Religion in Mauritania

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Qur'an collection in a library in Chinguetti Chinguetti-biblio.jpg
Qur'an collection in a library in Chinguetti

The people of Mauritania are nearly all adherents of Sunni Islam of Maliki school of jurisprudence, influenced with Sufism. Mauritania is a country in Africa, bordering Algeria, Mali, Senegal, and the Western Sahara (currently controlled by Morocco). [1] Officially, 100% of the country's citizens are Muslim, [2] although there is a small community of Christians, mainly of foreign nationality. [3] The two largest Sufi Muslim tariqas in Mauritania are Tijaniyyah and Qadiriyya. [4] Because of the ethnic and tribal divisions in the country, religion is seen by the government as essential for national unity. [5]

Sunni Islam denomination of Islam

Sunni Islam is the largest denomination of Islam, followed by 87–90% of the world's Muslims. Its name comes from the word sunnah, referring to the behaviour of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. The differences between Sunni and Shia Muslims arose from a disagreement over the succession to Muhammad and subsequently acquired broader political significance, as well as theological and juridical dimensions.

Maliki one of four major schools of madhhab of Islamic jurisprudence within Sunni Islam

The Mālikī school is one of the four major madhhab of Islamic jurisprudence within Sunni Islam. It was founded by Malik ibn Anas in the 8th century. The Maliki school of jurisprudence relies on the Quran and hadiths as primary sources. Unlike other Islamic fiqhs, Maliki fiqh also considers the consensus of the people of Medina to be a valid source of Islamic law.

Jurisprudence theoretical study of law, by philosophers and social scientists

Jurisprudence or legal theory is the theoretical study of law. Scholars of jurisprudence seek to explain the nature of law in its most general form and provide a deeper understanding of legal reasoning, legal systems, legal institutions, and the role of law in society.


There are around 4,500 Roman Catholics in the country of foreign origin. [3] There are also a few adherents of Judaism working in the country. [5]

Judaism The ethnic religion of the Jewish people

Judaism is the ethnic religion of the Jewish people. It is an ancient, monotheistic, Abrahamic religion with the Torah as its foundational text. It encompasses the religion, philosophy, and culture of the Jewish people. Judaism is considered by religious Jews to be the expression of the covenant that God established with the Children of Israel. It encompasses a wide body of texts, practices, theological positions, and forms of organization. The Torah is part of the larger text known as the Tanakh or the Hebrew Bible, and supplemental oral tradition represented by later texts such as the Midrash and the Talmud. With between 14.5 and 17.4 million adherents worldwide, Judaism is the tenth largest religion in the world.


It was trade with Muslim merchants that brought Islam into the region, in the 8th century. [4]

The Almoravid dynasty rose to power in the western Maghreb during the 11th century, and prosletyzed Islam throughout the region. [1] Members of the Gadala Berbers brought back the theologian Abdallah ibn Yasin from Mecca in 1035, where they traveled for the hajj, to expunge the paganism still prevalent in Mauritania. [6] Although Islam had existed in the region prior to the Almoravids, Almoravid rule accelerated the spread of Islam and removed animist influences on local Islamic practices. [7] Ibn Yasin's strict interpretation of Islam alienated many of the Berbers, and the theologian was expelled. Undaunted, he accumulated a devoted following of loyal believers and an army, the foundation of the Almoravid dynasty. ibn Yasin's military expansion converted tribe members of the Gadala, Lemtuma, and Messufa Berbers of the region to Islam. The capture of Sijilmasa and Aoudaghost, important cities in the Trans-Saharan trade, allowed them to dominate the trade routes of the Sahara. The Almoravids converted the Berbers inhabiting modern-day Mauritania to the Maliki school of Sunni Islam, which remains dominant in Mauritania to this day. [6]

Almoravid dynasty Medieval Berber dynasty in Spain and northern Africa

The Almoravid dynasty was an imperial Berber Muslim dynasty centered in Morocco. It established an empire in the 11th century that stretched over the western Maghreb and Al-Andalus. Founded by Abdallah ibn Yasin, the Almoravid capital was Marrakesh, a city the ruling house founded in 1062. The dynasty originated among the Lamtuna and the Gudala, nomadic Berber tribes of the Sahara, traversing the territory between the Draa, the Niger, and the Senegal rivers.

