Last Updated 30 May 2023

The archipelago island nation of Comoros lies off the east coast of Africa and has a population of around 800,000, making it one of the least but also most densely populated countries. Around 98% of the population identify as Sunni Muslim.1 Following a referendum in 2009, the government introduced a law declaring Islam the state religion and entrenching Islamist tendencies. Comoros is a member of the League of Arab States (LAS), as well as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

Grave Violations
Severe Discrimination
Systemic Discrimination
Mostly Satisfactory

Constitution and government

The Constitution was last revised during a controversial referendum process in 2018. The revised Constitution disposed of a longstanding power-sharing arrangement in which the presidency was rotated between the three main islands of Comoros – Grand Comore, Anjouan, and Mohéli – every five years, and it grants the president the ability to run for two consecutive five-year terms. The result of the referendum was boycotted by the opposition and resulted in protests against President Azali Assoumani, who was sworn in for a second presidential term in May 2021.2

The revised Constitution nominally protects freedom of thought, religion or belief, but in practice other laws and practices severely restrict this right. Article 97 of the Constitution declares Islam the state religion and commits the State to “draw on this religion, the Sunni principles and rules of obedience and the Chafi’i rites that govern belief and social life”. The first line of the Preamble of the Constitution stipulates that the Comorian people “cultivate a national identity based on […] a sole religion (Sunni Islam).”3

These references to Sunni Islam, which did not exist in the previous Constitution, have been cited by some as an example of President Azali Assoumani’s intention to cultivate closer political ties with Saudi Arabia and to counter the influence of former president Sambi, who is seen as close to Iran.4 President Azali Assoumani has previously and on multiple occasions called for the expulsion of Shia Muslims from Comoros.5

The Constitution states that, before assuming their functions, a president must swear an oath with his hand on the Koran, and he must swear “before Allah, the Merciful and the most Compassionate to loyally and honestly fulfill the duties of my charge, to only act in the general interest and within respect for the Constitution.”

Article 98 states that the grand mufti – the “highest religious authority” of the State – is nominated by the president. The grand mufti is mandated to “counsel” the government and the public on religious matters and Islamic law.6

Education and children’s rights

State-run schools are based on the French system and there are no legal requirements around the teaching of the Qu’ran.7 However, State schools are chronically underfunded, and a large majority of students attend non-formal Qu’ranic schools for two or three years, starting around age five, where they learn the rudiments of the Islamic faith and some classical Arabic.8;

Family, community and society

Women’s rights and equality

Comoros’ Family Code contains a number of patriarchal and discriminatory provisions which impede women’s equality.

Article 13 of the Family Code defines marriage as a legal union between “a man and a woman” with the purpose of creating a “lasting conjugal life” and the “purity and desire to procreate.”Furthermore, a marriage can only be concluded between Muslims (Article 16).

Marriage is based on a guardianship system by which a woman is represented by her matrimonial guardian (the wali) – defined as a male relative such as her father, paternal grandfather, brother or paternal uncles or cousins – in order to enter into marriage. A marriage cannot be concluded without the wali’s consent (Article 21-23).9 Each marriage must be witnessed by two men of Muslim faith (Article 33).

Polygamy is permitted (Article 49). A woman whose husband has died or who has gotten divorced must observe a mandatory waiting period before remarrying. The length of the waiting period is determined by factors such as a woman’s menstrual cycle, menopause, pregnancy, or widowhood (Article 79).

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) has previously noted the “persistence of patriarchal attitudes and deep-rooted stereotypes concerning the roles and responsibilities of women and men in the family and society” as well as the “persistence of entrenched harmful practices, such as forced and early marriages and polygamy” in Comoros.10CEDAW/C/COM/CO/1-4;

LGBTI+ rights

Article 318 criminalizes “improper or unnatural” acts between persons of the same-sex with a penalty of up to five years imprisonment and a fine. There are limited reports of enforcement in recent years, and the law appears to be largely obsolete in practice. Nevertheless, the mere existence of this provision is itself a violation of human rights and underpins further acts of discrimination.11


The penal code (Article 232) criminalizes “practices of witchcraft, magic or charlatanism” that disturb public order or harm persons or property. These crimes of magic are punishable by fine or imprisonment from two months to two years.

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

Enforced Islamic identity

While apostasy is not expressly criminalized, there are strong legal and social deterrents against converting away from Islam. The Penal Code criminalizes the act of promoting non-Islamic beliefs to Muslims:

“Article 229-8. Whoever divulges, propagates, or teaches Muslims a religion other than the Muslim religion, shall be punished by imprisonment for three months and a fine of 50,000 to 500,000 francs.

The same penalties apply for the sale, offering for sale, even free distribution to Muslims, of books, pamphlets, magazines, records and cassettes disclosing a religion other than Islam.”

Though phrased only in terms of alternative specifically religious beliefs, it is probable that promotion of non-religious views or criticism of Islam could be defined as anti-Islamic proselytizing and therefore fall under this same provision.

There is also serious negative social discrimination against assumed ‘apostates’. A law student, Musa Kim, who reportedly converted from Islam to Christianity in 2008, was beaten by his family. He was rescued and recovered in a secret location. That house was later identified and was razed. Kim survived but would not report any of the incidents to the police for fear that this would cause more trouble for

Citizens are also forced to conform to at least some Islamic practices. Under the penal code:

“Article 229-1. Any act committed with the intention of disturbing public order and good morals in relation to the practice of fasting during Ramadan will be punished with a term of imprisonment from one to six months and a fine of 15,000 to 25,000 francs.”

“Article 229-7. Any Muslim who has apparently consumed knowingly products prohibited by Islamic law will be punished by imprisonment of one to six months and a fine of 15,000 to 200,000 francs.”

In addition, the manufacture and import of alcohol are strictly prohibited under the Penal Code (Articles 229.2-229.3), and can result in a fine or a prison sentence of up to one year. Anyone who is determined to be intoxicated in a public place can be imprisoned for up to three months (Article 229.3)

Contradicting Islam or “outraging” ministers of religion

While there is no explicit reference to ‘blasphemy’, under the heading of “Obstacles to the free exercise of worship,” Article 231 of the penal code criminalizes “outraging” (or perhaps best translated as “insulting”) a minister of religion “in the performance of his duties” punishable with a fine or imprisonment from six months up to two The vague terms suggest that this law could be used as a quasi-blasphemy law if a cleric was confronted with criticism during the course of his work.

Freedom of the Press

Freedom of expression is restricted. The political tension during the constitutional referendum in 2018 and President Azali Assoumani’s reelection in 2019 triggered a range of press freedom violations, including censorship, threats, intimidation, attacks and arrests. Most journalists will practice self-censorship in order to maintain their reputation and careers. Journalists face harassment and intimidation, including from government officials.18;

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