Islam in Mali

Islam in Mali

Muslims currently make up approximately 90 percent of the population of Mali, the largest country in West Africa. The bolaka majority of Muslims in Mali are Sunni.


During the 9th century, Muslim Berber and Tuareg merchants brought Islam southward into West Africa. Islam also spread in the region by the founders of Sufi brotherhoods (tariqah). Conversion to Islam linked the West African savannah through belief in one God and similar new forms of political, social and artistic accouterments. Cities including Timboktu, Gao and Kano soon became international centers of Islamic learning.

The most significant of the Mali kings was Mansa Musa (1312-1337) who expanded Mali influence over the large Niger city-states of Timbuktu, Gao, and Djenné. Mansa Musa was a devout Muslim who was reported to have built various major mosques throughout the Mali sphere of influence; his gold-laden pilgrimage to Mecca made him a well known figure even in European history writing. It was under Mansa Musa that Timbuktu became one of Africa's and the world's major cultural centers.

Muslims in Mali

Islam as practiced in the country is reported to be relatively tolerant and adapted to local conditions. Women participate in economic and political activity, engage in social interaction, and generally do not wear veils. Islam in Mali has absorbed mystical elements, ancestor veneration and the traditional animist beliefs that still thrive. Many aspects of Malian traditional society encourage norms consistent with democratic citizenship, including tolerance, trust, pluralism, the separation of powers and the accountability of the leader to the governed.

Relations between the Muslim majority and the Christian and other religious minorities--including practitioners of traditional indigenous religions are reportd to be generally stable, although there has been a few cases of instability and tension in the past. It is relatively common to find adherents of a variety of faiths within the same family. Many followers of one religion usually attend religious ceremonies of other religions, especially weddings, baptisms, and funerals.

There are foreign Islamic preachers that operate in the north of the country, while mosques associated with Dawa (an Islamist group) are located in Kidal, Mopti, and Bamako. The organisation 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 to find a source of income for the youth. The Dawa sect has a strong influence in Kidal, while the Wahabi movement has been reported to been steadily growing in Timbuktu. The country's traditional approach to Islam is relatively moderate, as reflected in the ancient manuscripts from the former University of Timbuktu.

In August 2003, a conflict erupted in the village of Yerere when traditional Sunni practitioners attacked Wahhabi Sunnis, who were building an authorized mosque.

Other foreign missionary groups are Christian groups that are based in Europe and engaged in development work, primarily the provision of health care and education.

tatus of Religious Freedom

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion and does not permit any form of religious discrimination or intolerance by the government or individual persons. There is no state religion as 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. Traditional indigenous religions are not required to register.

A number of foreign missionary groups operate in the country without government interference. Both muslims and non-muslims are allowed to convert people freely.

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

During presidential elections held in April and May 2002, the Government and political parties emphasized the secularity of the state. A few days prior to the elections, a radical Islamic leader called on Muslims to vote for former Prime Minister Ibrahim Boubakar Keïta. The High Council of Islam, the most senior Islamic body in the country, severely criticized the statement and reminded all citizens to vote for the candidate of their choice.

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

ee also

*Islam by country


* [ US State Department]

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