Religious Beliefs in Mauritania

The Saudique Grand Mosque in Nouakchott, Mauritania.
The Saudique Grand Mosque in Nouakchott, Mauritania.

Located in Northwestern Africa, Mauritania is Africa’s 11th biggest country. It has an area of 1,030,000 square km and an estimated population of 4,301,018 people.

Almost all of Mauritania’s population are Muslim, and most belong to the Sunni denomination, with significant influence of Sufism. A small Christian minority of about 4,500 Roman Catholics also live in Mauritania, most of whom are foreign nationals.

History of Islam in Mauritania

Islam was first introduced in Mauritania during the 8th century by Muslim merchants. The spread of Islam was encouraged by the Almoravid dynasty in the 11th century. Animistic influences on the Islam practiced in Mauritania were strictly discouraged by the Almoravids, and military expeditions by the Almoravids helped convert nomadic Berbers to Islam. Even after the fall of the Almoravid dynasty, Islam continued to rule in Mauritania.

Sufism arrived in Mauritania much later. In particular, the rise of the Kunta tribe helped spread Qadiri Sufism in Mauritania between the 16th and 18th centuries. During this time, jihads were also common in West Africa and jihadi expeditions forcibly converted many people in Mauritania to Islam.

When French colonists began to rule Mauritania in the 19th century, the jihads were brought to an end. The colonists promoted the Mauritania's indigenous religious tribes rather than the warrior tribes in the hopes of limiting rebellion.

Following Mauritania's independence from colonial rule in 1960, the country became an Islamic Republic, and Sharia law was later introduced in the 1980s.

Religious Freedom and Tolerance in Mauritania

Mauritania is an Islamic Republic, which means that sharia guides the government decision-making process and the everyday lives of citizens. As such, the conversion of Muslims to other religions is strictly forbidden and punishable by law. Religious institutions operating in Mauritania are exempted from taxation. The propagation of non-Islamic publications is highly discouraged by the government. Mauritania is one of thirteen countries of the world where atheists are sentenced to death. This rule makes it one of the world’s most religiously restrictive nations. Religious teachings form a small part of the education imparted by the country’s educational institutions.


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