The constitution provides for “absolute freedom” of belief and for freedom of religious practice in accordance with established customs, provided that it does not conflict with public order or morals. The constitution states that Islam is the state religion.
The government does not designate religion on passports or national identity documents, with the exception of birth certificates. On birth certificates issued to Muslims, the government does not differentiate between Sunnis and Shia.
The Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs has official responsibility for overseeing religious groups. Officially recognized churches work with a variety of government entities in conducting their affairs. This includes the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor for visas and residence permits for clergy and other staff, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Municipality of Kuwait for building permits and land concerns, and the Ministry of Interior for security and police protection for places of worship. Churches expressed concern about a perceived lack of responsiveness from authorities and difficulties in obtaining visas and residence permits.
There is no official government list of recognized churches; however, seven Christian churches--National Evangelical, Catholic, Coptic Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholic, and Anglican--have some form of official recognition enabling them to operate. These seven churches have open files at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor that allow them to bring religious workers, church staff, guest lecturers, and other visitors into the country.
The procedures for registration and licensing of religious groups are similar to those for NGOs. Unregistered religious groups worship at unofficial, private spaces or borrow the worship spaces of existing non-Muslim religious groups. The government does not interfere with such private gatherings.
Members of religious groups not sanctioned in the Qur’an, such as the Baha’i, Buddhists, Hindus, and Sikhs, could not build places of worship or other religious facilities. Nevertheless, unrecognized religious groups are allowed to worship privately in their homes without government interference.
The government exercises direct control of Sunni religious institutions. The government appoints Sunni imams, monitors their Friday sermons, and also finances the building of Sunni mosques. In several instances, Sunni imams were suspended for delivering sermons whose content the government deemed inflammatory. The government does not exert this control over Shia mosques, which are funded by the Shia community and not by the government.
Eating, drinking, and smoking in public are prohibited during Ramadan between sunrise and sunset, even for non-Muslims, with a prescribed maximum penalty of up to KD 100 ($360) and/or one month’s imprisonment. On August 27, three non-citizens were arrested for eating and smoking during Ramadan.
The government financially supports proselytism by Sunni Muslims towards non-Sunni foreign residents but does not allow conversion away from Islam.
The Amiri Diwan’s Higher Advisory Committee on Completion of the Application of Islamic Sharia Provisions is tasked with preparing society for the full implementation of Islamic law in all fields. The committee makes recommendations to the amir on ways in which laws can be brought into better conformity with Islamic law, but it has no authority to enforce such changes.
Personal status law is administered through religious courts, and the government permits Shia to follow their own jurisprudence in matters of personal status and family law at the first instance and appellate levels. In 2003 the government approved a Shia request to establish a court of cassation (equivalent to a supreme court) to oversee Shia personal status issues. The court had not been established by the end of the year. Shia religious endowments are administered by an independent Shia Waqf.
A1980 amendment to the 1959 Nationality Law prohibits the naturalization of non-Muslims. The law allows Christian citizens to transmit citizenship to their descendents.
There are laws against blasphemy, apostasy, and proselytizing. While the number of situations to which these laws applied is limited, the government actively enforced them, particularly the prohibition on non-Muslims proselytizing Muslims.
The 2006 Press and Publication Law requires jail terms for journalists who defame any religion and prohibits denigration of Islam or Islamic and Judeo-Christian religious figures, including the Prophet Muhammad and Jesus. Also prohibited are publications that the government deems could create hatred, spread dissension among the public, or incite persons to commit crimes. The law provides that any citizen may file criminal charges against an author if the citizen believes that the author has defamed Islam, the ruling family, or public morals.
Shia who wanted to serve as imams had to seek training and education abroad (primarily in Iraq, Iran, and to a lesser degree Syria) due to the lack of Shia jurisprudence courses at Kuwait University’s College of Islamic Law, the country’s only institution to train imams. There are no Shia professors at the College of Islamic Law at Kuwait University.
The government requires Islamic religious instruction in public schools for all students. The government also requires Islamic religious instruction in private schools that have one or more Muslim students (regardless of whether the student is a citizen or resident). In practice, non-Muslim students are not required to attend these classes.
High school Islamic education textbooks are based largely on the Sunni interpretation of Islam. Some content in the text books from the ninth-grade Islamic studies curriculum declares some Shia religious beliefs and practices heretical.
The law prohibits organized religious education for faiths other than Islam. Informal religious instruction occurred inside private homes and on church compounds without government interference.
The government observes the following religious holidays as national holidays: Islamic New Year, Birth of the Prophet Muhammad, Ascension of the Prophet, Eid al-Fitr, and Eid al-Adha. Private employers can decide whether to give their non-Muslim employees time off for non-Muslim holidays.