Cote d’Ivoire

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 28.1 million (midyear 2021).  According to the most recent census in 2014, 42.9 percent of the population is Muslim and 33.9 percent Christian.  Groups that together constitute less than 5 percent of the population include adherents of indigenous and other religious beliefs.  According to the census, 19.1 percent of the population identifies as following no religion.  The government carried out a new census in November and December; however, as of the end of the year, the results had not been released.  Many individuals who identify as Christian or Muslim also practice some aspects of indigenous religious beliefs.

Christian groups include Roman Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-day Adventists, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Harrists (a group that follows the teachings of William Wade Harris, a Liberian who evangelized in Cote d’Ivoire in the early 20th century), The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Southern Baptists, Greek Orthodox, Copts, the Celestial Church of Christ, and Assemblies of God.  According to 2014 census data, 17.2 percent of the population is Catholic, 11.8 percent evangelical Christian, 1.7 percent Methodist, 0.5 percent Harrist, 0.4 percent Celeste, and 2.2 percent belongs to other Christian denominations.  Muslim groups include Sunnis (95 percent of Muslims), many of whom are Sufi; Shia (mostly members of the Lebanese community); and Ahmadis.  Adherents of other religious groups include Buddhists, Baha’is, Rastafarians, followers of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Jews, and Bossonists, who follow traditions of the Akan ethnic group.

Muslims are the majority in the north of the country, and Christians are the majority in the south.  Members of both groups, as well as other religious groups, reside throughout the country.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution stipulates a secular state that respects all beliefs and treats all individuals equally under the law, regardless of religion.  It specifically prohibits religious discrimination in public and private employment and provides for freedom of conscience, religious belief, and worship consistent with the law, the rights of others, national security, and public order.  It prohibits “propaganda” that encourages religious hatred.  It recognizes the right of political asylum in the country for individuals persecuted for religious reasons.

The Department of Faith-Based Organizations (DGC), which is part of the Ministry of Interior and Security, is charged with promoting dialogue among religious groups as well as between the government and religious groups, providing administrative support to religious groups attempting to become established in the country, monitoring religious activities, and managing state-sponsored religious pilgrimages and registration of new religious groups.

The law requires all religious groups to notify the government of their existence.  Foreign religious groups with a presence in the country require authorization from the Minister of Interior and Security, and all religious groups – foreign and local – must register with the DGC.  Whether a religious group is categorized as local or foreign is based on the nationality of its members, the source of its funding, the make-up of its executive board, and the location of its head office.  Groups with 75 percent foreign membership, foreign funding, foreign board members, or a foreign head office are considered foreign.  Local religious groups are allowed to operate two months without official approval after they submit their registration application.  Foreign religious groups are technically not allowed to begin operating until they receive authorization, but this is not enforced.

There are no penalties prescribed for groups that do not register, but registered groups benefit from government support, such as free access to state-run television and radio for religious programming if requested.  Registered religious groups are not charged import duties on devotional items, such as religious books or rosaries.  Registered religious groups are also exempt from property tax on the places of worship they own.  Nonregistered groups are not allowed to sue for damages or receive compensation for injuries suffered.

To register, a group must submit an application to the DGC that includes its bylaws, names of the founding members and board members, date of founding, and general assembly minutes.  The DGC investigates the group to ensure it has no members or purpose deemed politically subversive and that no members have been judicially deprived of their civil and political rights.

There are legal penalties for threatening violence or death via an “information system.”  This definition includes print and electronic media.  When such a threat is of a “racist, xenophobic, religious, or ethnic [nature] or refers to a group characterized by race, color, descent, or national or ethnic origin,” the law provides for a prison term of 10 to 20 years and a fine of 20 million to 40 million CFA francs ($34,400-$68,700).  Additionally, defamation, insults, or threats made towards a group of people who belong to a certain race, ethnicity, or religion are punishable by a prison term of five to 10 years and a fine of 500,000 to five million CFA francs ($860-$8,600).

Religious education is not included in the public school curriculum but is often included in private schools affiliated with a particular faith.  Religious groups running those schools normally provide opt-out procedures.  Teachers and supervisory staff in religiously affiliated schools must participate in training offered by the Ministry of National Education and Vocational Training before the school receives accreditation from the ministry.  The government provides some funding to both secular and religious primary private schools pursuant to legal conventions between the government and these schools.  Subsidies are paid on a per student basis and the rate per student is the same for secular and religious schools.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

In recent years, al-Qaida affiliate Jamat’at Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM) based in the Sahel region has expanded into the northern part of the country from the Sahel, and JNIM sub-group Katiba Macina, also known as the Macina Liberation Front (MLF), launched several attacks on the country’s security forces during the year, some fatal.  Government and civil society sources expressed concern that these groups and others would continue to increase their presence in the country and recruit from vulnerable populations, such as unemployed youth.  To counter this threat, religious leaders partnered with local law enforcement and subnational government leadership on security matters to prevent violent extremism and protect their communities from what they stated was the growing terrorist threat.

In April, following the unexpected death of COSIM President Mamadou Traore and his replacement by Imam Ousmane Diakite, Minister of the Interior and Security Diomande, representing President Ouattara, said at Diakite’s June 12 investiture that Diakite’s appointment presented an opportunity for the promotion of “an Islam of love and tolerance.”  Diomande also said there was no Quranic basis for ideologies of hatred or death and said the President was counting on imams and preachers throughout the country to advocate the practice of a peaceful form of Islam to help prevent violent extremism.  In his investiture speech, Diakite, like Diomande, denounced violent extremism and stated Islam was a religion of tolerance, balance, and moderation.  On June 18, Prime Minister Patrick Achi visited Diakite and noted that Diakite’s “human qualities, his wisdom, his calm, his discretion, (and) his open-mindedness reassure us that [not only] the country but also the Muslim community is in good hands.”

In March, former president Gbagbo was definitively acquitted by the International Criminal Court of crimes against humanity during the 2010-2011 post-electoral crisis.  The government paid for his return to the country in June.  Gbagbo, a former evangelical Christian, announced his renewed commitment to Catholicism during a public Mass on June 20.  On July 27, in what was widely reported in the media as a step towards peace and gesture of reconciliation, he met with President Ouattara, who was his rival in the 2010 presidential election.  During a Mass on August 1 attended by Prime Minister Achi, Cardinal Kutwa said the Ouattara-Gbagbo meeting was a significant development for peace and political reconciliation between the rival party leaders following the 2010-2011 crisis (which resulted in approximately 3,000 deaths and 500,000 displaced persons) and the contentious and sometimes violent period surrounding the 2020 presidential election.  According to Kutwa, although religion was not a driver of these disputes, many citizens looked to religious leaders to help reduce politically motivated conflict and guard against political manipulation of national identity, ethnicity, and religious differences to foment division in the country.  Regarding the Ouattara-Gbagbo meeting, Kutwa invited all Ivoirians to follow the two leaders’ example and stated “there is a time for war and a time for peace.  The time for peace has arrived.”

Leaders from across the religious spectrum generally supported Gbagbo’s return and the government’s release of persons arrested for crimes allegedly committed around the 2020 presidential election, saying the releases were also necessary for peace and political reconciliation.  Civil society organizations reported that some religious leaders privately petitioned government officials on these issues.

Leaders of one Christian denomination said they had generally positive working relationships with the government, but they also said that some government officials continued to believe that members of certain religions denominations were automatically loyal to specific political figures.  In this case, the leaders said, the stereotype persisted that certain Christian denominations were loyal to opposition parties.  The leaders of this religious group stated that this was not the case, and that the denomination had no political loyalties.

Government officials reported meeting with religious leaders to encourage them to raise awareness about COVID-19 mitigation measures with their followers.  Religious leaders reported collaborating with the government to have mobile units administer COVID-19 vaccinations and offer national identity card registration at some places of worship.  The National Forum of Religious Denominations, which comprises Muslim and Christian members, said that at the request of the government, it carried out awareness-raising activities in December to encourage participation in the national census.  Muslim and Christian community groups in several parts of the country, including Yamoussoukro, Bouake, Beoumi, Daoukro, and Man, participated in community policing programs aimed at fostering interfaith collaboration to increase community safety.

As of early December, the DGC reported the government had funded pilgrimages to Lourdes, France for more than 200 Catholics and to Turkey for more than 450 evangelical Christians.  The government also funded pilgrimages for more than 200 Catholics to certain religiously significant locations within the country, including in Abidjan, Issia, Diabo, Raviart, and Yamoussoukro.  The government did not fund pilgrimages for Muslims to Saudi Arabia because of Saudi COVID-19 travel restrictions.  In December, the director general of the DGC, Messamba Bamba, said in a newspaper interview that the government welcomed proposals for pilgrimages from all religious groups in the country.

The DGC said that when its representatives attended events organized by religious groups (e.g., ceremonies, conferences, and festivals), those representatives used speaking opportunities to exhort audiences to disseminate messages of peace and tolerance through all mediums of communication with the goal of promoting social cohesion.

The DGC stated that many unregistered local religious groups operated in the country, which it said was due to the group leaders’ lack of knowledge or understanding of registration requirements.  The DGC stated that when informed of the registration requirement, some religious leaders were puzzled, because they did not understand the purpose of the government’s involvement in a personal matter like the practice of religion.  The DGC said it had not identified any foreign religious groups operating without authorization.  The DGC registered 186 new religious groups during the year.  The DGC said it was not aware of any religious groups being denied or deferred registration during the year.

High ranking government officials met with religious leaders and attended religious events throughout the year.  In April, shortly after his appointment, Prime Minister Achi visited Cardinal Kutwa, and in a traditional ceremonial gesture, asked for Kutwa’s blessing as he embarked on his new position in the government.  Achi said the government benefited from exchanges with major religious leaders because these leaders could provide insight on the national mood, given their close connection to the population.  Sources stated that Prime Minister Achi’s visit was significant, given Kutwa’s August 2020 criticism of President Ouattara’s decision to run for a third term, which sparked a rebuke from Catholic cabinet ministers.  Some commentators at the time suggested Kutwa’s criticism showed he supported the opposition, although Kutwa denied having any political affiliation.


Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the population at 106.4 million (midyear 2021).  Most experts and media sources estimate that approximately 90 percent of the population is Sunni Muslim and 10 percent is Christian.  Approximately 90 percent of Christians belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church, according to Christian leaders.

Other Christian communities together constitute less than 2 percent of the population.  These include Anglican/Episcopalian, Armenian Apostolic, Catholic (Armenian, Chaldean, Melkite, Maronite, Latin, and Syrian), and Orthodox (Greek and Syrian) Churches.  Most Protestant denominations are members of the umbrella group known as the Protestant Churches of Egypt, also known as the General Evangelical Council.  These include the Apostolic Grace, Apostolic, Assemblies of God, Baptists, Brethren, Christian Model Church (al-Mithaal al-Masihi), Church of Christ, Faith (al-Eyman), Gospel Missionary (al-Kiraaza bil-Ingil), First Grace (al-Ni’ma al-Oula), Second Grace (al-Ni’ma al-Thaneya), Independent Baptist, Message Church of Holland (ar-Risaala), Open Brethren, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Revival of Holiness (Nahdat al-Qadaasa), and Seventh-day Adventists.  There are an estimated 1,000 to 1,500 Jehovah’s Witnesses and fewer than 100 members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ), the vast majority of whom are expatriates.  Christians reside throughout the country.

Scholars estimate that Shia Muslims comprise approximately 1 percent of the population.  Baha’i representatives estimate the size of their community to be between 1,000 and 2,000 persons.  There are very small numbers of Dawoodi Bohra Muslims and Ahmadi Muslims as well as expatriate members of various other religious groups.

According to a local Jewish NGO, there are six to 10 Jews in the country.

There are no reliable estimates of the number of atheists; in 2020, local media sources quoted a former Minister of Culture and a scholar at al-Azhar University estimating numbers of atheists at “several million” and “four million,” respectively.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution specifies Islam as the state religion and the principles of sharia as the main source of legislation.  The constitution states that “freedom of belief is absolute” and “the freedom of practicing religious rituals and establishing worship places for the followers of divine [Abrahamic] religions is a right regulated by law.”  The constitution also states citizens “are equal before the law,” prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion, and makes “incitement to hatred” based upon “religion, belief, sex, origin, race…or any other reason” a crime.  The constitution prohibits political activity or the formation of political parties based on religion.  The constitution also states, “No political activity may be engaged in, or political parties formed, on the basis of religion, or discrimination [be permitted] based on sex, origin, sect, or geographic location.”

The government officially recognizes Sunni Islam, Christianity, and Judaism and allows only their adherents as defined by the government to publicly practice their religion and build houses of worship.  The constitution defines al-Azhar, the main authority on theology and Islamic affairs, as “an independent scientific Islamic institution with exclusive competence over its own affairs… It is responsible for preaching Islam and disseminating the religious sciences and the Arabic language” worldwide.  Al-Azhar’s Grand Imam is elected by al-Azhar’s Council of Senior Scholars and is officially appointed by the President for a life term.  The President does not have the authority to dismiss him.  The constitution declares al-Azhar to be an independent institution and requires the government to provide “sufficient funding for it to achieve its purposes.”

According to the law, capital sentences must be referred to the Grand Mufti, the country’s highest Islamic legal official, for consultation before they can be carried out.  The Grand Mufti’s decision in these cases is consultative and nonbinding on the court that handed down the sentence.

The constitution stipulates the canonical laws of Jews and Christians form the basis of legislation governing their personal status, religious affairs, and selection of spiritual leaders.  Individuals are subject to different sets of personal status laws (regarding marriage, divorce, inheritance, etc.) depending upon their official religious designation.  The Ministry of Interior issues national identity cards that include official religious designations.  Designations are limited to Muslim, Christian, or Jewish citizens.  Although the government designates Jehovah’s Witnesses as “Christian” on identity cards, a presidential decree bans their religious activities.  Since a 2009 court order, Baha’is’ religious affiliation is denoted by a dash (“-”) on national identity cards.  The Minister of Interior has the authority to issue executive regulations determining what data national identity cards must list.

