The constitution and other laws provide for freedom of association, public assembly, and worship, within limits based on public order and morality concerns. The law prohibits proselytizing by non-Muslims and places restrictions on public worship. The state religion is Islam, and Sharia is a main source of legislation.
Converting to another religion from Islam is considered apostasy and technically a capital offense; however, since the country gained independence in 1971, there has been no recorded punishment for apostasy.
The government and ruling family are strongly linked to Islam. All members of the ruling family and virtually all citizens are Muslim. Most high-level government positions are reserved for citizens, and thus most government officials are Muslims. The Ministry of Islamic Affairs controlled the construction of mosques, clerical affairs, and Islamic education for adults and new converts. The emir participated in public prayers during both Eid holiday periods and personally financed the Hajj (religious pilgrimage) for some citizen and noncitizen pilgrims who could not otherwise afford to travel to Mecca.
According to the criminal code, individuals caught proselytizing on behalf of an organization, society, or foundation of any religion other than Islam may be sentenced to a prison term of up to 10 years. Proselytizing on one’s own accord for any religion other than Islam can result in a sentence of up to five years. Individuals who possess written or recorded materials or items that support or promote missionary activity can be imprisoned for up to two years and fined 10,000 Qatari riyals ($2,746). However, the government has not convicted anyone for proselytizing since the law’s 1973 inception. In practice, individuals or groups caught proselytizing are deported without legal proceedings.
Both Muslims and non-Muslims are tried under a unified civil court system. National law incorporates both secular legal traditions and Sharia, with the exception of a separate limited dispute resolution system for financial service companies managed under the Qatar Financial Center. The unified court system applies Islamic law in family law cases--inheritance, marriage, divorce, and child custody--and non-Muslims are subject to Sharia in cases of child custody. In these proceedings, the testimony of men can be weighted more than women’s testimony on certain matters. There were also certain criminal cases, such as drunkenness, in which Muslims were tried and punished under Islamic law. In matters involving religious issues, judges have some discretion to apply their respective interpretations for Shia and Sunni groups.
Convicted Muslims may earn a sentence reduction of a few months by memorizing the Qur’an while imprisoned. In 2005 a judicial panel for Shia Muslims was established in the courts. The panel decides cases regarding marriage, divorce, inheritance, and other domestic matters. In other religious matters, the country’s family law applies across branches of Islam.
The government regulates the publication, importation, and distribution of all religious books and materials. However, in practice, individuals and religious institutions were not prevented from importing holy books and other religious items for personal or congregational use.
Religious groups must register with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) for legal recognition. The government maintains an official register of approved major Christian denominations and has granted legal status to the Catholic, Anglican, Greek Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Coptic, and Indian Christian churches. To be recognized, any denomination must have at least 1,500 members in the country. The MFA requires smaller congregations to affiliate and worship under the patronage of one of the six recognized churches, all of which are centrally located in Mesaymir on the outskirts of Doha. While several evangelical Christian congregations are not legally recognized because they individually lacked the required membership, some organized worship services and are provided physical security for their congregations by the Ministry of Interior when required. Other religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, and the Baha’i Faith, are not legally recognized, although adherents are permitted to worship privately in their homes and with others.
Islamic instruction is compulsory for Muslims attending state-sponsored schools. While there are no restrictions on non-Muslims providing private religious instruction for children, most foreign children attend secular private schools. Muslim children are allowed to attend secular and coeducational private schools.
The government observes the following religious holidays as national holidays: Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha.