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 total area of 76,000 square miles, and its population is an estimated 10 million. According to current government demographic data, Islam is the predominant religion, practiced by approximately 94 percent of the country's population. Most citizens practice a syncretic form of Islam, combining formal religious practices with traditional cultural beliefs and values. There also is an active Christian community (4 percent) that includes Roman Catholics, diverse Protestant denominations, and combined Christian-animist groups. The remainder of the population, an estimated 2 percent, practices exclusively traditional indigenous religions or no religion.

The country is ethnically and religiously diverse. Although there is significant integration of all groups, there are identifiable geographic concentrations of some religious groups. The Christian minority is concentrated in the western and southern regions of the country, while groups that practice traditional religions are concentrated in the eastern and southern regions. Immigrants practice the same faiths as native-born citizens.

A wide variety of foreign missionary groups operate in the country, including Catholics, Protestants, independent missionaries, and Jehovah's Witnesses.

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 specifically defines the country as a secular state and provides for the free practice of religious beliefs, provided that public order is maintained.

During the period covered by this report, a group of Muslim intellectuals and leaders presented to the Government draft legislation for the creation of Shari'a based Islamic Family Law to be made applicable to all Muslims in the country. The Government and many elements of civil society rejected the proposed draft as a threat to religious tolerance and separation of religion and state. While some religious leaders continued to support reforming the national legal code to include Shari'a based law, there were no other coordinated reform efforts.

The importance of religion in the country often resulted in the Government giving direct financial and material assistance to religious organizations. There is no official system of distribution for these government grants, and the grants are often provided to assist religious groups to maintain their places of worship or undertake special events. All religions have access to these funds.

The Government observes a number of Muslim and Christian holidays. The Muslim holidays observed are Tabaski, Tamkharit, Maouloud, and Korite. The Christian holidays observed are Easter Monday, Ascension, Pentecost, the Feast of the Assumption, and Christmas Day.

Religious organizations are independent of the Government and administer their affairs without government interference. While individuals and groups may practice their beliefs without government sanction, the civil and commercial code requires any group, religious or otherwise, to register with the Minister of the Interior to acquire legal status as an association. Registration enables an association to conduct business, own property, establish a bank account, and receive financial contributions from private sources. Registered religious groups, including all registered nonprofit organizations, are exempt from many forms of taxation. Registration generally is granted and the Minister of Interior must have a legal basis for refusing registration.

Missionaries, like other long-term visitors, must obtain a residence visa from the Ministry of Interior. Christian and Islamic groups often establish a presence in the country as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Religious NGOs obtain permission to operate in the country from the Minister of the Family, Social Action, and National Solidarity. There were no reports that the Government refused visas or permission to operate to any group. Religious NGOs are very active in providing social services and administering economic development assistance programs.

In October 2002, in an effort to increase school enrollment, particularly in rural areas, the Government introduced 2 hours of religious education, Islamic or Christian according to student demand, into the state elementary school curriculum. Privately owned schools, whether or not they receive government grants, may provide religious education. The Ministry of Education also provides funds to schools operated by religious institutions that meet national education standards. In practice, Christian schools, which have a long and successful experience in education, receive the largest share of government funding. The majority of students attending Christian schools are Muslims.

The Government encourages and assists Muslim participation in the hajj every year. It also provides similar assistance for an annual Catholic pilgrimage to the Vatican.

While there is no specific government-sponsored institution to promote interfaith dialogue, the Government generally seeks to promote religious harmony by maintaining relations with the larger religious groups. Senior government officials regularly consult with religious leaders, and the Government generally is represented at all major religious festivals or events. Demonstrating the country's advocacy of religious tolerance, at the conclusion of an Islamic conference in March, President Wade called for the country to host a conference on Islamic-Christian cooperation and harmony; the conference is tentatively being planned for December 2005.

