International Religious Freedom Report 2006
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

The constitution provides for freedom of religion; however, the Government continued to infringe upon this right.

There was no change in the status of the respect for religious freedom, which is sometimes limited, during the period covered by this report. Approximately 99 percent of the population was Muslim, and an overwhelming majority were Sunni. There was no sharp divide between Sunni and Shi'a, and most Muslims respected the doctrinal differences between the two branches of Islam. Government authorities continued to prohibit Christians from proselytizing; however, there were no known instances where the local authorities and population restricted the right of Christians to practice other aspects of their faith.

There is widespread societal discrimination against Christians in all sectors of society.

The U.S. government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has an area of 838 square miles, and its population is approximately 635,000. An overwhelming majority--approximately 99 percent--of the population was Sunni Muslim. Foreigners living on the islands numbered several hundred, and included Hindus, Jehovah's Witnesses, or members of various Christian, Catholics, and Protestants. A few foreign religious groups maintained humanitarian programs in the country, but by agreement with the Government, they did not engage in proselytizing.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The 2002 constitution, reincorporates Ndzuwani (Anjouan), Ngazidja (Grand Comore), and Moheli into a new federation that grants the islands greater autonomy. It specifically provides for freedom of religion; however, the constitution states that citizens will draw principles and rules that will govern the country from Muslim religious tenets. While the constitution does not proclaim Islam as the official religion, government authorities continued to prohibit Christians from proselytizing.

A law dating from the early 1980s states "whoever divulges, promotes, or teaches Muslims a religion other than Islam will be punished with a three-month prison sentence and a fine of 50,000 to 500,000 Comoran Francs."

The grand mufti is part of the Government and manages a department that handles issues concerning religion and religious administration. The grand mufti's position is attached to the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, and he counsels the Government on matters of Islamic faith and ensures that Islamic laws are respected. The grand mufti is nominated by the president. The grand mufti periodically consulted with a group of elders to assess whether the principles of Islam were respected, and he regularly addressed the nation on the radio regarding social and religious issues such as marriage, divorce, and education.

The tenets of Islam are taught in conjunction with the Arabic language in public schools at the middle school level. There are no separate provisions made for religious minorities in public schools. There are at least two private schools on the island of Ngazidja (Grand Comore) that cost approximately $27 (15,000 Comorian francs) per month. Almost all children between the ages of four and seven also attend schools to learn to recite and understand the Qur'an, although attendance is not compulsory for religious minorities.

Several Islamic holy days, including the Islamic New Year, the Birth of the Prophet Muhammad, and Eid al-Fitr, are national holidays.

The Government does not require religious groups to be licensed, registered, or officially recognized.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

There are two Roman Catholic churches, one in Moroni, on the island of Ngazidja (Grand Comore), and one in Mutsamudu, on the island of Ndzuwani (Anjouan). There is a Protestant church in Moroni. Many Christians practiced their faith in private residences. Foreigners were allowed to practice their faith, but they were not allowed to proselytize. If caught proselytizing for religions other than Islam, foreigners are deported. Citizens who proselytize are afforded an open trial and are subject to imprisonment.

On May 29, 2006, four men were convicted to three months in prison for "evangelizing Muslims." One woman was also convicted but received a three-month suspended sentence. They had been arrested one week earlier for hosting Christian religious debates in a private residence.

In February 2006 the International Church of Moroni received permission to distribute gift boxes of toys for Comoran children. After promising the boxes would not contain any Bibles or religious literature, the church distributed boxes in four villages, two schools, and two hospitals. On March 27, the minister of education demanded to meet with the pastor of the International Church. During the meeting the minister revealed that a children's Bible storybook and two necklaces with crosses were found during the toy distribution. The minister demanded that the church stop all gift distribution; the church complied. On April 1, one of the church leaders was arrested for his involvement in toy distribution. He spent one night in prison, and his house was searched. Other church leaders were similarly detained, and their houses were searched. On April 3, the ministers of interior and education met with the pastor and threatened to have him expelled from the country. The school directors that gave permission for the boxes to be distributed were suspended and village leaders were questioned.

Unlike in previous years, there were no known cases where local authorities and religious leaders harassed Christians on Ndzuwani (Anjouan).

Officials in Moheli reportedly stopped a group traveling from Grand Comore to Anjouan via Moheli to attend a Jehovah's Witnesses meeting.

Bans on alcohol and immodest dress are enforced sporadically, usually during religious months, such as Ramadan. Alcohol can be imported and sold with a permit from the Government.

Abuses of Religious Freedom

In 2004 the island government of Ndzuwani (Anjouan) arrested and shaved the beards of several participants who had participated in an unauthorized gathering of several hundred followers of the Djawula interpretation of Islam. They were then released.

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees in the country.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Section III. Societal Abuses and Discrimination

There is widespread societal discrimination against Christians in some sectors of society. On Ngazidja (Grand Comore), there are no legal restrictions that prevent Christians from attending church, and noncitizen Christians are allowed to practice their faith without government intervention as long as they do not attempt to convert citizens. Societal pressure and intimidation continued to restrict the use of the country's three churches to noncitizens.

There is concern that Islamic fundamentalism is increasing as young citizens return to the country after Islamic theological studies abroad and seek to impose a stricter adherence to Islamic religious law on their family members and associates. The Union Government has established a university, and government representatives stated that an important goal of the university is to give young citizens the option of pursuing university studies in the country instead of overseas where they might absorb more radical ideas. There were 2,450 students enrolled in the university, which provides classes in basic sciences and languages.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights. An officer from the U.S. embassy in Madagascar met with religious leaders on the islands of Ndzuwani (Anjouan) and Ngazidja (Grand Comore) to discuss religious tolerance. A U.S. presidential delegation emphasized tolerance and nonviolence during a May 27, 2006, meeting with the newly elected president. In public and private, the new president professed moderate Islam and decried radicalism.