The constitution states Islam is the state religion and citizens shall draw principles and rules to regulate worship and social life from the Shafi’i school of Sunni Islam. The preamble “affirms the will of the Comorian people” to cultivate a national identity based on a single religion, Sunni Islam. It proclaims equality of rights and obligations for all individuals regardless of religion or belief. In addition to the constitution, a law establishes the Sunni Shafi’i doctrine as the “official religious reference” and provides sanctions of five months’ to one year’s imprisonment, a fine of 100,000 to 500,000 Comorian francs ($217-1,100), or both, for campaigns, propaganda, or religious practices or customs in public places that could cause social unrest or undermine national cohesion.
The law prohibits anyone from insulting a minister of religion in the exercise of his functions, punishable by a fine of 50,000 to 150,000 francs ($108-325), and it provides that anyone who strikes or assaults a minister of religion in the exercise of his function will be punished with imprisonment of one to five years.
Proselytizing for any religion except Sunni Islam is illegal, and the law provides for the deportation of foreigners who do so. The penal code states, “Whoever discloses, spreads, and teaches Muslims a religion other than Islam will be punished with imprisonment of three months to one year and a fine of 50,000 to 500,000 Comorian francs” ($108-1,100). The law also states, “The sale [or] the free distribution to Muslims of books, brochures, magazines, records and cassettes or any other media teaching a religion other that Islam” will be punished with the same penalties.
There is no official registration process for religious groups. The law allows Sunni religious groups to establish places of worship, train clergy, and assemble for peaceful religious activities. It does not allow non-Sunni religious groups to assemble for peaceful religious activities in public places, although foreigners are permitted to worship at three Christian churches in Moroni, Mutsamudu, and Moheli, and foreign Shia Muslims are permitted to worship at a Shia mosque in Moroni.
The law prohibits proselytizing or the performance of non-Sunni religious rituals in public places, to avoid “affronting society’s cohesion and endangering national unity.” Without specifying religion, the penal code provides penalties for the profaning of any spaces designated for worship, for interfering with religious leaders in the performance of their duties, or in cases where the practice of sorcery, magic, or charlatanism interferes with public order. The new penal code, adopted in February, provides a penalty from one to six months imprisonment and a fine of 150,000 to 750,000 francs ($325-$1,600) for those offenses.
According to the constitution, the Grand Mufti is the highest religious authority in the country. The president appoints the Grand Mufti, who manages issues concerning religion and religious administration. The Grand Mufti heads an independent government institution called the Supreme National Institution in Charge of Religious Practices in the Union of the Comoros. The Grand Mufti counsels the government on matters concerning the practice of Islam and Islamic law.
The law provides that prior to the month of Ramadan, the Ministry of Islamic Affairs and the Council of Ulema publish a ministerial decree providing instructions to the population for events that month.
The government uses the Quran in public primary schools for Arabic reading instruction. There are more than 200 fee-based schools with Quranic instruction that also receive some support from the government. The tenets of Islam are taught in conjunction with Arabic in public and private schools at the middle and high school levels. A new education law adopted in May provides that “pre-elementary education (for ages three to five years) aims at acquiring the first elements of the Muslim religion,” including two years of initiation and familiarization with cultural values and the Muslim religion.
The country is a signatory but not a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Shia leaders stated that 2022 was “quiet and peaceful” and that recent years had been unlike the turbulent years 2017 and 2018 when relations between Sunni and Shia countries in the Middle East were especially tense (i.e., Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies versus Iran and its predominantly Sunni ally Qatar). Private Shia commemorations of all Eid holidays, Ramadan, and Ashura were allowed to proceed and did so peacefully on all three islands. Shia followers practiced their religion and celebrated their holidays in private homes or community centers without interference of the government.
Shia Muslims continued to report government surveillance during major religious holidays. For the third consecutive year, the president and other political leaders refrained from making public statements against religious minorities. One religious minority group leader attributed the government’s relative restraint to sustained international engagement from the United States and others related to the issue.
During the year, they were no reports of any arrests of religious minorities, but members of Shia and other non-Sunni groups reported broad self-censorship and stated they practiced or spoke about their beliefs only in private. Shia and Ahmadi Muslims stated that they were not able to worship publicly and that government authorities sometimes attended religious gatherings held in private homes to monitor their practices but did not interfere.
Ahmadi Muslims stated the tract of land on the island of Anjouan that was the site of an Ahmadi mosque seized and destroyed by local authorities in 2017 had not been returned to them. Shia Muslims on Anjouan continued to state that local authorities prevented them from practicing in the Shia mosque that has existed on the island for several years. Instead, they were forced to worship in a Shia community center that only has a rooftop space for prayer, exposing them to the elements. Ahmadi and Shia Muslims on Anjouan stated they did not live in fear of immediate violence but needed to exercise caution and self-censorship in day-to-day activities to avoid attracting unwanted attention from local authorities.
The status of an application by expatriate Christian community members for a license to build a new nondenominational church was unclear, but most observers believed the application remained stalled. Community members previously reported they had been waiting for more than four years for a government response to their application.