U.S. Report on religious freedom in Bahrain
On 17 November 201, the U.S. State Department issued its annual
report on religious freedoms in the world. The report confirmed
that the Bahraini Constitution does provide for freedom of religion
and for the free practice of a religion, as well as freedom of conscience
and worship for various religions and sects, including the organization
and participation in religious parades and meetings in accordance
with the customs in force in the country. However, the report noted
that the Bahraini Government has placed certain restrictions on
the exercise of these rights.
The report pointed to the lack of any change in the status of
respect for religious freedom by the Bahraini Government during
the reporting period, and that the Government continued to exercise
a degree of control and censorship on religious practices, pointing
out that a number of international and local NGOs had indicated
some forms of discrimination in some aspects.
The report emphasized that the Bahraini Constitution provides
for freedom of religion, but there are restrictions imposed on this
right. The report stated that “the Constitution does not impose
restrictions on the right to choose, change or practice one’s religion
of choice, including the study, discussion and promulgation of those
beliefs. The Constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis
of religion or belief, but there is no law to prevent further discrimination,
nor are there certain mechanisms to file complaints in this regard.”
The report pointed out that the Constitution stipulates that
Islam is the official religion and Islamic law (Sharia) is the main
source for legislation, referring to the civil and criminal legal
systems and describing them as complex because they are based on
diverse legal sources of the Sunni and al-Jaafari (Shi’a) schools
of Islamic jurisprudence. This means that the rights of persons
can vary according to the interpretation of Shi’a or Sunni. The
report pointed to the adoption by the government of the first personal
status law in May 2009, which is only applicable to the Sunni population,
while the Jaafari/Shi’a section of the same law has been rejected
by a large segment of the Shi’a clerics. The report considered that
the institutionalization of the adoption of this law would be a
protection for women, because it requires consent for marriage and
allows them to include conditions in the marriage contract.
The report confirmed that the Government does not impose any
restrictions on religious expression or speech, as the law allows
the production and distribution of religious publications, and does
not impose or restrict or punish the importation, possession or
distribution of religious books, clothing, or symbols, and, further,
the law does not impose religious dress codes. In this regard, the
report pointed to the equal distribution of the budget allocated
to the Shi’a and Sunni mosques. The report indicated that Islamic
studies are part of the curriculum in public schools and mandatory
for all public school students, but the curriculum does not include
the teaching of the al-Jaafari sect, and just based on the Maliki
jurisprudence in Sunni Islam.
The report revealed that the official identity documents do not
include religion or sect, while the birth certificate records the
religion of the child. The report acknowledged that the Government
generally respected religious freedom in practice, but criticized
the restrictions on this right by the level of control and monitoring
of both the Sunni and Shi’a Muslims. The report pointed to the practice
of members of other religious groups to their religion without government
interference. It should be noted that 99% of Bahrain’s population
are Muslims, while Jews, Christians, Hindus, and Baha’is constitute
1% of the population.
The U.S. State Department report noted that the Bahraini law
imposes on every Muslim religious group to obtain a license from
the Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs for the exercise of
their activities. On the other hand, non-Muslim religious groups
must register with the Ministry of Social Development to operate,
and they should also get approvals for their activities from the
Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Interior, the Information
Authority, depending on the planned activities. The report said
that there are 13 non-Muslim religious groups registered with the
Ministry of Development, engaged in their work through the Christian
churches and Hindu temples.
The report noted that several Christian churches reported in
May 2010 that the Ministry of Development instructed them to re-register
without good reason. In spite of the illegality of organizing a
religious meeting without a permit, the period covered by the report
did not reveal denying religious groups of such permits.
The report mentioned that the Government funded and exercised
control over official Islamic religious institutions, including
the Shi’a and Sunni mosques, as well as religious community centres,
and Sunni and Jaafari/Shi’a religious endowments and Islamic courts.
Although the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs is concerned with
the approval of the organization of religious events, but the Government
rarely interfere in the activities of religious rites and rituals.
The U.S. report recorded that a number of non-Muslims residents
in Bahrain complained of restrictions imposed by the Ministry of
Social Development related to foreign funding, which caused tremendous
operational difficulties for some churches. Additionally, they complained
that the Ministry of Social Development in many cases did not respond
to their requests for permission to interact with the organizations
they belong to outside Bahrain.
As for the positive developments regarding respect for religious
freedom, the report noted the organization of the Ministry of Justice
for a series of conferences and seminars on dialogue among religions,
where they invite clerics and scholars, Muslims and non-Muslims
from Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries.
Regarding status of societal respect for religious freedom, the
report pointed to the historical rising tensions and political divisions
in Bahrain, in addition to the continuing riots in certain areas.
With regard to the policy of the U.S., the report mentioned that
the U.S. administration had discussed religious freedom with the
Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights,
and that the U.S. officials continue to hold regular meetings with
representatives of human rights NGOs to discuss issues related to
religious freedom and human rights.
The freedom of expression and religious practice in Bahrain do
exist and maintained to a large extent. Bahrain Human Rights Monitor
commends the national efforts to ensure freedom of belief and religious
freedom, and calls on the officials to make a greater effort aimed
at removing the few restrictions on religious freedom, in line with
the approach of openness and peaceful coexistence between religions.
This will eventually enhance the culture of religious tolerance
and acceptance of others, which Bahrain has known for centuries.