The constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion and provides for freedom of conscience, religion, belief, and thought. These rights may be limited only when the President declares a state of emergency.
The law states that holders of broadcast licenses “shall not broadcast any material which is…offensive to the religious convictions of any section of the population.”
Religious groups must register with the government to be recognized as legal entities. To do so, groups must submit documentation detailing the structure and mission of their organization and pay a fee of 1,000 kwacha ($1). The government reviews the application for administrative compliance only. According to the government, registration does not constitute endorsement of religious beliefs, nor is it a prerequisite for religious activities. Registration allows a religious group to acquire land, rent property in its own name, and obtain utility services such as water and electricity.
The law authorizes religious groups, regardless of registration status, to import certain goods duty free. These include religious paraphernalia, vehicles used for worship-related purposes, and office equipment. In practice, however, the Ministry of Finance rarely grants duty exemptions to registered groups.
Detainees have a right to consult with a religious counselor of their choice.
Religious instruction is mandatory in public primary schools, with no opt-out provision, and is available as an elective in public secondary schools. According to the constitution, eliminating religious intolerance is a goal of education. In some schools, the religious curriculum is a Christian-oriented “Bible knowledge” course, while in others it is an interfaith “moral and religious education” course drawing from the Christian, Islamic, Hindu, and Baha’i faiths. According to the law, local school-management committees, elected at parent-teacher association meetings, decide on which religious curriculum to use. Private Christian and Islamic schools offer religious instruction in their respective faiths. Hybrid “grant-aided” schools are managed by private, usually religious, institutions, but their teaching staffs are paid by the government. In exchange for this financial support, the government chooses a significant portion of the students who attend. At grant-aided schools, a board appointed by the school’s operators decides whether the “Bible knowledge” or the “moral and religious education” curriculum will be used.
National school policy requires children to wear closely shaven hair to attend but makes exceptions for religious and health reasons.
Foreign missionaries are required to have employment permits.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
On January 4, the High Court in Zomba granted an injunction compelling the Ministry of Education to allow all Rastafarian children to be admitted and enrolled in government schools. The court action came in response to a case filed in 2017 that involved a child who was denied enrollment to the Malindi Secondary School in Zomba due to his dreadlocks, as well as another case in 2019, in which the attorney requested that the court ruling be broadened to cover all Rastafarian students. Following the issuance of the injunction, the Attorney General asked, and the attorney for the Rastafarian students agreed, to settle the matter out of court, since the Ministry of Education was willing to enforce the injunction. Implementation of the injunction became temporarily moot when schools were closed from March 20 to September 7 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Upon the reopening of schools, the Rastafarian student’s attorney received complaints from seven Rastafarian students who had been denied enrollment. The Attorney General and the attorney agreed that there was no legal justification for the denied enrollments. On October 23, the Attorney General and the attorney formally communicated their views to the Ministry of Education, and the Ministry agreed to enroll the students. At year’s end, all Rastafarian students were enrolled in school.
During the night of July 29, Blantyre City Council workers removed a street billboard that the Muslim Association of Malawi’s (MAM) Islamic Information Bureau had erected to advertise the Quran, following complaints by the Evangelical Association of Malawi (EAM). The billboard, which read, “If you have read the Old Testament and the New Testament, now read the Last Testament, The Quran, the Ultimate Miracle,” was said to be “unacceptable and a recipe for religious conflict in the country” by the Blantyre College of Spiritual Fathers. The interfaith civil society organization, the Public Affairs Committee mediated between EAM and MAM, and a reworked billboard message reading, “Read the Quran, the Ultimate Miracle” was agreed on by both sides.
In contrast with previous years, neither of the Muslim associations in the country reported that female students were asked to remove their hijab in order to have their pictures taken for secondary school examination identification cards. The two organizations also reported that there were no cases of Department of Road Traffic and Safety Services photographers asking Muslim women to remove their hijabs before taking photographs for driver’s licenses, as had occurred in previous years.
According to media reports, conflicts often arose related to school dress codes, established locally, prescribing a particular uniform and appearance that did not allow female students to wear the hijab. The conflicts most often arose when religious schools that received government money turned students away in violation of national policy. The reports stated that some religious school leaders believed, erroneously, that religious schools could make their own policies; in fact, only if they were fully private and received no government funds could they do so.
On September 18, a Joint Technical Team was established under the guidance of the Public Affairs Committee, comprising seven Muslims and seven Christians, to foster dialogue on general dress codes in schools.
Muslim organizations continued to request that the education ministry discontinue use of the optional “Bible knowledge” course and use only the broader-based “moral and religious education” curriculum in primary schools, particularly in predominantly Muslim areas. According to Alhaji Twaibu Lawe, the MAM secretary general, the issue arose most frequently in grant-aided, Catholic-operated schools.
Rastafarians continued to object to laws making the use and possession of cannabis a criminal offense in the country, stating its use was a part of their religious doctrine.
Religious organizations and leaders regularly expressed their opinions on political issues, and their statements received coverage in the media. On June 27, the Episcopal Conference of Malawi issued a statement on the successful conduct of the June 23 court-mandated presidential elections. On August 6, the Public Affairs Committee held an interfaith dialogue with Lazarus Chakwera, the newly elected President of Malawi, and publicly released remarks on the meeting.
In September, President Chakwera promised to open a diplomatic mission in Jerusalem, the first African nation to do so. Foreign Minister Eisenhower Mkaka reiterated the plan during a visit to Israel in November. Commentators attributed the government’s ability to make this move, in part, to what they stated was the high level of religious tolerance in the country, noting the prior election of an Israeli-born Jew as a member of parliament.
Most government meetings and events began and ended with a prayer, usually Christian in nature. At larger events, government officials generally invited clergy of different faiths to participate. On July 16, President Chakwera declared three days of prayer and fasting for “religiously inclined citizens” against the COVID-19 pandemic. The President also asked citizens to observe a National Day of Thanksgiving on July 19. The prayers were conducted in compliance with COVID-19 guidelines.