Neither the constitution nor the civil or penal codes prohibit apostasy from Islam, nor efforts to proselytize.  The law states individuals may change their religion.  However, the government recognizes conversion to Islam, but generally not from Islam to any other religion.  The government recognizes conversion from Islam for individuals who were not born Muslim but later converted to Islam, according to a Ministry of Interior decree pursuant to a court order.  Reverting to Christianity requires presentation of a document from the receiving church, an identity card, and fingerprints.  After a determination is made that the intent of the change – which often also entails a name change – is not to evade prosecution for a crime committed under the Muslim name, a new identity document is issued with the Christian name and religious designation.  In cases in which Muslims not born Muslim convert from Islam, their minor children, and in some cases adult children who were minors when their parents converted, remain classified as Muslims.  When these children reach the age of 18, they have the option of converting to Christianity and having that reflected on their identity cards.

The law stipulates Muslim women are not permitted to marry non-Muslim men.  Non-Muslim men who wish to marry Muslim women must convert to Islam.  Christian and Jewish women are not required to convert to Islam in order to marry Muslim men.  A married non-Muslim woman who converts to Islam must divorce her husband if he is not Muslim and is unwilling to convert.  If a married man is discovered to have left Islam, his marriage to a woman whose official religious designation is Muslim is dissolved.

A divorced mother is entitled to custody of her son until the age of 15 and her daughter until she marries.  The children’s father has the right to petition the court to ask the children to choose between staying with their mother or father, unless one parent is Muslim and the other is not, in which case the Muslim parent is awarded custody.

The government recognizes only the marriages of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim citizens, with documentation from a cleric, and does not recognize civil marriage between Egyptian citizens.  Marriages of Shia are recognized as Muslim.  The government recognizes civil marriages of Baha’is, as well as of individuals from other unrecognized religious groups such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, Hindus, and members of the Church of Jesus Christ, if one or both are foreigners.  Authorities deny Baha’is the rights of married couples pertaining to inheritance, divorce, and sponsoring a foreign spouse.  In practice, however, Baha’is have reported occasional success in filing individual petitions for recognition of their marriages in civil court.

The law generally follows sharia in matters of inheritance.  In 2017, however, an appellate court ruled applying sharia to non-Muslims violated the section of the constitution stating that personal status matters for Christian and Jewish communities are governed by their respective religious doctrine.

According to the penal code, using religion to promote extremist thought with the aim of inciting strife; demeaning or denigrating Islam, Christianity, or Judaism; or harming national unity carries penalties ranging from six months to five years’ imprisonment.

There are four entities currently authorized to issue fatwas (religious rulings binding on Muslims):  the al-Azhar Council of Senior Scholars, the al-Azhar Islamic Research Academy, the Dar al-Iftaa (House of Religious Edicts), and the Ministry of Awqaf’s (Islamic endowments) General Fatwa Directorate.  While a part of the Ministry of Justice, Dar al-Iftaa has been an independent organization since 2007.

Islamic, Christian, and Jewish denominations may request official recognition from the government, which gives previously unrecognized religious groups the right to be governed by their own canonical laws, practice religious rituals, establish houses of worship, and import religious literature.  To obtain official recognition, a religious group must submit a request to the Ministry of the Interior’s Administrative Affairs Department.  The department then determines whether the group poses a threat to national unity or social peace.  As part of this determination, the department consults leading religious institutions, including the Coptic Orthodox Church and al-Azhar.  The President then reviews and adjudicates the registration application.

The law does not recognize the Baha’i Faith or its religious laws, and it bans Baha’i institutions and community activities.  The law does not stipulate any penalties for banned religious groups or their members who engage in religious practices, but these groups are barred from rights granted to recognized groups, such as having their own houses of worship or other property, holding bank accounts, or importing religious literature.

The government, through the Ministry of Awqaf, appoints, pays the salaries of, and monitors imams who lead prayers in licensed mosques.  According to the law, penalties for preaching or giving religious lessons without a license from the Ministry of Awqaf or al-Azhar include a prison term of up to one year, a fine of up to 50,000 pounds ($3,200), or both.  The penalty doubles for repeat offenders.  Ministry of Awqaf inspectors also have judicial authority to arrest imams violating this law.  A ministry decree prevents unlicensed imams from preaching in any mosque, prohibits holding Friday prayers in mosques smaller than 80 square meters (860 square feet), bans unlicensed mosques from holding Friday prayer services (other prayer services are permitted), and pays bonuses to imams who deliver Friday sermons written and disseminated by the Ministry of Awqaf.  Ministry personnel monitor Friday sermons in major mosques and an imam who fails to follow the guidelines for ministry sermons may lose the bonus and be subject to disciplinary measures, including potentially losing his preaching license.

The Prime Minister has the authority to stop the circulation of books that “denigrate religions.”  Ministries may obtain court orders to ban or confiscate books and works of art.  The cabinet may ban works it deems offensive to public morals, detrimental to religion, or likely to cause a breach of the peace.  The Islamic Research Academy of al-Azhar has the legal authority to censor and confiscate any publications dealing with the Quran and the authoritative Islamic traditions (sunnah) and to confiscate publications, tapes, speeches, and artistic materials deemed inconsistent with Islamic law.

A 2016 law delegates the power to issue legal permits and to authorize church construction or renovation to governors of the country’s 27 governorates.  The governor is to respond within four months of receipt of an application for legalization; any refusal must include a written justification.  The law does not provide for review or appeal of a refusal, nor does it specify recourse if a governor fails to respond within the required timeframe.  The law also includes provisions to legalize existing unlicensed churches.  It stipulates that while a request to license an existing building for use as a church is pending, the use of the building to conduct church services and rites may not be prevented.  Under the law, the size of new churches continues to depend on a government determination of the “number and need” of Christians in the area.  Construction of new churches must meet specific land registration procedures and building codes and is subject to greater government scrutiny than that applied to the construction of new mosques.

Under a separate law governing the construction of mosques, the Ministry of Awqaf reviews and approves building permits.  A 2001 cabinet decree includes a list of 10 provisions requiring that new mosques built after that date must, among other conditions, be a minimum of 500 meters (1,640 feet) from the nearest other mosque, have a ground surface of at least 175 square meters (1,900 square feet), and be built only in areas where “the existing mosques do not accommodate the number of residents in the area.”  The law does not require Ministry of Awqaf approval for mosque renovations.

In public schools, Muslim students are required to take courses on “principles of Islam” and Christian students are required to take courses on “principles of Christianity” in all grades.  Schools determine the religious identity of students, and the religious studies courses they should take is based on official identity card designations, not personal or parental decisions.  Students who are neither Muslim nor Christian must choose one or the other course; they may not opt out or change from one to the other once selected.  A common set of textbooks for these two courses is mandated for both public and private schools, including parochial schools.  Al-Azhar maintains a separate school system that serves an estimated two million students from kindergarten through secondary school using its own curriculum.

The penal code criminalizes discrimination based on religion and defines it as including “any action, or lack of action, that leads to discrimination between people or against a sect due to… religion or belief.”  The law stipulates imprisonment, a fine of no less than 30,000 pounds ($1,900) and no more than 50,000 pounds ($3,200), or both, as penalties for discrimination.  If the perpetrator is a public servant, the law states that the imprisonment should be no less than three months and the fine no less than 50,000 pounds ($3,200) and no more than 100,000 pounds ($6,400).

Customary reconciliation is a form of dispute resolution that predates the country’s modern judicial and legal systems and is recognized in the law in instances that do not involve serious crimes (i.e., homicide, serious injury, or theft).  Customary reconciliation sessions rely on the accumulation of a set of customary rules to address conflicts between individuals, families, households, or workers and employees of certain professions.  Parties to disputes agree upon a resolution that typically contains stipulations to pay an agreed-upon amount of money for breaching the terms of the agreement.

In matters of family law, when spouses are members of the same religious denomination, courts apply that denomination’s canonical laws.  In cases where one spouse is Muslim and the other a member of a different religion, both are Christians but members of different denominations, or the individuals are not clearly a part of a religious group, the courts apply sharia.

Sharia provisions forbidding adoption apply to all citizens.  The Ministry of Social Solidarity, however, manages a program called “Alternative Family” which recognizes permanent legal guardianship if certain conditions are met, including requirements that the guardians share the same religion as the child and have been married to one another for a minimum of five years.

The quasigovernmental National Council for Human Rights, whose members are appointed by parliament under a 2016 law, is charged with strengthening protections, raising awareness, and ensuring the observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms, including religious freedom.  It also is charged with monitoring enforcement and application of international agreements pertaining to human rights.  The council’s mandate includes investigating reports of alleged violations of religious freedom.

The 2014 constitution mandates that the state eliminate all forms of discrimination through an independent commission to be established by parliament, but the parliament has not yet established such a commission.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights but declared in a reservation that it became a party considering that the provisions of the covenant do not conflict with sharia.

Authorities executed Ahmad Saeed Ibrahim al-Sonbati on June 21 for the 2017 killing of Coptic priest Father Samaan Shehata, of the church of Yulius al-Aqfahsi, in the village of Ezbet Girgis in Beni Suef Governorate.  Sonbati’s 2017 death sentence was confirmed by the court of appeals in 2018 and received final approval on November 9, 2020 from the Court of Cassation, the country’s highest court.

In October, the Alexandria Criminal Court sentenced to life in prison brothers Nasser and Ali al-Sambo for the December 2020 killing of Coptic Christian Ramsis Boulos Hermina in Alexandria.  Hermina was attacked in his plastics and household goods shop.  According to press reporting, Nasser and Ali Sambo and their brother Anwar had a reputation in their neighborhood for harassment of Coptic shop owners.

On February 10, the Court of Cassation upheld a 15-year prison sentence for 10 defendants who participated in a 2013 church burning in Kafr Hakim, Giza Governorate.

On October 11, the Court of Cassation dismissed the first appeal submitted by the defendants convicted of the 2013 arson attack on Mar Girgis Church in Sohag city and originally sentenced in 2015 and 2020 by the Criminal Court to 3 to 15 years’ imprisonment.  Authorities charged the defendants with assaulting Christian places of worship, destroying and burning police cars, possession of firearms and ammunition without a license, attempted theft, assaulting public and private property and shops, inciting violence, vandalism, and intimidating citizens.

According to press reporting, the Minya Criminal Court on June 15 sentenced 10 defendants to five-year prison terms on charges of “vandalism, violence, and burning the homes of Coptic citizens” during a 2016 sectarian riot in the village of Karm in Minya Governorate, and acquitted 14 others, citing lack of evidence.  The June 15 court verdicts were linked to a separate attack on Souad Thabet, an elderly Christian woman whom attackers stripped and dragged through the village of Karm during 2016 rioting.  Authorities originally charged four persons with attacking Thabet, and another 25 with attacking Thabet’s home and six other Christian-owned homes in response to rumors that her son had an affair with the wife of a Muslim business partner.  In January 2020, the Minya Criminal Court sentenced three defendants in absentia to ten years’ imprisonment for the attack on Thabet.  After the men surrendered, the Minya court returned the case to the Beni Suef Criminal Court for retrial.  When that court acquitted the three defendants in December 2020, the Prosecutor General subsequently filed an appeal with the Court of Cassation in January.  At year’s end, no session had been called to examine the appeal.

BBC Arabic aired an interview on November 25 with Ahmed Abdou Maher, described as a “lawyer, researcher, and writer,” whom a court sentenced on November 17 to five years in prison with hard labor for defaming Islam in his book, How the Imams’ Jurisprudence Is Leading the Nation Astray.  Maher told the interviewer that his book did not include a word of extremism, blasphemy, or incitement against Islam; rather, it only criticized what he called Islam’s “blood-soaked ideology.”  In a separate interview, Abdou told al-Mayadeen TV that the Islamic “nation” was “static,” and that “enlightenment” required courage.  According to media reports, “liberals” defended him and insisted that his prosecution was “a disgrace” and “an assault on freedom of thought and expressions.”  Activists and NGOs responded to the case by calling for the abolition of the country’s blasphemy law, with some estimating there had been 130 cases of blasphemy during the last 10 years, with penalties ranging from six months to five years in prison.

On June 21, the Economic Misdemeanor Appeals Court in Alexandria rejected an appeal submitted on behalf of atheist activist and blogger Anas Hassan of a February 27 verdict sentencing him to three years’ imprisonment and a fine of 300,000 pounds ($19,100) for managing “The Egyptian Atheists” Facebook page.  Authorities originally arrested Hassan in 2019 for publishing atheist ideas and criticizing the “divinely revealed religions.”  According to a local civil society group, Hassan’s next court session was set for February 2022.

The detention of human rights advocate Ramy Kamel Saied Salib (commonly known solely as Ramy Kamel) continued.  Authorities originally arrested Salib in November 2019 following his application for a Swiss visa to speak at a UN forum in Geneva, where he had previously presented issues affecting the Coptic community.  The government charged him with joining a banned group and spreading false news.  On October 10 and again on November 27, a Cairo court renewed his detention for 45 days.  Kamel’s defense team said he was subjected to harsh conditions of imprisonment, including solitary confinement, that may have endangered his health.

On October 12 and again on November 27, authorities renewed Quranist Reda Abdel Rahman’s detention.  During the year, the courts heard several appeals submitted by Abdel Rahman’s defense team to release him.  Quranists (Quraniyyun) believe the Quran is the sole source of Islamic law and reject the authenticity and authority of the hadith (the body of sayings and traditions attributed to the Prophet Mohammed).  The NGO EIPR called for Abdel-Rahman’s release and for dropping the charges against him.

In September, the government released four prominent Salafi preachers who were members of a political group arrested in 2019.  Authorities had charged Mahmoud Shaaban, Ashraf Abdel Moneim, Hisham Mashali, and Saad Fayyad with “inciting violence and joining a terrorist group.”  Shortly after their release, the government rearrested Shaaban and charged him with inciting violence, joining a group seeking to disrupt the country’s constitution and laws, and harming social peace.  His case remained pending at year’s end.

