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Canada

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population of Canada at 35.9 million (July 2018 estimate).  According to the 2011 census, which has the most recent data available on religion, approximately 67 percent of the population self-identify as Christian.  Roman Catholics constitute the largest Christian group (38 percent of the total population), followed by the United Church of Canada (6 percent), Anglican (5 percent), Baptist (1.9 percent), and Christian Orthodox (1.7 percent).  Presbyterian, Lutheran, and Pentecostal groups each constitute less than 2 percent of the population.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ) estimates its membership at 190,265.  The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS Church) estimates its membership at 1,000.  Approximately 3 percent of the population is Muslim, and 1 percent is Jewish.  Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Scientologists, Baha’is, and adherents of Shintoism, Taoism, and aboriginal spirituality together constitute less than 4 percent of the population.  Approximately 24 percent of the population lists no religious affiliation.

According to a survey released in September by the Angus Reid Institute, a public opinion research foundation, first- and second-generation Canadians were increasingly likely to follow a faith other than Christianity.  According to the 2016 census, non-Caucasian, nonindigenous ethnic minorities constituted 22.3 percent of the overall population and adhered to a diverse range of religious practices.  According to the 2016 census, which does not include religious affiliation, at least 20 percent of the country’s population was foreign-born, the highest level since 1921.  Approximately 1.2 million persons, or 3.5 percent of the population present in 2016, moved to the country between 2011 and 2016.  Approximately 62 percent of these immigrants were from Asia and 13.4 percent from Africa; a significant percentage of those immigrants arrived from countries that generally adhere to religious beliefs different from the majority of native-born citizens.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief, opinion, and expression.  Every individual is equal under the law and has the right to equal protection and benefit of the law without discrimination based on religion.  The law imposes “reasonable limits” on the exercise of these religious rights only where such restrictions can be “demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.”  The law permits individuals to sue the government for “violations” of religious freedom.  Federal and provincial human rights laws prohibit discrimination on the grounds of religion.  Civil remedies include compensation and/or changes to the policy or practice responsible for the discrimination.

The law does not require religious groups to register, but the government grants tax-exempt status to religious groups that register as nonprofit organizations with the Charities Directorate of the Canada Revenue Agency.  Nonprofit status provides such organizations with federal and provincial sales tax reductions, rebates, and exemptions.  To gain and retain tax-exempt status, a group must be nonpolitical and undergo periodic audits.  Charitable status also grants members of the clergy various federal benefits, including a housing deduction under the tax code, and expedited processing through the immigration system.  The term “clergy” includes persons whose communities have licensed, ordained, or otherwise formally recognized them for their religious leadership and authority to perform spiritual duties and services within their religious organization.  Individual citizens who donate to tax-exempt religious groups receive a federal tax receipt entitling them to federal income tax deductions.

The criminal code prohibits the practice of polygamy, which is an indictable offense subject to imprisonment of up to five years.

Government policy and practices regarding education, including regulation of religious schools, fall under the purview of the provincial, rather than federal, governments.  Six of the 10 provinces provide full or partial funding to some religious schools.

Catholic and Protestant schools in Ontario, Alberta, and Saskatchewan retain the federal constitutionally protected right to public funding they gained when those provinces joined the federation.  Other provinces either had no legally recognized denominational schools that qualified for such protection at the time of federation or accession, or they subsequently secured a federal constitutional amendment to terminate religious education funding rights and introduce an exclusively secular publicly funded education system.  Federal statutory protection for Catholic and Protestant publicly funded minority education exists in the Yukon, Nunavut, and Northwest Territories, which do not have provincial status.  Constitutional or federal statutory protection for public funding of religious education does not extend to schools of other religious groups, although British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Quebec offer partial funding to religious schools of any faith that meet provincial scholastic criteria.  The law permits parents to homeschool their children and to enroll them in private schools for religious reasons.

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

Government Practices

In June the federal Supreme Court held in a pair of companion cases that the law societies of British Colombia and Ontario had properly refused accreditation to a Christian law school, Trinity Western University (TWU), which planned to require its students to adhere to a code of conduct prohibiting them from engaging in sexual relations outside of heterosexual marriage.  The law societies regarded the TWU policy as an inequitable barrier on entry to the law school.  In one decision, the Supreme Court noted that “limits on religious freedom are often an unavoidable reality of a decision-maker’s pursuit of its statutory mandate in a multicultural and democratic society,” and that “religious freedom can be limited where an individual’s beliefs or practices harm or interfere with the rights of others.”  In affirming the decisions of the law societies as reasonable, the court held that, “Given the significant benefits to the statutory objectives [of law societies, which the court found have an obligation to ensure equal access to legal education and a diverse bar, among other things] and the minor significance of the limitation on the Charter rights at issue [i.e., freedom of religion], and given the absence of any reasonable alternative that would reduce the impact on Charter protections while sufficiently furthering those objectives…, the decision made by [the law societies] represented a proportionate balance.”  A self-described faith-based Christian think tank criticized the decisions as an impingement on public expressions of faith.  Because the country’s law schools require the approval of provincial law societies to operate, the rulings prevented the law school from opening as planned in 2019.  In August TWU eliminated its sexual code of conduct for all of its students, but it continued to make it mandatory for faculty, staff, and administrators.  At the end of the year, it was unclear whether it would pursue accreditation again for its proposed law school

In January the Ontario Superior Court found that Ontario doctors with a moral or religious objection to “the provision of abortions,” providing “medical assistance in dying,” or assisting patients with “other medical treatments such as contraception, fertility treatments, pre-natal screening and transgender treatments” must refer patients to another doctor who would be willing to do so.  In two separate cases, medical professionals and affinity groups had challenged the province’s requirement that physicians opposing such treatment on moral or religious grounds make an “effective [active] referral” to another medical provider for patients who seek the service.  Under Ontario’s regulations, physicians failing to make such referrals could face sanctions up to and including the loss of their medical license.  The physicians said the requirement infringed on their rights to freedom of religion and conscience under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  The court, however, found that “the limit on objecting religious physicians imposed by the effective referral requirements of the Policies has been demonstrated to be justified under section 1 of the Charter.  The goal of ensuring access to healthcare, in particular equitable access to healthcare, is pressing and substantial.”  The court also found that “the [referral] requirements impair the individual applicants’ right of religious freedom as little as reasonably possible in order to achieve the goal.”  Federal law permits assisted death but specifies that doctors have the right to freedom of conscience and the right not to perform or assist in providing the procedure.  Ontario is the only province requiring referral directly to another individual physician.  In May the Court of Appeal for Ontario agreed to hear an appeal brought by the physicians.  The case remained pending at the end of the year.

