US Department of State: International Religious Freedom Report for 2012 – Bahrain


The annual Report to Congress on International Religious Freedom – the International Religious Freedom Report – describes the status of religious freedom in every country. The report covers government policies violating religious belief and practices of groups, religious denominations and individuals, and U.S. policies to promote religious freedom around the world. The U.S. Department of State submits the reports in accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.

Bahrain Report

The constitution does not explicitly protect freedom of religion, but does provide for freedom of worship, and the government generally respected the right of citizens and foreign residents to practice their religion. The trend in the government’s respect for religious freedom did not change significantly during the year. The Sunni Muslim citizen population enjoyed favored status. The country experienced some sectarian violence and predominately Shia groups conducted regular demonstrations and protests calling for political reform. The government increasingly scrutinized clerics’ sermons, arrested members of the Shia community, including clerics, and stripped the citizenship of 31 Shia citizens, including three clerics, it deemed posed a security threat to the country. There were allegations of excessive use of force, torture, and mistreatment of detainees arrested during protests. The government took steps to implement the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) recommendations related to the Shia community, such as reinstating many Shia governmental and parastatal employees who were dismissed in 2011, and rebuilding some of the Shia religious sites that were destroyed in 2011. The government welcomed the transfer of the Roman Catholic Vicariate of Northern Arabia from Kuwait to Bahrain, and donated land for its complex.

There were some reports of societal abuse or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice, including incidents of sectarian violence, especially between the Sunni and Shia communities. Some pro-government press outlets and social media posters employed anti-Shia rhetoric and epithets. When the Roman Catholic Vicariate of Northern Arabia moved to the country, some clerics protested, saying that it was forbidden to build churches in the Arabian Peninsula region.

Senior U.S. government officials, including U.S. embassy representatives, raised with the government, political societies, civil society organizations, and the broader public U.S. concerns about government restrictions on and abuses of religious freedom. Embassy officials monitored the implementation of the BICI recommendations, including the reconstruction of places of worship. Embassy officials and visitors from the United States also engaged the public on issues of religious tolerance.


Section I. Religious Demography

The 2010 census lists the overall population as 1.2 million, with citizens making up slightly less than half of the population. Citizens are 99 percent Muslim, while Jews, Christians, Hindus, and Bahais constitute the remaining 1 percent. Muslims comprise 70.2 percent of the total population of citizens and noncitizens. The government does not publish statistics regarding the sectarian breakdown between Shia and Sunni citizens; however, Shia are widely believed to represent a majority of the country’s citizen population.

There are approximately 350 licensed Sunni mosques, while the number of licensed Shia places of worship includes 863 mosques and 589 matams (religious cultural centers). In newer residential developments such as Hamad Town and Isa Town, which often have mixed Shia and Sunni populations, there tends to be a disproportionate number of Sunni mosques.

Foreigners, mostly from South Asia and from other Arab countries, constitute an estimated 54 percent of the population. Approximately half of resident foreigners are non-Muslim, including Hindus, Buddhists, Christians (primarily Roman Catholic, Protestant, Syrian Orthodox, and Mar Thoma from South India), Bahais, and Sikhs.