International Religious Freedom Report 2002
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

The Constitution, while declaring Islam to be the state religion, provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice; however, proselytizing is discouraged.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report, and unlike in the period covered by the previous report, there were no reports that the police targeted Ethiopian Pentecostal Christians when conducting the apprehension and deportation of persons living illegally in the country.

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has a total area of approximately 9,000 square miles, and its population is estimated at 650,000. More than 99 percent of the population are Sunni Muslim. There are a small number of Catholics, Protestants, and followers of the Baha'i Faith, together accounting for less than 1 percent of the population. There are no known practitioners of traditional indigenous religions. Because all citizens officially are considered Muslims if they do not adhere to another faith, there are no figures available on the number of atheists in the country.

The sizable foreign community supports the Roman Catholic, Protestant, Greek Orthodox, and Ethiopian Orthodox churches.

A small number of foreign missionary groups operate in the country, including the Eastern Mennonite Mission, Red Sea Team International, and Life International. (EDITOR’S NOTE added January 28, 2010: Life International was erroneously listed in the previous sentence as a foreign missionary group, but is in fact a non-denominational NGO.)

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution, while declaring Islam to be the state religion, provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice; however, proselytizing is discouraged. The Government at all levels strives to protect this right in full, and does not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors.

Although Islam is the state religion, the Government imposes no sanctions on those who choose to ignore Islamic teachings or practice other faiths. In 2000 the Government established diplomatic relations with the Vatican.

The Qadi is the country's senior judge of Islamic law and is appointed by the Minister of Justice. The current Qadi was appointed in June 1999. His predecessor was named Minister of State for Charitable and Religious Affairs under the Ministry of Justice, a position created in May 1999, when President Ismail Omar Guelleh formed his Cabinet and declared that Islam would be a central tenet of his Government.

The Government requires that religious groups be registered. There were no reports that the Government refused to register any religious groups.

Foreign clergy and missionaries are permitted to perform charitable works and to sell religious books. These groups, which focus on humanitarian services in the education and health sectors, reportedly faced no harassment during the period covered by this report. Foreign missionary groups are licensed by the Government to operate schools.

Religion is not taught in public schools.

The country observes the Muslim holidays of Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha, the Prophet Mohammed's birthday, and the Islamic new year as national holidays. The country also celebrates Christmas as an official holiday.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

There is no legal prohibition against proselytizing; however, proselytizing is discouraged. Unlike in the period covered by the previous report, there were no reports that members of the Baha'i Faith were detained and questioned by the police regarding possible proselytizing activities.

Islamic law based on the Koran is used only with regard to family matters and is administered by the Qadi. Civil marriage is permitted only for non-Muslim foreigners. Muslims are required to marry in a religious ceremony, and non-Muslim men may marry a Muslim woman only after converting to Islam.

The Ministry of Muslim Affairs monitors the activities of Muslims, but it does not restrict their religious practices.

The President is required to take a religious oath at inauguration; however, other government employees are not required to do so.

Abuses of Religious Freedom

Unlike in the period covered by the previous report, there were no credible reports that the police targeted Ethiopian Pentecostal Christians when conducting the apprehension and deportation of persons living illegally in the country.

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom. The large presence of French Catholics and Ethiopian Orthodox Christians for almost a century has led to considerable familiarity with and tolerance of other faiths by the Muslim majority. Persons born as Catholics face no discrimination from Muslim relatives. In many cases, these Catholics are children or grandchildren of persons raised in French Catholic orphanages during the colonial period.

In Djiboutian Somali society, clan membership has more influence over a person's life than does religion. Djiboutian Somalis who are Christians often are buried according to Islamic traditions by relatives who do not recognize their non-Muslim faith.

There is no formal interfaith dialog. The Catholic Church organizes an annual celebration with all the other Christian churches. The Qadi receives Ramadan greetings from Pope John Paul II. He meets with the heads of other faiths only at government-organized ceremonies.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights. U.S. Embassy representatives periodically meet with leaders and members of religious communities and with U.S. nongovernmental organizations with a missionary component. The U.S. Embassy invited leaders from the Muslim and Catholic faiths to say prayers during Embassy ceremonies to promote interfaith understanding.

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