In April a Montreal city councillor proposed that the city alter its uniform policy to permit its police officers to wear religious symbols such as the turban and hijab in an effort to attract ethnically diverse applicants to the force.  The mayor of Montreal signaled her approval for the policy change.  The federal Supreme Court ruled in 1996 that uniform modifications such as the one proposed by the Montreal councilor were permissible.  Toronto police approved the wearing of turbans by Sikhs in 1986 and approved hijabs for Muslim women in 2011.  In advance of a provincial election, the Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ) political party opposed the proposed rule change in Montreal and made its opposition part of the party’s election platform.

In June the Quebec Superior Court extended an injunction against a 2017 Quebec law banning individuals from wearing religious face coverings when providing or receiving government services.  The court ruled that implementation of the law would cause “irreparable harm to Muslim women.”  In his ruling, the judge noted that sections of the legislation also appeared to violate Canadian and Quebec charters of rights that guarantee freedom of conscience and religion.  Civil liberty and Muslim advocacy groups filed a constitutional challenge to the law in 2017 and requested an injunction to suspend implementation of the law.  In December 2017, a Quebec Superior Court justice issued a temporary stay against implementation of the law, which the June ruling extended indefinitely pending a ruling in the case.

The CAQ made a ban on the wearing of religious symbols part of its election platform and won provincial elections in October in Quebec.  On October 2, the then premier-designate of Quebec stated that, once in office, he planned to circumvent the injunction by invoking the federal constitution’s “notwithstanding” clause.  The “notwithstanding clause” allows provincial governments to override specific rights in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms for five years.

In February the Quebec Appeal Court upheld the right of the provincial legislature to forbid individuals from entering the premises with a kirpan (sword or small dagger carried by Sikhs).  The court ruled that the Quebec National Assembly had the right to establish its own rules in accordance with parliamentary privilege, which includes the right to “exclude strangers.”  The presiding justice stated he made “no comment whether the assembly’s exercise of the privilege to exclude the kirpan is a wise decision.”

In June the British Columbia Supreme Court sentenced two convicted polygamists to house arrest, one year of probation, and community service.  The two men, Winston Blackmore and James Oler, were practicing members of The FLDS Church.  They challenged the 2017 convictions on the grounds the convictions violated their constitutional right to freedom of religion.  In March the court found their prosecution for polygamy did not impermissibly infringe on their charter rights to religious freedom and freedom of expression, and rejected their appeal.

In September the Ontario elementary teachers union asked the courts to stop the provincial government from reverting to what it said was an outdated sex education curriculum and from implementing a “snitch line” for parents to anonymously report their concerns about sex education to the government.  The newer version of the sex education curriculum preferred by the teachers contains references to sexting, same-sex relationships, gender identity, and masturbation, topics some religious groups opposed.  After he took office in June, the new premier suspended the new curriculum and required schools to revert to the former curriculum, which contained fewer controversial topics.

In September Quebec began teaching sex education, consistent with the curriculum taught in British Columbia and Alberta, to children as young as kindergarten.  The Quebec Catholic Parents Association criticized the inclusion of sex education, stating the curriculum was inconsistent with Catholic teaching, particularly because of the Church’s emphasis on marriage as being a union between a man and a woman.  Participation in the sexual education curriculum is compulsory for all students except for a few specific circumstances, such as for children who have experienced a significant trauma.

In May the assistant deputy minister responsible for the Alberta Children’s Services Child Intervention Division notified an evangelical Christian couple that the province had reversed its initial denial of the couple’s adoption application.  According to the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF), which represented the couple, the initial decision was based on the couple’s religious beliefs.  The JCCF noted that the couple began the adoption process in 2016 and decided they wanted to adopt an older child.  In March 2017, the entity conducting their home study informed them in writing that it was not recommending them for adoption.  The couple also received a copy of a home study report recommending the denial of the application because they would be unable to “help” a child with “sexual identity issues.”  In May 2017, the couple met with Alberta Child and Family Services (CFS) staff.  According to JCCF, a CFS supervisor told the couple that CFS considered the couple’s religious beliefs regarding sexuality to be a “rejection” of children with LGBTI sexual identities.  The representative confirmed the denial of the adoption application.  The JCCF filed an application on behalf of the couple for judicial review of the adoption decision.  The legal challenge stated the province’s rejection of the couple’s application was unreasonable, arbitrary, and violated the couple’s right to religious freedom under the constitution and the Alberta Human Rights Act.  After the JCCF filed the legal challenge, the government of Alberta reversed its decision.  It subsequently issued a statement that it “respects the rights and freedoms afforded to all Albertans under the Charter, including freedom of belief as well as equality rights.  Families are not denied adoptions based on religious beliefs, and a diversity of belief systems can be found in the Alberta families and homes that have been approved to adopt a child.”

Starting in January the federal government implemented a new requirement for applicants to the federal Canada Summer Jobs program, which subsidizes the cost to private businesses and NGOs to hire students for summer work.  For the first time, organizations were required to attest that their core mandate and the job for which they planned to use the federal funds respected the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as well as other rights and associated case law.  The attestation included language that such rights “include reproductive rights, and the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, race, national or ethnic origin, color, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression.”  Some faith groups refused to sign, stating that the attestation would violate their beliefs and that it was discriminatory and violated their constitutional rights to freedom of religion and freedom of expression.  At least 90 faith leaders issued a letter urging the government to drop the attestation.  While the government rejected the applications of at least 1,400 private business and NGOs after they declined to sign the attestation, the government did approve the funding requests of a number of Catholic organizations.  The employment minister stated the attestation was intended to single out job activities inconsistent with a citizen’s rights and not with the overall beliefs of organizations.  She said an organization refusing to hire LGBTI individuals would not be eligible for funding; however, a religious-based group that might oppose abortion, but also served meals to the homeless, could hire students to plan and serve meals.  A Toronto right-to-life group filed suit in federal court, seeking to enjoin the attestation.  In June an Ontario cement company challenged the attestation in court.  In July three Alberta companies also applied for judicial review.

