Last Updated: Friday, 17 November 2017, 15:16 GMT

2014 Report on International Religious Freedom - Comoros

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 14 October 2015
Cite as United States Department of State, 2014 Report on International Religious Freedom - Comoros, 14 October 2015, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/562105ba19.html [accessed 19 November 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Executive Summary

The constitution specifies Islam is the state religion but proclaims equality of rights and obligations for all regardless of religious belief. The law establishes the Sunni Shafi'i doctrine as the only allowable religious practice in the country and provides sanctions for any other religious practice, other than by foreigners. The government banned non-Islamic proselytizing and conversion from Islam, though it did not always enforce these proscriptions. The government released 15 Shia convicted in 2013 for subversion, the propagation of banned religious education, disturbing the public order, and threatening social cohesion, without requiring them to serve the prison terms or pay the fines to which they had been sentenced.

Communities shunned citizens who converted from Islam to Christianity, but there was little or no societal discrimination against non-Muslim foreigners.

Representatives from the U.S. Embassy in Antananarivo, Madagascar, periodically visited the country and engaged with government officials, religious and civil society leaders, and others on issues of religious freedom.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 767,000 (July 2014 estimate). It is more than 99 percent Sunni Muslim. The several hundred non-Sunni residents include Shia Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Jehovah's Witnesses, Roman Catholics, and Protestants. Members of non-Muslim religious groups, made up primarily of expatriates, are concentrated in the country's capital, Moroni, and the capital of Anjouan, Moutsamoudou.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution states Islam is the state religion and citizens shall draw the state's governing principles and rules from Islamic tenets. It proclaims equality of rights and obligations for all individuals regardless of religion or belief. A law regulating religious practices establishes the Sunni Shafi'i doctrine as the only allowable religious practice in the country and provides sanctions for any other religious practice on the grounds of avoiding social unrest and the undermining of national cohesion and unity. The government states it ratified the law due to fears of religious radicalization.

Proselytizing for any religion except Islam is illegal, and the law provides for deportation of foreigners who do so. The law provides for prosecution of converts from Islam, but penalties are ill defined.

The law does not require religious groups to be licensed, registered, or officially recognized. The law allows organized Sunni religious groups to establish places of worship, train clergy, and assemble for peaceful religious activities. It does not allow non-Sunni Muslim citizens to establish places of worship or assemble for peaceful religious activities.

By law the president nominates the grand mufti, the senior Muslim cleric, who is part of the government and manages issues concerning religion and religious administration. The grand mufti's position is attached to the Ministry of Justice, Public Service, Administrative Reforms, Human Rights, and Islamic Affairs, and he counsels the government on matters concerning the practice of Islam and Islamic law. The grand mufti chairs and periodically consults with the Council of Ulemas, a group of elders cited in the constitution, to assess whether citizens are respecting the principles of Islam. The grand mufti regularly addresses the country on the radio, applying Islamic principles to social issues such as delinquency, alcohol abuse, marriage, divorce, and education.

The law requires children between the ages of three and six to attend Quranic schools, either private or government-run, to instill moral, cultural, and Islamic values and to familiarize the child with the Arabic language. There are no penalties prescribed for failing to send children to these schools. There is no other provision for religious education in public schools. The government does not require the children of foreigners to receive Islamic instruction or Arabic language training.

Government Practices

According to the president of the government's Human Rights Commission, the nine Shia who were sentenced to between eight and 10 months in prison out of 15 convicted in December 2013 for "subversion, the propagation of religious education banned in the country, disturbing the public order, and presenting a threat to social cohesion," were released without serving their sentences. The six other Shia who were fined and given suspended sentences in the same case were released without paying their fines.

The government did not consistently enforce the laws prohibiting proselytizing or conversions from Islam and did not prosecute any such cases during the year. The government did not generally enforce bans on alcohol or "immodest" dress.

Almost all children between the ages of three and six attended private, informal schools at least part-time to learn to read and recite the Quran. In response to reports in previous years of child labor abuses at some of these schools, the government continued to introduce Arabic reading instruction using the Quran in public primary schools to eliminate the need for these unlicensed and unregulated classes. There were more than 200 government-run Quranic instruction schools by year's end. The tenets of Islam were sometimes taught in conjunction with Arabic in public schools at the middle school level.

The government funded the country's only public university, reportedly to ensure the availability of local educational opportunities and respond to concerns that youth who studied abroad in countries with differing or no Islamic traditions could return home and attempt to influence what the government considered to be the moderate Sunni tradition on the islands. The government restricted study by citizens in Iran and Pakistan.

The government allowed foreigners to establish non-Islamic places of worship, and there were two Christian churches on each of the country's three principal islands.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

As in previous years, communities shunned citizens who converted from Islam to Christianity. There was little or no societal discrimination against non-Muslim foreigners.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

There is no permanent U.S. diplomatic presence in the country. Representatives from the U.S. Embassy in Antananarivo, Madagascar periodically visited the country and engaged with government officials, religious and civil society leaders, and others on issues of religious freedom.

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