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U.S. Department of State

Department Seal 2000 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom:
Mauritania

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
U.S. Department of State, September 5, 2000
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MAURITANIA

The Constitution establishes Mauritania as an Islamic republic and decrees that Islam is the religion of its citizens and the State; accordingly, the Government limits freedom of religion.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report.

Relations between the Muslim community and the small Christian community are generally amicable.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.

Section I. Government Policies on Freedom of Religion

Legal/Policy Framework The Constitution establishes Mauritania as an Islamic republic and decrees that Islam is the religion of its citizens and the State; accordingly, the Government limits freedom of religion.

Both the Government and society generally consider Islam to be the essential cohesive element unifying the country's various ethnic groups and castes. There is a cabinet-level Ministry of Culture and Islamic Orientation and a High Council of Islam consisting of six imams which, at the Government's request, advises on the conformance of legislation to Islamic precepts.

Although the Government provides a small stipend to the imam of the Central Mosque in the capital city of Nouakchott, mosques and Koranic schools normally are supported by their members and other donors.

There is no religious oath required of government employees or members of the ruling political party, except for the President and the members of the 5-person Constitutional Council and the 10-person High Council of Magistrates presided over by the President. 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.

The Government does not register religious groups. However, secular nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) must register with the Ministry of the Interior; this includes humanitarian and development NGO's affiliated with religious groups. Nonprofit organizations, including both religious groups and secular NGO's, generally are not subject to taxation.

Religious Demography

Nearly 100 percent of the population are Sunni Muslims, who are prohibited by their religion from converting to another religion.

There is a small number of Christians, and Christian churches have been established in Nouakchott, Atar, Zouerate, Nouadhibou, and Rosso.

Governmental Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Shari'a (Islamic law), proclaimed the law of the land under a previous government in 1983, includes the Koranic prohibition against apostasy; however, it 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 implements the prohibition against proselytizing by non-Muslims through the use of Article 11 of the Press Act, which bans the publication of any material that is against Islam or contradicts or otherwise threatens Islam. The Government views any attempts by Christians to convert Muslims as undermining society. Foreign Christian NGO's limit their activities to humanitarian and development assistance.

Christians in the foreign community and the few Christian citizens practice their religion openly and freely. 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, and in practice Bibles are neither printed nor publicly sold in the country. However, the possession of Bibles and other Christian religious materials in private homes is not illegal, and there appears to be no shortage of Bibles and other religious publications among the small Christian community.

A magistrate of Shari'a, who heads a separate government commission, decides the dates for observing religious holidays and addresses the nation on these holidays.

Both privately run Koranic schools which, nearly all children attend, and the public schools include classes on religion. These classes teach both the history and principles of Islam and the classical Arabic of the Koran. Although attendance of these religion classes is ostensibly required, many students, the great majority of whom are Muslims, decline to attend these classes for diverse ethno-linguistic and religious reasons. They are nevertheless able to advance in school and ultimately to graduate with diplomas, provided that they compensate for their failure to attend the required religion classes by their performance in other classes.

There are several foreign, Christian NGO's active in humanitarian and developmental work in the country. They practice their religion openly, but respect the proscription against proselytizing.

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.

Forced Religious Conversion of Minor U.S. Citizens 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

Relations between the Muslim community and the small Christian community are generally amicable. There were no incidents of attacks or threats of attacks on the basis of religion. In previous years, the Government responded quickly and effectively to incidents involving an attack by an Islamic extremist on Catholic priests and a threat made against a Christian NGO.

Section III. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Embassy monitors developments affecting religious freedom, maintains contact with clergy and other leaders of major religious groups, and discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the overall context of the promotion of human rights.

The Ambassador discussed the importance of religious tolerance with the Minister of Interior on January 18 and 29, 2000.

The Ambassador and the Deputy Chief of Mission have discussed issues of religious freedom with representatives of American Christian NGO's working in country.

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