On September 8, social media activists posted videos of the demolition of a 4,300-square-foot unlicensed church building in the village of Bastra, Beheira Governorate.  As reported by the Coptic newspaper Watani, the city council in Beheira’s capital Damanhour implemented the removal order in cooperation with local security forces.  Clashes between parishioners and security forces as the demolition order was carried out resulted in at least four injuries and the arrest of 21 Coptic protestors, who were subsequently released; no interreligious community violence was reported because of the building’s demolition.  Observers, including Coptic Church officials, and administrators blamed local clergy for not having gone through official registration channels to erect the building.

On November 8, al-Azhar Grand Imam Ahmed al-Tayyeb and Coptic Pope Tawadros II hosted a celebration marking the 10th anniversary of the government-sponsored Family House (Beit al-’Aila), a foundation established after the 2011 suicide bombing at Alexandria’s All Saints Church.  Family House’s mission is “preserving the fabric of Muslim-Christian unity within Egyptian society and upholding the principles of coexistence and tolerance,” principally through communal reconciliation efforts.  Former president Adly Mansour attended, as did the Minister of Justice, who delivered a speech on behalf of the Prime Minister.  In remarks at the event, al-Tayyeb said that freedom of religion was “one of the most precious human rights.”  According to press reporting, Tawadros II said at the event, “God did not grant religion to man for the sake of rivalry, but rather for the sake of cooperation.”  Muslim and Christian religious leaders said Family House was very active in some areas, such as Assiut Governorate, while in others, such as Cairo and Alexandria, it was much less engaged.

While the Coptic Orthodox Church did not bar participation in government-sponsored customary reconciliation sessions, a Church spokesperson said reconciliation sessions should not be used in lieu of the application of the law and should be restricted to “clearing the air and making amends” following sectarian disputes or violence.  At least one Coptic Orthodox diocese in Upper Egypt continued to refuse to participate in reconciliation sessions, criticizing them as substitutes for criminal proceedings rather than a means of addressing attacks on Christians and their churches.  Other Christian denominations continued to participate in customary reconciliation sessions.  Human rights groups and some Christian community representatives characterized reconciliation sessions as encroachment on the principles of nondiscrimination and citizenship, and that Christian participants were regularly pressured to retract their statements and deny facts, leading in some cases to the dropping of criminal charges.

Some Christian expressed dissatisfaction with the fact that Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly did not declare Easter, May 2, as an official holiday for state workers.  Instead, he announced it would be a day off from work in order to prevent overcrowding during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Citing the article (No. 53) in the constitution that says that the state shall take all necessary measures to eliminate discrimination, human rights activists said that basic religious holidays should be official ones for all citizens and should be referred to as such.  The government had not previously designated Easter as a holiday.

Efforts to combat atheism received official support.  In 2019, al-Azhar founded a Bayan (Declaration) Unit in its Center for Electronic Fatwa to “counter atheism” and prevent youth from “falling into disbelief.”  As of the end of the year, the unit remained active.  During the year, its activities included posting more than 15,000 social media comments intended to refute atheist opinions.

On October 18, the Supreme Administrative Court postponed hearing an appeal filed by the National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (NTRA) against an administrative court’s 2020 ruling that obligated the NTRA to block Shia websites in general, and the Ibn al-Nafis news website in particular, from the internet, until a November 15 hearing.  The case was pending at year’s end.

In August, a religious leader in the Presbyterian community said police stopped dozens of converts on their way to a church retreat, confiscated IDs, and detained and interrogated some parishioners.  While all detainees were ultimately released, the leader said many continued to be subject to harassment and occasional detention.

EIPR called on September 9 for the release of Coptic Christian Gerges Samih Zaki Ebeid and the dropping of charges against him for having written a post on his personal Facebook account described by villagers, social media commenters, and prosecutors as offensive to Islam.  On September 7 and again on November 24, a court renewed Samih’s detention for 45 days, pending an investigation into allegations he had joined a terrorist group, spread false news with the aim of disturbing the public peace, and used an online account with the intention of committing a crime.  Authorities arrested Samih in Delta Governorate in November 2020 following sectarian violence in the village of al-Barsha, in Mallawy District of southern Minya Governorate that had resulted from the Facebook post.  Following interreligious clashes, the Minya Public Prosecutor detained 35 defendants, including 15 Copts and 20 Muslims, for 15 days pending investigations, releasing them on January 12, pending further questioning.

Members of the country’s Shia community said that they risked accusations of blasphemy for publicly voicing their religious opinions, praying in public, or owning books promoting Shia thought.

The government has designated the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization (the government in 2013 banned the Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party).  On June 14, the Court of Cassation upheld death sentences for 12 senior Muslim Brotherhood leaders including Mohamed al-Beltagy, Safwat Hegazy, and Abdel-Rahman al-Bar, following a mass trial of 739 persons for their participation in large-scale antigovernment sit-ins in Rabaa al-Adawiya Square in July and August 2013.  On July 11, the Cassation Court upheld the 2019 sentencing of 10 Muslim Brotherhood leaders, including the group’s Supreme Guide, Mohammed Badie, to life imprisonment on charges of “killing policemen, organizing mass jail breaks, and undermining national security by conspiring with foreign militant groups, including Hamas and Lebanese Hezbollah” during unrest in 2011.  On April 8, a court sentenced Mahmoud Ezzat, former acting Supreme Guide, to life in prison.  Media reported the court convicted Ezzat on terrorism-related charges stemming from 2013 clashes between Brotherhood supporters and their opponents in Cairo.  In an April 8 statement, the Brotherhood denounced the verdict as politicized and based upon fabrications and described Ezzat as a “devoted religious leader.”

On July 12, the parliament passed legislation, signed into law by the President on August 1, that allowed the dismissal of any public employee found to have undermined national security, or whom the government has listed as a member of a terrorist organization.  Press and NGOs said the new law targeted the Muslim Brotherhood.  On July 26, the Supreme Council of Universities directed university presidents in the country to prepare and submit lists of employees covered by the new law, for submission after the law took effect.  In September, press reported the country’s railway authority had removed approximately 190 employees for alleged Muslim Brotherhood ties.

In August, the Ministry of Awqaf issued an order banning books relating to extremism and the Muslim Brotherhood from all mosque libraries.  The director of the religious sector at the ministry alerted its directorates in all governorates to review books, magazines and publications in mosque libraries and remove any items that were found to include “extremist ideology.”  In a statement, Minister of Awqaf Mokhtar Gomaa directed the punishment of any official neglecting these orders.  The ministry’s order also warned imams to not include any books in mosque libraries without permission from the ministry’s office responsible for religious guidance.

In November 2020, the Supreme Administrative Court added Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, leader of the Strong Egypt Party, to a list of designated terrorists, based on a charge that the party was affiliated with an Islamist group.  The court dismissed an appeal submitted by Aboul Fotouh on November 18.

In December, authorities banned Shia activist Haidar Kanil, a reporter for al-Dustour newspaper, from travelling to Moscow where he said he planned to seek employment.  Kandil told the news website The New Arab that police required him to check in on a weekly basis in his hometown, Tanta city.  He said officials accused him of contempt of religion, spreading Shiism and anti-state ideas, and establishing a group in violation of the law.  Minister of Awqaf Gomaa directed the punishment of any official neglecting these orders.  The ministry’s order also warned imams to not include any books in mosque libraries without permission from the ministry’s office responsible for religious guidance.

At year’s end, authorities continued to detain Ahmed Sebaie, who was arrested in 2020 after posting a video on his YouTube channel that discussed the Bible and Christian doctrine.  More than 400,000 subscribers followed Sebaie’s YouTube account, which focuses on religion.  In the past, he produced videos in which he discussed Christian doctrinal issues, commented on social media posts of atheists, and promoted Islam.

On June 28, the Ministry of Awqaf banned Alaa Mohammed Hussein Yaqoub, son of a prominent Salafi imam and preacher, from preaching at mosques, ostensibly for having failed to adhere to sermon length and content guidelines.  The ban came after Alaa Yaqoub’s father, Mohammed Hussein Yaqoub, testified for the government in a terrorism case before a Cairo court, denying that he was a religious scholar and criticizing Salafism.  The press said that Mohammed Yaqoub’s testimony, which appeared to contradict many years of preaching, resulted in “widescale controversy.”  Al Masry al-Youm reported that, as a result of the testimony, a member of parliament introduced legislation to prevent nonspecialists from speaking in religious matters or issuing fatwas.  Alaa Yaqoub said he would comply fully with the government’s order banning him from preaching.

On January 17, the Court of Urgent Matters in Egypt accepted a lawsuit filed by the head of the Judiciary’s Committee for Inventory, Seizure, and Management of Terrorist Funds aimed at seizing assets belonging to 89 members and leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood – including family members of the late former president Mohammed Morsi – and transfer them to the state treasury.

On September 18, the Awqaf Minister ordered the dismissal of the undersecretary of the Ministry of Awqaf in Ismailia after a quarrel with worshipers at al-Matafy Mosque.  The undersecretary reportedly angered some of the worshipers by describing them as extremists during a sermon, leading to an altercation with worshipers following his address.

On September 25, local media reported the Supreme Administrative Court issued a final verdict that banned the use of mosques for political purposes and upheld the state’s right to supervise them.  This ruling upheld a previous decision by the Minister of Awqaf to place 42 mosques in Beheira Governorate under the ministry’s supervision.

Local media reported in October that a new prison complex at Wadi al-Natroun included a church, making it the first in the country to include church facilities.  Media reported Christian clergy previously had to conduct prison services in multipurpose rooms.  The government said publicly that clergy were allowed inside prisons to perform services for inmates during Copts’ celebration of Christmas on January 8.  According to the NGO Arab Network for Human Rights Information, on January 1, imprisoned labor activist Khalil Rizk asked a warden of Tora Prison for permission to attend upcoming Coptic Christmas services.  Although authorities told Rizk his request had been approved, they did not allow him to attend Christmas prayers or allow a priest to visit him.

The government largely continued to allow Baha’is, members of the Church of Jesus Christ, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Shia Muslims to worship privately in small numbers, but it continued to deny requests for public religious gatherings by unregistered religious groups.

Baha’is were subject to inconsistent application of administrative court rulings recognizing marriages.  Members of the community reported that members whose marriages the state formally recognized were occasionally subject to government appeals seeking to overturn that recognition.

Shia community sources and religious freedom observers stated that information contained in a 2019 report by Minority Rights Group International (MRGI), an international NGO, on challenges facing the country’s Shia community remained valid in 2021.  The MRGI report stated that there continued to be no Shia congregational halls (husseiniyas) in the country and Shia Muslims remained unable to establish public places of worship.  Members of the Shia community risked accusations of blasphemy for publicly voicing their religious opinions, praying in public, or owning books promoting Shia thought.

Based on 2020 Supreme Administrative Court verdicts banning faculty and teaching staff at Cairo and Ain Shams Universities from wearing the niqab in class, a lawyer filed an October 5 lawsuit before an administrative court to obligate the Minister of Education to issue a decision banning the wearing of the niqab for teachers, students, workers, and administrators in public, private, and international schools.  According to the memo submitted to the court in support of the suit, criminals wearing the niqab had taken advantage of the anonymity it affords to commit crimes, including terrorist attacks.  The case remained pending at year’s end.

According to analysis by the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, an international NGO focused on human rights, the government continued to ban the importation and sale of Baha’i and Jehovah’s Witnesses literature and authorized customs officials to confiscate religious materials from these groups’ adherents.

On July 9, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reported that a broad array of antisemitic books continued to be exhibited among the materials hosted at the state-run book fair, “including the notorious antisemitic forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”  The ADL noted that it had raised the Cairo Book Fair’s sale of antisemitic titles with government representatives in previous years.  The NGO said that the 2021 book fair, which began on June 30, continued to sell every problematic book sold at the 2020 fair that the ADL had identified in its earlier communications with the government.

The Mansoura Emergency State Security Misdemeanors Court ordered on December 7 the release of EIPR researcher Patrick George Zaki after 22 months of pretrial detention, pending an investigation on charges of “spreading false news” following a 2019 article Zaki wrote on anti-Coptic discrimination.  The court set February 1, 2022 as the next hearing date in Zaki’s case.

The Coptic Papal Office, local bishoprics, and Coptic media expressed positive views about the pace of church registration and construction five years after passage of the 2016 Church Construction Law.  EIPR, however, listed 25 cases in which churches and worship places had been closed after the passage of the 2016 law, and called for new legislation guaranteeing freedom of religious practice and the building of places of worship for all citizens.

In a November 7 statement, a cabinet committee tasked with registering unlicensed churches approved the legalization of 63 churches and church facilities that had been operating without a permit, bringing the total number of churches and service buildings granted legal status since 2017 to 2,021.  In November, the Prime Minister ordered governorates to accelerate permits and to send him periodic reports on their progress.

In August, the Ministry of Awqaf said that 1,650 mosques had been opened since September 2020, including 1,510 new mosques, while 140 underwent maintenance or restoration.  The construction and renovation work, implemented under the supervision of the regional directorates, brought the number of new or refurbished mosques between September 7, 2020 and August 27 to 1,810.

Local media reported pharaonic inscriptions on the facade of the Ibrahim Abdel Latif Mosque, located in the Youssef al-Siddiq Center in village of Nazla, Fayoum Governorate, sparked controversy in September.  Local media said the community had paid to construct the mosque, but the inscriptions had escaped the notice of the Awqaf Ministry’s engineering department (which limits mosque inscriptions to Islamic themes or text).  An engineer in the engineering department of the Fayoum Awqaf Directorate was being investigated.

On January 5, the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities opened the first stop on the 2,100-mile Holy Family Trail – marking the route believers hold was taken by Mary, Joseph, and Jesus – in Samannoud, Gharbeya Governorate.  Development projects in Samannoud included the conservation and restoration of St. Abba Noub Church and the surrounding area.  The ministry announced the project in 2020, stating the trail would run from Sinai to Assiut, including stops at churches, monasteries, and water wells.

On July 24, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi directed the renovation of the shrines of Ahl al-Bayt (the family of the Prophet Muhammad) across the country, particularly the tombs of Sayyida Nafisa (Muhammad’s great-granddaughter), Sayyida Zeinab (Muhammad’s granddaughter), and Sayyid al-Hussein (Muhammad’s grandson), including the restoration of the interior halls of mosques at these sites and their architectural details.