In December the federal government made changes to the 2019 summer jobs application’s attestation, with new language focusing on activities the funds cannot be used for, rather than on the values of any given organization.  Media reporting indicated there were approximately nine court challenges to the 2018 summer jobs application language pending at year’s end.

In January a Saskatchewan court ordered the government of Saskatchewan and the provincial Catholic School Boards Association to pay 960,000 Canadian dollars ($705,000) toward the opposing public school board’s costs related to a decade-long case over whether the province could fund non-Catholic students to attend Catholic schools.  The court ruled in 2017 that providing funding for non-Catholic students discriminated against secular schools and those of other religious groups in favor of Catholic education; it ordered the province to stop funding those students by the end of June.  In June the Court of Appeals for Saskatchewan stayed the imposition of the funding order pending resolution of the appeals.  At year’s end, appeals were pending regarding both the court’s substantive ruling and the assessment of costs.

In May the federal Supreme Court declined to intervene in a religious congregation’s internal decision-making process.  In a 9-0 decision, the court stated Alberta courts had no jurisdiction to review a Jehovah’s Witnesses congregation’s decision to “shun” (effectively bar) a member over his alleged drunkenness and verbal abuse.  The individual had sued the Church in 2016, on the grounds his “disfellowship” was procedurally unfair and adversely affected his civil and property rights as a real estate agent whose clientele was largely composed of members of his former religious community.  In its ruling, the high court found that no legal rights were at stake in the case, given the lack of a contractual relationship between the parties.  The court also noted the purpose of judicial review was to ensure the legality of state decision making, which was not implicated in this case involving two private parties’ actions.

In January the House of Commons released a report titled “Taking Action Against Systemic Racism and Religious Discrimination Including Islamophobia.”  The report was the result of a March 2017 private motion by a Liberal Party Member of Parliament condemning Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination, and which had directed a House of Commons committee to study the issue.  When it passed, the motion drew criticism from some who said it singled out discrimination against Islam at the expense of other faiths.  The report, however, contained only two recommendations related to anti-Islamic sentiment and focused more broadly on racism and religious discrimination.  The two recommendations were that January 29 “be designated as a National Day of Remembrance and Action on Islamophobia and other forms of religious discrimination,” and that the government should “actively condemn systemic racism and religious discrimination including Islamophobia.”  According to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, the report was intended as a mechanism for developing suggestions on how the government could reduce or eliminate racism and religious discrimination.  The report was advisory and nonbinding.  It made 30 recommendations but did not call for the passage of any new laws.  In June the government issued a formal response recognizing the importance of combating all forms of systemic or institutional racism and religious discrimination, and affirming its commitment to advancing religious freedom in the pursuit of a more equitable and inclusive society.

On January 27, Prime Minister Trudeau issued a statement for International Holocaust Memorial Day, stating, “We must never forget humanity’s capacity for deliberate evil and destruction, and the dangers of anti-Semitism, indifference, and silence in the face of atrocity.”  On April 11, the prime minister issued a statement for Holocaust Memorial Day that reiterated the government’s commitment to fighting anti-Semitism, racism, and all other forms of discrimination.

On January 29, Prime Minister Trudeau issued a statement on the first anniversary of the 2017 fatal shooting at the Centre Culturel Islamique de Quebec.  In his statement, he noted, “The Government of Canada stands in solidarity with Canada’s Muslim community.  We will continue to fight Islamophobia and take action against it and all other forms of hatred and discrimination, and defend the diversity that makes Canada strong.”  Later that evening, the prime minister attended a vigil at the center and delivered additional remarks.

In November the federal government officially apologized to passengers, their families, and Jewish communities in Canada and around the world for the government’s 1939 decision to turn away 907 Jewish refugees on the MS St. Louis, who were fleeing the Nazis.  Cuba and the United States had previously turned away the ship, and it returned to Europe after Canada also rejected it.  Upon its return, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, France, and Belgium accepted approximately half the passengers.  Approximately 500 passengers returned to Germany; 254 of these passengers died in concentration and internment camps.  Prime Minister Trudeau apologized for the St. Louis decision and for the country’s anti-Semitic immigration policy that led to the occurrence.  He extended his apology to Jewish victims of the Holocaust, to members of the country’s Jewish community, and to all others who “paid the price of Canada’s inaction.”

In January the government submitted its first Country Report to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).  The report covered the period 2011-17 and contained information on activities related to Holocaust education, remembrance, research, and Holocaust denial, and its relationship to anti-Semitism.  The report said the government would continue to work closely with IHRA to promote Holocaust awareness and to further the global fight against anti-Semitism.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

During the year, there were reports of various acts directed at religious groups, in particular anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim actions, including physical violence, vandalism, hate speech, violence, and harassment.  In November Statistics Canada released hate crime statistics for 2017.  It reported the number of religiously motivated police-reported hate crimes was 83 percent higher in 2017 than 2016, reaching a total of 842.  Hate crimes targeting Muslims increased 151 percent (349), and hate crimes targeting Jews were up 63 percent (360).  Statistics Canada reported hate crimes against Catholics and other religious groups also increased.

In March a defendant pled guilty to the 2017 killings of six men at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec, according to media reports.  The defendant said he planned the assault after hearing news that Canada was prepared to accept more refugees from Muslim countries.  He said he believed that Muslims posed a threat to his family’s safety.  In June government prosecutors recommended the country’s longest sentence in history, 150 years, but the court had not yet handed down the sentence as of the end of the year.

In July two men attacked a Muslim man in Mississauga, Ontario, as the man and his family were leaving a picnic.  According to media reports, the assailants yelled religious and ethnic slurs at the family, before punching the victim in the face and kicking him when he fell to the ground.  The victim suffered facial fractures and required surgery to stop brain hemorrhaging.  Police investigated the case as a hate crime and arrested two men for assault.  The case was pending as of the end of the year.

In February an Ontario Jewish community center received anti-Semitic hate mail similar to messages sent to several local synagogues in late 2017.  The flyers said it was “Expulsion History Month,” asked “how many times have you been expelled?” and called to “Expel the Jews to the Lake of Fire!”  Police launched an investigation but made no arrests as of the end of the year.

In January on the one-year anniversary of a fatal Quebec mosque shooting, worshippers arriving at an Ottawa mosque found hate messages bearing white supremacist slogans and pictures of Hitler posted on the mosque door and walls, according to media reports.  One of the posters bore the phrase, “There is no god but Hitler, and we are his prophets.”  Police investigated the hate messages but made no arrests as of the end of the year.

