International Religious Freedom Report 2003
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report, and government policy continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion.

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

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. Religious Demography

The country has a total land area of 471,045 square miles, and its population is approximately 11,000,000. Muslims make up approximately 90 percent of the population, and the vast majority of Muslims are Sunni. Approximately 5 percent of the population is Christian, and the Christian community is split almost evenly between Catholic and Protestant denominations. Most of the remainder of the population practices traditional indigenous religions or no religion. Atheism and agnosticism are rare. Most immigrants are from neighboring countries and either practice the majority Muslim faith or belong to a Christian group. The vast majority of citizens practice their religion daily.

There are no geographic concentrations or segregation of religious groups. Christian communities, which tend to be located in and around urban areas, are found throughout the country, but more often in the southern regions. Groups that practice traditional indigenous religions are located throughout the country but are most active in rural areas.

Foreign Islamic preachers operate in the north, and mosques associated with DAWA (an Islamic fundamentalist group) are located in Kidal, Mopti, and Bamako. DAWA has gained adherents among the Arabs who were once the slaves of the Tuareg nobles. The Arabs' interest in DAWA, including former rebel leaders, is based on a desire to dissociate themselves from their former masters. The country's traditional approach to Islam is peaceful and moderate, as reflected in the ancient manuscripts from the former University of Timbuctu.

Foreign missionary groups operate in the country; most known foreign missionary groups are Christian groups that are based in Europe and engaged in development work, primarily the provision of health care and education. A number of U.S.-based Christian missionary groups also operate in the country.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. The Government at all levels generally protects this right in full, and does not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors. There is no state religion; the Constitution defines the country as a secular state and allows for religious practices that do not pose a threat to social stability and peace.

The Government requires that all public associations, including religious associations, register with the Government. However, registration confers no tax preference and no other legal benefits, and failure to register is not penalized in practice. The registration process is routine and is not burdensome. Traditional indigenous religions are not required to register.

Foreign missionary groups operate in the country without government interference. They do not link the benefits of their development activities to conversion. Muslims and non-Muslims may proselytize freely.

Family law, including laws pertaining to divorce, marriage, and inheritance, are based on a mixture of local tradition and Islamic law and practice.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Government policy and practice contributed to the generally free practice of religion.

The Minister of Territorial Administration and Local Collectivities may prohibit religious publications that he concludes defame another religion; however, there were no reports of instances in which publications were prohibited during the period covered by this report.

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.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

Relations between the Muslim majority and the Christian and other religious minorities--including practitioners of traditional indigenous religions--generally are amicable. Adherents of a variety of faiths may be found within the same family. Many followers of one religion attend religious ceremonies of other religions, especially weddings, baptisms, and funerals.

Non-Muslim missionary communities live and work in the country without difficulty. Christian missionaries, particularly the rural-based development workers, enjoy good relations within their communities.

Islam as practiced in the country is tolerant and adapted to local conditions. Women participate in economic and political activity, engage in social interaction, and generally do not wear veils.

In January 2002, the High Council of Islam was created to coordinate religious affairs for the entire Muslim community and standardize the quality of preaching in mosques. All Muslim groups recognize its authority.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights. Embassy officers meet regularly with religious authorities and government officials in ministries dealing with these issues.

During the period covered by this report, Embassy officials expanded dialog with Muslim groups to promote mutual understanding and to encourage continued secularity of the state.

The U.S. Embassy maintains contacts with the foreign missionary community, and monitors the situation for indications that religious freedom may be threatened by the Government or societal pressures. Embassy officers have raised the issue of religious freedom through public diplomacy programs.

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