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U.S. Department of State Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for 2004 - Mauritania

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 15 September 2004
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for 2004 - Mauritania , 15 September 2004, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/416ce9c419.html [accessed 12 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Released by the U.S. Department of State Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor on September 15, 2004, covers the period from July 1, 2003, to June 30, 2004.

The Constitution establishes the country as an Islamic republic and recognizes Islam as the religion of its citizens and the State.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report. The Government limits freedom of religion by prohibiting the distribution of non-Islamic religious materials and the proselytization of Muslims; however, non-Muslim resident expatriates and the few non-Muslim citizens practice their religions openly and freely.

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has a total area of 419,212 square miles, and its population is approximately 3 million. Virtually 100 percent of the population practices Sunni Islam. There is a very small number of non-Muslims, and Roman Catholic or denominational Christian churches have been established in Nouakchott, Atar, Zouerate, Nouadhibou, and Rosso.

There are several foreign faith-based nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) active in humanitarian and developmental work in the country. Although there are no synagogues, a very small number of expatriates practice Judaism.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution establishes the country as an Islamic republic and recognizes Islam as the religion of its citizens and the State. The Government limits freedom of religion by prohibiting the distribution of non-Islamic religious materials and the proselytization of Muslims; however, non-Muslim resident expatriates and a few non-Muslim citizens practice their religions openly and freely.

Both the Government and citizenry consider Islam to be the essential cohesive element unifying the country's various ethnic groups. There is a cabinet-level Ministry of Literacy Programs, Islamic Orientation, and Traditional Education. A High Council of Islam, consisting of six imams, advises the Government on the conformance of legislation to Islamic precepts. Although the Government provided a small stipend to the imam of the Central Mosque in the capital city of Nouakchott, mosques and Koranic schools are normally supported by their members and other donors.

The Government does not register religious groups; however, secular NGOs, including humanitarian and development NGOs affiliated with religious groups, must register with the Ministry of the Interior. Nonprofit organizations, including both religious groups and secular NGOs, generally are not subject to taxation. The judiciary consists of a single system of courts with a modernized legal system that conforms with the principles of Shari'a (Islamic law).

The Government observes Muslim holidays as national holidays, but this practice does not negatively affect other religious groups. A magistrate of Shari'a, who heads a separate government commission, determines the lunar dates for observing religious holidays and addresses the nation on these holidays.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Shari'a, proclaimed the law of the land under a previous government in 1983, includes the Koranic prohibition against apostasy or conversion to a religion other than Islam; however, this prohibition has never been codified in civil law or enforced. The small number of known converts from Islam suffered no social ostracism, and there were no reports of societal or governmental attempts to punish them.

Although there is no specific legal prohibition against proselytizing by non-Muslims, in practice the Government prohibits proselytizing of Muslims by non-Muslims through the use of Article 11 of the Press Act. The Act bans the publication of any material that is against Islam or contradicts or otherwise threatens Islamic principles. In May 2003, the Government banned Arab-language newspaper Al-Raya, noted for its Islamic activist leanings, under the provisions of this law. The Government views any attempts by practitioners of other religions to convert Muslims as undermining society. Foreign faith-based NGOs limit their activities to humanitarian and development assistance.

In June 2003, the Government passed a law prohibiting the use of mosques for any form of political activity, including the distribution of propaganda and incitement of violence. In March, the Government used this law to forbid a Salafist imam, Imam Dedew, from preaching anywhere but in his home mosque. He continued to preach from his home mosque without persecution, but on several occasions during the reporting period, he was prevented from preaching in other locations.

Under Article 11 of the Press Law, the Government may restrict the importation, printing, or public distribution of Bibles or other non-Islamic religious literature. In practice, Bibles are neither printed nor publicly sold in the country; however, the possession of Bibles and other non-Islamic religious materials in private homes is not illegal, and Bibles and other religious publications are available among the small non-Islamic communities.

Except for the President, the members of the 5-person Constitutional Council, and the 10-person High Council of Magistrates over which the President presides, government employees or members of the ruling political party are not required to take a religious oath. The Constitutional Council and the High Council of Magistrates advise the President in matters of law and the Constitution. The oath of office includes a promise to God to uphold the law of the land in conformity with Islamic precepts.

Both the privately run Koranic schools and the Government's public schools include classes on religion. These classes teach the history and principles of Islam and the classical Arabic of the Koran. Although attendance of these religious classes is ostensibly required, many students, the great majority of whom are Muslims, decline to attend them for diverse ethno-linguistic and religious reasons. Since religious classes make up a disproportionately small percentage of the overall academic grade, these students are able to advance in school and graduate with diplomas, provided they compensate for their failure to attend the required religion classes by their performance in other classes.

Following the May 2003 crackdown on Islamic activists, the Government closed a number of Saudi- and Gulf-funded Islamic schools and charities. These organizations remained shut at the end of the period covered by this report. The Government also closed an Islamic charity association in late April for its alleged connections to local Islamic activists. ISERI, the government-funded and -supported Institute for Islamic Science, Studies, and Research, remained open and fully funded.

Shari'a law provides the legal principles upon which the country's law and legal procedure are based. The testimony of two women is necessary to equal that of one man. In addition, in awarding an indemnity to the family of a woman who has been killed, the courts grant only half the amount that they would award for a man's death. For commercial and other issues not addressed specifically by Shari'a, the law and courts treat women and men equally.

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Abuses by Terrorist Organizations

There were no reported abuses targeted at specific religions by terrorist organizations during the period covered by this report.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom. There were no reported incidents of inter-religious violence during this period. Several public protests against the Government's recognition of Israel made negative references to Jewish persons as part of the Israeli state. Anti-Israeli graffiti also made negative references to Jewish persons in this context.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.

The U.S. Government monitors developments affecting religious freedom and maintains contact with imams and the leaders of other religious groups. These contacts include the Minister of Islamic Orientation, Literacy Programs, and Traditional Education.

The U.S. Government sponsoredvisitors to give lectures to ISERI faculty and students during this period. In March, an American scholar of Islam discussed his conversion to Islam and his deep interest in Sufism. In April, an American academic discussed Western concepts of the separation of church and state.

The Ambassador and the Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) actively engaged prominent religious leaders in a dialogue to broaden mutual understanding of religious principles and freedom in an Islamic republic. The Ambassador and DCM have also discussed issues of religious freedom with representatives of American faith-based NGOs working in country.

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