The constitution provides for the freedom to practice the rites of one’s religion in accordance with the customs that are observed in the country, unless the government deems they violate morality or public order. The constitution stipulates there shall be no discrimination in the rights and duties of citizens on grounds of religion, but also notes that the state religion is Islam and the king must be a Muslim. The government accords primacy to sharia for Muslims in matters of personal or family status. Personal or family status cases in which one party is Muslim and the other is non-Muslim are heard by sharia courts and decided according to sharia law. Denomination-specific religious tribunals handle personal status matters for Christians. Christians whose denominations lack tribunals may take their cases to the civil courts, which adjudicate them according to the laws and beliefs of the relevant denomination.
The constitution mandates that matters concerning personal status, including religion, marriage, divorce, child custody, and inheritance, are under the exclusive jurisdiction of religious courts. Muslims are subject to the jurisdiction of sharia courts except in cases that are explicitly addressed by civil status legislation.
Islamic law governs all matters relating to family law involving Muslims or the children of a Muslim father. Minor children of male citizens who convert to Islam are considered Muslims. In accordance with Islamic law, adult children of a man who has converted to Islam become ineligible to inherit from their father if they do not also convert to Islam. All citizens, including non-Muslims, are subject to Islamic legal provisions regarding inheritance if no equivalent inheritance guidelines are codified in their religion or if the state does not recognize their religion.
Matters of personal status of non-Muslims whose religion the government officially recognizes are under the jurisdiction of denomination-specific courts of religious communities. There are six such courts: Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Melkite Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Coptic, Syrian Orthodox, and Anglican. According to the Council of Christian Denominations Law, which parliament passed in July, members of recognized denominations that lack their own courts take their cases to civil courts, which follow the rules and beliefs of the litigants’ denomination in deciding the case. There are no tribunals for atheists or adherents of unrecognized religious groups, such as the Bahai faith. Such individuals must request that a civil court hear their case. There is no legal provision for civil marriage or divorce for members of unrecognized religious groups.
The Sharia Judicial Council appoints sharia judges, while each recognized non-Muslim religious community selects the structure and members of its own tribunal. The new Council of Christian Denominations Law stipulates the cabinet must ratify each Christian ecclesiastical court’s procedures. All judicial nominations must be approved by a royal decree.
The constitution and law do not explicitly ban Muslims from converting to another faith, and there are no penalties under civil law for doing so. Nonetheless, by according primacy to sharia, which prohibits Muslims from converting to another religion, the government effectively prohibits both conversion from Islam and proselytization of Muslims.
The sharia courts do not recognize converts from Islam as falling under the jurisdiction of their new religious community’s laws in matters of personal status. Under sharia, these converts are considered Muslims and generally regarded as apostates. Any member of society may file an apostasy complaint against such individuals. In cases that a sharia court decides, judges can annul converts’ marriages, transfer child custody to a non-parent Muslim family member or declare the children “wards of the state,” convey an individual’s property rights to Muslim family members, and deprive individuals of many other civil rights.
Individuals who proselytize Muslims can be prosecuted by the State Security Court under the penal code’s provisions against “inciting sectarian conflict” or “harming the national unity.” Non-Muslims may convert to Islam or from one recognized non-Islamic faith to another.
Marriages between a Muslim woman and a non-Muslim man are not permitted, and the man must therefore convert to Islam for the marriage to be considered legal under sharia. If a Christian woman converts to Islam while married to a Christian man, her husband must also convert for their marriage to remain legal. If a Muslim husband and non-Muslim wife are divorced, the wife loses custody of the children when they reach seven years of age.
The Council of Church Leaders (CCL) is the government’s advisory body for all Christian religious affairs. The CCL consists of the heads of the country’s 11 officially recognized Christian churches and serves as an administrative body to facilitate official matters for Christian organizations, such as issuing work and land permits, and for individuals, such as issuing marriage and birth certificates, in coordination with government agencies. Unrecognized Christian denominations, despite not having full membership on the CCL, must also conduct business with the government through the council.
