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

The constitution, while declaring Islam to be the state religion, provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respected this right in practice; however, proselytizing is discouraged.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report, and government policy continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion.

The generally amicable relationship among religious groups in the society contributed to religious freedom.

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 approximately 8,450 square miles and a population of approximately 700,000. More than 99 percent of the population was Sunni Muslim. There were a small number of Roman Catholics, Protestants, Copts, and followers of the Baha'i Faith, together accounting for less than 1 percent of the population. There were no known practitioners of traditional indigenous religions. Because all citizens officially are considered Muslims if they do not adhere to another faith, there were no figures available on the number of atheists in the country.

The sizable foreign community supported Roman Catholic, Protestant, Greek Orthodox, and Ethiopian Orthodox churches.

A small number of foreign missionary groups operate in the country, including the Eastern Mennonite Mission, Red Sea Team International, and Life International. (EDITOR’S NOTE added January 28, 2010: Life International was erroneously listed in the previous sentence as a foreign missionary group, but is in fact a non-denominational NGO.)

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The constitution, while declaring Islam to be the state religion, provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respected this right in practice; however, proselytizing is discouraged. The Government at all levels sought to protect this right in full, and did not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors.

Although Islam is the state religion, the Government imposes no sanctions on those who choose to ignore Islamic teachings or to practice other faiths. The Government maintains diplomatic relations with the Vatican.

The Shari'a Court has been replaced by the Family Court, which was almost completely implemented in February 2004. This court uses laws from both the Family Code and Shari'a to rule on matters related to the family such as marriage, divorce, and inheritance.

The Government requires that religious groups register with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs by submitting an application to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which, along with the Ministry of Interior, investigates the group. Once approved, the group signs an initial two-year bilateral agreement detailing the scope of the group's activities. Unlike in previous years, Baha'i members reported no incidents of discrimination but did not confirm whether the organization submitted a request for registration during the period covered by this report. In previous years, such requests have been refused.

Foreign clergy and missionaries are permitted to perform charitable works and to sell religious books. These groups, which focus on humanitarian services in the education and health sectors, reportedly faced no harassment during the period covered by this report. Foreign missionary groups are licensed by the Government to operate schools. Religion is not taught in public schools.

The country observes the Muslim holidays of Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha, the Birth of the Prophet Muhammad, the Islamic New Year, and the Ascension of the Prophet as national holidays.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

There is no legal prohibition against proselytizing; however, proselytizing is discouraged for non-Muslims.

Islamic law based on the Qur'an is used only with regard to family matters and is administered by the family court judges. Civil marriage is permitted only for non-Muslim foreigners. Muslims are required to marry in a religious ceremony, and a non-Muslim man may marry a Muslim woman only after converting to Islam.

The Ministry of Muslim Affairs monitors the activities of Muslims, but it does not restrict their religious practices. The ministry has authority in all Islamic matters, including mosques, private religious schools (along with the Ministry of Education), religious events, as well as general Islamic guidelines of the state. The High Islamic Council, officially established within the ministry in October 2004, is mandated to give advice on all religious issues and concerns. It also is in charge of coordinating all Islamic nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in the country.

The president is required to take a religious oath at inauguration; however, other government employees are not required to do so.

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

The generally amicable relationship among religious groups in society contributed to religious freedom; however, representatives of the Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Ethiopian Orthodox churches as well as some NGOs noted an increase in animosity towards non-Muslims in recent years. Moderate Muslim clerics attribute the rise in Islamic fundamentalism in part to the international media, Saudi Wahhabi schools, the growing number of Islamic groups, and graduates of Saudi Arabian or Yemeni Islamic schools.

French Catholics and Ethiopian Orthodox Christians have been part of Djibouti society for almost a century and are an example of the considerable familiarity with and tolerance of other faiths by the Muslim majority. There are no legal repercussions for conversion from Islam to another religion or for marrying outside of Islam; however, converts may face negative societal, tribal, and familial attitudes towards their decision.

Approximately 60 percent of the population is ethnically Somali. In the ethnic Somali community, clan membership has more influence over a person's life than does religion. Ethnic Somalis who are Christians often are buried according to Islamic traditions by relatives who do not recognize their non-Muslim faith.

There is no formal interfaith dialogue. The Roman Catholic Church organizes an annual celebration with all the other Christian churches. The Qadi has received Ramadan greetings from the Pope. He meets with the heads of other faiths only at government-organized ceremonies.

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. U.S. embassy representatives periodically meet with leaders and members of religious communities and with U.S. NGOs with a missionary component. The embassy has engaged several of its English Language Discussion Groups in discussions of religious freedom and tolerance. The ambassador uses representational events to promote discussions on religious tolerance and attitudes towards religious differences, with use of the Arabic language encouraged wherever appropriate.