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Cambodia - Religion

The country has an area of 67,000 square miles and a population of 13.4 million. An estimated 93 percent of the population is Theravada Buddhist. The Theravada Buddhist tradition is widespread and strong in all provinces, with an estimated 4,392 pagodas throughout the country. The vast majority of ethnic Khmer Cambodians are Buddhist, and there is a close association between Buddhism, Khmer cultural traditions, and daily life. Adherence to Buddhism generally is considered intrinsic to the country's ethnic and cultural identity. The Mahayana school of Buddhism claims more than 34,000 followers and has 105 temples throughout the country.

Between 3.5 and 5 percent of the population, predominantly ethnic Cham, is Muslim and typically live in towns and rural fishing villages on the banks of the Tonle Sap Lake and the Mekong River, as well as in Kampot Province. There are four branches of Islam represented in the country: the Malay-influenced Shafi'i branch, practiced by 88 percent of Cham Muslims; the Saudi-Kuwaiti-influenced Salafi (Wahhabi) branch, which claims 6 percent of the total Muslim population, although this number is increasing; the indigenous Iman-San branch, practiced by 3 percent; and the Kadiani branch, which also accounts for 3 percent.

There are 280 mosques of the four main branches and 374 small suravs, which are meeting places that have congregations of up to 40 persons and do not have a minbar (pulpit) from which Friday sermons are given. Suravs may belong to any branch of Islam and are distinct from other types of mosques only in their architectural structure; they are usually much smaller and built in rural areas.

The small Christian community constitutes 2 percent of the population. There are an estimated 100 Christian organizations or denominations that operate freely throughout the country. There are 1,292 churches, of which 1,224 are Protestant and 68 are Catholic. In addition the country has 883 offices of prayer and 248 religious schools. Only an estimated 1,000 of these churches are officially registered. Other religious groups with small followings include the 3,000 ethnic Vietnamese Cao Dai and the 10,000 members of the Bahai Faith.

The constitution and other laws and policies protect religious freedom and, in practice, the government generally enforced these protections. The constitution prohibits discrimination based on religion, and the government does not tolerate abuse of religious freedom, either by governmental or private actors. Buddhism is the state religion, and the government promotes Buddhist holidays, provides Buddhist training and education to monks and others in pagodas, and modestly supports an institute that performs research and publishes materials on Khmer culture and Buddhist traditions.

The law requires all religious groups, including Buddhist groups, to submit applications to the Ministry of Cults and Religions if they wish to construct places of worship and conduct religious activities. In their applications, groups must state clearly their religious purposes and activities, which must comply with provisions forbidding religious groups from insulting other religious groups, creating disputes, or undermining national security. There is no penalty for failing to register, and some groups had not done so.

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Page last modified: 28-05-2012 13:28:17 ZULU