The constitution states Islam is the state religion and citizens shall draw principles and rules to regulate worship and social life from the Shafi’i school of Sunni Islam. The preamble “affirms the will of the Comorian people” to cultivate a national identity based on a single religion, Sunni Islam. It proclaims equality of rights and obligations for all individuals regardless of religion or belief. A law establishes the Sunni Shafi’i doctrine as the “official religious reference” and provides sanctions of five months’ to one year’s imprisonment, a fine of 100,000 to 500,000 Comorian francs ($250-$1,200), or both, for campaigns, propaganda, or religious practices or customs in public places that could cause social unrest or undermine national cohesion.
The law prohibits anyone from insulting a minister of religion in the exercise of his functions, punishable by a fine of 15,000 to 45,000 francs ($37-$110) and imprisonment of six months to two years.
Proselytizing for any religion except Sunni Islam is illegal, and the law provides for deportation of foreigners who do so. The penal code states, “whoever discloses, spreads, and teaches Muslims a religion other than Islam will be punished with imprisonment of three months to one year and a fine of 50,000 to 500,000 Comorian francs” ($120-$1,200).
There is no official registration process for religious groups. The law allows Sunni religious groups to establish places of worship, train clergy, and assemble for peaceful religious activities. It does not allow non-Sunni religious groups to assemble for peaceful religious activities in public places, although foreigners are permitted to worship at three Christian churches in Moroni, Mutsamudu, and Moheli, and foreign Shia Muslims are permitted to worship at a Shia mosque in Moroni.
The law prohibits proselytizing or performance of non-Sunni religious rituals in public places, based on “affronting society’s cohesion and endangering national unity.” Without specifying religion, the penal code provides penalties for the profaning of any spaces designated for worship, for interfering with the delivery of religious leaders in the performance of their duties, or in cases where the practice of sorcery, magic, or charlatanism interferes with public order.
According to the constitution, the Grand Mufti is the highest religious authority in the country. The President appoints the Grand Mufti, who manages issues concerning religion and religious administration. The Grand Mufti heads an independent government institution called the Supreme National Institution in Charge of Religious Practices in the Union of the Comoros. The Grand Mufti counsels the government on matters concerning the practice of Islam and Islamic law. The Grand Mufti chairs and periodically consults with the Council of Ulema, a group of religious elders cited in the constitution, to assess whether citizens are respecting the principles of Islam.
The law provides that before the month of Ramadan, the Ministry of Islamic Affairs and the Council of Ulema publish a ministerial decree providing instructions to the population for that month.
The government uses the Quran in public primary schools for Arabic reading instruction. There are more than 200 government-supported, fee-based schools with Quranic instruction. The tenets of Islam are sometimes taught in conjunction with Arabic in public and private schools at the middle and high school levels. Religious education is not mandatory.
The country is a signatory but not a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
On August 28, security forces, operating on orders from Interior Minister Mohamed Daoudou, arrested seven Shia Muslims on Anjouan and four on Grande Comore for commemorating Ashura in public. According to a local Shia leader, the gendarmerie released the 11 individuals after four days of detention. Shia community members reported government surveillance during religious commemorations important to their community such as Ashura.
There were no reports of arrests of citizens engaged in other religious practices during the year, but members of non-Sunni groups and other minority religious groups reported self-censorship and stated they practiced only in private to avoid being harassed by the government.
According to a Shia leader in Moroni, a cultural center operated in Moroni, on Grande Comore, where Shia practiced their religion, but where police also intervened on Ashura and arrested Comorians attending.
In contrast with previous years, there were no reports of national leaders making public statements against religious minorities.
Expatriate Christian community members reported they had been waiting for more than three years for a government response to their application for a license to build a new church.