The constitution declares Islam to be the religion of the state and the freedom of belief to be “absolute.” It guarantees the state will protect the freedom to practice all religions, provided such practice is “in accordance with established customs, and does not conflict with public policy or morals.”
The constitution declares sharia to be a main source of legislation and all individuals are equal before the law regardless of religion. It declares the amir shall be Muslim and the state shall safeguard the heritage of Islam. The Higher Advisory Committee on Completion of the Application of Islamic Sharia Provisions in the Amiri Diwan (office of the amir) makes recommendations to the amir on ways to bring laws into better conformity with sharia. The committee has no authority, however, to implement or enforce such changes.
The law states apostates lose certain legal rights, including the right to inherit property from Muslim relatives or spouses, but it does not specify any criminal penalty. The marriage of a Muslim man is annulled if he converts from Islam. A Muslim woman may have her marriage annulled if her Muslim husband converts to another religion.
The law prohibits the defamation of the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Islam, and Christianity), denigration of Islamic and Judeo-Christian religious figures, and prescribes a punishment of up to 10 years in prison for each offense.
A national unity law prohibits “stirring sectarian strife,” promoting the supremacy of one religious group, instigating acts of violence based on the supremacy of one group, or promoting hatred or contempt of any group. Acts of violence are punishable by up to seven years’ imprisonment and/or a fine of 10,000 to 100,000 Kuwaiti dinars (KD) ($32,790 – $327,900). Repeated crimes carry double penalties. If a group or an organization violates the law, the fine may be as much as 200,000 KD.
The law allows any citizen to file criminal charges against anyone they believe has defamed one of the three Abrahamic religions or harmed public morals.
The law criminalizes publishing and broadcasting content, including on social media, which the government deems offensive to religious “sects” or groups, providing for fines ranging from 10,000 to 200,000 KD ($32,790 to $655,740) and up to seven years imprisonment. Noncitizens convicted under this law are also subject to deportation.
There is no registration procedure for religious groups, although all religious groups must apply in writing for a license to establish an official place of worship recognized by the government. In order to obtain an official license, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor, Ministry of Justice, and the MAIA must grant approval. Once the above three ministries approve the application, the municipality must give final approval.
There continued to be seven officially licensed (recognized) Christian churches: the National Evangelical (Protestant), Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic (Melkite), Coptic Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, and Anglican.
A religious group with a license to establish a place of worship may hire its own staff, sponsor visitors to the country, open bank accounts, and import texts needed for its congregation.
The law prohibits nonreligious practices the government deems to be inconsistent with Islamic law, including anything the government deems to be sorcery or black magic, which under the penal code constitutes “fraud and deception” and carries a maximum penalty of three years imprisonment, a fine, or both.
The law prohibits non-Muslims from proselytizing.
The law prohibits eating, drinking, and smoking in public between sunrise and sunset during Ramadan, even for non-Muslims, with a prescribed maximum penalty of up to 100 KD ($328) and/or one month’s imprisonment.
It is illegal to possess or import pork products and alcohol. Importing alcohol carries a penalty of up to 10 years’ imprisonment; consuming alcohol may result in a fine of up to a 1,000 KD ($3,279).
If a religious group wishes to purchase land, a citizen must be the primary buyer, and must submit a request for approval to the local municipal council, which may allocate land at its discretion. Citizens may also rent or donate land to religious groups.
The law requires Islamic religious instruction in public schools for all Muslim students and in private schools with one or more Muslim students enrolled, regardless of whether the student is a citizen or not. Non-Muslim students are not required to attend these classes, and there is no penalty for not doing so. The law prohibits organized religious education in public high schools for faiths other than Islam. All Islamic education courses use the Sunni interpretation of Islam.
The law prohibits the naturalization of non-Muslims but allows male citizens of any religion to transmit citizenship to their descendants. The law forbids marriage between Muslim women and non-Muslim men, but Muslim men may marry women of another Abrahamic faith. The law requires children of such marriages be raised in their father’s faith, and the father’s religion to govern settlement of marital disputes. The determining factor for the couple’s religious status if they go to court is whether the marriage certificate is Sunni or Shia. A Shia notary must authenticate a Shia marriage certificate. If a non-Muslim couple wants to get married, they must get married in another country.
According to the constitution, sharia governs inheritance. Religious courts administer personal status law. Courts may follow Shia jurisprudence in matters of personal status and family law for Shia at the first instance and appellate levels. If the case proceeds beyond the appellate level, the case is adjudicated via Sunni personal status law. An independent Shia waqf (trust) administers Shia religious endowments.
An individual’s religion is not included on passports or national identity documents, with the exception of birth and marriage certificates, on which it is mandatory. On birth certificates issued to Muslims, there is no distinction between Sunni and Shia.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.