Maghreb Major region of North Africa

The Maghreb, also known as Northwest Africa or Northern Africa, Greater Arab Maghreb, Arab Maghreb or Greater Maghreb, or by some sources the Berber world, Barbary and Berbery, is a major region of North Africa, which consists primarily of the countries Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya and Mauritania. It additionally includes the disputed territories of Western Sahara and the cities of Melilla and Ceuta. As of 2018, the region has a population of over 100 million people.

Abdallah Ibn Yasin was a theologian, founder, and first leader of the Almoravid movement and dynasty.

ibn Yasin was succeeded by Abu Bakr ibn Umar, a chieftain of the Lamtuna Berbers. Fighting between the Lemtuma and Messufa led ibn Umar to declare a holy war against the Ghana Empire to unify the tribes against a common enemy. The war, which lasted for fourteen years, spread Islam to the members of the Soninke people, founders of Ghana. [6] The political influence of the Almoravids waned as the dynasty declined, but Islamic adherence was firmly cemented in the country. [7]

Abu Bakr ibn Umar ibn Ibrahim ibn Turgut, sometimes suffixed al-Sanhaji or al-Lamtuni was a chieftain of the Lamtuna Berber Tribe and commander of the Almoravids from 1056 until his death.

Ghana Empire former country

The Ghana Empire, properly known as Wagadou, was a West African empire located in the area of present-day southeastern Mauritania and western Mali. Complex societies based on trans-Saharan trade with salt and gold had existed in the region since ancient times, but the introduction of the camel to the western Sahara in the 3rd century CE, opened the way to great changes in the area that became the Ghana Empire. By the time of the Muslim conquest of North Africa in the 7th century the camel had changed the ancient, more irregular trade routes into a trade network running from Morocco to the Niger river. The Ghana Empire grew rich from this increased trans-Saharan trade in gold and salt, allowing for larger urban centres to develop. The traffic furthermore encouraged territorial expansion to gain control over the different trade routes.

Soninke people West African ethnic group found in eastern Senegal and nearby regions

The Soninke are a West African ethnic group found in eastern Senegal and its capital Dakar, northwestern Mali and Foute Djalon in Guinea, and southern Mauritania. They speak the Soninke language, also called Maraka language, which is one of the Mande languages.

The political influence of the Kunta tribe between the 16th and 18th centuries bolstered the popularity of Qadiri Sufism in the region. [8] Between the 16th and 18th centuries, declaration of jihads by Muslim theologians pushed for the establishment of Islamic governance in West Africa. In the 17th century, Nasir al-Din led a jihad in Mauritania, drawing support from Berbers frustrated with the corruption of the region's Arab rulers. [7]

Kunta (tribe) ethnic group in Mali, described as Arab or Berber tribe

The Kountas or Kuntas are described originally as Arabs, descendants of Uqba ibn Nafi, then as berber Zenata.


The Qadiriyya are members of the Qadiri tariqa. The tariqa got its name from Abdul Qadir Gilani, who was from Gilan. The order relies strongly upon adherence to the fundamentals of Islam.

Jihad is an Arabic word which literally means striving or struggling, especially with a praiseworthy aim. In an Islamic context, it can refer to almost any effort to make personal and social life conform with God's guidance, such as struggle against one's evil inclinations, religious proselytizing, or efforts toward the moral betterment of the ummah, though it is most frequently associated with war. In classical Islamic law, the term refers to armed struggle against unbelievers, while modernist Islamic scholars generally equate military jihad with defensive warfare. In Sufi and pious circles, spiritual and moral jihad has been traditionally emphasized under the name of greater jihad. The term has gained additional attention in recent decades through its use by terrorist groups.

