Freedom of Religion in the United Arab Emirates
The constitution of the United Arab Emirates provides for the freedom of religion in accordance with the established customs, and the Government is said to generally respect this right in practice. However, there have been restrictions. The Government of the United Arab Emirates exercises control over all Sunni mosques and prohibits any acts of proselytizing. It has established restrictions on the freedom of assembly and association. As a result of this, the ability of religious groups without designated buildings to worship and carry out their businesses is significantly limited.
According to the Federal Constitution, Islam is the official religion of all the seven emirates that make up the federal union. However, the Government can permit de facto recognition of a few Christian denominations for the construction and running of churches. It is believed by most people that the Government operates on a policy of tolerance towards the non-Muslim population and causes very little interference in their religious activities.
Those who belong to other religious groups apart from Islam are allowed to own their own houses of worship. In such houses, they are allowed to practice their religion freely by requesting for grants for land and permission from the local leader to construct a compound, however, the title of the land remains to the leader who has authorized the grant. Those who possess land grants are not asked to pay rent. Besides, those who stay in the Emirate of Sharjah also get waiver of utility for houses of worship.
Rulers of each of the emirates exercises autonomy when it comes to making choices on whether to grant access to land and permission for the construction of places of worship. Religious groups that do not have designated places of worship often use the facilities of other groups or conduct their activities in private homes. This is a common practice that has not been faced with government interference over time.
Today, there are quite a number of Christian churches spread across the United Arab Emirates. These are built on lands that were donated by the ruling families in the emirates who are of Islamic faith. Besides, there are also three Hindu temples that are run in rented buildings in Dubai. Among the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates, four have got parochial Christian schools. Besides, Christians and Hindus have even been given land by the rulers to construct cemeteries and cremation facilities.
Practically, the United Arab Emirates support a moderate interpretation of the Islamic religion. Since it is the state religion, it is favored over other religious groups. In fact, conversion to Islam is viewed in a more favorable light and the government even goes as far as publishing a list of names of Muslim converts annually. Even prisoners who attest to the Muslim faith are awarded more lenient punishments, some even end up being pardoned. However, there have not been significant cases of religious detainees in the United Arab Emirates.
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