International Religious Freedom Report
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; however, there were credible reports that the police targeted Ethiopian Pentecostal Christians living illegally in the country when conducting the apprehension and deportation of illegal aliens.

Citizens generally are very tolerant of one another in the practice of their religion.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights, and Embassy officers meet with leaders of religious communities.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has a total area of approximately 9,000 square miles and its population is estimated at 650,000. Over 99 percent of the population is 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.

Although Islam is the state religion, the Government imposes no sanctions on those who choose to ignore Islamic teachings or practice other faiths. In May 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. This position was created in May 1999, when newly elected 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.

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

Religion is not taught in public schools.

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.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

There is no legal prohibition against proselytizing; however, proselytizing is discouraged. There were a few occasions when members of the Baha'i Faith were detained and questioned by the police regarding possible proselytizing activities; however, they were not charged with a crime and eventually were released.

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 only marry a Muslim woman after converting to Islam.

Abuses of Religious Freedom

There were credible reports that the police targeted Ethiopian Pentecostal Christians living illegally in the country when conducting the apprehension and deportation of illegal aliens.

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 Government's refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

The large presence of French Catholics and Ethiopian Orthodox Christians for almost a century has led to considerable familiarity 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

U.S. Embassy officials discuss religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights. Embassy representatives periodically meet with leaders and members of religious communities and with U.S. nongovernmental organizations with a missionary component.

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