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Monday, 19 September 2011 19:45
Religious Freedom Ranking:
1.5 out of 5 stars: Serious Violations


Kuwait's state religion is Islam, and the Shari’a law is the main source of legislation. The Constitution, however, states that freedom of belief is absolute. The state protects the free practice of religion in accordance with established customs, provided that it does not conflict with public policy or morals. According to the Constitution, all people are equal in human dignity, and in public rights and duties before the law, without distinction as to race, origin, language or religion. However, religious minorities and women are not, in fact, treated equally in Kuwait’s legal system. Moreover, Article 12 of the Constitution requires the state to safeguard "the heritage of Islam." There are laws prohibiting blasphemy, apostasy, and proselytizing.

The ruling family and many prominent Kuwaiti families are Sunni. However, 30 to 40 percent of the citizenry is Shi'a. They are free to conduct their traditional forms of worship without government interference, yet there are complaints that Shi’as have trouble receiving permission to build new mosques. There are approximately 150-200 Christian citizens and a small number of Baha'i citizens.

Of the 3.4 million people in Kuwait, 2.3 million are non-residents, mostly foreign workers. There are several legally recognized expatriate congregations and churches, including a Catholic diocese and several Protestant churches. Expatriates who are members of religions not sanctioned in the Koran, e.g., Hindus, Sikhs, and Buddhists, may not build places of worship but may worship privately in their homes.

The government exercises direct control of Sunni religious institutions by appointing Sunni imams, monitoring Friday sermons, and also financing the building of Sunni mosques. The government does not exert this control over Shi'a mosques, which are funded by the Shi'a community.

Proselytizing by Muslims is allowed but no one else may proselytize to Muslims. The government does not permit the establishment of non-Islamic publishing companies or training institutions for clergy. The law also prohibits non-Muslims from becoming citizens. The government prohibits Muslims from converting to other religions and religious education for religions other than Islam. Although a man convicted of apostasy for converting to Christianity did have to pay all court costs, there was no criminal penalty in the case nor loss of civil rights. Further, the government stated that he would be protected against a call for his death due to his conversion.

Publications that create hatred, spread dissension among the public, or incite persons to commit crimes are strictly prohibited. Academics and journalists are legally prohibited from criticizing Islam. A 1980 law prohibited the naturalization of non-Muslims yet allowed Christian citizens to transmit their citizenship to their descendents. Seven Christian churches: the National Evangelical, Catholic, Coptic Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholic, and Anglican all had some form of official recognition enabling them to operate in the country, allowing bringing in workers.

Controversial foreign teachers, professors and religious leaders were not allowed visas to enter the country and no other official religious education, other than Islam, is allowed. Private study in homes is not interrupted if the neighbors are not disturbed. There are some anti-Jewish articles in newspapers and teachers were instructed by school administrators to expunge English-language textbooks of any references to Israel or the Holocaust. There were also some reports of preachers at mosques using anti-Semitic language in their religious services. The government did not publicly make a statement on textbook censorship nor discouraged mosque preachers.

Religious freedom and women: Shari’a law determines the rights of women. Some recent improvements for women include the freedom of women to vote and run in elections. Some female lawyers don’t have to wear the hijab in court and women no longer need a male relative’s permission to get a passport. Marriage between Muslim women and non-Muslim men is prohibited.  A non-Muslim woman is not required by law to convert to Islam to marry a Muslim male; but she may face strong economic and societal pressure to convert. If a woman chooses not to convert, the Muslim father would be granted custody of any children in a divorce and she would also be ineligible to be naturalized as a citizen or to inherit her husband's property without being specified as a beneficiary in his will.

Religious violence: There is no report of religious violence even though there are some people who wish Kuwait to be populated only by Sunni Muslims.

2010 US State Department International Religious Freedom Report on Kuwait

Kuwait - New World Encyclopedia


Last Updated on Friday, 21 October 2011 16:27