The French colonial empire expanded into Mauritania by the 19th century. [7] The West African jihads were brought to an end, following crackdowns by British and French colonists. [8] In an effort to thwart militarism and threats of rebellion, French colonial administrators encouraged the influence of zaqiya, the religious tribes of Mauritania, over hassan, Mauritania's warrior tribes. [9]


The country declared its independence in 1960 and established itself as an Islamic Republic. [6] Independence brought Moktar Ould Daddah into power, who promoted Islam during his rule. A military coup d'état ousted Daddah in 1978. [10] Colonel Mohamed Khouna Ould Haidalla, one of the participants of the coup, became head of the government in 1980, and implemented Sharia law. Maaouya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya, successor of Ould Haidalla, reversed some of these changes, but was ousted in a military coup in 2005. [10]

Political Islam, or Islamism, was introduced in the region during the 1970s. The instability that followed the coup that deposed Daddah invited elements of the Muslim Brotherhood, Wahabbism, and Tablighi Jamaat. The Islamists united as a political party in the 1980s, but were politically repressed starting in 1994. [11] Government pressure on Islamist organizations continued throughout the 2000s. Funding by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf monarchies supported the establishment of Islamic schools, centers, and charities around the country, but were largely shut down by the government in 2003. In 2005, Islamists were arrested and accused of terrorism. Of the original eighty arrested, eighteen remained in prison by 2006. [12]


Islam is by far the largest and most influential religion in the country, and has been since the 10th century. [6] According to government census, 100% of the country's citizens are Muslim. [2] Like much of North Africa, Mauritanians follow the Maliki school of Islam. [6]

Islam is the state religion, and sharia is used as the basis of judicial decisions. [5] The five member High Council of Islam determines the compatibility of secular laws with Islamic laws. [3]

Government restrictions on religion

In Mauritania, religious and secular NGOs are granted tax exemption. [5] Based on the sharia stance on apostasy, the government forbids converting Muslims to competing religions. The publication of religious materials that are not Islamic is restricted. Religious education is considered mandatory, but only makes up a small portion of the public school curriculum. [5]

According to the Pew Research Center, although social conflict caused by religious hostilities is ranked Low in Mauritania, the amount of government restriction on the practice of religion is ranked High. Mauritania is the twelfth most religiously restrictive country in the world, ranked between Indonesia and Pakistan. [13]


Related Research Articles

The original inhabitants of Mauritania were the Bafour, presumably a Mande ethnic group, connected to the contemporary Arabized minor social group of Imraguen ("fishermen") on the Atlantic coast.

Maaouya Ould SidAhmed Taya Prime Minister and President of Mauritania

Maaouya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya is a Mauritanian military officer who served as the president of Mauritania from 1984 to 2005. Having come to power through a military coup, he was ousted by a military coup himself in 2005. Prior to his presidency, he was the 5th Prime Minister of Mauritania.

Moktar Ould Daddah Mauritanian politician

Moktar Ould Daddah was the President of Mauritania from 1960, when his country gained its independence from France, to 1978, when he was deposed in a military coup d'etat.

Chinguetti Place in Adrar Region, Mauritania

Chinguetti is a ksar or a Berber medieval trading center in northern Mauritania, located on the Adrar Plateau east of Atar.

Islam in Algeria

Islam is the majority religion in Algeria. The vast majority of citizens are Sunni Muslims belonging to Maliki school of jurisprudence, with a minority of Ibadi, most of whom live in the M'zab Valley region. Islam provides the society with its central social and cultural identity and gives most individuals their basic ethical and attitudinal orientation. Orthodox observance of the faith is much less widespread and steadfast than is identification with Islam. There are also Sufi philosophies which arose as a reaction to theoretical perspectives of some scholars.