In 2017, the most recent year for which there were statistics, the B’nai Brith Canada League for Human Rights reported 16 cases of anti-Semitic violence.  There were 327 reports of vandalism, including the painting of swastikas on buildings, up 107 percent from 2016, accounting for 19 percent of all anti-Semitic reported cases; other categories included harassment and violence.  The league received 1,752 reports of anti-Semitic cases in 2017, compared with 1,728 cases in 2016.  Approximately 80 percent of the occurrences (1,409) involved harassment.  The greatest number of reports (808) came from Ontario, where 13 of the cases involving violence occurred.

Media reported in April that residents of the Ontario town of Puslinch petitioned a provincial court to intervene in the proposed renaming of a street in their town called “Swastika Trail,” according to media reports.  A group of residents launched a campaign in the fall of 2017 to change the name, based on its link to Hitler, the Nazi party, and white supremacism.  Others objected, on the basis that they would incur personal expense to change the address on all of their personal documentation, and also on the grounds that the street was named in the 1920s, when they said the swastika was linked to peace.  A local association sponsored a vote, and residents voted by a slim margin to keep the name.  Two residents who supported the name change then sought judicial review; the case was pending at year’s end.

According to media reports, in January the Royal Canadian Legion in Tignish, Prince Edward Island, asked two Sikh men to remove their head coverings when entering Legion premises.  The men explained they were wearing the items for religious reasons; they said authorities told them they must follow the Legion’s rules, regardless of their religious beliefs.  Other patrons of the Legion reportedly told them they were not welcome in Canada and should return to their “own countries.”  The president of the Tignish Legion subsequently apologized and committed to providing additional training and education for his staff to prevent similar occurrences from happening in the future.

According to an Angus Reid Institute survey, approximately 40 percent of the first- and second-generation respondents said Canada more fully respected religious freedom than did their home country; approximately 40 percent said it was at a similar level.

Numerous interfaith and ecumenical organizations at the national, provincial, and local levels continued to sponsor programs to foster respect for religious diversity, tolerance, and equal treatment for all religious groups.  The groups included the Canadian Council of Churches, United Church of Canada, Catholic Church, the Salvation Army, other Protestant communities, as well as Jewish and Muslim associations.  The Canadian Interfaith Conversation is a collaboration of 41 faith communities and faith-based organizations that collectively “advocate[s] for religion in a pluralistic society and in Canadian public life.”  It spotlighted religious inclusion events held across the country throughout the year on its website.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Ambassador, embassy and consulate officials, and other U.S. government officials raised respect for religious freedom and diversity with the national and provincial governments.  Embassy and other U.S. government officials met with representatives from Global Affairs Canada’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion to discuss issues of religious freedom in the country, including issues raised in this report.

Embassy and consulate officials conducted outreach to religious leaders, NGOs, and religious groups to discuss strategies for combating religious intolerance.  In January the Winnipeg Consul General and consulate staff visited the Islamic Social Services Agency to discuss interfaith dialogue and future opportunities for collaboration.  In March Toronto consulate staff attended an event sponsored by the Association of Progressive Muslims Canada that focused in part on promoting interfaith and intercommunity dialogue.  The embassy and consulates amplified these events through social media and used their social media platforms to boost religious tolerance messages from senior Department of State officials in Washington.

United Arab Emirates

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 9.7 million (July 2018 estimate).  Approximately 11 percent of the population are citizens, of whom more than 85 percent are Sunni Muslims, according to media reports.  The vast majority of the remainder are Shia Muslims, who are concentrated in the Emirates of Dubai and Sharjah.

Of the estimated 89 percent of residents who are noncitizens, the majority come from South and Southeast Asia.  Although no official statistics are available for what percentage of the noncitizen population is Muslim or the breakdown between Sunni and Shia Muslims among noncitizen residents, media estimates suggest less than 20 percent of the noncitizen Muslim population is Shia.

Of the total population (both citizen and noncitizen), the 2005 census, the most recent, found 76 percent to be Muslim, 9 percent Christian, and 15 percent from other religious groups comprising mainly Hindus and Buddhists, and also including Parsis, Baha’is, Druze, Sikhs, and Jews.  Ahmadi Muslims, Ismaili Muslims, and Dawoodi Bohra Muslims together constitute less than 5 percent of the total population and are almost entirely noncitizens.  The Pew Research Center estimated that in 2010, 76.9 percent of the total population was Muslim, 12.6 percent Christian, 6.6 percent Hindu, 2 percent Buddhist, with the remaining belonging to other faith traditions.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution designates Islam as the official religion.  It guarantees freedom of religious worship “in accordance with established customs,” provided this “does not conflict with public policy or violate public morals.”  The constitution states all citizens are equal before the law, and prohibits discrimination on grounds of religious belief.

The law prohibits black magic, sorcery, and incantations, which are punishable by a prison term ranging from six months to three years, and deportation for noncitizens.

The law does not directly prohibit Muslims from converting to other religions; however, the penal code defers to sharia on matters defined as crimes in Islamic doctrine, which in many interpretations prohibits apostasy.

The law provides for imprisonment of up to five years for preaching against Islam or proselytizing to Muslims.  The law also prohibits “abusing” a holy shrine or ritual of any religion, insulting any religion, inciting someone to commit sin or contravene national values, labeling someone an infidel or unbeliever, and forming groups or holding meetings with the purpose of provoking religious hatred.  Offenders are subject to fines up to two million dirhams ($545,000) and imprisonment generally ranging from five to 10 or more years.

The law prohibits blasphemy, defined as any act insulting God, religions, prophets, messengers, holy books, or houses of worship.  Offenders are subject to imprisonment for five or more years and fines from 250,000 dirhams ($68,100) to two million dirhams ($545,000); noncitizens may be deported.

The law does not require religious organizations to register; however, the formation of a legal entity, which requires some form of registration, is necessary for operational functions such as opening a bank account or renting space.  Each emirate oversees registration of non-Muslim religious organizations and the process differs by emirate, organization, and circumstance.  Currently, there is no consistent legal framework across the seven emirates for registering non-Muslim religious organizations and, as a result, different religious organizations register under different ministries.  In Dubai, religious organizations are required to obtain a license from the Community Development Authority (CDA).  The government has also granted some religious organizations land in free trade zones, where they legally registered by applying for a trade license, which allows them some operational functions.

