Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

Religious Freedom

The official religion of UAE is Islam, but the government is generally tolerant of other religions and religious groups in the country, including Hindus and Christians of all denominations. There are several religious buildings (Hindu temples and Christian churches) that are built on land grants from the government, and they function freely. Groups without such privileges are allowed to worship in private houses or use the facilities of other groups.

To retain its Islamic identity, the government requires Islamic studies for all students in public schools and for all Muslim students in private schools. As elsewhere in the Muslim world, the government also prohibits Muslims from converting to other religions, whereas conversion from other religions to Islam is encouraged. According to the popular, strict interpretation of Sharia (Islamic law) in the region, the maximum penalty for converting from Islam to another religion is death, but there is no evidence that such a penalty has been applied in any such cases in recent years.

Non-Muslims who engage in proselytizing activities are subject to criminal prosecution, imprisonment, and deportation. In August 2009, a foreign Christian organization distributed audio Bibles and held discussion sessions in Dubai labour camps, but no arrests were reported.

The government monitors religious groups, including Islamic groups. All Friday sermons are drafted and distributed to Sunni and Shiite imams by a special committee, and adherence to the scripted content is monitored. The Emirate of Dubai has approval-authority over preachers in private mosques. The government prohibits or censors certain religious publications and sometimes blocks websites containing what it considers objectionable religious information. These included sites with information on the Bahai faith, Judaism, criticisms of Islam, and testimonies of former Muslims who had converted to Christianity.

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