Many of the countries which carry out religious discrimination against Muslims are themselves Muslim countries with an Islamic system of government. Here are five of the worst offenders.
The Islamic Republic of Iran is ruled by a concept called Velayat e-Faqih, or “guardianship of the Jurist” in which political power is vested in the hands of a clerical establishment headed by the Supreme Leader. It calls its revolution “Islamic” and claims to have a government that safeguards religion.
Yet, despite this Islamic claim to legitimacy, Iran has repressive laws that restrict the religious rights of Muslims. Ja’afari Shiite Islam is the official state religion and all law is in accordance with the doctrines of that sect. Although the constitution states the Sunni schools of thought must be “accorded full respect,” Sunnis complain of discrimination at the hands of the regime. In 2015, “Security officials continued to raid and demolish existing prayer sites belonging to Sunnis” according to the United States Institute for Peace and “the government reportedly barred the construction of new Sunni mosques.”
Sunnis make up 10% of Iran’s population, but they say they are denied government jobs and are treated as second class citizens. Although there are one million Sunnis in the Iranian capital Tehran, Sunnis complain there is no Sunni mosque in the city, a charge which Islamic Republic media outlets deny, with one website claiming there are nine.
This year Iran, after a dispute with Sunni rival Saudi Arabia, banned Iranian pilgrims from going on the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, which takes place annually in September. This year, one million Iranian pilgrims instead marked the festival of Arafat Day in the Shiite holy city of Karbala, Iraq, during the same time as the Hajj.
Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy, one of the last left in the world, in which the House of Saud rule in accordance with the austere and puritanical sect of Islam known as Wahhabism, named after the sect’s founder Mohammed Ibn Abd-al-Wahhab (1703-1792).
Ibn Saud, the founder of the House of Saud made a deal with al-Wahhab that the former would control political life and the latter religious life in Saud’s domains, a deal which was continued through the generations of both families to this day. Legally speaking, the Quran and the Sunna (the oral tradition of Islam) are the country’s constitution.
All other forms of Islam are persecuted in Saudi Arabia. “Shia clerics and activists who advocated for equal treatment of Shia Muslims were arrested, and at least one Shia cleric awaited execution after being convicted on charges of ‘violent opposition’ to the government,” according to the U.S. State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report for Saudi Arabia (2015).
Shiites, who make up 10-15 percent of Saudi Arabia’s population are kept from representation on the country’s religious councils.
Since Wahhabis do not celebrate the holiday of Mawlid, the commemoration of Mohammed’s birthday, or visit to the tombs of Islamic saints, Saudi Arabia strictly prohibits all other Muslims to do so as well.
Brunei is a small monarchy on the island of Borneo ruled in accordance with a mixture of the Sha’afi school of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence and a civil law code. Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, the King, introduced sharia law’s harsh hudud punishments in 2014.
Legally the country affords other sects the right to worship in peace. However, in practice, there are restrictions on non-Sha’afi sects. All religious (and non-religious) organizations are forced to register and provide the state with a full list of their members. Participation in an unregistered organization, such as a religious group, is prohibited and punishable by a fine.
Schools, including private schools, are prohibited from teaching any religion other than Sha’afi Islam. All Friday sermons in the country are pre-approved; uniform sermons are drafted by the ministry of religious affairs and delivered by registered imams.
Bahrain is a small island in the Persian Gulf where a Sunni monarchy rules over and oppresses a Shiite majority population. The country is dominated politically, economically and militarily by Saudi Arabia. In 2011, Saudi Arabia came to the aid of the beleaguered Bahraini government and marched troops into the country to violently quell protests.
Shiites in Bahrain are subject to a myriad of restrictions. “Shias are clearly being targeted on the basis of their religion,” a group of human rights experts working for the UN stated in August 2016.
“Recently, we witnessed the dissolution of Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, the shutting of faith-based organizations, restrictions on the practice of religious rites, on Friday prayers and peaceful assemblies, restrictions on movement, restricted access to the Internet and a ban on Shia religious leaders from preaching.”
All religious groups must obtain a permit to operate in Bahrain, which can be revoked at the discretion of the state.
Pakistan was founded as an Islamic republic to provide a state for Muslims in South Asia after the end of the British Raj (the British Empire’s rule of India). It was intended to be a secular state which provides a political haven for those with a Muslim identity, rather than a theocratic state. Legally, it is still a secular country.
However, there are a number of restrictions. Ahmadiyya Muslims are not recognized as Muslims in Pakistan. Their heterodox sect, which numbers an estimated 14 million worldwide and is concentrated heavily in Pakistan, believers that their founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, is the resurrection of Jesus and the promised Mahdi who will save Islam. This belief is regarded as heretical by other Muslim sects.
Ahmadis are legally prohibited from calling themselves Muslims, from worshipping in ordinary mosques and from preaching their faith. Anti-Ahmadi propaganda is widely disseminated with the backing of the state.
As a consequence, Ahmadis face routine discrimination and physical violence, and there have been many murders of Ahmadi Muslims for their faith in Pakistan.