The law requires Muslims and non-Muslims to refrain from eating, drinking, and smoking in public during fasting hours during the month of Ramadan.

The law prohibits churches from erecting bell towers or displaying crosses or other religious symbols on the outside of their premises, although they may place signs on their properties indicating they are churches.

Islamic studies are mandatory for all students in public schools and for Muslim students in private schools.  The government does not provide instruction in any religion other than Islam in public schools.  In private schools, non-Muslim students are not required to attend Islamic study classes.  All students, however, are required to take national social studies classes, which include some teaching on Islam.  The government permits Christian-affiliated schools to provide instruction tailored to the religious background of the student, for example, Islamic studies for Muslim students, Christian instruction for Christian students, and ethics or comparative religions for others.

Private schools deemed to be teaching material offensive to Islam, defamatory of any religion, or contravening the country’s ethics and beliefs face potential penalties, including closure.  All private schools, regardless of religious affiliation, must register with the government.  Private schools are required to have a license from the federal Ministry of Education and their curriculum must be consistent with a plan of operation submitted to and approved by the ministry.  Administrative oversight of the schools is a responsibility of each emirate’s government.

The law prohibits the distribution of religious literature the government determines is contradictory to Islam, as well as literature it deems blasphemous or offensive towards religions.

Land ownership by non-citizens is restricted to designated freehold areas.  Outside of special economic zones and designated freehold areas, the law restricts the majority company ownership to citizens.  This restriction is an impediment to most minority religious communities (which consist of noncitizens) from purchasing property to build houses of worship.

The law prohibits multiple forms of discrimination, including religious discrimination, and criminalizes acts the government interprets as provoking religious hatred or insulting religion through any form of expression.  It also criminalizes the broadcasting, publication, and transmission of such material by any means, including audio/visual or print media, or via the internet, and prohibits conferences or meetings the government deems promote discrimination, discord, or hatred.

According to the constitution, sharia is the principal source of legislation, although the judicial system applies two types of law, depending on the case.  Sharia forms the basis for judicial decisions in most family law matters for Muslims, such as marriage and divorce, and inheritance for both Muslims and non-Muslims; however, in the case of noncitizens, the parties may petition the court to have the laws of their home country apply, rather than sharia.  Sharia also applies in some criminal matters.  Civil law provides the basis for decisions on all other matters.  Shia Muslims in Dubai may pursue Shia family law cases through a special Shia council rather than through the regular judicial system.  When sharia courts try non-Muslims for criminal offenses, judges have the discretion to impose civil or sharia penalties.  Higher courts may overturn or modify sharia penalties.

Under the law, Muslim men may marry non-Muslim women who are “people of the book” (Christian or Jewish).  Muslim women may not marry non-Muslim men.  Non-Muslim men and Muslim women who marry are subject to arrest, trial, and imprisonment on grounds of engaging in extramarital sex, which carries a minimum sentence of one year in jail, as the marriage is considered invalid; any extramarital sex between persons of any religion is subject to the same penalties.

In the event of a divorce between a Muslim father and non-Muslim mother, sharia law will usually apply.  Strict interpretation of sharia – which oftentimes favors the father – does not apply to child custody cases.  The father, deemed the guardian, provides for the child financially, while the mother, the custodian, provides day-to-day care of the child.  Non-Muslim wives of citizens are ineligible for naturalization.  There is no automatic spousal inheritance provision for wives under the law if the husband is Muslim and the wife is non-Muslim.  Such wives may not inherit their husband’s property unless named as a beneficiary in their husband’s will.

Abu Dhabi’s judicial department permits Christian leaders to legally mediate divorces for Christians and agnostics if the bride and groom are both residents of the emirate.  The government permits church officials to officiate at weddings for non-Muslims, but the couple must also obtain the marriage certificate from the Abu Dhabi Justice Department.  In both cases of marriage and divorce, the church official must be registered with the Ministry of Justice as officially recognized to perform these acts.

Noncitizens may register wills in the emirate in which they live.  In the absence of a will filed with the government, the assets of foreigners who die are subject to sharia.  Non-Muslims are able to register their wills with the Abu Dhabi judicial system as a way to safeguard their assets and preserve their children’s inheritance rights.  In Dubai, foreigners may file wills at the Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC) Court Wills and Probate Registry and include their own choice of law clause.  The DIFC Wills Service Center allows non-Muslim business owners and shareholders to designate an heir.  Dubai wills not filed in the DIFC Court are subject to sharia.  The DIFC’s jurisdiction extends to the Emirate of Ras al Khaimah.  There are courts for Personal Status and for Inheritance for non-Muslims in the Abu Dhabi Court of First Instance.

The law prohibits activities the government deems supportive of political or extremist interpretations of Islam.  These include the use of the internet or any other electronic means to promote views the government believes insult religions, promote sectarianism, damage national unity or the reputation of the state, or harm public order and public morals.  Punishments include imprisonment and fines from 500,000 dirhams ($136,000) to one million dirhams ($272,000).  In August the government increased the penalties for electronic violations of the law, including raising the maximum fine to four million dirhams ($1.09 million).  The law prohibits membership in groups the government designates as terrorist organizations, with penalties up to life imprisonment and capital punishment.

In May the president issued a federal law declaring that local authorities concerned with mosque affairs are responsible for naming mosques, providing and supervising the needs of mosques and prayer spaces, determining the timing of the second call to prayer, organizing religious lectures, and preparing sermons.  The law also defined acts prohibited in mosques, prayer spaces, and Eid Musallas (open prayer spaces outside of mosques or prayer halls smaller than mosques) without a license, such as giving lectures or sermons, holding Quran memorization circles, fundraising, and distributing written and visual material.  The law further stipulates that citizen applicants must be given first consideration for vacant positions at mosques.  The law prohibits those working in mosques from belonging to any illegal group or from carrying out any political or organizational activities.

The law restricts charitable fundraising activities, including by religious organizations, by prohibiting the collection of donations or advertising fundraising campaigns without prior approval from authorities.

In May the president approved a federal law on charitable endowments, clarifying circumstances under which fundraising was permissible.  The law classifies charitable endowments into three categories:  where proceeds are designated for the founder’s offspring; where proceeds are designated for charitable endeavors supporting the underprivileged; and where the proceeds are designed for both offspring and the general public.

