The basic law protects the right to practice religious rites on condition that doing so does not disrupt public order. The basic law declares that Islam is the state religion and that Sharia is the basis of legislation. It also prohibits discrimination based on religion.
The country’s civil courts adjudicate cases governed by the Personal Status and Family Legal Code. However, the code exempts non-Muslims from its provisions in matters pertaining to family or personal status, allowing them to seek adjudication under the religious laws of their faith. Shia Muslims may resolve family and personal status cases according to Shia jurisprudence outside the courts and retain the right to transfer their case to a civil court if they cannot find a resolution.
The Personal Status and Family Legal Code prohibits a father who converts from Islam from retaining paternal rights over his children. Apostasy is not a criminal or civil offense.
According to the Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs (MERA), there is no limit on the number of groups that can be registered. New religious groups unaffiliated with one of the recognized communities must gain ministerial approval before being registered. While the government has not published the rules, regulations, or criteria for approval, the ministry generally considers the group’s size, theology, belief system, and availability of other worship opportunities before granting approval. The ministry employs similar criteria before granting approval for new Muslim groups to form.
All religious organizations must be registered by MERA. The ministry recognizes the Protestant Church of Oman, the Catholic Diocese of Oman, the al Amana Center (interdenominational Christian), the Hindu Mahajan Temple, and the Anwar al-Ghubaira Trading Company in Muscat (Sikh) as the official sponsors for non-Muslim religious communities. Groups seeking registration must request meeting and worship space from one of these sponsor organizations, which are responsible for recording the group’s doctrinal adherence, the names of its leaders, and the number of active members, and for submitting this information to the ministry.
Leaders of all religious groups must be registered with MERA. The formal licensing process for imams prohibits unlicensed lay members from leading prayers in mosques. Lay members of non-Muslim communities may lead worship if they are specified as leaders in their group’s registration application.
Although the government records religion on birth certificates, it is not printed on other official identity documents.
Citizens have the right to sue the government for violations of the right to practice religious rites that do not disrupt public order; however, this right has never been exercised in court.
Public proselytizing by all religious groups is prohibited by law, although the government allows all religious groups to proselytize privately within legally registered houses of worship and Islamic propagation centers.
Non-Muslim communities are allowed to practice their beliefs without interference only on land specifically donated by the sultan for the purpose of collective worship. In 2006 MERA issued a legally binding circular to non-Muslim religious leaders and diplomatic missions reaffirming an individual’s right to practice his or her own religious activities according to his or her values, customs, and traditions. The circular also states that gatherings of a religious nature are not allowed in private homes or in any location other than government-approved houses of worship; however, the government has not actively enforced the prohibition.
The construction and/or leasing of buildings by religious groups must be approved and/or built on land donated by the government. In addition, mosques must be built at least one kilometer (0.6 mile) apart. By law, all buildings must have access for disabled individuals. In practice, many mosques, especially in rural regions, do not have such access.
The penal code prescribes a prison sentence and fine for anyone who publicly blasphemes God or His prophets, commits an affront to religious groups by spoken or written word, or breaches the peace of a lawful religious gathering. There were no prosecutions for any of these offenses in 2010, the most recent year for which official statistics are available. There were no reports of prosecutions in 2011.
Women are permitted to wear the hijab (Islamic head scarf) in official photographs but not the niqab (Islamic veil that covers the face).
MERA requires religious groups to obtain approval before disseminating religious publications outside their membership; the government must approve any publication in the country. Religious groups are requested to notify MERA prior to importing religious materials and to submit a copy for the MERA files; however, the ministry does not review all imported religious material for approval.
The ministry prohibits foreigners on tourist visas from preaching, teaching, or leading worship. The government permits clergy from abroad to enter the country to teach or lead worship under the sponsorship of registered religious organizations, which must apply to MERA for approval at least one week in advance of the visiting clergy’s entry.
Islamic studies are required for Muslim students in public school grades K-12. Non-Muslim students are exempt from this requirement, and many private schools provide alternative religious studies.
The government observes the following religious holidays as national holidays: Eid al-Adha, Islamic New Year (Hijra), the Birth of the Prophet Muhammad, the Prophet’s Ascension, and Eid al-Fitr.