Sanhaja Ethnic group

The Sanhaja were once one of the largest North African tribal confederations, along with the Iznaten and Imesmuden confederations. Many tribes in Morocco and Mauritania bore and still carry this ethnonym, especially in its Berber form. Other names for the population include Zenata, Zenaga, Znaga, Sanhája, Sanhâdja and Senhaja.

Mohamed Khouna Ould Haidalla Mauritanian military person

Ret. Col. Mohamed Khouna Ould Haidallah was the head of state of Mauritania from 4 January 1980 to 12 December 1984. He was an unsuccessful candidate in the 2003 presidential election and the 2007 presidential election.

Tiris al-Gharbiyya

Tiris al-Gharbiyya was the name for the area of Western Sahara under Mauritanian control between 1975 and 1979.

2007 Mauritanian presidential election

A Mauritanian presidential election occurred on 11 March 2007. Since no candidate received a majority of the votes, a second round was held on 25 March between the top two candidates, Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi and Ahmed Ould Daddah. Abdallahi won the second round with about 53% of the vote and took office in April.

Ahmed Ould Daddah is a Mauritanian economist, politician and civil servant. He is a half-brother of Moktar Ould Daddah, the first President of Mauritania, and belongs to the Marabout Ouled Birri tribe. He is currently the President of the Rally of Democratic Forces (RFD) and was designated as the official leader of the opposition following the 2007 presidential election, in which he placed second.

The Ouled Birri is a Moorish tribe in the Trarza region of northern Mauritania. It is a Zawāyā tribe (religious) tribe. The Oulad Birri have produced a number of important Marabouts of the Qadiriyya Sufi tariqa: most famous among them was Shaykh Sidya Baba, who aided the Frenchman Xavier Coppolani in bringing the Mauritanian emirates under colonial rule in the first years of the 20th century. This secured French protection for Zawia tribes from extortion by warrior Hassane groupings, and a prominent position for Sidya Baba and his family in the colonial and postcolonial state.

"Greater Mauritania" is a term for the Mauritanian irredentist claim to Western Sahara, and possibly other Moorish or Sahrawi-populated areas of the western Sahara desert.

Precolonial Mauritania

Precolonial Mauritania, lying next to the Atlantic coast at the western edge of the Sahara Desert, received and assimilated into its complex society many waves of Saharan migrants and conquerors.

Mauritania Islamic republic in Northwest Africa

Mauritania, officially the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, is a country in Northwest Africa. It is the eleventh largest sovereign state in Africa and is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the west, Western Sahara to the north and northwest, Algeria to the northeast, Mali to the east and southeast, and Senegal to the southwest.

Abu Zakariyya Yahya ibn Umar ibn Talagagin ibn Turgut ibn Wartasin, commonly suffixed al-Lamtunial-Sanhaji, was a chieftain of the Lamtuna, a tribe in the Sanhaja confederation. Yahya ibn Umar was the first emir of the Almoravids in the mid-11th century, a movement he constructed in collaboration with the religious leader Abdallah ibn Yasin. Yahya led the Almoravid armies in their first campaigns, including captures of Sijilmassa and Awdaghost in 1054/55, but was himself killed in battle against a dissident Berber faction in the Adrar. Yahya was succeeded as Almoravid emir by his brother, Abu Bakr ibn Umar.

Waggag Ibn Zallu al-Lamti was a Moroccan Maliki scholar and jurist who lived in the 11th-century. He was a disciple of Abu Imran al-Fasi and belonged to the Lamta clan, which is a Sanhaja-Berber tribe. Waggag had an eminent role in the rise of the Almoravid Dynasty as he was the religious teacher and spiritual leader of Abdallah ibn Yasin, the founder of the dynasty.


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  10. 1 2 Thurston, Alex. "Mauritania's Islamists". Carnegie Paper. Carnegie Endowment. Retrieved 8 August 2012.
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  13. "Global Restrictions on Religion" (PDF). Pew Research Center. Archived from the original (PDF) on January 17, 2013.

See also