The Dubai CDA is the official body mandated to oversee all civil institutions and nonprofits in the emirate, including non-Muslim religious groups.  The CDA issues operating licenses and permits for events, and monitors fundraising activities.  The law also states that civil institutions may only collect donations or launch fundraising campaigns after obtaining the CDA’s written approval.  Fines for noncompliance range from 500 dirhams ($140) to 100,000 dirhams ($27,200).

The country is not a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

According to press, in July the criminal court of Ajman sentenced “an Arab man” to seven years of imprisonment, deportation upon completion of jail time, and a fine of 500,000 dirhams ($136,000) on blasphemy charges for an allegedly offensive voice mail that, according to media reports, contained offensive words and insulted God.

In January a court sentenced a Dominican woman and her child’s Yemeni biological father to a suspended one-month jail term and deportation for violating the country’s interpretation of sharia by engaging in extramarital sex.

Police and courts continued to enforce laws against sorcery.  In February the Federal Supreme Court upheld an 18-month jail term against someone identified in the press as “an Arab man” for charges of witchcraft, fraud, and trying to coerce sex from a woman.

There were reports of government actions targeting the Muslim Brotherhood, designated by the government as a terrorist organization, and individuals associated with the group.

Within prisons, the authorities required Muslims to attend weekly Islamic services.  In Abu Dhabi, some Christian clergy reported difficulties visiting Christian prisoners and raised concerns about lack of worship space for incarcerated Christians.  They reported that when they were granted prison access, they were permitted to take Bibles to the prisoners.

The country’s two primary internet service providers, both majority-owned by the government, continued to block certain web sites critical of Islam or supportive of religious views the government considered extremist, including Islamic sites.  The service providers continued to block other sites on religion-related topics, including some with information on Judaism, Christianity, atheism, and testimonies of former Muslims who converted to Christianity.

In June the cabinet approved the formation of the UAE Fatwa Council, headed by President of the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies Sheikh Abdallah bin Bayyah.  The cabinet tasked the council with presenting a clear image of Islam, including issuing general fatwas and licensing individuals to issue fatwas, train muftis, and conduct research in coordination with the Awqaf.  In a July statement to the official Emirates news agency, Sheikh bin Bayyah declared, “Unofficial and rogue fatwas are the first gateway to extremist ideologies, and now is the time to demolish the misuse of this platform and end the distortion of fatwas to serve terrorism, murder, and destruction, both in Muslim countries and among Muslim minorities in different countries of the world.”

The Awqaf continued to vet and appoint Sunni imams, except in Dubai, based on their gender, educational background and knowledge of Islam, along with security checks.  According to the federal Awqaf, the government continued to fund Sunni mosques, with the exception of those considered private, and retained all Sunni imams as government employees.

The federal Awqaf continued to oversee the administration of Sunni mosques, except in Dubai, where they were administered by the IACAD.  On its website, the Awqaf stated its goals included offering “religious guidance in the UAE to instill the principle of moderation in Islam.”  It continued to distribute weekly guidance to Sunni imams regarding subject matter, themes, and content of Friday Islamic sermons; published a Friday sermon script every week; and posted the guidance on its website.  The Awqaf applied a three-tier system in which junior imams followed the Awqaf Friday sermon script closely; midlevel imams prepared sermons according to the topic or subject matter selected by Awqaf authorities; and senior imams had the flexibility to choose their own subject and content for their Friday sermons.  Some Shia sheikhs (religious leaders) chose to follow Awqaf-approved weekly addresses, while others wrote their own sermons.  In June the Awqaf launched the first English-language Friday sermons in Ras Al Khaimah.  In September the Awqaf launched an initiative to translate Friday sermons for reading and listening into English and Urdu on its website and mobile application.

Dubai’s IACAD controlled the appointment of Sunni clergy and their conduct during worship in Dubai mosques.  All of the imams in Dubai’s more than 2,000 Sunni mosques were government employees and included both citizens and noncitizens.  Qualification requirements were more stringent for expatriate imams than for local imams, and starting salaries much lower.

The Jaafari Affairs Council, located in Dubai, managed Shia affairs for all of the country, including overseeing mosques and community activities, managing financial affairs, and hiring preachers.  The council complied with the weekly guidance from IACAD and issued additional instructions on sermons to Shia mosques.  In May, acting on an initiative of Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, emirate officials inaugurated the Imam Al Sadiq Center in Dubai for Shia religious and community activities.  The site is intended to hold 2,400 people.

The government did not appoint sheikhs for Shia mosques.  Shia adherents worshiped in and maintained their own mosques.  The government considered all Shia mosques to be private; however, they were eligible to receive some funds from the government upon request.

The Awqaf operated official toll-free call centers and a text messaging service for fatwas in three languages (Arabic, English, and Urdu).  Fatwa categories included belief and worship, business transactions, family issues, women’s issues, and other Islamic legal issues.  Callers explained their question directly to an official mufti, who then issued a fatwa.  Both female (muftiya) and male (mufti) religious scholars worked the phones at the fatwa hotline.

The government permitted Shia Muslims to observe Ashura in private, but not in public.  There were no public processions in Dubai or the northern emirates.

Representatives of non-Islamic faiths said registration procedures and requirements for minority religious groups remained unclear in all emirates other than Dubai.  The government did not require non-Muslim religious groups to register, but according to some observers, the lack of a clear legal designation continued to result in an ambiguous legal status for many groups and created difficulties in carrying out certain administrative functions, including banking or signing leases.  For example, the government required religious groups to register as a precondition for establishing formal places of worship, such as temples, mosques, or churches, or for holding religious services in rented spaces such as hotels or convention centers.  Community sources indicated that the government permitted unregistered religious organizations to rent spaces at hotels in some circumstances.  The government permitted groups that chose not to register to practice in private homes, as long as this activity did not disturb neighbors through excessive noise or vehicle congestion.

The government required all conference organizers, including religious groups, to register conferences and events, including disclosing speaker topics.

In Dubai, there were reports of delays in obtaining permits to worship in spaces outside of government-designated religious compounds from the CDA, tasked with implementing a new oversight structure for civil institutions and nonprofits and with regulating non-Muslim faith communities in the emirate.  There were also reports of additional restrictions on holding some religious services in hotels, due to confusion and uncertainty regarding CDA policies, and last-minute event cancellations affecting religious groups.