In November, the Ministry of Awqaf issued a decision that banned the use of collection boxes in mosques.  The boxes often are used for donations for mosque repair and upkeep, provision of social services, and charitable endeavors.  Authorities said the decision was driven by security and transparency concerns.  After the government’s initial announcement, the ministry stated an exception would be made for mosques belonging to Sufi orders, which have “vows” collection boxes, used for donations made if a worshiper believes God has answered a prayer.

On February 14, Deputy Minister of Education Reda Hegazy announced in parliament that the ministry supported a proposal by Member of Parliament Freddy al-Bayadi advancing school curriculum that highlighted the common values shared by Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, and the principles of tolerance, citizenship, and coexistence.  Sources in parliament stated that schools were gradually updating curricula to include messages of interreligious tolerance, although al-Bayadi’s proposal progressed no further in the chamber by year’s end.  According to news websites, Hegazy also said that there were new government instructions to remove Quranic verses from the general curriculum and restrict them to religious courses.  He explained that including religious texts in courses such as Arabic, history, and geography allowed unqualified teachers to provide “an extremist and destructive” interpretation of the texts.  A former senior Ministry of Awqaf official responded that the measure represented “a plan to alter Egypt’s Islamic identity” and that President Sisi “has used all his media outlets to attack al-Azhar, its grand sheikh, and Islam.”  The Salafist al-Nour Party said that the removal of Quranic texts from the general curriculum was “unacceptable.”

In December, parliament debated a bill intended to support the use of Standard Arabic, the Quranic form of the language.  During the debate, a representative of al-Azhar expressed support for the proposed legislation’s requirement that elementary school students memorize Quranic verses.  Yousef al-Husseini, a member of the House of Representatives, said, “There are non-Muslim students like Copts who should not be forced to memorize the Quran.”  In a statement, al-Azhar said, “The call to remove Quranic texts from the Arabic language subject is an explicit call to distance students from their religion and values and to cut them off from their language, culture, and identity, as it opens the door to destructive ideas and interpretations.”

The Ministry of Education and Technical Education continued to develop a new curriculum that included increased coverage of respect for human rights and religious tolerance.  In 2020, third grade students began using revised textbooks, including the book Values and Respect for Others, an ethics text drawn from Islamic and Christian religious traditions.  For the 2021/2022 academic year, use of the text expanded to first and second grade classes.

On March 9, the Jerusalem Post reported the Ministry of Education for the first time approved a measure that allowed Egyptian children to study verses from Jewish scripture.

On January 2, TV anchor and journalist Ibrahim Issa cited a lack of “adequate references” to Christian history in educational curricula, except for material dealing with monasticism, monasteries, and participation in the 1919 Revolution.  In June, Pope Tawadros II called on the Ministry of Education to include information on the route of the Holy Family in its curricula, calling the history of the flight to Egypt a source of “pride for any Egyptian.”  The Minister of Education pledged to study the Pope’s proposal “within the general framework of the new curricula in the ministry.”

In early September, the Ministry of Social Solidarity (MOSS) released a statement reinforcing a Dar al-Iftaa fatwa calling on preschools to stop posting verses from the Quran or the Bible over their entrances.  The fatwa and statement followed the viral spread via social media of a photo of a nursery gate that featured a Quranic verse that had been taken out of context and contained grammatical errors.  MOSS’s statement stressed, moreover, “Egypt is a home for everyone,” and said that the inclusion of religious verses could be construed to indicate that specific schools or nurseries only catered to Muslims or Christians, respectively.

Christians reported being underrepresented in the military and security services, and they stated that those admitted at entry levels of government face limited opportunities for promotion to the upper ranks.

No Christians served as presidents of the country’s 27 public universities.  The government barred non-Muslims from employment in public university training programs for Arabic-language teachers, stating as its reason that the curriculum involved study of the Quran.

The Minister of Immigration and Expatriate Affairs was the only Christian in the cabinet, which consists of 32 ministers.  Among the 27 governorates, only Damietta and Ismailia had Christian governors.  The governor of Damietta was the country’s first female Christian governor.  The electoral laws reserve 24 seats for Christian candidates in the House of Representatives.  During the year, the House of Representatives exceeded the quota, with 31 Christians, out of a total of 596 representatives.  There were a total of 24 Christian senators – 17 elected, and seven appointed by President Sisi – out of 300 seats in that chamber, including the Deputy Speaker.  Observers stated that President Sisi also had several senior Christian advisors.

Some Shia stated they were excluded from service in the armed services, and from employment in the security and intelligence services.

The government generally permitted foreign religious workers in the country.  Sources continued to report, however, that some religious workers were denied visas or refused entry upon arrival without explanation.

On March 1, the President issued a decree forming Boards of Directors of endowment bodies for the Catholic Church and Protestant churches of Egypt.  The decree followed passage of a law in parliament intended to give the Catholic and Protestant communities equal status to the Coptic Orthodox Church.

On August 22, local NGOs reported that the Supreme Judicial Council – the highest administrative body for the country’s judiciary and headed by the President of the Court of Cassation – approved a request by the Prosecutor General to transfer 11 female judges, including one Copt, to work in the public prosecutor’s office for the judicial year beginning in September.  On August 5, the Official Gazette published two presidential decisions appointing assistant delegates to the State Council – an independent body that rules on mainly administrative matters involving the country’s judiciary – from among 2016 and 2017 law school graduates.  According to EIPR researchers, the first decision included three Copts out of 204 delegates, or 1.5 percent.  The second decision included three Copts out of 207 delegates, or 1.4 percent.

Grand Imam al-Tayyeb made multiple public references to the Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Coexistence, which he signed with Pope Francis in 2019, as a framework for “a world full of prosperity, tolerance, peace, and love.”  Al-Tayyeb and Pope Francis met in person and discussed the initiatives resulting from the document on October 4 following a Vatican-hosted summit entitled “Faith and Science:  Towards COP26,” alongside other world faith leaders.

Al-Azhar continued tracking and countering online statements by ISIS and other extremist groups through the al-Azhar Observatory for Combating Extremism.  The observatory’s staff of approximately 100 individuals monitored and offered counterarguments to religious statements on jihadi websites.  The center’s website and social media employed numerous languages to reach foreign audiences, including English, Arabic, Urdu, Swahili, Chinese, and Farsi.  Al-Azhar, through the al-Azhar International Academy, also continued to offer courses to imams and preachers in 20 countries on a wide range of subjects related to Islam.  Al-Azhar largely curtailed travel and in-person training during the year due to the COVID-19 pandemic but continued to offer training virtually.

In May, the government announced it would include all civilians who lost their lives to terrorist operations since January 2014 among those eligible for government aid via the 2018 official Fund for Honoring Martyrs, Victims, Missing Persons, and Injured in Terror and Security Operations, and their Families.  The list of those eligible for aid included the families of 1,260 civilians killed and 1,804 civilians injured in terrorist attacks targeting religious minorities.

During an August 3 meeting with participants in a conference organized by Dar al-Iftaa, “Fatwa Institutions in the Digital Age,” President Sisi said that scholars needed to confront electronic platforms spreading false ideas that distorted the essence of Islam and exploited religion to achieve political goals through terrorism.  During an August 24 television interview, the President said, “We are all born Muslim and non-Muslim according to our ID cards, but we realize that we have to reformulate our understanding of the belief that we follow.”  On September 11, during the launch ceremony of the National Human Rights Strategy, President Sisi asked, “Why are you upset to see a church or a synagogue?  The state has moved to face this matter effectively and ensures the respect of all religions through laws.”  He added, “I respect nonbelievers.  If someone tells me [he or she is] neither Muslim nor Christian nor a Jew or that he or she does not believe in religion, I would tell them, you are free to choose.”  Sisi also said, “And it is not because I am not protective of my religion.  I am.  And that is why I respect the will of nonbelievers, which is based on freedom of belief – a God-given right.”  On social media, some users criticized Sisi for normalizing the acceptance of individuals who do not believe in God, saying this attitude was unacceptable to much of the Muslim majority in the country.  On October 17, marking the celebration of Mawlid al-Nabi (the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday), Sisi urged religious institutions and scholars to intensify their efforts to spread values of tolerance, intellectual diversity, and acceptance of others.

The National Strategy for Human Rights contained a section dedicated to “Freedom of Religion and Belief” that noted several steps the government had taken in recent years, including the establishment of a National Council for Combating Terrorism and Extremism and the Supreme Committee for Combating Sectarian Incidents as well as the Ministry of Higher Education’s strategy against extremism and takfiri (declaring someone a nonbeliever) ideology at the country’s universities.  It stated that the Ministry of Awqaf dedicated some Friday sermons to promote tolerance and combat violence and hatred.  The document also noted efforts by al-Azhar, the Dar al-Iftaa, and Christian churches to promote intercommunal understanding.  The strategy stated the government frequently promoted interfaith dialogue.

On January 24, the Grand Mufti issued a fatwa permitting Muslims to work in church construction in exchange for a salary, a ruling that sparked controversy on social media.  Activists recalled previous 2013 fatwas on Salafist websites prohibiting such employment.  Dar al-Iftaa based the more recent decision on an earlier ruling by Imam Abu Hanifa in which he stated that such work was permissible and was an obligation unless it involves the humiliation of a Muslim or required him to consent to anything that contradicted Islamic theology.  Some media interpreted the fatwa as giving Muslims permission to contribute to the ongoing or planned construction/restoration of churches throughout the country.

On October 13, while addressing a workshop that trained religious leaders to raise awareness of women’s issues, Minister of Awqaf Gomaa said a pilot program involving female preachers and nuns set an outstanding model of national action, which, he added, was an approach adopted by the ministry in partnership with churches and the National Council for Women.  Gomaa said that women’s equality was a religious, national, and humanitarian obligation.  According to local press, in September, the number of female preachers was 304, including 251 female volunteers and 53 female mentors appointed by the ministry.

The cabinet’s media center released a documentary that promoted the values of citizenship, loyalty, nondiscrimination, and equality between Muslims and Christians.  The documentary highlighted the importance of strengthening these values in preserving the country’s security and stability, as well as of countering attempts to sow sedition within communities, according to a statement released by the center on January 7.

On January 9, the al-Azhar Observatory for Combating Extremism issued a report in 12 languages under the title Religious Freedom:  An Authentic Islamic Principle.  The observatory stated in the report that religious freedom was one of the most important principles of Islam.  On May 5, the Grand Imam said, “Congratulating non-Muslims on their holidays and their joys and comforting them in their misfortune…[is] the righteousness that Islam command[s].”

On August 11, President Sisi extended the term of Grand Mufti Shawky Allam by a year by presidential decree.  The President issued a separate but related decree the same week that designated the Dar al-Iftaa as a “special entity” not subject to the provisions of the civil service law.  Some observers said that these decrees redistributed power traditionally vested in the Council of Islamic Scholars to the President.  In July, a proposed law sought to make Dar al-Iftaa and the Grand Mufti independent of al-Azhar.  Sources told the press that the main objective of the proposed law was to create a parallel entity to al-Azhar under the direct control of the government.  Under its terms, the President would have had the right to appoint the Grand Mufti.  The State Council ruled the draft law unconstitutional, after which it was withdrawn by the government.

On September 14, after the launch of the National Strategy on Human Rights, the Minister of Awqaf announced his intention to establish a human rights unit to enact provisions of the strategy.  The unit, according to the statement, will work to promote the values of citizenship and religious tolerance, contribute to social protection and community service programs, and fulfill the rights of people with disabilities (for example, incorporating sign language during weekly sermons).

On March 7, EIPR filed a lawsuit on behalf of a Coptic woman with the Supreme Constitutional Court regarding the constitutionality of requiring Christian citizens to apply the rules of sharia in inheritance matters.  The lawsuit maintained that this requirement violated Article 3 of the constitution, which permits the canonical laws of religious minorities to prevail in civil matters.  Defendants in the lawsuit included the President, Prime Minister, Minister of Justice, and Speaker of Parliament.  On September 12, the court’s board of commissioners examined the case and on November 14, the court referred the case to the Constitutional Court to set a date for further review.  The case remained pending at year’s end.

On December 4, the news website Cairo reported that that the Ministry of Justice completed drafting the Family Law (Personal Status for Christians) after representatives of Christian denominations agreed on its text during meetings earlier in the year.  On July 4, a representative of the Coptic Orthodox Church announced completion of a review of the draft law in the Ministry of Justice after 16 sessions that brought together ministry officials with representatives of Christian denominations to agree on its articles.  In September, the newspaper Al-Dustour reported the draft law would be introduced in parliament, after other Christian churches expressed support.  In December, the ministry sent the draft law to the cabinet for approval.  At year’s end, the cabinet had not submitted the draft legislation to the House of Representatives.

There was public debate and court challenges on the issue of listing religions on the national ID.  Coptic human rights attorneys filed a lawsuit on August 25 demanding the Civil Status Department of the Ministry of Interior remove the “religion” field from the national ID card.  Referring to what it said was the positive atmosphere of religious unity promoted by the Sisi government, the lawsuit stated that some persons still used the religious designator on ID cards to discriminate against religious minorities.  During a panel discussion in September, journalist Ibrahim Eissa called for religion to be removed from citizens’ ID cards.  Justice Minister Omar Marwan responded that “there must be some form of official documentation of citizens’ religion” to ensure laws and services that were specific to one’s religion were properly provided.

On December 27, the Alexandria Administrative Court dismissed a lawsuit brought in January by EIPR on behalf of a group of Baha’i citizens in Alexandria seeking to have the government designate a cemetery for those whose national ID cards showed a “-” (meaning no selection) under religious affiliation.  The government cited opinions from al-Azhar that, despite earlier rulings and practices, said it was impermissible to allocate a plot of land for individuals who were not Muslims, Christians, or Jews.  Bassatine Cemetery in Cairo, which members of the Baha’i community described as overcrowded and inconveniently distant for Baha’is living outside Cairo, remained the only cemetery in the country where Baha’is could be buried.  EIPR said it planned to appeal the decision.

In June, the ADL reported that it had completed a review of elementary, middle, and high school textbooks as part of an examination of antisemitic content in state-published curricula.  The ADL stated that although the country’s most recent textbooks contained some positive material about the Jewish people, that content was “directly contradicted by other, much more problematic lessons in the curriculum.”  The report cited one fifth grade textbook that teaches taught students that “the treachery of the Jews” was “one of their traits” and that Jews “betrayed God and his Prophet.”

