Section I. Freedom of Religion
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right in practice. The Constitution specifically defines the country as a secular state and provides for the free practice of religious beliefs, provided public order is maintained.
Religious organizations are completely independent of the Government and in practice administer their affairs without government interference. While individuals and groups may practice their beliefs without government sanction, any group religious or other that wants to form an association with legal status must register with the Minister of the Interior in accordance with the civil and commercial code. Registration, which generally is granted, enables an association to conduct business, including owning property, establishing a bank account, and receiving financial contributions from any private source. Registered religious groups, like all registered nonprofit organizations, also are exempt from many forms of taxation. The Minister of Interior must have a legal basis for refusing registration. There were no reports of any applications for such registration being delayed or denied during the period covered by this report.
Religious organizations can receive direct financial and material assistance from the Government. While there is no official system of government grants, the importance of religion in society often results in the Government providing grants to religious groups to maintain their places of worship or undertake special events. The Government also provides funds through the Ministry of Education to schools operated by religious institutions that meet national education standards. In practice, Christian schools, which have a long and successful experience in education, receive the largest share of this government funding.
According to current government demographic data, Islam is by far the predominant religion and is practiced by approximately 94 percent of the country's population. There is also an active Christian community (4 percent), including Roman Catholics and diverse Protestant denominations. Two percent (the rest of the population) practice exclusively traditional indigenous religions or no religion.
The country is ethnically and religiously diverse. Although there is significant integration of all groups, there are still identifiable geographic concentrations of some religious groups. The Christian minority is concentrated in the western and southern regions of the country, while groups that practice traditional religions are concentrated in the eastern and southern regions.
As the Constitution provides for separation of church and state, religious education or worship is not permitted in public schools. Privately-owned schools, whether or not they receive government grants, may provide religious education. The majority of students attending Christian schools are Muslims.
A large variety of foreign missionary groups operate in the country, including Catholics, Protestant denominations, independent missionaries, and Jehovah's Witnesses. Missionaries, like other long-term visitors, must obtain a residence visa issued by the Interior Ministry. Religious groups, including Islamic groups, often establish a presence in the country as nongovernmental organizations (NGO's). NGO's already registered in a foreign country obtain permission to operate in the country from the Minister of the Family, Social Action, and National Solidarity. Both religious and nonreligious NGO's are very active in providing social services and administering economic development assistance programs.
The Government monitors these groups to ensure that their activities coincide with their stated objectives. In the past, the Government has expelled such groups from the country when their activities were judged to be political in nature and a threat to public order. There were no reports of any foreign religious groups being asked to leave the country during the period covered by this report.
The Government encourages and helps to organize Muslim participation in the Hajj every year.
While there is no specific government-sponsored institution to promote interfaith dialog, the Government generally seeks to promote religious harmony by maintaining relations with all important religious groups. Senior government officials regularly consult with religious leaders and the Government generally is represented at all major religious festivals or events.
There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report.
There were no reports of religious detainees or prisoners.
There were no reports of the forced religious conversion of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the Government's refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.
Section II. Societal Attitudes
Religion plays an important role in the life of most citizens, and society is generally very open and tolerant of different religious faiths. The country has a long tradition of amicable and tolerant coexistence between the Muslim majority and the Christian, traditional indigenous, and other religious minorities. Interfaith marriage is relatively common and within certain families other religious faiths, such as Christianity or a traditional indigenous religion, are practiced alongside Islam.
Islamic communities generally are organized around one of several brotherhoods, headed by a Khalif who is a direct descendant of the group's founder. The two largest and most prominent of these brotherhoods are the Tidjanes, based in the city of Tivouane, and the Mourides, based in the city of Touba. At times there have been disputes within the different brotherhoods over questions of succession or general authority. However, relations between these Islamic subgroups generally have been peaceful and cooperative. In recent years a National Committee to Coordinate Sightings of the Moon and hence the designation of Muslim holy days has been formed at the suggestion of the Government, effectively increasing cooperation among the Islamic subgroups.
While the brotherhoods are not involved directly in politics or government affairs, these groups exert considerable influence in society and therefore maintain a dialog with political leaders. Close association with a brotherhood, as with any influential community leader, religious or secular, may afford certain political and economic protections and advantages that are not conferred by law.
Leaders of the larger religious groups, both Islamic and Christian, have long maintained a public dialog with one another. For example, the Cardinal who leads the country's Catholic community and the Khalifs of the larger Islamic brotherhoods have for decades contributed to a positive interfaith dialog. The Catholic-sponsored Brottier Center has promoted debate and dialog between Muslims and Christians on political and social issues that confront the country.
Section III. U.S. Government Policy
The U.S. Embassy maintains relations with all major religious groups in the country. The Ambassador meets with the leaders or their representatives at various times throughout the year to discuss social and political issues. The Embassy maintains contacts with several religiously-based NGO's, Western missionary groups operating in the country, and human rights organizations and activists in order to monitor issues of religious freedom. The Ambassador or his representative regularly attends all major annual religious festivals or gatherings to promote an open dialog with various religious groups. The U.S. diplomatic mission's most recent major public diplomacy program promoting religious freedom was a large colloquium on religion in the United States hosted by the U.S. Information Service in April 1997.