The constitution and other laws recognize the Abrahamic faiths (Islam, Christianity, and Judaism) and provide for freedom of worship. However, the law prohibits non-Muslims from proselytizing and restricts public worship. Islam is the state religion, and sharia is the main source of legislation. The law does not recognize religions other than Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. The constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion. Custom outweighs government enforcement of nondiscrimination laws, and legal, cultural, and institutional discrimination exists.
Converting to another religion from Islam is considered apostasy and is a capital offense; however, since the country gained independence in 1971, there have been no recorded punishments for apostasy.
The law punishes proselytizing on behalf of an organization, society, or foundation of any religion other than Islam with up to 10 years in prison. Proselytizing on one’s own accord for any religion other than Islam can result in a sentence of up to five years. The government’s policy, however, is to deport suspected proselytizers who are foreigners without formal legal proceedings.
The law calls for two years imprisonment and a fine of QR 10,000 ($2,746) for possession of written or recorded materials or items that support or promote missionary activity. The law imposes a prison sentence of up to seven years for defaming, desecrating, or committing blasphemy against Islam, Christianity, or Judaism. The law stipulates a one-year prison term or a fine of QR 1,000 ($275) for producing or circulating material containing slogans, images, or symbols defaming those three religions. The law also prohibits publication of texts provoking social discord or religious strife.
The Ministry of Social Affairs must approve all religious charitable activities in advance.
The government and ruling family are strongly linked to Islam. All members of the ruling family and virtually all citizens are Muslim. Most high-level government positions are reserved for citizens; therefore most government officials are Muslims. The Ministry of Islamic Affairs and Endowments controls the construction of mosques, clerical affairs, and Islamic education for adults and new converts. The emir participates in public prayers during both Eid holiday periods and personally finances the Hajj (religious pilgrimage) for some citizen and noncitizen pilgrims who cannot otherwise afford to travel to Mecca.
A unified civil court system has jurisdiction over both Muslims and non-Muslims. National law incorporates both secular legal traditions and sharia, with the exception of a separate limited dispute resolution system for financial service companies managed under the Qatar Financial Center. The unified court system applies sharia in family law cases, including inheritance, marriage, divorce, and child custody. Non-Muslims are subject to sharia in cases of child custody. In these proceedings, the testimony of men has more credence than that of women. While a non-Muslim woman is not required by law to convert to Islam when marrying a Muslim, children of such a marriage are legally Muslims. There are also certain criminal cases, such as drunkenness, in which Muslims are tried and punished under sharia. In matters involving religious issues, judges have some discretion to apply their respective interpretations for Shia and Sunni groups.
Muslim convicts may earn a sentence reduction of a few months by memorizing the Quran while imprisoned. A judicial panel for Shia Muslims decides cases regarding marriage, divorce, inheritance, and other domestic matters. In other religious matters, the country’s family law applies across all branches of Islam.
The government regulates the publication, importation, and distribution of all religious books and materials but permits individuals and religious institutions to import holy books and other religious items for personal or congregational use. The law designates the minister of Islamic affairs and endowments as the final authority for approving religious centers. Christian groups must register (have a minimum number of members) with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) consular affairs department for legal recognition. The government maintains an official register of approved Christian denominations and grants legal status to the Catholic, Anglican, Greek Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Coptic, Lebanese Maronite, Filipino Evangelical, and Indian Christian churches. Both the Lebanese Maronite and Filipino Evangelical groups, the most recently registered, have reportedly been allotted land for their buildings. The MFA is still reviewing one application, and has rejected another because the group was determined to fall outside the recognized Abrahamic faiths.
For recognition, a denomination must have at least 1,500 members in the country. The MFA requires smaller congregations to affiliate and worship under the patronage of one of the now eight recognized churches, two of which have not yet begun construction of their buildings. The government permits adherents of unrecognized religions, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, and the Bahai Faith, and small Christian congregations, to worship privately in their homes and with others.
Islamic instruction is compulsory for Muslims attending state-sponsored schools. While non-Muslims may provide private religious instruction for their children, most foreign children attend secular private schools. Muslim children may attend secular and coeducational private schools.