Islam most common State religion, but many governments give Christianity privileges: Pew

(Photo: REUTERS / Remo Casilli)Meriam Yahya Ibrahim of Sudan (R) holds one of her children next to Lapo Pistelli (L), Italy's vice minister for foreign affairs, holding her other child, as they land at Ciampino airport in Rome July 24, 2014. The Sudanese woman who was spared a death sentence for converting from Islam to Christianity and then barred from leaving Sudan flew into Rome on Thursday.

More than 80 countries favor a specific religion, either as an official, government-endorsed religion or by affording one religion preferential treatment over other faiths, and Islam is the faith that holds sway there.

This is the finding of a recent Pew Research Center analysis of data covering 199 countries and territories around the world.

It found that Islam is the most common government-endorsed faith, with 27 countries (including most in the Middle East-North Africa region) officially enshrining Islam as their State religion.

By comparison, just 13 countries (including nine European nations) designate Christianity or a particular Christian denomination as their State religion.

But an additional 40 governments around the globe unofficially favor a particular religion, and in most cases the preferred faith is a branch of Christianity.

Indeed, finds Pew, Christian churches receive preferential treatment in more countries – 28 – than any other unofficial but favored faith.

Most of the countries where Islam is the official religion (16 of 27, or 59 percent) are in the Middle East and North Africa. In addition, seven officially Islamic countries (26 percent) are in the Asia-Pacific region, including Bangladesh, Brunei and Malaysia.

And there are four countries in sub-Saharan Africa where Islam is the State religion: Comoros, Djibouti, Mauritania and Somalia. No countries in Europe or the Americas have Islam as their official religion.


Christianity is the second most common official religion around the world. Thirteen countries (30 percent of countries with an official religion) declare Christianity, in general, or a particular Christian denomination to be their official state religion.

Nine of these countries are in Europe, including the United Kingdom, Denmark, Monaco and Iceland.

Two countries in the Americas – Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic – and one in the Asia-Pacific region – Tuvalu – have Christianity as their official State religion. Only one country in sub-Saharan Africa is officially Christian: Zambia.

Buddhism is the official religion in two countries, Bhutan and Cambodia. Israel is the only country in the world with Judaism as its official state religion.

And no country names Hinduism as its official state religion – though India has a powerful Hindu political party, and Nepal came close to enshrining Hinduism in 2015, when the rejection of a constitutional amendment declaring Hinduism as the state religion led to a confrontation between pro-Hindu protesters and police.

Among the 40 countries that have a preferred or favored religion – but not an official state religion – most favor Christianity.

Twenty-eight countries (70 percent) have Christianity as the preferred religion, mostly in Europe and the Americas. Five countries in sub-Saharan Africa and three in the Asia-Pacific region have Christianity as the favored religion.

For the past eight years, Pew Research Center has published annual reports analyzing the extent to which governments and societies around the world impinge on religious beliefs and practices.

The studies are part of the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures project, which analyzes religious change and its impact on societies around the world. The project is jointly funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts and the John Templeton Foundation.

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