Immigration authorities continued to ask foreigners applying for residence permits to declare their religious affiliation on residence applications.  School applications also asked for family religious affiliation.  Applicants were required to list a religious affiliation, creating potential legal issues for atheists and agnostics.  According to Ministry of Interior officials, the government collected this information for demographic statistical analysis only.

Individuals belonging to non-Islamic faiths, including Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, and Judaism, said they generally could worship and practice without government interference within designated compounds or buildings, or in private facilities or homes.  While the government did not generally allow non-Muslims to worship, preach, or conduct prayers in public, there were reports of government-sanctioned exceptions, such as the annual Easter celebrations held on a beach.

The government continued to provide land for non-Islamic cemeteries.  There were cremation facilities and associated cemeteries for the large Hindu community.  The Al Ain municipality in Abu Dhabi Emirate also ran a cremation facility.  Non-Muslim groups said the capacity in crematoriums and cemeteries was sufficient to meet demand.  The government required residents and nonresidents to obtain a permit to use cremation facilities, and authorities routinely granted such permits.  The government allowed people from all religious groups except Islam to use the cremation facilities.

In November the Abu Dhabi International Airport opened a multi-faith prayer room for use by the general public.

Some religious groups, particularly Christians and Hindus, advertised religious functions in the press or online, including holiday celebrations, memorial services, religious conventions, and choral concerts, without government objection.  The government also allowed businesses to advertise, sell merchandise, and host events for non-Islamic religious holidays such as Christmas, Easter, and Diwali.  The government allowed local media to report on non-Islamic religious holiday celebrations, including service times and related community-safety reminders.

In spite of legal prohibitions on eating during daytime hours of Ramadan, in Dubai and several northern emirates, non-Muslims were exempt from these laws in hotels and most malls; non-Muslims could eat at some stand-alone restaurants and most hotels in Abu Dhabi as well.  In Dubai and several northern emirates, the emirate governments permitted most licensed restaurants to offer alcohol during Ramadan.

The government did not always enforce the law against bell towers and crosses on churches, and some churches in Abu Dhabi and Dubai displayed crosses on their buildings or had ornamental bell towers; none of them used the towers to ring or chime bells.

Customs authorities continued to review the content of religious materials imported into the country and occasionally confiscated some materials, such as books.  Additionally, sometimes customs authorities denied or delayed entry to passengers carrying items deemed intended for sorcery, black magic, or witchcraft.  Specific items airport inspectors reportedly confiscated included amulets, animal bones, spells, knives, and containers of blood.

Officials from the Awqaf’s Department of Research and Censorship reviewed religious materials such as books and DVDs published at home and abroad.  The department’s Religious Publications Monitoring Section continued to limit the publication and distribution of religious literature to those it considered consistent with moderate interpretations of Islam and placed restrictions on non-Islamic religious publications, such as material that could be considered proselytizing or promoting another religion over Islam.  The section issued permits to print the Quran and reviewed literature on Quranic interpretation.  The government continued to prohibit the publication and distribution of literature it believed promoted extremist Islam and overtly political Islam.  The Religious Publications Monitoring Section inspected mosques to ensure prohibited publications were not present.

The Anti-Defamation League noted that despite the central government’s policy of promoting religious tolerance, the Dubai emirate sponsored three speakers with a history of anti-Semitic comments at an emirate-sponsored Ramadan event, a ceremony for the Dubai Holy Quran Award.  Omar Abdel Kafi, also spoke at the opening session of the May 2018 “Tolerance and Diversity of Cultures” conference in Abu Dhabi, held at the Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research.  Another of the speakers identified in the report, Saleh al-Maghemsy, spoke at the April “Al-Quds – Location and Status” conference in Abu Dhabi, under the patronage of the Minister of Tolerance Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak al Nahyan.

The government continued to grant permission to build houses of worship on a case-by-case basis.  Minority religious groups said, however, the construction of new houses of worship had not kept up with demand from the country’s large noncitizen population.  Many existing churches continued to face overcrowding and many congregations lacked their own space.  In Dubai, overcrowding of the emirate’s two church compounds was especially pronounced, and routinely led to congestion and traffic.  Media reports highlighted that holiday services often attract tens of thousands of worshippers to Dubai’s church compounds.  Some smaller congregations met in private locations, or shared space with other churches to which rulers had given land.  Noncitizen groups with land grants did not pay rent on the property.  Several emirates also continued to provide free utilities for religious buildings.

Noncitizens, who make up the membership of most minority religious groups, relied on grants and permission from local rulers to build houses of worship.  For these groups, land titles remained in the respective ruler’s name.  There were approximately 42 Christian churches, built on land donated by the ruling families of the emirates in which they were located.  Ajman and Umm Al Quwain were the only emirates without dedicated land for Christian churches, although congregations gathered in other spaces, such as hotels.

There are two Hindu temples and one Sikh temple in Dubai.  Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed allocated land in Al-Wathba, Abu Dhabi, for the construction of a privately funded Hindu temple, scheduled to be completed by 2020.  In January the minister of tolerance and the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All the East inaugurated Saint Elias Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Abu Dhabi.  There were no Buddhist temples; some Buddhist groups met in private facilities.  There were no synagogues for the expatriate resident Jewish population, but regular communal worship took place on the Sabbath and holidays in a private villa in Dubai.  In December Bloomberg published an article about the Dubai Jewish community with the permission of its leaders, marking the first time the worship space had been publicly acknowledged.  Construction was underway on a new Anglican church in Abu Dhabi; the projected completion date is not clear.

Although the government permitted non-Muslim groups to raise money from their congregations and from abroad, some noncitizen religious groups were unable to open bank accounts because of the lack of a clear legal category to assign the organization.  Several religious minority leaders reported this ambiguity created practical barriers to renting space, paying salaries, collecting funds, and purchasing insurance, and made it difficult to maintain financial controls and accountability.

In Islamic court cases involving non-Muslim defendants, judges had the discretion to impose civil or sharia penalties, and sources said the judges generally imposed civil penalties.

Minister of Tolerance Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan often spoke publicly in support of free practice of religion, including during a February address to a delegation from the Catholic University of Paris.  The minister continued to host the International Institute of Tolerance, which sponsored the Dubai-based World Tolerance Summit in November, which featured messaging on respect for religious pluralism.

