Although UAE residents are, in most cases, free to worship in accordance with their religious beliefs, there are instances of interference from the Government, an international report released yesterday said.
Produced by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor at the US Department of State, the annual report assessed the degree of religious freedom enjoyed by people in 198 countries.
The document, International Religious Freedom Report 2010, mentioned Myanmar, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan as countries of particular concern which have "engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom". Anti-Muslim sentiments in Europe were also criticised.
Regarding the UAE, it said: "Although citizens regarded the country as a Muslim country that should respect Muslim religious sensibilities on matters such as public consumption of alcohol, modest dress and public deportment, the society also emphasised respect for privacy and Islamic traditions of tolerance, particularly with respect to some Christian groups.
"Adherents of most major religions in the country worshipped without government interference, although there were restrictions. The Government followed a policy of tolerance toward non-Muslim religious groups and in practice interfered very little in their religious activities."
The report quoted a census from 2005, which showed 76 per cent of the population to be Muslim, 9 per cent Christian, and 15 per cent "other".
There are at least 34 churches, in addition to a Sikh temple and a Hindu temple in Dubai.
"Buddhists, Hindus, and Sikhs conducted religious ceremonies in private homes without interference," the report said. "The constitution provides for freedom of religion, and other laws and policies contributed to the generally free practice of religion; however, there are restrictions that require deference to established customs and public morals."
Among the restrictions mentioned are churches not being permitted to display crosses outside or to erect bell towers. It did, however, acknowledge the rule was not always enforced.
The report also mentioned that conversion from Islam to another religion was not recognised.
Although the legal punishment was death, no cases of anyone being prosecuted were known.