The Basic Law prohibits discrimination based on religion and protects the right of individuals to practice religious rites on condition that doing so does not disrupt public order. The Basic Law declares that Islam is the state religion and that sharia is the basis of legislation, although legislation is largely based on civil code and civil courts replaced sharia courts in 1999.
It is a criminal offense to “defame” any faith. The law provides for a maximum 10 years’ imprisonment for inciting religious or sectarian strife. The law also prescribes a maximum three-year sentence and fine of 500 rials ($1,300) for anyone who “publicly blasphemes God or His prophets,” commits an affront to religious groups by spoken or written word, or breaches the peace of a lawful religious gathering. Using the internet in a way that “might prejudice public order or religious values” is also a crime, with a penalty of between one month and a year in prison, and fines of not less than 1,000 rials ($2,600).
The law prohibits public proselytizing by all religious groups, although the government allows religious groups to proselytize privately within legally registered houses of worship and “Islamic propagation centers.”
The country’s civil courts adjudicate cases governed by the Personal Status and Family Legal Code. The code exempts non-Muslims from its provisions in matters pertaining to family or personal status, allowing them to seek adjudication under the religious laws of their faith. Shia Muslims may resolve family and personal status cases according to Shia jurisprudence outside the courts, and retain the right to transfer their case to a civil court if they cannot find a resolution within the Shia religious tradition.
Apostasy is not a criminal or civil offense, but the Personal Status and Family Legal Code prohibits a father who converts from Islam from retaining paternal rights over his children.
All religious organizations must register with the government. According to the MERA, there is no limit on the number of religious groups that can be registered. New religious groups unaffiliated with a previously recognized group must gain ministerial approval before registering. While no published rules, regulations, or criteria for approval exist, the ministry generally considers the group’s size, theology, belief system, and availability of other worship opportunities before granting approval. The ministry employs similar criteria before granting approval for new Muslim groups to form.
The ministry recognizes the Protestant Church of Oman, the Catholic Diocese of Oman, the al Amana Center (interdenominational Christian), the Hindu Mahajan Temple, and the Anwar al-Ghubaira Trading Company in Muscat (Sikh) as the official sponsors for non-Muslim religious groups. Groups seeking registration must request meeting and worship space from one of these sponsor organizations, which are responsible for recording the group’s doctrinal adherence, the names of its leaders, and the number of active members, and for submitting this information to the ministry.
Leaders of all religious groups must register with MERA. The formal licensing process for imams prohibits unlicensed lay members from preaching sermons in mosques, and licensed imams must follow government-approved sermons. Lay members of non-Muslim groups may lead prayers if they are specified as leaders in their group’s registration application. The ministry prohibits foreigners on tourist visas from preaching, teaching, or leading worship. The government permits clergy from abroad to enter the country to teach or lead worship under the sponsorship of registered religious groups, which must apply to MERA for approval before the visiting clergy’s entry.
MERA requires religious groups to obtain approval before disseminating religious publications outside their memberships; the government must approve any publication in the country. Religious groups must notify MERA before importing religious materials and submit a copy for the MERA files; however, the ministry does not review all imported religious material for approval.
Non-Muslim groups may practice their religion according to their values, customs, and traditions without interference only on land specifically donated by the sultan for the purpose of collective worship. The government does not permit gatherings for religious purposes in private homes or in any location other than government-approved houses of worship.
The government must approve construction and/or leasing of buildings by religious groups. In addition, mosques must be built at least one kilometer (0.6 mile) apart from each other.
Although the government records religion on birth certificates, it is not printed on other official identity documents.
Women are permitted to wear the hijab (Islamic headscarf), but cannot wear the niqab (Islamic veil that covers the face), in official photographs for passports and other identification.
Citizens have the right to sue the government for violations of their right to practice religious rites that do not disrupt public order; however, this right has never been exercised in court.
Islamic studies are mandatory for Muslim students in public school grades K-12. Non-Muslim students are exempt from this requirement, and many private schools provide alternative religious studies courses.