The government engaged with religious minorities frequently.  In January the minister of tolerance hosted senior Christian leaders from across the Gulf Cooperation Council at his palace in Abu Dhabi and discussed interfaith relations and their ability to worship in the UAE.  In January Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, prime minister and ruler of Dubai, hosted Aga Khan IV, imam of the Shia Ismaili Muslims, as part of the Aga Khan’s diamond jubilee tour as spiritual leader and to promote the Aga Khan Foundation.

In October Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces Mohammed bin Zayed and numerous other officials hosted a visiting evangelical Christian delegation from the United States to discuss promotion of tolerance and religious pluralism.

During the St. Anthony’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral’s Christmas celebration, Minister of Tolerance Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan addressed the congregation and condemned the terrorist attack against the Church of Mar Mina in Cairo and affirmed the country’s commitment to religious tolerance and interfaith understanding.

In June Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan met with Pope Francis and other senior Vatican officials in Rome.  Local media reports noted that the discussions included promoting interfaith dialogue and increased bilateral cooperation.

Some Muslim and non-Muslim groups reported their ability to engage in nonreligious charitable activities, such as providing meals or social services, was limited because of government restrictions.  For example, the government required groups to obtain permission prior to any fundraising activities.  Religious groups reported official permission was required for any activities held outside of their place of worship, including charitable activities, and this permission was sometimes difficult to obtain.

In Dubai, representatives of the CDA attended interfaith iftars and suhoors (predawn meals during Ramadan) hosted by several Christian congregations, the Sikh Gurudwara, and the Ismaili Center.  Dubai’s Al Manara Islamic Center hosted an interfaith iftar, and invited attendees to share their thoughts on the themes of tolerance and happiness.  The iftar was broadcast live on the center’s website.  Dubai’s grand mufti addressed the diverse group of minority religious leaders and diplomats in attendance.

In June 2018 Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan visited the Akshardham Hindu temple in New Delhi, India, as part of an official visit.

Prominent government figures and social media influencers routinely acknowledged minority religious holidays using various platforms.  For example, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Prime Minister and ruler of Dubai, tweeted wishes for a happy Diwali and encouraged observers to use social media to share pictures of Diwali celebrations around the country.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

According to non-Muslim groups, there continued to be societal pressure discouraging conversion from Islam and encouraging conversion to Islam.  In March the Dubai-based Dar Al Ber Society announced that it had supported the conversion to Islam of 3,014 residents representing 69 nationalities in 2017.  During Ramadan, local newspapers published stories portraying conversions to Islam positively and published statistics on conversions to Islam.  For example, local media reported that 40 residents converted to Islam at an iftar hosted by the Islamic Information Center (IIC) of Dubai.  By contrast, observers reported conversion from Islam was highly discouraged through strong cultural and social pressure, particularly from family members.

Holiday foods, decorations, posters, and books continued to be widely available during major Christian and Hindu holidays, and Christmas trees and elaborate decorations remained prominent features at malls and hotels.  The news media continued to print reports of religious holiday celebrations, including religious activities such as Christmas celebrations and Hindu festivals such as Diwali.  Decorations and supplies for christenings and other religious events were available in major shopping centers.

Religious literature, primarily related to Islam, was available in stores; however, bookstores generally did not carry core religious works for other faiths, such as the Bible or Hindu sacred texts.

Radio and television stations frequently broadcast Islamic programming, including sermons and lectures; they did not feature similar content for other religious groups.

In some cases, organizations reported hotels, citing government regulatory barriers, were unwilling to rent space for non-Islamic religious purposes, such as weekly church services.  Local media reported on difficulties in obtaining bank loans to cover construction costs for new religious spaces, even for registered religious organizations, such as Anglican attempts to fund construction for All Saints Anglican Church in Abu Dhabi.

Anti-Semitic materials were available for purchase at some book fairs and from a major international book retailer.  There were continued reports of users posting anti-Semitic remarks on some social media sites and local Arabic print media featured anti-Semitic caricatures in political cartoons.  Following the move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem in May, Al-Bayan, a Dubai-based newspaper, ran an editorial cartoon showing the caricature of an orthodox Jew wearing a hat featuring the Star of David and firing a pistol into a grave with a headstone marked “Palestine’s martyrs.”

News reports during the year quoted religious leaders, including from Catholic, Anglican, Hindu, Sikh, and other religious communities, expressing appreciation for government support for their communities and the relative freedom in which their communities could worship.  During Ramadan, local media widely covered interfaith iftars hosted by minority faith communities, for example by the Anglican Church in Abu Dhabi.

Because of the limited capacity of official houses of worship, dozens of religious organizations and different sects shared worship space.  At the celebration of the 50th anniversary of St. Andrew’s Anglican Church in Abu Dhabi, the minister of tolerance during his keynote address praised the number of different Christian faith groups sharing space and worshipping side by side.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

In December the U.S. Ambassador at Large for Religious Freedom spoke at the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies’ fifth annual conference in Abu Dhabi about advancing religious freedom across the world.  In May the Department of State Special Advisor for Religious Minorities, at the invitation of the Ministry of Tolerance, spoke about U.S. support for Muslim communities as a panel member for the International Conference on Muslim Minorities.

The Ambassador, Charge d’Affaires, Consul General, and other embassy and consulate general officers met with representatives of the Ministry of Tolerance, Dubai’s CDA, IACAD, and other officials during the year.  In addition to the implementation of new laws and regulatory practices, officers discussed international, bilateral, and governmental efforts to support religious diversity, inclusiveness, and tolerance, as well as government initiatives to promote moderate Islam.  Officers also engaged with government-supported organizations whose official stated purpose was to promote tolerance within and across religions, such as the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies.

Embassy and consulate general officers regularly met with representatives of minority religious groups to learn more about issues affecting their communities as part of continuing efforts to monitor their abilities to associate and worship.  The embassy and consulate general hosted events that brought together leaders from diverse religious communities, such as the Hindu, Sikh, Christian, and Shia communities, to facilitate the sharing of their experiences with one another, encourage interfaith contact building and dialogue, and demonstrate U.S. support for tolerance and religious freedom.  In March in partnership with the Ministry of Tolerance, the U.S. embassy and consulate sponsored the visit of a gospel choir affiliated with Howard University to perform in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Fujairah.  The choir also sang on local radio and at an event hosted by the minister of tolerance at his majlis (salon).  In Dubai, the Ismaili Center cohosted the gospel choir for an interfaith concert that was widely covered by local media.  Remarks from both U.S. and UAE officials throughout the visit praised mutual efforts to understand different religions and cultures.

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