The press reported that on June 29 the al-Azhar International Center for Electronic Fatwas warned against the online video game Fortnite, saying it contained a portrayal of the destruction of the Kaaba, the center of the Great Mosque in Mecca.  The game’s designers posted a statement on Facebook that said they respected all religious faiths and that the problematic content was made by an independent player in “creative mode.”

On June 20, President Sisi met with Sultan Mufadal Saifuddin, head of the Bohra branch of Ismaili Shia Islam.  According to press reporting, the President noted the country’s close ties with Bohra Ismailis and thanked the group for its help in restoring several historic mosques and shrines in the country.

On March 16, Minister of Awqaf Gomaa said that the President and government had always called for the export of moderate Islam to Africa.  Gomaa said that the government had regularly sent imams and preachers to many African countries, stressing that the government placed great importance on countering extremism.  On August 2, al-Azhar announced a training course on countering extremism for 23 imams and preachers from Mali.  On August 10 after a meeting with the ambassador from Senegal, Grand Imam al-Tayyeb, said that al-Azhar was ready to establish a similar institution in Senegal, while confirming that 350 Senegalese students were currently studying at al-Azhar, which had sent 41 teachers to Senegal.  In separate statements in June and August, al-Azhar said it would step up efforts to train imams in Pakistan and Russia.


Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 32.4 million (midyear 2021).  According to the 2010 government census (the most recent available with this data), approximately 71 percent of the population is Christian, 18 percent is Muslim, 5 percent adheres to indigenous or animistic religious beliefs, and 6 percent belongs to other religious groups or has no religious beliefs.  Smaller religious groups include Baha’is, Buddhists, Jews, Hindus, and followers of Shintoism, Eckankar, and Rastafarianism.

Christian denominations include Roman Catholic, Methodist, Anglican, Mennonite, Presbyterian, Evangelical Presbyterian Church, African Methodist Episcopal Zion, Christian Methodist Episcopal, Evangelical Lutheran, Eden Revival Church International, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Seventh-day Adventist, Pentecostal, Baptist, Eastern Orthodox, African independent churches, the Society of Friends, and numerous nondenominational Christian groups, including charismatic churches.

Muslim communities include Sunnis, Ahmadiyya, Shia, and Sufis (Tijaniyyah and Qadiriyya orders).

Many individuals who identify as Christian or Muslim also practice some aspects of indigenous beliefs.  There are syncretic groups that combine elements of Christianity or Islam with traditional beliefs.  Zetahil, a belief system unique to the country, combines elements of Christianity and Islam.

There is no significant link between ethnicity and religion, but geography is often associated with religious identity.  Christians reside throughout the country; the majority of Muslims reside in the northern regions and in the urban centers of Accra, Kumasi, and Sekondi-Takoradi.  Most followers of traditional religious beliefs reside in rural areas.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination, provides for individuals’ freedom to profess and practice any religion, and does not designate a state religion.  These rights may be limited for stipulated reasons including defense, public safety, public health, or the management of essential services.

Religious groups must register with the Office of the Registrar General in the Ministry of Justice to receive formal government recognition and status as a legal entity, but there is no penalty for not registering.  The registration requirement for religious groups is the same as for nongovernmental organizations.   Most indigenous religious groups do not register.

According to law, registered religious groups are exempt from paying taxes on nonprofit religious, charitable, and educational activities.  Religious groups are required to pay taxes, on a pay-as-earned basis, on for-profit business activities, such as church-operated private schools and universities.

The Ministry of Education includes compulsory religious and moral education in the national public education curriculum.  There is no provision to opt out of these courses, which incorporate perspectives from Christianity and Islam.  There is also an Islamic education unit within the Ministry of Education responsible for coordinating all public education activities for Muslim communities.  The ministry permits private religious schools, but these must follow the prescribed curriculum set by the ministry.  International schools, including those that do not follow the government curriculum, are exempt from these requirements.  Faith-based schools that accept funds from the government are obliged to comply with the directive that states students’ religious practices must be respected.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Debate among religious groups and lawmakers regarding how best to regulate religious practices continued during the year.  As of December, key stakeholders, including the Ghana Education Service, the Christian Council of Ghana, the Ghana Pentecostal and Charismatic Council, Muslim leaders and the Office of the Chief Imam, the Catholic Bishops Conference, as well as leaders of smaller faith communities and traditional religious authorities, continued to work on a proposed regulatory framework that would ensure religious rights and deconflict policies, particularly policies that regard elementary and secondary education.  The issue of regulating “self-styled” pastors, those working outside of established ecumenical bodies, continued to be debated between legislators and the Christian Council of Ghana, an umbrella group of mainly traditional Protestant denominations.

There were reports of uneven enforcement and implementation in schools across the country of the government directive requiring schools to respect students’ religious practices.  In March, Achimota School admitted two Rastafarian students on the condition they shave their dreadlocks.  The students challenged the directive and the Human Rights High Court ruled in their favor, but the decision was appealed by the school, with a final decision pending at year’s end.

During Ramadan, Wesley Girls’ School and other schools barred Muslim students from fasting.  Wesley Girls’ School said it was preventing doing so for health reasons.  The issue divided segments of the Christian and Muslim population.  It was widely covered in traditional and social media and discussed in parliament.  On May 1, the Ghana Education Service, the division of the Ministry of Education responsible for ensuring that all school-age children are provided with quality formal education, ordered all schools to permit Muslim students to fast during Ramadan, a decision hailed as a victory for religious tolerance.  President Akufo-Addo made a public show to break the Ramadan fast on Eid al-Fitr with members of the Muslim community served by the school during the debate.

Support for and opposition to the President’s proposal to build an interdenominational national Christian cathedral continued.  Although President Akufo-Addo stated that public funds would not be used for the project, to be constructed on state-owned lands, critics continued to question whether the $100 million cathedral complex should be a priority for a country with urgent development needs and argued that the project inappropriately linked the state with a particular faith.  In September, President Akufo Addo traveled to Texas to attend a fundraising event for the cathedral, following his attendance at the UN General Assembly meeting in New York.  At a midyear budget review presentation to Parliament, Minister of Finance Ken Ofori-Atta urged each citizen to contribute 100 Ghana cedis ($17) per month voluntarily towards the construction of the National Christian Cathedral.

The government continued to issue and revise directives for COVID-19 protocols affecting public events.  As of year’s end, all public gatherings, including worship activities, could not exceed two hours and were required to be held in open spaces.  Religious leaders generally expressed appreciation that the government consulted with religious institutions on COVID-19 protection measures.  While most Christian and Muslim leaders advised their communities to follow the directive, some small, independent churches continued to complain that the ban on large gatherings and the two-hour time limit on church and mosque religious activities infringed upon religious liberties.

Government officials leading official events generally offered Christian and Islamic prayers and, occasionally, traditional invocations.  President Akufo-Addo, a Christian, and Vice President Mahamudu Bawumia, a Muslim, continued to emphasize the importance of peaceful religious coexistence in public remarks.


Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 54.7 million (midyear 2021).  The government estimates that as of 2019, approximately 85.5 percent of the total population is Christian and 11 percent Muslim.  Groups constituting less than 2 percent of the population include Hindus, Sikhs, Baha’is, and those adhering to various traditional religious beliefs.  Nonevangelical Protestants account for 33 percent of the population, Roman Catholics 21 percent, and other Christian denominations, including evangelical Protestants, African Instituted Churches (churches started in Africa independently by Africans rather than chiefly by missionaries from another continent), and Orthodox churches, 32 percent.

Most of the Muslim population lives in the northeast and coastal regions, with significant Muslim communities in several areas of Nairobi.  Religion and ethnicity are often linked, with most members of many ethnic groups adhering to the same religious beliefs.  For example, ethnic Somalis and Swahilis living in the coastal region account for the majority of the Muslim population.  The five largest ethnic groups (the Kikuyu, Luhya, Kalenjin, Luo, and Kamba) are predominately Christian.  There are more than 230,000 refugees and asylum seekers in the Dadaab refugee camps near the Somali border, mostly ethnic Somali Muslims.  The Kakuma refugee camp in the northwestern part of the country has more than 177,000 refugees, including Somalis, South Sudanese, and Ethiopians, who practice a variety of religions.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution stipulates there shall be no state religion and prohibits religious discrimination.  The constitution provides for freedom of religion and belief individually or in communities, including the freedom to manifest any religion through worship, practice, teaching, or observance, and to debate religious questions.  The constitution also states individuals shall not be compelled to act or engage in any act contrary to their belief or religion.  These rights shall not be limited except by law, and then only to the extent that the limitation is “reasonable and justifiable in an open and democratic society.”

The constitution requires parliament to enact legislation recognizing a system of personal and family law adhered to by persons professing a particular religion.  The constitution also specifically provides for qadi courts to adjudicate certain types of civil cases based on Islamic law, including questions relating to personal status, marriage, divorce, or inheritance in cases in which “all the parties profess the Muslim religion.”  The secular High Court has jurisdiction over civil and criminal proceedings, including those in the qadi courts, and accepts appeals of any qadi court decision.

Although there is no penal law referring to blasphemy, a section of the penal code states that destroying, damaging, or defiling any place of worship or object held sacred with the intention of insulting the religion of any class of persons is a misdemeanor.  This offense carries a penalty of a fine or up to two years in prison but is reportedly rarely prosecuted under this law.  Crimes against the property of religious groups or places of worship are more likely to be treated as malicious destruction of property, which is also a misdemeanor.

According to the law, new religious groups, institutions or places of worship, and faith-based nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) must register with the Registrar of Societies, which in turn reports to the Attorney General’s Office.  Indigenous and traditional religious groups are not required to register, and many do not.  To register, applicants must have valid national identification documents, pay a fee, and undergo security screening.  Registered religious institutions and places of worship may apply for tax-exempt status, including exemption from duty on imported goods.  The law also requires that organizations dedicated to advocacy, public benefit, the promotion of charity, or research register with the NGO Coordination Board.

All public schools have religious education classes taught by government-funded teachers.  These classes focus on either Christian, Muslim, or Hindu teachings and on the basic content of the religious texts of the religion being taught, as well as ethics.  The Ministry of Education allows local communities and schools to decide which course to offer.  The course selected usually depends on the dominant local religion and the sponsor of the school, which is often a religious group.  The national curriculum mandates religious classes for primary school students, and students may not opt out.  Some public schools offer religious education options, usually Christian or Islamic studies, but are not required to offer more than one.

The law establishes fees for multiple steps in the marriage process that apply to all marriages, religious or secular.  All officiants are required to purchase an annual license, and all public marriage venues must be registered.  Officiants must be appointed by a registered religious group to conduct marriages and to purchase the license.

The Ministry of Information, Communications, and Technology must approve regional radio and television broadcast licenses, including for religious organizations.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Human rights groups and prominent Muslim leaders and religious organizations continued to state the government’s antiterrorism activities disproportionately affected Muslims, especially ethnic Somalis and particularly in areas along the border with Somalia.  The government continued to deny directing such actions, including extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture, arbitrary arrest, and detention.

In November, the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims called for weekly protests to demand government accountability regarding alleged enforced abductions.  According to the council, security forces had killed or disappeared 133 individuals during the year.  The governmental Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA), established to provide civilian oversight of the work of police, and human rights organizations reported numerous complaints from predominantly Muslim communities, particularly in the Eastleigh neighborhood of Nairobi and coastal regions, regarding intimidation, arbitrary arrest, and extortion by police.  Some complainants stated police accused them of being members of al-Shabaab.

In October, Muslim leaders from various religious and human rights organizations issued a joint statement criticizing the government for not protecting the rights of Muslim citizens.  The leaders stated security forces abducted more than 40 Muslims through October, only 10 of whom had returned to their homes.  They highlighted the case of a Muslim employee of Lamu County whom they stated was abducted in June by individuals in a government vehicle and whose whereabouts remained unknown at year’s end.

In October, unknown persons allegedly abducted a Muslim male after he left a mosque in Mombasa.  Activists accused police of targeting Muslim youths and accusing them of having ties to terrorism without providing evidence.  Police denied involvement and were reportedly investigating the matter.

In February, the government evicted approximately 3,500 members of the Muslim Nubian community in Kisumu County, whose homes were allegedly built on land belonging to the state-owned Kenya Railways Corporation (KRC).  In August, the Environment and Land Court ruled the KRC violated the Nubians’ rights by conducting an illegal eviction.  Activists said that homes and other structures belonging to non-Muslims were even closer to the railway line than the Nubians’ homes but were left alone.  They described this incident as a case of religious discrimination.  This ruling laid the groundwork for an additional lawsuit against KRC to claim damages, but it was unclear at year’s end whether residents had done so.

The government continued to take steps, described by human rights organizations as limited and uneven, to address cases of alleged abuses by security force members.  IPOA continued to refer cases of police misconduct to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions for prosecution.  Public prosecutors, however, experienced lengthy delays in moving cases to trial and conviction.  IPOA investigations led to five convictions of police officers during the year.

The Registrar of Societies, which has not registered any religious organizations since 2014, continued not to register any new religious organizations pending completion of revised Religious Societies Rules.  Religious leaders criticized the government’s inaction, which had led to a backlog of thousands of unapproved religious group applications.  Some religious leaders called on the government to resume registrations, stating the suspension interfered with freedom of worship, including by making it more difficult to purchase property and conduct operations.

At the start of the pandemic, the government appointed an Inter-faith Council on the National Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic to develop guidelines for the phased reopening of places of worship, which closed in late March 2020 to stem the spread of COVID-19, and the holding of religious ceremonies.  The council continued to advise the government and adjust its guidelines based on evolving COVID-19 conditions.

In October, the council raised its recommended limit on attendance of in-person worship services to two-thirds of a house of worship’s seating capacity, if religious leaders implemented masking and social distancing guidelines.  Council members and religious leaders familiar with the council’s work said government officials largely adopted the council’s recommendations.  Religious leaders reported local officials at times attempted to harass religious groups for failing to follow COVID-19 guidelines but said national government officials intervened to help resolve these issues.

