The constitutions of the union government (United Republic of Tanzania) and Zanzibar both provide for equality regardless of religion, prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion, and stipulate freedom of conscience or faith and choice in matters of religion, including the freedom to change one’s faith. The union government constitution allows these rights to be limited by law for purposes such as protecting the rights of others; promoting the national interest; and safeguarding defense, safety, peace, morality, and health. The Zanzibar constitution allows rights to be limited by law if such a limitation is “necessary and agreeable in the democratic system” and does not limit the “foundation” of a constitutional right or bring “more harm” to society.
Since independence and by tradition, the country has been governed by alternating Christian and Muslim presidents who appoint a prime minister from the other religious group with the endorsement of parliament.
The law prohibits religious groups from registering as political parties. To register as a political party, a group may not use religion as a basis for approving membership, nor may it follow a policy of promoting a religion.
The law prohibits a person from taking any action or making any statement with the intent of insulting the religious beliefs of another person. Anyone committing such an offense may be punished with a year’s imprisonment.
On the mainland, secular laws govern Christians and Muslims in both criminal and civil cases. In family-related cases involving inheritance, marriage, divorce, and the adoption of minors, the law also recognizes customary practices, which could include religious practices. In such cases, some Muslims choose to consult religious leaders in lieu of bringing a court case.
Zanzibar, while also subject to the union constitution, has its own president, court system, and legislature. Muslims in Zanzibar have the option of bringing cases to a civil or qadi (Islamic court or judge) court for matters of divorce, child custody, inheritance, and other issues covered by Islamic law. All cases tried in Zanzibar courts, except those involving Zanzibari constitutional matters and sharia, may be appealed to the Union Court of Appeals on the mainland. Decisions of Zanzibar’s qadi courts may be appealed to a special court consisting of the Zanzibar chief justice and five other sheikhs. The President of Zanzibar appoints the chief qadi, who oversees the qadi courts and is recognized as the senior Islamic scholar responsible for interpreting the Quran. There are no qadi courts on the mainland.
Religious groups must register with the Registrar of Societies at the Ministry of Home Affairs on the mainland and with the Office of the Registrar General on Zanzibar. Registration is required by law on both the mainland and in Zanzibar. The fines for offenses under the Societies Act, including operating without registration, range from one million to ten million shillings ($430 to $4,300).
To register, a religious group must provide the names of at least 10 members, a written constitution, resumes of its leaders, and a letter of recommendation from the district commissioner. Such groups may then list individual congregations, which do not need separate registration. Muslim groups registering on the mainland must provide a letter of approval from the National Muslim Council of Tanzania (BAKWATA). Muslim groups registering in Zanzibar must provide a letter of approval from the mufti, the government’s official liaison to the Muslim community. Christian groups in Zanzibar may register directly with the registrar general.
On the mainland, BAKWATA elects the mufti. On Zanzibar, the President of Zanzibar appoints the mufti, who serves as a leader of the Muslim community and as a public servant assisting with local governmental affairs. The Mufti of Zanzibar nominally approves all Islamic activities and supervises all mosques on Zanzibar. The Mufti also approves religious lectures by visiting Islamic clergy and supervises the importation of Islamic literature from outside Zanzibar.
Public schools may teach religion, but it is not a part of the official national curriculum. School administrations or parent-teacher associations must approve such classes, which are taught on an occasional basis by parents or volunteers. Public school registration forms must specify a child’s religious affiliation so that administrators can assign students to the appropriate religion class if one is offered. Students may also choose to opt out of religious studies. Private schools may teach religion, although it is not required, and these schools generally follow the national educational curriculum unless they receive a waiver from the Ministry of Education for a separate curriculum. In public schools, students are allowed to wear the hijab but not the niqab, a veil for the face that leaves the eyes clear.
The government does not designate religious affiliation on passports or records of vital statistics. Police reports must state religious affiliation if an individual will be required to provide sworn testimony. Applications for medical care must specify religious affiliation so that any specific religious customs may be observed. The law requires the government to record the religious affiliation of every prisoner and to provide facilities for worship for prisoners.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Twenty-two members of the Association for Islamic Mobilization and Propagation (UAMSHO), an Islamist group advocating for Zanzibar’s full autonomy, remained in custody on the mainland following their arrest in 2013 on terrorism charges.
According to some religious organizations, various governmental bodies, including the National Electoral Commission, enforced measures that served to exclude religious groups or societies from any perceived political role, ostensibly to enforce 2019 changes related to the organizational status and operational scope of religious societies,. Human rights groups said that this led to the exclusion of religious organizations, including the Tanzania Episcopal Conference, from organizing domestic election observation missions or from providing civic and voter education, which they said had been a longstanding and positive role played by many religious organizations.
On July 9, the Council of Imams issued a document calling for the government to ensure independent and fair elections, legislative reform, and equality for Muslims. On July 11, police arrested Sheikh Issa Ponda, secretary of the Council of Imams, at his office in Dar es Salaam. Media reported that he was “allegedly circulating a document containing elements of incitement and breach of peace towards the 2020 general election.” Police detained Ponda for nine days, then released him on bail. Ponda also reported that some Muslims believed the government was using the 2002 Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTW) to unjustly attack, kill, or imprison Muslims.
There were additional instances where, according to some religious leaders, the government penalized prominent religious leaders for voicing views it deemed political. Examples included the government questioning the citizenship of several religious leaders when they expressed concerns about the actions of the government. Some religious leaders had their passports confiscated, according to observers.
The government used various public forums to emphasize that religious organizations should be self-funded and not rely on international donors. On August 23, President John Magufuli used a church event to raise money to build a mosque in Dodoma. According to media reports, this was a gesture to illustrate religious tolerance.