The 2014 Council on Christian Denominations Law lists 11 officially recognized Christian denominations: Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Melkite Catholic, Anglican, Maronite Catholic, Lutheran, Syrian Orthodox, Seventh-day Adventist, United Pentecostal, and Coptic. Five Christian denominations are not recognized by the government as denominations but are registered as societies: the Free Evangelical Church, Nazarene Church, Assemblies of God, Christian and Missionary Alliance, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons). One denomination, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, is unrecognized and not registered as a society. The government refers to Chaldean Christians and Syriac Catholics among its refugee population as “guests.” The government does not recognize the Bahai faith, but allows members to practice their religion. Druze are registered as Muslims and allowed to practice their religion.
In the case of unrecognized Christian groups, the prime minister confers with the CCL and the minister of interior on the registration and recommendation of new churches. The government also refers to the following criteria when considering recognition of Christian churches: the group must not contradict the nature of the constitution, public ethics, customs, or traditions; the Middle East Council of Churches must recognize it; the faith must not oppose the national religion; and the group must include some citizens of the country.
Recognized non-Islamic religious institutions do not receive subsidies but are tax exempt.
Religious institutions must be accorded official recognition through application to the prime minister’s office to own land and administer rites, such as marriage. This requirement also applies to schools that religious institutions administer. Religious institutions that lack official recognition may register as societies, a status which allows them to own property. Members of unregistered Christian denominations are issued marriage certificates by the Anglican Church, which they then take to the Civil Status Bureau to receive their government marriage certificates.
Groups registered as societies rather than denominations face administrative restrictions. They must obtain government approval of their budgets and any foreign funding and notify the government of their by-laws and board members. Groups such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses that are not registered as societies are subject to restrictions, lack any legal juridical status, and cannot undertake basic administrative tasks (opening bank accounts, purchasing real estate, hiring staff). These groups often designate an individual to exercise these functions.
Christians regularly serve as cabinet ministers. According to the law, Christians are allotted nine seats out of 150 seats in parliament. They are also eligible to compete for the 27 seats reserved for national list candidates. Christians may not run for the remaining 114 seats. No seats are reserved for adherents of other minority religious groups. The government classification of Druze as Muslims permits them to hold office.
The government traditionally reserves some positions in the upper levels of the military for Christians, anecdotally estimated to be approximately 4 percent; commanders at the division level and above are required to lead congregational Islamic prayer on certain occasions. While there are only Sunni Muslim chaplains in the armed forces, the government permits members of the armed forces of other religious groups to practice their religion.
The law prohibits the publication of media items that slander or insult “founders of religion or prophets” or that are deemed contemptuous of “any of the religions whose freedom is protected by the constitution,” and imposes a fine on violators of up to 20,000 dinars ($28, 250).
The Ministry of Awqaf (religious endowments) and Islamic Affairs manages Islamic institutions and mosque construction. It also appoints imams, pays mosque staff salaries, manages Islamic clergy training centers, and subsidizes certain activities mosques sponsor. The government monitors sermons at mosques and requires preachers to refrain from political commentary the government believes could instigate social or political unrest. Imams who violate these rules face fines and a possible ban from preaching. There are, however, unofficial mosques in many cities that operate outside Ministry of Awqaf control, as well as imams outside of government employment, who preach without Ministry of Awqaf supervision.
Public schools provide Islamic religious instruction as part of the basic national curriculum, although non-Muslim students are allowed to opt out. The constitution provides congregations the right to establish schools to educate their communities “provided that they comply with the general provisions of the law and are subject to the control of government in matters relating to their curricula and orientation.” In several cities, Christian denominations – including Baptist, Orthodox, Anglican, and Roman Catholic – operate private schools, and are able to conduct classes on Christianity. The schools are open to adherents of all religions.
Religious affiliation is required on national identification cards and legal documentation, including on marriage and birth certificates, but not on travel documents, such as passports. National identification cards and legal documentation identify individuals as either Christian or Muslim but do not specify their denominational affiliation. Atheists and agnostics must associate themselves with a recognized religion for purposes of official identification. Employment application forms for government positions occasionally contain questions about an applicant’s religion.