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Diplomacy in Action


International Religious Freedom Report 2004
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 as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has a land area of 474,764 square miles, and its population is approximately 11.5 million. Muslims make up an estimated 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 roughly two-thirds Catholic and one-third Protestant. Most of the remainder practices traditional indigenous religions or no religion. Atheism and agnosticism are rare. Most immigrants come from neighboring countries and either practice the majority Muslim faith or belong to a Christian denomination. The majority of citizens practice their religion daily.

Religious groups are not geographically concentrated or segregated. Christian communities tend to be located in and around urban areas, generally in the southern regions of the country. Groups that practice traditional indigenous religions are located throughout the country, but they are most active in rural areas.

Foreign Islamic preachers operate in the north, while mosques associated with Dawa (an Islamic fundamentalist group) are located in Kidal, Mopti, and Bamako. Dawa has gained adherents among the Bellah, who were once the slaves of the Tuareg nobles, and also among unemployed youth. The interest these groups have in Dawa is based on a desire to dissociate themselves from their former masters, and for the youth, to find a source of income. The Dawa sect has a strong influence in Kidal, while the Wahabi movement has been growing in Timbuktu. The country's traditional approach to Islam is peaceful and moderate, as reflected in the ancient manuscripts from the former University of Timbuktu.

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

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 strives to protect 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 the registration of all public associations, including religious associations; however, registration confers no tax preference or other legal benefits, and failure to register is not penalized in practice. The registration process is routine and not burdensome. Traditional indigenous religions are not required to register.

Foreign missionary groups operate in the country without government interference, and 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.

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. 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, have good relations with 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 August 2003, there was a conflict in the village of Yerere when traditional Sunni practitioners attacked Wahhabi Sunnis, who were building an authorized mosque. Nine persons were killed and two were seriously wounded. The case is currently under investigation.

In November 2003, a statue of the Virgin Mary was vandalized, shortly before the annual Catholic pilgrimage to the town of Kita. Local authorities quickly responded to the incident and the responsible individual was arrested and is being prosecuted.

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. U.S. Embassy officers meet regularly with religious authorities and government officials in ministries who deal with these issues.

During the period covered by this report, Embassy officials expanded dialogue with Muslim groups to promote mutual understanding and to encourage continued secularism of the Government. In January and June, the Embassy sponsored two workshops through its Democracy and Human Rights Fund focused on the Islamic community. The first was a workshop on the "Role of Tolerance and Traditional Methods of Conflict Resolution in Malian Society," and the second, entitled "Role of Young Muslims in Conflict Resolution," targeted youth. Embassy officials have also engaged Muslim groups through other events, such as an Iftaar dinner hosted at the American Cultural Center and several similar events.

The Embassy's Public Affairs office concentrated on the Muslim community through speakers and musicians.

The U.S. Embassy maintains contact with the foreign missionary community and monitors any governmental or societal threat to religious freedom.

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