| Religious Freedom Ranking:
2 out of 5 stars: Poor
Shari’ah (Islamic Law) is the main source of legislation. The law regulates various aspects of religious education and family life. People are considered equal in human dignity, and citizens theoretically have equal public rights and duties before the law, without discrimination as to race, origin, language, religion or belief. Freedom of conscience is stated to be absolute and the State guarantees the inviolability of places of worship, the freedom to perform religious rites and the right to hold religious processions and meetings, but only in accordance with the customs observed in the country. The Constitution prohibits religious discrimination but there is no law enforcing this, nor any way to file a grievance. Civil unrest in recent months has created an unstable situation in the country, with possible implications for its standards of religious freedom, since the problem relates to tensions between the more powerful Sunnis and the more populous Shi’ites.
The non-foreign citizenry is 99 percent Muslim (Shi'a nearly 70 percent, Sunni 30 percent). The other 1 percent of natives are Christians and other non-Muslims, including Jews, Hindus, and Baha'is. They are free to practice their religion, maintain their own places of worship and may display the symbols of their religion. Bibles and other Christian publications are displayed and sold openly in local bookshops, which also sell Islamic and other religious literature. Some small groups worship in their homes. Proselytizing by non-Muslims is discouraged, anti-Islamic writings are prohibited, and conversions from Islam to other religions, while not illegal, are not well tolerated by society. Although natives are almost all uniform Muslims, 49 percent of the population is comprised of foreigners, mostly from south Asia and other Arab countries; half are Muslim with the other half being Christians (Roman Catholic, Protestant, Syrian Orthodox, and Mar Thoma from South India), Hindus, Baha’is, Buddhists, and Sikhs. All religious groups must register with the government.
Unlike most Islamic states there are no civil laws which target apostasy, blasphemy or proselytizing, although changing religion from Islam to another is frowned upon and converts may lose their position in society or employment and may receive persecution or shunning from neighbors.
Both Sunni and Shi'a sects are subject to governmental control and monitoring. There is an historical struggle between these groups especially with Iran being a Shi’ite-dominated northern neighbor. In 2010, the Government closed mosques and ma'tams (Shi'a community centers) in certain locations to prevent religious leaders from delivering political speeches. According to reports, security forces entered religious facilities and removed communication equipment which were alleged to be used to further political unrest.
The government established an oversight body to review and approve all clerical appointments and program oversight for all citizens studying religion abroad. Public religious events are permitted but are closely watched by the police. The government monitors travel to Iran and scrutinize those who choose to pursue religious study there.
In 2009 the first personal status law (which regulates family matters: inheritance, child custody, marriage, and divorce) was adopted. But it applies only to Sunnis as Shi’a clerics, and lawmakers opposed it because it would require interpretation by a Ja’afari court (Sunni). This law gave protection to women requiring their consent for marriage and allowed a woman to include her conditions in the marriage contract. Shi’ite women do not benefit from this law as their clerics deny the law based on theological disagreement.
Recent unrest in the Middle East has influenced some struggle between the minority Sunni (who tend to be more wealthy) and the Shi’ites (who tend to be of a lower socio-economic class with higher unemployment). Sunnis are reportedly in greater numbers in sensitive positions in the government.
There has been rioting in some Shi’a villages with youth burning tires and at times throwing Molotov cocktails at police. This was due to a perception of unequal treatment by the government and in part due to Shi’a radicals’ preaching. In 2011, the rioting spread to the cities and threatened the stability of the regime.
There was some anti-Jewish political commentary and editorial cartoons which were usually linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The government did not respond to them.
2010 U.S. State Department International Religious Freedom Report on Bahrain
Bahrain - New World Encyclopedia