The constitution provides for the freedom to practice the rites of one’s religion and faith 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 directly 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 Islamic law courts, which apply Islamic law adhering to the Hanafi school of Islamic jurisprudence, 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 – which oversee the denomination’s respective religious courts. Members of Protestant denominations registered as “societies” may have their cases heard under 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. There is no legal provision for civil marriage or divorce. Members of religious groups that do not have legally recognized religious divorces sometimes convert to another Christian denomination or to Islam to divorce legally.
Islamic law governs all matters relating to family law involving Muslims or the children of a Muslim father. 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. 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.
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 Islamic law, which prohibits Muslims from converting to another religion, the government effectively prohibits both conversion from Islam and proselytizing Muslims. 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 Islamic law, these converts are considered to be Muslims and generally regarded as apostates. Any member of society may file an apostasy complaint against them. In cases that an Islamic law 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.
The Council of Church Leaders is the government’s advisory body for all religious affairs for Christians. The council consists of the heads of the country’s 11 officially recognized Christian churches and serves as an administrative body to facilitate official matters for Christians, such as issuing work permits, land permits, and marriage and birth certificates, in coordination with government agencies. Unrecognized Christian denominations, despite not having full membership on the council, must also conduct business with the government through the council.
Christians regularly serve as cabinet ministers. In July parliament passed a new Electoral Law that increases the number of seats in the lower house from 120 to 150, while maintaining the Christian quota at nine seats. 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; however, Muslims hold all senior command positions. 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 press and publications 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 ($28,000).
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 Council of Church Leaders 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 these restrictions include The Free Evangelical Church, the Church of the Nazarene, the Assemblies of God, and the Christian and Missionary Alliance.
The government allows the Druze to practice their religion, even though it does not recognize their religion. On national identity cards and “family books,” which normally identify the bearer’s religious community, the government records Druze as Muslims. The government does not officially recognize the Druze temple in Azraq; four social halls belonging to the Druze are registered as “societies.”
The government also does not recognize the Bahai Faith, and Bahais face official discrimination. On national identity cards and family books, the government records Bahais as Muslims, leaves the space blank, or marks it with dashes. This has implications under Islamic law for the legality of certain marriages, as a woman registered as Muslim is not permitted to marry a non-Muslim man; thus a Bahai man with no officially noted religion could be prevented from marrying a Bahai woman who has been erroneously registered as Muslim. The Bahai community does not have its own court to adjudicate personal status matters; such cases may be heard in courts governed by Islamic law or other recognized religious courts upon request. However, neither the Sharia courts nor the other recognized religious courts will issue marriage certificates to Bahais. Marriage certificates are required to transfer citizenship to a foreign spouse or to register for government health insurance and social security. The Department of Civil Status and Passports does not officially recognize marriages that Bahai assemblies conduct, but does issue family books to Bahais. Additionally, the child of a non-Muslim father and a Bahai mother registered inaccurately as a Muslim is considered illegitimate under Islamic law. These children are not issued a birth certificate or family book and subsequently are unable to receive citizenship or register for school. The government does not officially recognize Bahai schools or places of worship. There are two recognized Bahai cemeteries, but the cemetery in Adasieh is registered in the name of the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs, despite requests to register it under the Bahai Faith.
Public schools provide Islamic religious instruction as part of the basic national curriculum, although non-Muslim students are allowed to leave the classroom during these sessions. 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 that are open to adherents of all religions, such as the Baptist, Orthodox, and Latin schools, and they are able to conduct classes on Christianity.
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.
The government observes the following religious holidays as national holidays: the Birth of the Prophet Muhammad, Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha, the Islamic New Year, Christmas, and the Gregorian calendar New Year. Christians traditionally are given leave from work on Christian holidays approved by the Council of Church Leaders, such as Palm Sunday and Easter.