Qatar has made positive efforts toward improving religious freedom in the country, despite some restrictions in practising beliefs other than the state religion of Islam.
This is according to the 2010 Report on International Religious Freedom by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour of the US State Department that was released recently.
The annual report documents the status of religious freedom in countries around the world and examines how government actions contribute to the promotion or the repression of religious freedom in each country.
The report highlighted the establishment of the Doha International Center for Interfaith Dialogue (DICID) which aims to promote understanding and peaceful coexistence among different faiths.
The DICID organised the eighth Annual Doha Conference on Interfaith Dialogue last month with prominent personalities from three major religions—Islam, Christianity and Judaism—participating in the three-day conference.
According to the report, Qatar’s Constitution and law forbids religious discrimination and gives “freedom of association, public assembly and private worship” of other religions “within the limits based on public order and morality concerns.”
The most obvious manifestation of Qatar’s commitment to religious freedom came on March 2008 when the Roman Catholic Church became the first church to be built in the country. This was soon followed by the establishment of the Indian Interdenominational Christian Church in 2009 while constructions of several churches of other Christian denominations such as Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, Coptic and Syrian Christian are ongoing inside the allotted church compound in Mesaimeer.
Although religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism and Baha’ism are not legally recognised in Qatar, the report said that followers of these religions are permitted to worship privately in their homes or with groups.
Despite the restrictions that still apply when it comes to public worship, non-Muslim believers are still able to practice their beliefs without government interference or harassment from society, which indicates that Qatar’s government is keen on promoting religious harmony among the country’s population.
However, anti-Semitism sentiments frequently expressed through editorials and cartoons in the media, particularly in Arabic dailies, have yet to be addressed by the government, says the report. The report added that from July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2010 when the study was conducted, no reports of societal abuses due to one’s religious beliefs were recorded in Qatar or other GCC countries including Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and the UAE, nor were there any reports of forced religious conversion.
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