Qatar’s population is estimated to be 2.6 million, of whom up to 15% are citizens and the remainder expatriates. It is estimated that around 25% of the migrant population is Christian. Qatari citizens are all assumed to be Muslims, with around 90% Sunni and 10% Shi’a. Officially recognised churches with buildings on land granted by the Emir in 2005 are the Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, Anglican and Malankara (Indian) Orthodox churches. Other Christian groups may operate under the umbrella of one of these recognised churches. The Filipino Evangelical Church received recognition in 2015 and was granted land for a place of worship alongside other churches within the ‘Religious Complex’, and approval has also been given for a Maronite church.
The constitution of Qatar enshrines Islam as the religion of the State and Islamic law as a main source of legislation. The constitution affirms the principle of non-discrimination, including on the basis of religion. It guarantees freedom of religious practice provided that public order and morality are maintained. The Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) are legally recognised. Under applicable Islamic law, Muslims are effectively prohibited from changing their religion. Non-Islamic proselytism is strictly prohibited and is punishable by prison sentences of five or ten years depending on whether the proselytism was undertaken in a personal capacity or on behalf of a group, though in recent years the government has preferred to deport those suspected of proselytising without legal proceedings. Islamic personal status laws apply for citizens, and Islamic custody provisions apply to non-Muslims as well as Muslims. The Christian churches are regulated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; a minimum membership requirement (1,500) must be met before recognition is considered. The importation of non-Islamic religious materials is permitted for recognised groups, though it is strictly monitored and regulated.
Qatar is not a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). However, in 2014 the Qatari Government gave assurances to the UN Human Rights Council that it is actively considering accession to the ICCPR. Qatar regularly asserts that its policies are consistent with international standards and has drawn attention to its sponsorship and hosting of inter-faith dialogue initiatives.
Expatriate Christians enjoy considerable freedom in Qatar, provided that their activities are restricted to designated compounds and, in particular, that they avoid interaction with Muslims that could be construed as proselytism. In recent years there have been several cases of expatriate Christians being deported, it is assumed because of activities considered to have been proselytism (though in most deportations no reasons are stated). The recognised churches find their current facilities inadequate; the ‘Religious Complex’ is typically overcrowded on days of worship as churches seek to accommodate multiple congregations of various nationalities and languages. The recent decision to grant building permission for a Filipino Evangelical Church in the Complex has been welcomed, though this will add to the overcrowding. Qatari nationals or other Muslims who choose to leave Islam are likely to face strong family and societal pressure. In extreme cases those who leave Islam can face violent responses from family members. In principle, those considered apostates face severe sanctions under Islamic law, including the death penalty.