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U.S. State Department's Report: Yemen Respected Religious Freedom
  Written By: Moneer Al-Omari (YEMEN POST STAFF)
  Article Date:
October 06
, 2008



According to 2008 religious freedoms report issued by the U.S. Foreign Department, the Yemeni government respected religious freedoms and its policies contributed to the general practice of religious rituals. However, it referred to certain cases of abuses that targeted certain factions and religious groups like Jews, Christians and apostates. 

“The Government generally respected religious freedom in practice; however, there were some restrictions. There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom by the Government during the period covered by this report,” noted the report.

Yemen is a Muslim country and very few of its residents are Jews or Christians. Majority of Yemenis belong to the Sha'fai (Sunni) sect and represent over 60 percent, while the rest belong to the Zaydi sect of Islam.

Yemeni constitution and other laws protect freedom of religion while the constitution declares that Islam is the state religion and that Shariah (Islamic law) is the source of all legislation.

Despite this fact, Yemen respects other religions; existing in the country and the followers of religions other than Islam are free to practice and perform their worship and religious rituals. There exist as well a small number of Baha'ai and Ismaili Muslims in certain parts of Yemen.

Yemenis of different religions have lived together for the last 2,000 years according to historians. Further, the Islamic state always supported and guaranteed the free practice of religion of Non-Muslims.

The report continued "Muslims and followers of religious groups other than Islam are free to worship according to their beliefs; however, the Government prohibits conversion from Islam and the proselytizing of Muslims."

The report further pointed out that relations among religious groups generally continued to contribute to religious freedom; however, there have been reports of societal abuses and discrimination based on religious affiliation and belief. This applies very much to the Jewish community existing in Amran's Raydah area and Bani Salim of Sa'ada and the followers of Zaydi sect.

Jews are the only indigenous non-Muslim religious minority. Nearly all of the once-sizable Jewish population emigrated during what was known as the 'Magic Carpet' where over 40,000 Yemeni Jews left to Israel. Now, 400 Jews remain in the northern part of the country, primarily in Amran Province. The Jewish residents of Midlands, Sana'a and Aden, used to be excellent at handicrafts left for Israel.

Over the last couple of years, Jewish residents of Bani Salem in Sa'ada Governorate reportedly experienced increased harassment by Houthi followers and this forced the government to move them to private houses in the capital Sana'a, especially when Jews were receiving constant death threats.

Likewise, there have been reports of harassment and abuses by Amran's Jewish residents, but locals from the area stress that these accounts are baseless and inauthentic; hinting they enjoy the same rights enjoyed by Muslims and none can harass them only under misbehavior. 

Some prominent Zaydi followers were arrested by the government over Sa'ada war; however, government officials stress that these were made for security concerns. Though dozens were released, hundreds are still behind bars. 

The report also referred to arrests of Christian converts and members of the Baha'i community, but several scholars point out that this claim is not justified in Islam as Muslims are prohibited, under Islamic Shariah, from turning apostates. An apostate is allowed three days to repent and, when failing to do so, he is executed.

Few numbers of Christians live in Aden and the city which was under the rule of the British Empire contains four churches where over 3,000 Christians can perform their rituals. The report mentioned that 40 Hindus exist in Aden, the commercial capital of Yemen. They have one Hindu temple.

However, Yemeni government allowed Jews and Christians to perform their religious and regular services. "Weekly services for Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Ethiopian Orthodox Christians were held throughout Sana'a, Aden, and other cities without government interference. Throughout the country, Christian and Jewish services were held regularly in private homes or facilities, such as schools, without harassment, and such facilities appeared adequate to accommodate the small numbers involved," pointed out the report.

Yemen's ruling party, the General People Congress (GPC), does not exclude Non-Muslims from its membership. The case is applicable to other nationalist parties. However, Non-Muslims are denied membership of Islamic parties which conditions an individual's adherence to Islamic teachings.

In general, the Yemeni government has worked for spreading tolerance among its citizens and continued its efforts to prevent the politicization of mosques and schools, as well as to curb extremism and increase tolerance.