The Basic Law declares Islam to be the state religion, although it protects the right of individuals to practice other religious rites as long as doing so does not “disrupt public order or contradict morals.” The Basic Law prohibits discrimination based on religion. According to the Basic Law, the sultan must be a Muslim.
The law prohibits a father who converts from Islam from retaining paternal rights over his children. There is no provision of the law specifically addressing apostasy, conversion, or renunciation of religious belief.
It is a criminal offense to “defame” any faith. The law provides for a maximum of 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).
All religious organizations must register with the government. Groups seeking registration must request meeting and worship space from one of the sponsor organizations recognized by the MERA. Muslim groups must register, but the government – as benefactor of the country’s mosques – serves as their sponsor. For non-Muslim groups, 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 official sponsors. The sponsors 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.
New non-Muslim religious groups unaffiliated with a previously recognized sponsor must gain approval from the MERA before registering. The law does not specify rules, regulations, or criteria for ministerial approval. The ministry must also grant its approval for new Muslim groups to form.
All individuals who deliver sermons in recognized religious groups must register with the MERA. The 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 law restricts collective worship by non-Muslim groups to land specifically donated by the sultan for the purpose of collective worship.
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 law states 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.
Islamic studies are mandatory for Muslim students in public schools from kindergarten through 12th grade. Non-Muslim students are exempt from this requirement if they notify school administrators they do not wish to attend such instruction. Religious instruction takes a historical perspective in comparing the evolution of religious thinking, and teachers are prohibited from proselytizing or favoring one Islamic group over the other. Many private schools provide alternative religious studies courses.
Civil courts adjudicate cases according to the nonsectarian civil code. The law states Shia Muslims may resolve family and personal status cases according to Shia jurisprudence outside the courts, and retain the right to transfer their cases to civil courts if they cannot find a resolution within the Shia religious tradition. The law allows non-Muslims to seek adjudication of matters pertaining to family or personal status under the religious laws of their faith or under civil law.
Citizens may sue the government for violations of their right to practice religious rites which do not disrupt public order; there are no known cases of anyone pursuing this course in court.
Birth certificates issued by the government record an individual’s religion. Other official identity documents do not do so.
Foreigners on tourist visas may not preach, teach, or lead worship. Visa regulations permit clergy from abroad to enter the country to teach or lead worship under the sponsorship of registered religious groups, which must apply to the MERA for approval before the visiting clergy’s entry.