Many religious leaders criticized politicians for holding political gatherings that did not adhere to the government’s restrictions on public gatherings and for politicizing funerals and other religious gatherings.

Some predominately Muslim ethnic groups, including Kenyan Somalis and Nubians, reported difficulties obtaining government identification cards.  These communities stated government officials at times requested supporting documents not required by law and implemented vetting processes in a biased manner.  In June, the NGO Muslims for Human Rights (MUHURI) said it helped nearly 200 young individuals obtain national identification cards, which are required to obtain government services or register to vote.  These individuals, the majority of whom were Muslim, lived in Lamu County near the border with Somalia.  The government reportedly halted issuance of identification cards in this region due to concern that al-Shabaab terrorists from Somalia could pose as Kenyan nationals to fraudulently obtain government-issued identification cards.  MUHURI and other human rights organizations stated the government was unfairly profiling Muslims.

There were reports that, in general, non-Muslims continued to harass or treat with suspicion persons of Somali ethnicity, who are predominantly Muslim.  Police officers typically do not serve in their home regions, and therefore officers in some Muslim-majority areas are largely non-Muslim.  NGOs stated this often led to misunderstandings between police officers and the communities they are assigned to serve.

Religious leaders representing interfaith groups, including the Anglican, Catholic, evangelical Protestant, Muslim, and Hindu communities, continued to engage with political parties and government bodies in the national reconciliation process initiated after violent 2017 presidential elections.  The interfaith Dialogue Reference Group, composed of prominent Christian, Muslim, and Hindu groups, continued to hold national and county forums to promote national reconciliation.  The Dialogue Reference Group also regularly issued statements calling for national unity and urging the government to take necessary steps to conduct a peaceful and credible general election in August 2022.


Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 219.5 million (midyear 2021).  The Pew Global Religious Futures project estimates the country is roughly evenly divided between Muslims and Christians, while approximately 2 percent belong to other or no religious groups.  Many individuals syncretize indigenous animism with Islam or Christianity.

A 2010 Pew report found 38 percent of the Muslim population self-identifies as Sunni, the vast majority of whom belong to the Maliki school of jurisprudence, although a sizable minority follows the Shafi’i school of fiqh.  The same study found 12 percent of Muslims in the country self-identify as Shia, with the remainder declining to answer or identifying as “something else” (5 percent) or “just a Muslim” (42 percent).  Included among the Sunnis are several Sufi brotherhoods, including Tijaniyyah, Qadiriyyah, and Mouride.  A 2012 Pew Research Center survey found 37 percent of Nigerians identify with Sufi orders (19 percent identified specifically as Tijaniyyah and 9 percent as Qadiriyyah).  There are also Izala and Salafist minorities and small numbers of Ahmadiyya and Kala Kato (Quraniyoon) Muslims.  A 2011 Pew report found roughly one quarter of Christians are Roman Catholic and three quarters Protestant, with small numbers of Orthodox or other Christian denominations.  Among Protestant groups, the Anglican, Baptist, and Presbyterian Churches maintain the largest populations, while evangelicals, Pentecostals, Church of the Brethren in Nigeria, Methodists, Seventh-day Adventists, New Apostolics, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Jehovah’s Witnesses report tens of thousands of adherents each.  Other communities include Baha’is, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, animists, and individuals who do not follow any religion.

Although accounting for far less than 1 percent of the population, there are also two distinct Jewish communities.  The smallest of these are mostly foreigners, whom Israel and the diaspora recognize.  A larger group of several thousand indigenous Nigerian Jews are not recognized internationally.  There are also significant numbers of Sabbatarian groups, variously self-identifying as Christian, non-Christian, or neither.  These groups include some that have adopted Jewish customs.

Islam is the dominant religion in the North West and North East regions, although significant Christian populations reside there as well.  Christians and Muslims reside in approximately equal numbers in the North Central region.  Christianity is the dominant religion in the South West, including Lagos, which is also home to significant Muslim populations.

In the South East region, Christian groups, including Catholics, Anglicans, and Methodists, constitute the majority.  In the South South, Christians form a substantial majority.  There are small but growing numbers of Muslims in the South South and South East.

Evangelical Christian denominations are growing rapidly in the North Central and South East, South South, and South West regions.  Ahmadi Muslims maintain a small presence in several cities, including Lagos and Abuja.  The Shia Muslim presence is heavily concentrated in the North West region, while Nigerian Jews and Judaic-oriented groups are prevalent in the South East.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution stipulates neither the federal nor the state governments shall establish a state religion and prohibits discrimination on religious grounds.  It provides for freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, including the freedom to change one’s religion and to manifest and propagate religion “in worship, teaching, practice, and observance,” provided these rights are consistent with the interests of defense, public safety, order, morality, or health, and protecting the rights of others.  The constitution also states it shall be the duty of the state to encourage interfaith marriages and to promote the formation of associations that cut across religious lines and promote “national integration.”  It prohibits political parties that limit membership based on religion or have names that have a religious connotation.  The constitution highlights religious tolerance, among other qualities, as a distinct component of the “national ethic.”

The constitution provides for states to establish courts based on sharia or customary (traditional) law, in addition to common law civil (i.e., secular) courts, although civil courts have preeminence over all other courts.  Sentences may be appealed from sharia and customary courts to civil courts.  In addition to civil courts, sharia courts function in 12 northern states and the Federal Capital Territory.  Customary courts function in most of the 36 states.  The nature of a case and the consent of the parties usually determine what type of court has jurisdiction.  The constitution specifically recognizes sharia courts for noncriminal proceedings, but state laws do not compel participation in sharia courts in noncriminal cases.  Non-Muslims, as well as Muslims, have the option to have their civil cases tried in secular or sharia courts.  In addition to noncriminal matters, sharia courts also hear criminal cases if both the complainant and defendant are Muslim and agree to the venue.  Zamfara State law makes it mandatory for all Muslims to utilize sharia courts in such cases, but not in noncriminal cases.  Criminal cases with possible sentences of death or life in prison may be heard by secular courts, usually at the preference of police.

Sharia courts may pass sentences based on the sharia penal code, including for serious criminal offenses for which the Quran and Islamic law provide hudud punishments such as caning, amputation, and stoning.  Sharia penal code offenses and charges are only applicable to Muslims.  Sharia courts operate under similar rules as common law courts, including requirements for mens rea and other due process considerations.  According to the Chief Registrar of the Kano Sharia Court, by law defendants have the right to legal representation in all cases, and certain high crimes require the testimonies of four witnesses to be considered as admissible, corroborative evidence.  Defendants have the right to challenge the constitutionality of sharia criminal sentences through common law appellate courts, and these courts have sometimes found for the plaintiff in cases where they have sued individual states for assault for penalties, such as flogging, imposed by sharia courts.  The highest appellate court for sharia-based decisions is the sharia panel of the Supreme Court, staffed by common law judges who, while not required to have any formal training in the sharia penal code, often do and may seek advice from sharia experts.  In some states with sharia penal codes, blasphemy or religious insult is a crime that may incur a fine, imprisonment, or in some cases the death penalty.  The various states’ sharia penal codes do not prohibit apostasy or heresy.

According to the federal penal code, any person who carries out an act “which any class of persons consider as a public insult on their religion, with the intention that they should consider the act such an insult, and any person who does an unlawful act with the knowledge that any class of persons will consider it such an insult, is guilty of a misdemeanor” and may be subject to imprisonment for two years.

The Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) authorizes the federal government to intervene in the management of private entities and gives it broad and discretionary powers to withdraw, cancel, or revoke the certificate of any business or association; suspend and remove trustees (and appoint any one of their choice to manage the organization “in the public interest”); take control of finances of any association; and merge two associations without the consent and approval of their members.

Both federal and state governments have the authority to regulate mandatory religious instruction in public schools.  The constitution prohibits schools from requiring students to receive religious instruction or to participate in or attend any religious ceremony or observance pertaining to any religion other than their own.  State officials and many religious leaders stated that students have the right to request a teacher of their own religious beliefs to provide an alternative to any instruction offered in a religion other than their own.  The constitution also states that no religious community or denomination shall be prevented from providing religious instruction to students of that community in any place of education maintained wholly by that community.  The law requires schools that receive state funding (state schools) to admit and accommodate students of all faiths or no faith, regardless of the student’s or school’s religious affiliation.  Christian state schools are required to allow Muslim students to wear a hijab.  In Muslim state schools, the hijab is required of all female students, regardless of religion, as part of the uniform.

Katsina and Kaduna States have laws requiring licenses for preachers, places of worship, and religious schools.  In Katsina State, the law establishes a board with the authority to regulate Islamic schools, preachers, and mosques, including by issuing permits, suspending operations, and imprisoning or fining violators.  The Katsina law stipulates a punishment of one to five years in prison, a fine of up to 500,000 naira ($1,200), or both for operating without a license.  In Kaduna State, the Interfaith Preaching Council issues permits to those who wish to preach in public and regulates against the use of foul, demeaning, or derogatory language against individuals or other religions based on recommendations from the Local Government Interfaith Committee.  Violators of the law are subject to fines and/or two to five years’ imprisonment.  Local government areas and states establish their own modalities for licensing public preachers, but do not license religious organizations.

In the states of Kano, Zamfara, and Sokoto, legally established Hisbah Boards regulate Islamic religious affairs and preaching, license imams, attempt to resolve interpersonal and family disputes between Muslims in those states, and work with police to enforce the respective states’ sharia penal code.  The states of Bauchi, Borno, Katsina, Kano, and Yobe maintain state-level Christian and Muslim religious affairs commissions, ministries, or bureaus with varying mandates and authorities, while many other state governors appoint interfaith special advisers on religious affairs.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Civil society organizations and media stated that insecurity was pervasive throughout the country and increased nationwide, particularly in the North West region.  There were kidnapping and armed robbery rings in the South as well as the North West, criminal gangs in the South South, and criminal groups and separatists in the South East, but a significant reduction in the number of violent incidents and deaths in the North East.  There was pervasive violence involving predominantly Muslim herders and mostly Christian, but also Muslim, farmers, particularly in the North Central, but also in the North West (where most farmers were Muslim), and South West regions.  There were thousands of killings, kidnappings, and armed robberies.  According to the Nigeria security tracker maintained by the Council on Foreign Relations, there were an estimated 10,399 deaths from violent conflict during the year, compared with 9,694 in 2020.  Of the deaths in 2021, the council estimated 1,112 resulted from violence among ethnic groups, herdsmen, and farmers, some of which had implications for religion and religious freedom, according to multiple observers or, in the words of the council, “sometimes acquires religious overtones.”  Other violent deaths were carried out by militants, Boko Haram, or government security forces.  The council said the estimates were conservative and based on press reports.

During the year, the government undertook 20 targeted military operations, the stated aim of which was to root out criminals and armed gangs and to arrest perpetrators of communal and criminal violence.  In May, the government launched Operation Whirl Strike, a security operation that it said sought to deter and minimize intercommunal violence in Benue and Nasarawa States.  In October, the army launched Operation Golden Dawn with the stated intent of helping it confront security challenges that included armed criminal gangs, kidnapping, land disputes and communal clashes, chieftaincy disputes, assassinations, youth restiveness, and secessionist activities by the Movement for the Actualization of Sovereign State of Biafra, the Indigenous People of Biafra, and Eastern Security Network.  In addition, in November, the Police Service Commission announced it would recruit 30,000 constables over the next three years to meet manpower requirements for the fight against insurgencies, armed criminal gangs, and kidnapping.

In response to increased criminality in the North West and South East regions, the Nigerian Police Force deployed more personnel and equipment on major road networks.  State governors across the regions ran local “community policing” operations to combat kidnappings, primarily through state-supported vigilante groups such as neighborhood watch groups, the Nasarawa/Benue Agro Rangers and Livestock Guard, the Enugu Forest Guard, the Amotekun that worked across six South West states, and the Abia State and Anambra State Vigilante Services.  According to observers, local media and officials, particularly in the South West region, often initially said Fulani herdsmen were responsible for criminal attacks, but, upon further investigation, stated local armed criminal groups of various ethnicities perpetrated most incidents.  In January, Chief Gani Adams, a traditional leader in Yorubaland, said, “The security threat we are having in the South West now, our people (Yoruba) constituted about 25-30 percent of the security threat.”

The government further implemented substantial reforms in the cattle-rearing industry with input from state and local stakeholders to facilitate and incentivize ranching over herding, with the stated aim of “combatting violence” between farmers and herders.  To implement the National Livestock Transformation Policy (NLTP), in November, the federal government began to receive applications from states for allocated funds for herding-to-ranching projects, and disbursed funds to Nasarawa and Plateau States.  According to NLTP Coordinator Andrew Kwasari, the work of constructing the first NLTP model farm for training the pastoralists began “in earnest” in Awe Local Government Area, Nasarawa State in December, adding that communities within the project site were “very happy with the initiative and committed to its success.  The dialogue between the cropping and herding communities is most encouraging.”

Multiple sources, however, stated that the government measures were largely reactive and insufficient to address the scale of the violence.  For example, in an update on the country issued in May, the ICG stated that, although the government had repeatedly pledged to curb violence, it lacked sufficient personnel and resources, and its military response had been inadequate.  The ICG also said the government had made little progress toward resolving the farmer-herder conflict.  The report cited the proliferation and evolution of the criminal gangs popularly known as bandits, stating the gangs spread from Zamfara to all neighboring states, including Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Niger, Kebbi, and Sokoto, and were expanding in number and size, acquiring more sophisticated weaponry, and carrying out an increasing number of abductions of students and others.  The ICG said the insecurity could create more opportunities for jihadists in the region.  According to the report, attempted peace deals (including offers of unconditional amnesties) with the gangs by state governors had been unsuccessful, and all the governors, except for Zamfara’s, had abandoned the deals.  Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom also said the government’s efforts to combat the violence were inadequate.

During his Easter homily, Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Matthew Kukah said about conditions in the country, “The nation has since become a massive killing field, as both government and the governed look on helplessly.”  He continued to criticize what he said was a lack of response from the government to violence in the country.  President Buhari’s spokesperson Garba Shehu reacted to the Bishop’s statements by saying, “Some of the comments are no more than a sample of the unrestrained rhetoric Father Kukah trades in, which he often does in the guise of a homily… We urge well-meaning citizens to continue to support the ongoing efforts by the administration to secure the country and move it forward.”

