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The New Arab

Jail sentences for 'unauthorised' religious meetings in the UAE

Unauthorised religious gatherings in the UAE could land you in jail [AFP]

Date of publication: 15 November, 2017

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Unauthorised religious gatherings and Quranic recitations in the UAE have been outlawed by the state's Federal National Council, in the latest law providing more restrictions to everyday life.

 

UAE authorities will impose jail terms and fines on anyone caught taking part in authorised religious ceremonies in the Gulf state.

The Federal National Council passed a draft law on Tuesday outlawing any religious gatherings in the UAE without permission from authorities, Khaleej Times reported.

Anyone caught holding prayer meetings, religious gatherings, lectures or lessons, and memorising the Quran without the government's permission could face up to three months in jail or a fine of 5,000 UAE dirhams ($1,360).

Tougher punishments will be handed out to mosque employees connected to "illegal organisations", or who "practice prohibited political activities", "preach without a sermon" or "issue [illegal] fatwas".

Anyone who tries to interfere with an imam's sermon or begs outside a mosque will face three months in jail.

The UAE has pursued a very public promotion of "religious tolerance" in the country, much of it aimed at the country's growing young population.

The country also hosts millions of expatriates including Hindus, Christians, and other Muslim denominations.

Abu Dhabi has opened a ministry of tolerance and invited religious leaders from different faiths to meet Emirati leaders.

It has also sought to centralise the public and political spheres with the government's writ controlling most ways of life.

Chief among these efforts has been the clampdown on Emirati activists linked to the banned Muslim Brotherhood.

This intensified during the popular Arab Spring uprisings that swept through the region and saw the Islamist movement flourish.

Believing the group to be a threat to the UAE's regime, scores of local pro-democracy and Islamist activists were arrested by state security.

In 2014, the UAE listed the Muslim Brotherhood and its local affiliates as a "terrorist organisation".

Overseas, Abu Dhabi has also sought to undermine the influence of the movement in Egypt and other countries.

During Tuesday's national council meeting, lawmakers also called for more vigorous surveillance of foreign preachers and locals engaged in religious debate on social media.

"We want the authority to have followers on social media, to keep up with updates and have direct contact with the public," said Saeed al-Remeithi.

"The fear today is that people looking for fatwas in the UAE will go outside to look for it, if they were not able to find it here, and eventually listen to fatwas that we don’t want them to listen to. We want to prevent our nationals from listening to fatwas from outside the country."

 

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