The constitution provides for 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 contradict principles of democracy or the rights and basic freedoms stipulated in the constitution. The constitution also guarantees freedom from intellectual, political, and religious coercion. Apparent contradictions between the constitution and other legal provisions remain, although some court decisions during the year upheld the constitutional protection of religious freedom.
Government laws and regulations prevent the conversion of Muslims to other religions, require conversion of minor children to Islam if either parent converts to Islam, outlaw the practice of some faiths, and override religious tenets of individuals adhering to non-Muslim faiths. The country’s civil and penal codes do not contain legal remedies or penalties for conversion from Islam.
The law prohibits practice of the Bahai Faith and practice of the Wahhabi branch of Sunni Islam. Although constitutional provisions on freedom of religion may supersede these laws, no court challenges yet invalidate them, and there is no legislation proposed to repeal them.
The constitution guarantees citizens the right to choose which court will adjudicate matters of personal status, including marriage, divorce, custody of children, inheritance, endowments, and other personal matters. Until parliament enacts implementing legislation, the 1959 Personal Status Law remains the de facto legal authority. It stipulates that cases of all citizens will be adjudicated in accordance with Islamic legal principles unless they are specifically exempted by a special law. It also stipulates that civil courts must consult the religious authority of a non-Muslim party for its opinion under the applicable religious law and apply that opinion in court.
The constitution requires the government to maintain the sanctity of holy shrines and religious sites and guarantee the free practice of rituals. The penal code protects members of minority religious groups by criminalizing disruption or impedance of their religious ceremonies and desecration of their religious buildings. Members of all religious groups are free to practice religious rites and manage religious endowments, endowment affairs, and their religious institutions.
The constitution protects all citizens by birth from having their citizenship withdrawn, establishes their right to demand reinstatement of their citizenship, and allows them to hold multiple citizenships.
Of the 325 seats in the Council of Representatives, the law reserves eight seats for members of minority religious groups: five for Christian candidates from Baghdad, Ninewa, Kirkuk, Erbil, and Dahuk; one Yezidi representing Ninewa; one Sabean-Mandaean representing Baghdad; and one Shabak representing Ninewa.
The Iraqi Kurdistan Parliament (IKP) reserves five seats for Christians and one seat for Yezidis.
The Council of Iraqi Christian Church Leaders, a quasi-governmental group consisting of representatives from each of the 14 officially recognized churches, requires Christian groups to register. To do so, the group must have a minimum of 500 adherents in the country.
National identity cards denote the holder’s religion, but do not differentiate between Shia and Sunni Muslim. Passports do not specify religion. Bahais and Kakais may only receive identity cards if they self-identify as Muslims. Without an official identity card, Bahais and Kakais cannot register their children for school or acquire passports.
The government maintains three waqfs (religious endowments): the Sunni; the Shia; and the Christian, Yezidi, Sabean-Mandaean, and Other Religions Endowments. Operating under the authority of the prime minister’s office, the endowments disburse government funding to maintain and protect religious facilities.
The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) also maintains three waqfs: the Sunni, the Christian, and the Yezidi Endowments. The KRG Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs operated the endowments, which pay the salaries of imams and fund the construction and maintenance of religious sites. Funding is available for Christian religious establishments, but many churches prefer to fund themselves.
The constitution provides that the Federal Supreme Court shall be made up of a number of judges, experts in Islamic jurisprudence, and legal scholars. However, the constitution leaves the the method of regulating the number and selection of judges to legislation that requires a two-thirds majority vote in the Council of Representatives. Because several attempts to pass implementing legislation failed during the year, the Federal Supreme Court’s composition continues to be governed by the 2005 Federal Supreme Court Law, which does not require that Islamic jurisprudence experts be included on 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 is attached to the prime minister’s office. It 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, primary and secondary school curriculum includes three class periods per week of Islamic education, including study of the Quran, as a graduation requirement 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 Ministry of Education includes an office for Kurdish and other language education, which ensures that minority communities are taught in their native language.
The KRG Ministry of Education funds Aramaic-language public schools (elementary and high school) in its territory, and the curriculum does not contain religion or Quranic studies. The KRG provides some services, including salaries for Yezidi religious instruction, at certain state-funded schools.
The government observes the following religious holidays as national holidays: Ashura, Arbaeen, Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha, and Maulid al-Nabi. Ashura and Arbaeen are not observed in the IKR. The official work week is Sunday to Thursday, in deference to the Muslim day of prayer on Fridays.