The military remained engaged in a decade-long war against terrorist groups Boko Haram and ISIS-WA, both of which killed or kidnapped Muslims and Christians.  Boko Haram’s Leader Abubakar Shekau was killed or killed himself in May, and Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi of Islamic State in the Greater Sahara died in August.

On October 19, the military announced it killed 24 suspected Islamist insurgents and recovered two gun trucks and destroyed another during an encounter with insurgents a few kilometers from Maiduguri, the Borno State capital.  On October 25, Air Force spokesman Air Commodore Edward Gabkwet said the military carried out air operations targeting terrorist camps in the Lake Chad basin and stated several terrorists were killed.  On October 28, the army announced it had taken delivery of 60 new armored personnel carriers to boost the war against the Boko Haram insurgency in the North East and banditry in the North West.  Chief of Army Staff Lieutenant General Faruk Yahaya said the deployment of new platforms to the battlefield underscored the government’s commitment to ensure that a state of normalcy was achieved across the country.

CAN stated Christians faced persecution from ISIS-WA and Boko Haram but that the problem also affected other groups.  On November 20, CAN President Reverend Samson Ayokunle said the terrorist groups, “have joined other militant Islamic groups to be ferociously attacking churches, killing worshippers, and kidnapping for ransom.  Though the madness has grown now and those who are not Christians are being attacked, killed, and kidnapped, this is because these criminal acts have become a lucrative business and it is whoever you can kidnap for money!  If the government had responded appropriately when this criminal madness began and subdued these evil groups immediately, we wouldn’t be where we are now!”

The government’s proscription of the Shia group IMN as an illegal political organization remained in place, and the government continued to state that the proscription was not directed against Shia Muslims.  On July 28, the Kaduna State Court acquitted IMN head Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky and his wife, who had been imprisoned since 2015 on charges of “aiding and abetting homicide, unlawful assembly, and disruption of public peace” and released them.

In January, March, and May, protesters marching for the release of Sheikh El Zakzaky, calling themselves the Free Zakzaky movement, clashed with security forces.  The NGO Shia Rights Watch stated that government security forces opened fire on Free Zakzaky protestors on May 7.  IMN said some protesters were injured when police fired on them.  According to press reports, police arrested 49 persons and stated that IMN protesters killed police officer Ezekiel Adama – which the IMN denied – and destroyed public property during the protest.  On September 28, IMN members and security forces clashed again in Abuja during IMN’s annual march coinciding with the Shia Muslim Arbaeen religious observance.  IMN spokesperson Ibrahim Musa stated security forces killed eight marchers but later lowered the number to one.  According to press reports, the government arrested 57 persons and denied any marchers were killed.

Several Shia religious leaders, including Sheikh Salle Sani Zaria, Secretary General of the Rasulul A’azam Foundation of Nigeria, criticized IMN as a political group that was not representative of the majority of Shia Muslims in the country.  In Kano in June, Zaria stated that Shia Muslims throughout the country “make their religious processions unimpeded every Friday.”

NGOs and others criticized the continuing lack of accountability for soldiers involved in the 2015 clash between the army and IMN members in Zaria in which, according to a Kaduna State government report, 348 IMN members and one soldier were killed.

In July, authorities detained for 20 days three visiting Israeli filmmakers making a documentary about Nigerian Jews in South East region on suspicion they were supporting the Indigenous People of Biafra, a group the government outlawed for its stated aims of seeking the separation of the South East region from the country, the leaders of which professed a connection to Judaism.  Authorities released them without charge, and they left the country.  The filmmakers were allowed to retain their recordings.

In January, President Buhari expanded his policy of directing senior government officials to convene meetings with local traditional and religious leaders throughout the country.  According to the President, the meetings aimed to reinforce community-based early warning programs and thereby help prevent religiously motivated violence and property destruction.  Such meetings included those between Presidential Chief of Staff Ibrahium Gambari and Ministers of Interior Rauf Aregbesola, Works and Housing Babatunde Fasola, and Trade and Industry Niyi Adebayo with the Oba of Lagos, Relwanu Akiolu, the Ooni of Ife, Adayeye Oniton II, the Olubadan of Ibadanland, Obasaliu Adetunji, several bishops from different Christian denominations, and local imams.  Media reported Buhari also chaired several National Security Council meetings to consider solutions to insecurity, some of which included enhanced grassroots peacebuilding and increased security presence in certain areas.

The government also said it promoted interfaith dialogue at the state and local level to address violence.  For example, the Plateau Peacebuilding Agency incorporated an interreligious council into its operations throughout Plateau State.  The Kaduna Peace Commission sought out national religious leaders to convene a meeting within the state to condemn the chronic violence there.  Taraba State enlisted the help of the Taraba Interreligious Council to draw up plans to initiate a state government agency to promote reconciliation and peacebuilding.  According to several local NGOs, various early warning systems operating throughout the North Central and North West were also responsible for preventing attacks from occurring.  One NGO, the Para-Mallam Peace Foundation, said that, since law enforcement was often exclusively reactionary, citizen peacebuilding committees in local communities fearing violence or noting the seeds of conflict alerted police and other authorities in Plateau and Kaduna States in order to thwart plans of attacks or to calm brewing disputes.

In June, authorities filed 10 criminal charges against Humanist Association of Nigeria president and former Muslim Mubarak Bala on counts of making statements calculated to cause a breach of public peace by insulting religion, which carry a sentence of up to two or three years in prison per charge.  The government charged Bala with deliberately posting “blasphemous statement(s)” to his social media account, thus “insulting the Holy Prophet of Islam, … [and] the entire followers of Islamic religion in Kano State, calculated to cause breach of public peace.”  The Kano State prosecutor said the government feared Bala’s statements would incite mob violence.  After Bala posted statements on Facebook that state officials in Kano called “inflammatory and disparaging” towards Islam, police arrested him at his home in Kaduna State in April 2020 and transferred him to Kano State, where authorities imprisoned him without charge.  Bala’s attorneys, NGOs, secular humanist groups, and others stated they believed he was arrested for his comments on Islam.  According to Kano State Attorney General M.A. Lawan, when prosecutors indicted him in June, Bala was not charged with blasphemy under sharia because authorities did not consider him to be a Muslim.  In December 2020, a Federal Capital Territory High Court ordered Bala’s release, but Kano State authorities did not release him because of what the authorities said was confusion over the federal court’s jurisdiction in ruling on Bala’s detention.  Bala remained in detention at year’s end.

In January, the Kano State High Court acquitted 17-year-old Omar Farouq, whom a Kano sharia court had convicted of blasphemy in 2020 and sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment.  The High Court ruled that Farouq lacked adequate legal representation during his sharia court trial.

Also in January, the Kano High Court remanded to the same Kano sharia court the case of Yahaya Sharif-Aminu, whom the sharia court had convicted of blasphemy against Islam and sentenced to death in 2020.  The High Court remanded this case to the sharia court for retrial, citing a lack of evidence presented.  At year’s end, an appeal by Sharif-Aminu against the order for a new trial and seeking dismissal of the case was pending.

In February, Kano State authorities banned well known Muslim cleric Sheikh Abduljabbar Nasiru-Kabara from preaching following complaints from the Kano Ulama Council that his sermons would disturb the peace.  In July, after he participated in a televised, three-hour debate in which he expounded on his religious views, Kano State authorities detained Nasiru-Kabara and charged him with blasphemy, saying statements he made during the broadcast insulted Islam.  Authorities also ordered the closure of his mosque and affiliated religious schools and prevented his followers from protesting and carrying out the community’s annual Mauqibi religious festival procession.  At year’s end, Nasiru-Kabara remained in detention, and his trial had not yet been scheduled.

At year’s end, Muslim cleric Abdul Inyass remained imprisoned pending an appeal of the death sentence he received following his blasphemy conviction in 2016.  The Kano Sharia Court barred the public from his trial after a mob razed the courthouse following Inyass’ arraignment in September 2015.

According to the Chief Judge of the Kano High Court as well as the Chief Registrar of the Sharia Court in Kano, the secular court system has always vacated death sentences for blasphemy in that state on appeal.  The Chief Judge said that a death sentence for blasphemy helps to assuage mobs who might seek to lynch the offending individual, keeping public peace while enabling the individual to quietly move out of the state.

There were reports that Hisbah Boards detained, abused, harassed, or intimidated individuals while enforcing their respective state’s sharia penal code.  In January, Hisbah officials in Kano State reportedly arrested barber Elija Ode for giving a customer a “blasphemous” haircut before later releasing him, stating the accusation had been a “misunderstanding.”  In July, a Kano Hisbah group arrested five Muslim men on “suspicion of homosexuality,” a crime punishable by caning, imprisonment, or death by stoning.  The accused were tried, convicted, caned, and released within two weeks.

During the year, the Kano State Films and Censors Board (KSFCB), a government organization responsible for regulating music and film, began requiring poets and singers to obtain a license to perform all new materials.  It also took into account the views of Kano’s Ulama Council, an informal gathering of respected Muslim clerics representing each of Kano’s various Muslim groups, to which the state government often defers on matters that could affect public peace.  In June, Kano State authorities arrested Ahmad Abdul for allegedly insulting Allah in a song he released without vetting it with the KSFCB.  Authorities subsequently released him after he apologized for circumventing the KSFCB.

In May, after an internal dispute among members of the local Muslim community over the installation of a new imam, the Osun State government closed the Inisha Central Mosque to forestall, according to the state government, a religious sectarian crisis from which the government feared violence.  The government reopened the mosque in July.

CSW reported that in October, the Kaduna State government demolished 263 buildings in the predominantly Christian Gracelands community in Zaria, including six churches, a school complex, and homes.  According to CSW, state authorities said the land belonged to an aviation college, but community members said state authorities had granted them certificates of ownership for the land more than 20 years earlier in most cases and that they had been paying all required taxes.

Members of both Christian and Muslim groups continued to report some state and federal government laws discriminated against them.  For example, they stated the Kaduna State Town and Urban Planning Law only allowed the construction of houses of worship in authorized nonresidential areas to prevent the conversion of private homes into houses of worship.  Representatives of both religions complained the law is implemented unevenly and in a biased manner.

In April, CAN President Ayokunle accused President Buhari of “Islamizing” the country through judicial appointments to courts of appeal, stating that out of 20 judges recommended, 13 were from the north and seven from the south.  In a statement, the CAN leadership called for “serious adjustments” on already executed appointments, stating that “Under the watch of President Buhari, especially throughout his first term, the judiciary was literally an appendage of Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs [NSCIA] because its members were in charge of its affairs.”  The NSCIA called CAN’s statement “scurrilous propaganda.”  According to the NSCIA, there were 70 appeals courts justices (JCAs) – 34 from the north and 36 from the south – and that the three geopolitical zones of the south had two Muslim JCAs, while the zones of the north had 15 Christians.

In August, the Anglican Church spoke against a newly enacted Anambra State law on burials that dictated the type, manner, and time of the religious service or rites and how they would be performed.  The law was passed originally at the urging of the Catholic and Anglican churches to curtail what they saw as a trend of extravagant funerals.  The Anglican Church later stated the final text of the law had been enacted without the Church’s input, which it said violated the country’s constitution.

Violence erupted in March when the Kwara State Governor confirmed all female Muslim students could wear the hijab in Christian-owned but state-run “grant aid” schools, per a Court of Appeal decision.  Following the announcement – which came after some Christian schools in the state had said the hijab violated their uniform policies – 10 state Christian schools closed for a week in protest.  When they reopened on March 17, five persons were injured in Christian-Muslim clashes when the Baptist Secondary School and Cherubim and Seraphim College prevented Muslim students wearing the hijab from entering.  According to local press reports, Muslims attacked these schools and their collocated churches in the Sabo Oke area of the state capital, Illorin, in retaliation, breaking windows and causing minor damage.

The Judaism Fellowship Initiative of Nigeria, representing more than 50 Nigerian Jewish and Judaic-oriented congregations, requested the government organize and facilitate pilgrimages for Jews to Jerusalem as the National Hajj Commission does for Muslims to travel to Mecca and state and federal government Christian Pilgrims Welfare Boards do for Christians to Jerusalem, parts of Jordan, and Rome.

While the CAMA law enacted in 2020 allowing the government to intervene in the management of private entities neither specifically addresses nor exempts nonprofit, nongovernmental, or religious organizations, nor contains language about religion, some NGOs and religious organizations continued to express concern about the law.  CAN and the NIREC continued to state that the law might allow the government to exert administrative control over smaller religious organizations that are organized as NGOs or as small religious schools with high tuition costs that are not legally considered charities.  They said such state control would infringe on constitutional rights of association and freedom of religion, although no such cases were reported during the year.  According to some legal scholars, the law was enacted to counter fraudulent NGOs that have served as fronts for money laundering or other criminal behaviors.  CAN sued the federal government over the law in February, and the case remained in litigation at year’s end.

State-level actors, including government, traditional, religious, and civil society organizations, regularly negotiated resolution of disputes.  In February and March, prominent Muslim and Christian leaders organized by the Kaduna State Peacebuilding Commission led peacebuilding efforts following ethnic clashes in Kaduna State.

The community in Yelwan Shandam in Plateau State completed rebuilding the JIBWIS mosque that had been demolished during sectarian riots in 2004, and the mosque began operation in February.

In April, Akwa Ibom State authorities banned the use of state schools for church services after school authorities complained church attendees did not clean up following their services.  Smaller Christian churches had often used the schools for worship services on Sundays but reverted to gathering in private homes or outdoors in compliance with the ban.

In April, the Bauchi State Interfaith Preaching Council indefinitely suspended Muslim cleric Malam Abubakar Idriss for preaching what it deemed incitement against rival ethnic groups.

