s office to own land and administer rites such as marriage. This requirement also would apply to schools administered by religious institutions. Some groups remain officially unrecognized.
In the case of Christian groups, the prime minister confers with the Council of Church Leaders on the registration and recommendation of new churches. The government also refers to the following criteria when considering recognition of Christian churches: the group must not contradict the nature of the constitution, public ethics, customs, or traditions; the Middle East Council of Churches must recognize it; the faith must not oppose the national religion; and the group must include some citizens of the country.
The Ministry of Awqaf (religious endowments) and Islamic Affairs manages Islamic institutions and the construction of mosques. It also appoints imams, provides mosque staff salaries, manages Islamic clergy training centers, and subsidizes certain activities sponsored by mosques. The government monitors sermons at mosques and requires preachers refrain from political commentary that the government believes could instigate social or political unrest. Imams who violate these rules face fines and a possible ban from preaching.
Recognized non-Islamic religious institutions do not receive subsidies; they are financially and administratively independent of the government and are tax-exempt. Groups registered as “societies” rather than denominations are subject to the 2008 Law on Associations that requires government approval of a group’s budget, approval of foreign funding, and notification of the group’s by-laws and board members in addition to other administrative restrictions. The Free Evangelical Church, the Church of the Nazarene, the Assemblies of God, and the Christian and Missionary Alliance are registered with the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) as “societies” and are subject to the law’s restrictions. The Baptist Church, which is registered as a “denomination” with the Ministry of Interior, and other groups registered as “churches” with the MOJ are not subject to the associations law.
Although the government does not recognize the Druze religion, it does not prohibit its practice. The Druze did not report official discrimination. On national identity cards and “family books,” which normally identify the bearer’s religious community, the government records Druze as Muslims. The government does not officially recognize the Druze temple in Azraq; four social halls belonging to the Druze are registered as “societies.”
The Baha’i Faith also is not recognized by the government, and Baha’is face official discrimination. On national identity cards and family books, the government records Baha’is as Muslims, leaves the space blank, or marks it with dashes. This action has implications under Islamic law for the legality of certain marriages, as a woman registered as Muslim is not permitted to marry a non-Muslim man; thus a Baha’i man with no officially noted religion could be prevented from marrying a Baha’i woman who has been erroneously registered as Muslim. The Baha’i community does not have its own court to adjudicate personal status matters; such cases may be heard in courts governed by Islamic law or other recognized religious courts upon request. The Department of Civil Status and Passports does not officially recognize marriages conducted by Baha’i assemblies, but it does acknowledge these marriages for the purpose of updating personal information in passports. Additionally, the child of a non-Muslim father and a Baha’i mother registered inaccurately as a Muslim is considered illegitimate under Islamic law. These children are not issued a birth certificate and subsequently are unable to receive citizenship or register for school. The government does not officially recognize Baha’i schools or places of worship. There are two recognized Baha’i cemeteries, but the cemetery in Adasieh is registered in the name of the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs, despite requests to register it under the Baha’i Faith.
Public schools provide Islamic religious instruction as part of the basic national curriculum, although Christian students are allowed to leave the classroom during these sessions. However, Christian students in private and public schools must learn verses from the Qur’an and Islamic poetry in both Arabic and social studies classes in preparation for mid-year and end-of-year exams written by the Ministry of Education. The constitution provides congregations the right to establish schools to educate their communities, “provided that they comply with the general provisions of the law and are subject to the control of government in matters relating to their curricula and orientation.” In several cities, Christian denominations operate private schools that are open to adherents of all religions, such as the Baptist, Orthodox, and Latin schools, and they are able to conduct Christian religion classes.
Employment applications for government positions occasionally contain questions about an applicant’s religion. Religious affiliation is required on national identification cards and legal documentation, including on marriage and birth certificates, but not on travel documents such as passports.
Atheists and agnostics must associate themselves with a recognized religion for purposes of official identification.
The government observes the following religious holidays as national holidays: the Birth of the Prophet Muhammad, the Prophet’s Ascension, Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha, the Islamic New Year, Christmas, and the Gregorian calendar New Year. Christians traditionally are given leave from work on Christian holidays approved by the Council of Church Leaders, such as Palm Sunday and Easter.