The constitution and other laws and policies protect religious freedom. The constitution specifically defines the country as a secular state and provides for the free practice of religious beliefs, provided that public order is maintained.
Muslims may choose to have disputes covered by the family code, including marriage and inheritance disputes, adjudicated by civil court judges using Islamic law. Civil court judges preside over civil and customary law cases, but many disputes among Muslims are settled informally by the decision of religious leaders, particularly in rural areas.
The government provides direct financial and material assistance to religious organizations, primarily to maintain or rehabilitate places of worship or to underwrite special events. All religious groups have access to these funds, and there is often competition among religious groups to obtain them.
The government encourages and assists Muslim participation in the annual Hajj, providing hundreds of free airplane tickets for the pilgrimage to imams for distribution among citizens. The government provides similar assistance for an annual Catholic pilgrimage to the Vatican and the Holy Land.
Religious organizations are independent of the government and administer their affairs without government interference. The civil and commercial codes require any group, religious or otherwise, to register with the Ministry of Interior to acquire legal status as an association. Registration enables an association to conduct business, own property, establish a bank account, and receive financial contributions from private sources. Registered religious groups and nonprofit organizations are exempt from many forms of taxation. The government generally approves applications for registration, and the Ministry of Interior must have a legal basis for denying applications.
Religious nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) must obtain authorization to operate from the Ministry of Women, Family, and Social Development. The government monitors foreign religious NGOs to ensure that their activities adhere to their stated objectives.
The government allows up to four hours of voluntary religious education per week in public elementary schools. Parents may choose either the Christian or Muslim curriculum. An estimated 700,000 students participated in religious education through the public elementary school system during the year.
Private schools may also provide religious education. The Ministry of Education provides partial funding to schools operated by religious institutions that meet national education standards. Long-established Christian schools with strong academic reputations receive the largest share of this government funding. The majority of students attending Christian schools are Muslim. In addition to the national curriculum, Christian schools offer religious education to Christian students and moral education to non-Christians. Non-Christian students were not required to take Christian religious courses.
The government observes the following religious holidays as national holidays: Tabaski (Abraham’s sacrifice), Tamkharit (Muslim New Year), the Birth of the Prophet Muhammad, Korite (end of Ramadan), Easter Monday, Ascension, Pentecost, Feast of the Assumption, All Saints’ Day, and Christmas.