President Buhari and Vice President Osinbajo regularly condemned attacks on places of worship and those attempting to exploit religious differences.  Buhari regularly consulted with key Muslim and Christian leaders and celebrated both official Christian and Muslim holidays.  In a statement on February 15, Buhari appealed to religious and traditional leaders as well as governors and other elected leaders across the country to “join hands with the Federal Government to ensure that communities in their domain are not splintered along ethnic and other primordial lines.”  Reacting to intercommunal violence stemming from conflict over resources in the South West region, in a statement on February 15, Buhari stated that his “government will protect all religious … groups, whether majority or minority, in line with its responsibility under the constitution.”  Buhari again directed his Chief of Staff Gambari to lead a dialogue in each of the country’s geopolitical zones with state, local, traditional, religious, and security leaders.  According to media reports, Gambari stated that he met with senior Christian and Muslim leaders, for example, CAN in September and NIREC in October, to address what the reports described as infringements on religious freedom and demonstrate the country’s high level of interreligious collaboration.  In a meeting with supporters on June 30, Buhari said about the country’s rising insecurity, “Our problem is not ethnicity or religion.  It is ourselves.”

Terrorist groups, including Boko Haram and ISIS-WA, continued to attack population centers and religious targets, including churches and mosques, and maintained an ability to stage forces in rural areas and launch attacks against civilian and military targets across the North East, according to observers.  ISIS-WA increased its use of improvised explosive devices, which resulted in dozens of military deaths.  ISIS-WA also expanded efforts to implement shadow governance structures in large swaths of the region.  According to the Nigeria Security Tracker compiled by the Council on Foreign Relations, however, the number of incidents and deaths attributed to the conflict declined significantly during the year.  There were 136 incidents involving Boko Haram (compared with 245 in 2020), resulting in an estimated 247 civilian deaths (738 in 2020), 1,065 Boko Haram deaths (2,086 in 2020), and 354 deaths among security forces (617 in 2020).

In January, Boko Haram insurgents attacked Gujba town, headquarters of Tarmuwa Local Government Area in Yobe state.  Residents said the insurgents came in gun trucks and used heavy machine guns and grenades to destroy the town’s primary state school and burned down a mosque and its only health center.

In April, Boko Haram attacked Kwapre, a community in Hong Local Government Area of Adamawa State.  Local sources said they killed at least seven people, abducted several, and razed numerous houses and every church in the community.

In December, according to press reports, Boko Haram was suspected of firing projectiles carrying bombs at targets in the city of Maiduguri in Borno State just as President Buhari arrived on an official visit.  Residents said one of the bombs fell on a mosque.  Initial reports stated five persons were killed and at least eight injured.

On the seventh anniversary of the Boko Haram kidnapping of 276 mostly Christian pupils from the Chibok Government Girls Secondary School in April 2014, 103 remained in captivity, according to government and media reports.  Seven Chibok girls escaped in February and a further two did so in August.

At year’s end, Leah Sharibu, captured by ISIS-WA in February 2018, remained a captive, reportedly because she refused to convert to Islam from Christianity.

South Africa

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 57 million (midyear 2021).  According to a 2010 Pew Research Center report, 81 percent of the population is Christian.  Approximately 15 percent of the population adheres to no particular religion or declined to indicate an affiliation; some of these individuals likely adhere to indigenous beliefs.  Muslims constitute 1.7 percent of the population, of whom the great majority are Sunni.  Shia religious leaders estimate that not more than 3 percent of the Muslim population is Shia.  Hindus, Jews, Buddhists, and adherents of traditional indigenous beliefs together constitute less than 4 percent of the population.  Many indigenous persons adhere to a belief system combining Christian and indigenous religious practices.  The Church of Scientology estimates it has approximately 100,000 members.

The Pew Research Center estimates 84 percent of the Christian population is Protestant, 11 percent Roman Catholic, and 5 percent other denominations (as of 2010, the latest figures available).  African Independent Churches constitute the largest group of Christian churches, including the Zion Christian Church (approximately 11 percent of the population), the Apostolic Church (approximately 10 percent), and charismatic groups.  Other Christian groups include Methodists, Anglicans, Baptists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Seventh-day Adventists, and members of the Greek Orthodox, Dutch Reformed, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Assemblies of God, and Congregational Churches.

Persons of Indian or other Asian heritage account for 2.5 percent of the total population.  Approximately half of the ethnic Indian population is Hindu, and the majority reside in KwaZulu-Natal Province.  The Muslim community includes Cape Malays of Malayan-Indonesian descent, individuals of Indian or Pakistani descent, and approximately 70,000 Somali nationals and refugees.

According to a 2020 study published by the Isaac and Jessie Kaplan Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of Cape Town and the UK-based Institute for Jewish Policy Research, the country’s Jewish population stands at 52,300, with the majority living in Cape Town and Johannesburg.  The study found that the Jewish population declined over the past 20 years primarily because of emigration.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and belief, including the right to form, join, and maintain religious associations.  It prohibits religious discrimination and specifies freedom of expression does not extend to the advocacy of hatred based on religion.  The constitution permits legislation recognizing systems of personal and family law to which persons professing a particular religion adhere.  It also allows religious observances in state or state-supported institutions, provided they are voluntary and are conducted on an equitable basis.  These rights may be limited for reasons that are “reasonable and justifiable in an open and democratic society based on human dignity, equality, and freedom” and take account of “all relevant factors.”  Cases of discrimination against persons on the grounds of religion may be taken to equality courts, the South African Human Rights Commission, and the Constitutional Court.  The constitution also provides for the promotion and respect of languages used for religious purposes, including, but not limited to, Arabic, Hebrew, and Sanskrit.

The constitution establishes and governs the operation of the CRL, which has the mission of fostering the rights of communities to freely observe and practice their cultures, religions, and language.  The CRL is an independent national government institution whose chair is appointed by the President and whose commissioners include members of the clergy, scholars, and politicians, among others.

The law does not require religious groups to register; however, registered religious and other nonprofit groups may qualify as public benefit organizations, allowing them to open bank accounts and exempting them from paying income tax.  To register as a public benefit organization, groups must submit a nonprofit organization application, including their constitution, contact information, list of officers, and documentation stating they meet a number of prescribed requirements that largely ensure accounting and tax compliance, to the provincial social development office.  A group registers once with the local office and its status then applies nationwide.  Once registered, the group must submit annual reports on any changes to this information, important achievements and meetings, and financial information, as well as an accountant’s report.

The government allows but does not require religious education in public schools but prohibits advocating the tenets of a particular religion.

The law recognizes civil, customary, and same-sex unions but does not recognize religious marriages, although the Law Reform Commission has proposed the “Single Marriage Act.”  Civil marriages do not allow polygamy.  The law allows for polygamous marriages to be conducted under customary law; however, it applies only to “those customs and usages traditionally observed among the indigenous African people.”

The constitution grants detained persons visitation rights with their chosen religious counselor.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The government adjusted the various levels of lockdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which included bans and size restrictions on religious gatherings.  In March, President Ramaphosa relaxed a total ban on religious gatherings in place since January, allowing 100 persons indoors and 250 outdoors.  In June, the President tightened restrictions again as the country experienced a rising number of cases, reducing religious gatherings to 50 persons indoors and 100 outdoors.  Some organizations, including the South African Council of Churches, appealed to the government to reconsider regulations on church gatherings, while the advocacy organization Freedom of Religion South Africa (FORSA) maintained its position that selective restrictions on gatherings were limiting the fundamental rights of citizens.  FORSA expressed appreciation for the introduction of a Private Members draft bill in parliament that would provide greater legislative oversight over the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs’ Disaster Management Act; the draft required parliamentary approval after more than one extension.  The High Court heard FORSA’s case challenging the lockdown regulations on November 22-24; at year’s end, the court’s decision remained pending.  In July, a newly formed church lobby group, Pastors Against Church Closure, accused the government of criminalizing worship and appealed for an urgent revision of the lockdown regulations.

In February, police used rubber bullets and stun grenades to disperse a group of approximately 250 individuals who had gathered for a church service in Sebokeng, Gauteng Province.  Police arrested two church leaders for contravening lockdown regulations that did not allow in-person church services.  In March, police arrested a pastor in the township of Soweto and several of his congregants after they attacked police responding to a public complaint about noise emanating from the church.  Police said the church contravened lockdown restrictions and had more than 2,000 persons in attendance.

In September, the SANCF approached the Constitutional Court to urgently interdict the government from declaring COVID-19 vaccination mandatory.  In its court papers, SANCF argued that government had the obligation to protect the constitutional rights of all citizens regardless of the decision to take or not take the vaccine.

In August, the Al Jamah-ah Party submitted a Private Members bill, the so-called Nikah Act, calling for interim registration of Muslim marriages, to the Speaker of Parliament.  Party leader Ganief Hendricks said, “The bill is a minimalist piece of legislation, aimed at just registering a nikah, which is a marriage performed by an imam, with consequences including proprietary benefits, in terms of the Islamic tenets/rulings on marriage.”

In August, the Constitutional Court heard arguments regarding whether the state was constitutionally obligated to enact legislation that recognized and regulated Muslim marriages.  The Constitutional Court, however, did not issue a ruling.  At year’s end, the government was in the process of drafting a new marriage act to recognize all marriages regardless of religion or sex and published an exploratory “green” paper (a government policy discussion paper) in this regard.

According to Muslim leaders, the COVID-19 pandemic brought attention to the plight of Muslims whose religious marriages were not recognized by the state.  During the year, the Muslim Marriages Bill continued to stall in parliament despite its introduction in 2010.  As the state did not recognize religious marriages that were not subsequently “solemnized” in a civil office, the law particularly impacted Muslims who did not undertake civil marriages because of the prohibition against polygamy in civil unions.  Some individuals said Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi’s 2020 declaration that he could not legally recognize Islamic religious marriages meant that death certificates issued for decedents married under Islamic religious rites listed them as “never married,” which they said caused both insult as well as hardship to survivors regarding their benefits and inheritance.

Following Motsoaledi’s remarks, the Supreme Court of Appeal in December 2020 upheld a 2018 ruling of the Western Cape High Court that declared unconstitutional the nonrecognition of Muslim marriages.  The court said the nonrecognition violated women and children’s constitutional rights, and it gave the government 24 months (until December 2022) from its ruling to either enact new legislation or amend the existing legislation to ensure recognition of Muslim marriages as valid marriages.  The court also provided interim relief that was to be applicable in the 24-month period, during which time the state must enact new legislation or amend the existing legislation.  The interim relief aimed at ensuring that Muslim women whose marriages were still valid at the time of the court order could approach a court to obtain a divorce in terms of the Divorce Act.  Since the Supreme Court of Appeal had declared the Marriages Act, the Divorce Act, and the common law definition of marriage to be unconstitutional, this decision had to proceed to the Constitutional Court for confirmation.

In January, a spokesperson from the military said the SANDF had updated dress regulations to allow Muslim women to wear headscarves.  In January 2020, the SANDF withdrew charges against Major Fatima Isaacs, who in 2018 was charged with disobeying a lawful instruction for refusing to remove the hijab she had worn under her military beret for more than a decade.  Isaacs remained on active duty.

Several groups, including the Southern Africa Catholic Bishops’ Conference, the nonprofit Christian organization Freedom of Religion South Africa, and the International Institute for Religious Freedom, stated their continued opposition to a 2016 CRL legislative proposal requiring religious groups to register, on the grounds that it would restrict their religious freedom.  The proposal would require religious groups to register formally with the government and would create a peer review council, consisting of representatives from various religious groups, which would grant organizations and individual religious leaders’ permission to operate.  The proposal remained with the parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs at year’s end.

Throughout the year, the CRL examined allegations of sexual abuse, cult-like practices, and financial malfeasance against leaders of various religious organizations in what it stated was a continued effort to protect congregants from abuse and fraud.  In 2020, the Johannesburg High Court dismissed an application by Bishop Stephen Zondo of the Rivers of Living Waters Church to stop the CRL from holding public hearings on allegations of sexual abuse against him.  In January, the CRL held public hearings on allegations of abuses alleged to have taken place at the Inter Heaven Fellowship Church led by popular Bishop Stephen Zondo.  In November, Zondo appeared in court on numerous charges of rape.  Although the court did not use as evidence the representations made during CRL hearings, the CRL’s hearings brought to public attention abuses it stated were taking place in churches.  FORSA argued that all of the abuses that the CRL reported on were already crimes under the country’s statutes and could be addressed under existing laws without regulating religious practice.

In August, the draft Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill, first introduced in 2018, was released for public comment.  Movement on the draft legislation occurred after the Constitutional Court handed down a unanimous judgment in July in the decade-old case, John Qwelane versus the SA Human Rights Commission.  The court, the country’s highest, ruled that Qwelane’s statements against the LGBTQI+ community amounted to hate speech as defined in a 2000 law because they were harmful, incited harm, and propagated hatred.  The court said, however, the 2000 law was vague and inconsistent with the freedom of expression provision in the constitution and gave parliament 24 months to remedy the law.  The court further upheld the appeal by the South African Human Rights Commission and concluded that the publication in question authored by John Qwelane constituted hate speech.  The hate speech bill would criminalize any action or statement motivated by bias or hatred towards an individual based upon a number of categories, including ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexual and gender identity, health status, employment status or type, or physical ability.  The bill would provide law enforcement officials and courts increased authority to arrest and punish offenders, and it would mandate prison sentences of up to three years for first-time offenses.  Opponents of the bill, including the African Christian Democratic Party led by Reverend Kenneth Meshoe, media representatives, civil society groups, and NGOs, stated the bill’s definition of hate crimes and speech was too vague and could potentially restrict freedom of religion and speech.  FORSA stated it appreciated the religious exemption clause in the draft bill but said it did not go far enough, protecting speech only from the pulpit, not among worshipers.

Media outlets and the SAJBD drew attention to what they said was the unfair treatment and questioning of two Jewish candidates for senior judicial positions by the JSC in April.  Judge David Unterhalter and Advocate Lawrence Lever were subjected to what the SAJBD described as aggressive questions relating to their views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, levels of religious observance, and their relationship with the SAJBD.  The Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution launched a successful challenge in the High Court, which directed the JSC to reinterview the candidates.  JSC officials reinterviewed the candidates on October 4-8.  Although the JSC did not select the two candidates, a SAJBD representative said it was a “victory” that JCS yielded to the pressure of the religious community and civil society to conduct a second round of interviews.

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