The constitution provides for the freedom to practice the rites of one’s religion in accordance with the customs that are observed in the country, unless the government deems they violate morality or public order. Other laws and policies restrict religious freedom. The constitution stipulates there shall be no discrimination in the rights and duties of citizens on grounds of religion, but also notes that the state religion is Islam and the king must be a Muslim. The government prohibits religious practices that conflict with the official interpretation of sharia.
The constitution mandates that matters concerning personal status, including religion, marriage, divorce, child custody, and inheritance, are under the exclusive jurisdiction of religious courts. Muslims are subject to the jurisdiction of sharia courts, which apply Islamic law adhering to the Hanafi school of Islamic jurisprudence, or other schools, except in cases that are explicitly addressed by civil status legislation. Matters of personal status of non-Muslims whose religion the government officially recognizes are under the jurisdiction of denomination-specific tribunals of religious communities. There are three tribunals – Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Anglican – that oversee each denomination’s religious court. Members of Protestant denominations registered as “societies” may have their cases heard in the Anglican tribunal. There are no tribunals for atheists or adherents of unrecognized religious groups, such as the Bahai Faith. Such individuals must request that one of the recognized courts hear their personal status cases, or request a civil court to authenticate their documents (but not register the act). There is no legal provision for civil marriage or divorce.
Islamic law governs all matters relating to family law involving Muslims or the children of a Muslim father. Minor children of male citizens who convert to Islam are considered Muslims. In accordance with Islamic law, 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. 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.
The sharia judicial council appoints sharia judges, while each recognized non-Muslim religious community selects the structure and members of its own tribunal. All judicial nominations must be approved by a royal decree.
The constitution and law do not explicitly ban Muslims from converting to another faith, and there are no penalties under civil law for doing so. However, by according primacy to sharia, which prohibits Muslims from converting to another religion, the government effectively prohibits both conversion from Islam and proselytization of Muslims. Proselytizing Muslims can be prosecuted under the penal code as “inciting sectarian conflict.” Non-Muslims may convert 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. Under sharia, these converts are considered Muslims and generally regarded as apostates. Any member of society may file an apostasy complaint against such individuals. In cases that a sharia court decides, judges can annul converts’ marriages, transfer child custody to a non-parent Muslim family member or declare them “wards of the state,” convey an individual’s property rights to Muslim family members, and deprive individuals of many civil rights.
Marriages between a Muslim woman and a non-Muslim man are not permitted, and the man must therefore convert to Islam for the marriage to be considered legal under sharia. If a Christian woman converts to Islam while married to a Christian man, her husband must also convert for their marriage to remain legal. If a Muslim husband and non-Muslim wife are divorced, the wife loses custody of the children when they reach seven years of age.
The Council of Church Leaders (CCL) is the government’s advisory body for all Christian religious affairs. The CCL consists of the heads of the country’s 11 officially recognized Christian churches and serves as an administrative body to facilitate official matters for Christian organizations, such as issuing work and land permits, and for individuals, such as issuing marriage and birth certificates, in coordination with government agencies. Unrecognized Christian denominations, despite not having full membership on the CCL, must also conduct business with the government through the council.
Officially recognized Christian denominations include the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic (Melkite), Armenian Orthodox, Maronite Catholic, Assyrian, Coptic, Anglican, Lutheran, Seventh-day Adventist, and Presbyterian churches. Christian churches that are not officially recognized but registered as societies include the Free Evangelical Church, Nazarene Church, United Pentecostal Church, Assemblies of God, Christian and Missionary Alliance, and The Church of Latter-day Saints (Mormons). Unrecognized Christian groups that are also not registered as societies include the United Pentecostal Church and Jehovah’s Witnesses. The government refers to Chaldean and Syriac Christians among its refugee population as “guests.” The Baptist Church is registered as a “denomination” but does not have the full privileges of other registered religious groups.
Christians regularly serve as cabinet ministers. According to the law, Christians are allotted nine seats out of 150 in parliament. Although Christians may only run for those designated seats at the district level, they are also eligible to compete for the 27 seats reserved for national list candidates. 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 to be about 4 percent; commanders at the division level and above are required to lead congregational Islamic prayer on certain occasions. While there are only Sunni Muslim chaplains in the armed forces, the government permits members of the armed forces of other religious groups to practice their religion.
The 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 ($28,249).
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 applies to schools that religious institutions administer.
In the case of Christian groups, the prime minister confers with the CCL 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 mosque construction. It also appoints imams, pays mosque staff salaries, manages Islamic clergy training centers, and subsidizes certain activities mosques sponsor. The government monitors sermons at mosques and requires preachers to 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 but are tax-exempt. Groups registered as “societies” rather than denominations face administrative restrictions. They must obtain government approval of their budgets and any foreign funding and notify the government of their by-laws and board members. Groups subject to restrictions lack any legal juristic status and cannot undertake basic administrative responsibilities (opening bank accounts, purchasing real estate, hiring staff). These groups often designate an individual to exercise these functions.
The government does not recognize the Druze or the Bahai Faith, but allows members of both faiths to practice their religion.
Public schools provide Islamic religious instruction as part of the basic national curriculum, although non-Muslim students are allowed to opt out. To prepare for government-issued exams, non-Muslim students in both public and private schools must learn verses from the Quran as part of the Arabic language curriculum. 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, such as the Baptist, Orthodox, and Latin schools, and are able to conduct classes on Christianity. They are open to adherents of all religions.
Employment application forms 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.