Muslim Countries of the World: Mauritania

Islam is the state religion of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. The country is situated on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, in the northern part of Africa. In the West it has the Ocean, in the South it neighbours Senegal and Mali, in the East it borders on Algeria and in its North is the Sahara. Since ancient times, these parts have been inhabited by nomad Berbers. Mauritania (from Mauharim – ‘western edge’) was the name given to it by Phoenician sailors (Phoenicia was a state that existed in modern day Palestine in the 13th-8th centuries BCE).

Islam began to spread throughout Mauritania with the beginning of the Arab conquest. In 709, the commander of the Umayyad Caliph Al-Walid Musa ibn Nusayr conquered the Maghreb countries (Libya, Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania) and included them in the Caliphate. However, the spread of Islam clashed with a long tradition of local idolatrous cults. When the leader of the Berber tribe of Lamtuna, the most numerous in these parts, Yahya ibn Ibrahim, on his way to the pilgrimage to Mecca, saw the customs of his people, he invited the famous preacher Abdullah ibn Yassin, who lived a righteous life and tried to establish among the Berbers the norms of the Maliki madhhab in order for him to cleanse Islam in the Maghreb from perverse novelties. And so 1036 saw the beginning of the formation of the state of the Almoravids (as the followers of Abdullah ibn Yassin were called), in which Islam of the Maliki madhhab became truly widespread and gained a dominant position.

After the fall of the Almoravid state in 1147, Mauritania disintegrated into many independent emirates, which lasted until the beginning of French expansion in the 19th century. For a long time the French could not conquer Mauritania. In 1904, France declared Mauritania a French territory, but only in 1920 was it able to officially make it its colony. Mauritania gained independence in 1960.

Mauritania, as a country with strong local traditions, has always gravitated towards the practices of Sufism, in particular, the dervish tariqas are widespread in the country, especially Tijania and Qadiriyya, which are active in Mauritania to this day and are an important element of the country’s Muslim institutions. Islam in Mauritania is a mixture of Sufi mysticism and traditional beliefs. So, for example, while recognizing Allah as the only God, the Mauritanians at the same time believe in supernatural beings and in spirits, not seeing in this any contradictions with the Muslim Aqidah.

According to the country’s Constitution, the official source of law is Sharia law. The country has Sharia courts and the Sharia system of jurisprudence. The state guarantees full religious tolerance for all other religions. The Muslims of Mauritania, a country with a long tradition of pluralism, peacefully coexist with all other faiths and Islamic sects (for example, the Ahmadis). Religious life in the country is governed by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Orientation. In addition, there is the High Council of Islam, consisting of 6 imams, which is a spiritual oversight body that monitors the compliance of society with Sharia norms. The members of the High Council elect the head of the Muslims of Mauritania – the Grand Mufti. This post is currently held by Sheikh Ahmed Ould Murabit. Islam, which became an important element in the unification of society during the years of the struggle against the French colonialists, continues to play a paramount spiritual and social role in Mauritanian society.