The Government actively promoted religious tolerance among its citizens. When anonymous threats were made against members of the Christian clergy in early 2004, the Government quickly denounced the threats and assured the protection of Christian leaders, thus reaffirming its support for religious tolerance.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Government policy and practice contributed to the generally free practice of religion. Majority and minority religious leaders conduct their activities and speak out on social issues without fear of government sanction. The Government monitors foreign missionary groups and religious NGOs to ensure that their activities coincide with their stated objectives. In the past, the Government expelled groups from the country when their activities were judged to be political in nature and a threat to public order; however, there were no reports that any foreign religious groups were asked to leave the country during the period covered by this report.

The Government questioned radical Senegalese imam, Abdour Fall, a self-declared supporter of Osama Bin Laden, after Fall's expulsion from Italy. In a separate incident, government authorities also questioned Imam Fall after he delivered a sermon during which he called for jihad against the West. In both cases Fall was questioned and released from custody the same day without arrest.

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.

Religion plays an important role in the lives of most citizens, and society generally is very open to and tolerant of different religious faiths. The country has a long tradition of amicable and tolerant coexistence between the Muslim majority and Christian, traditional indigenous, and other religious minorities. Interfaith marriage is relatively common. Within certain families, other religious faiths, such as Christianity or a traditional indigenous religion, are practiced alongside Islam. There are a number of interfaith events throughout the year that celebrate the important role of religion in everyday life.

Islamic communities generally are organized around one of several brotherhoods, headed by a Khalif, who is a direct descendant of the group's founder. The two largest and most prominent of these brotherhoods are the Tidjanes, based in the city of Tivouane, and the Mourides, based in the city of Touba. At times there have been disputes within the different brotherhoods over questions of succession or general authority. However, relations between Islamic brotherhoods generally have been peaceful and cooperative. In recent years, a National Committee to Coordinate Sightings of the Moon, and hence the designation of Muslim holy days, has been formed at the suggestion of the Government and effectively increased cooperation among the Islamic subgroups.

While the brotherhoods are not involved directly in politics or government affairs, these groups exert considerable influence in society and therefore maintain a dialogue with political leaders. Close association with a brotherhood, as with any influential community leader, religious or secular, may afford certain political and economic protections and advantages that are not conferred by law.

Christian and Islamic leaders long have maintained a public dialogue with one another. The Catholic-sponsored Brottier Center promoted debate and dialogue between Muslims and Christians on political and social issues that confronted the country.

The Government also actively promoted Islamic-Christian dialogue to preserve social harmony and deepen interfaith understanding.

One isolated incident of interfaith violence took place in August 2003. Unidentified youths from Dakar's Dieuppel III neighborhood threw stones at Christian worshippers over complaints that the churchgoers' loud chanting created a nuisance. Police had been alerted to the potential for violence but took no preventive measures. The attack, which resulted in minor injuries, drew widespread public criticism. However, no arrests were made and criticism has ceased.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Embassy discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights and maintains relations with all major religious groups in the country, including the Mouride, Tidiane, Lyssane, and Qadriyya Islamic brotherhoods and Christian groups. The Ambassador and other Embassy staff meet with religious leaders or their representatives throughout the year to discuss social and political issues. The Embassy maintains contacts with several religious-based NGOs, foreign missionary groups operating in the country, and human rights organizations and activists to monitor issues of religious freedom. The Ambassador or his representative regularly attends major annual religious festivals or gatherings to promote an open dialogue with various religious groups.

The U.S. Embassy has an active program of presenting information about religious diversity and tolerance in the United States and stressing that these values are shared with the country. The Embassy has translated, published, and distributed a "Muslim Life in America" brochure in the two major national languages (Wolof and Pulaar). The Ambassador personally launched the publication of this brochure at a conference that received extensive and favorable coverage in all local media, including national television. In March, the U.S. Embassy hosted an American Muslim expert on Sufi Islam, who met with Islamic community leaders and spoke at the Islamic Institute. In September 2003, the Embassy hosted a visit by a subgroup of the Djerejian Commission on Public Diplomacy in the Muslim and Arab World, who met with a wide array of local Muslim leaders.

The Embassy makes particular efforts during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan to host Iftar dinners and deliver traditional gifts to religious leaders in recognition of their daily fasts. During Ramadan, the Embassy organized several programs, and every public program and statement from the Embassy and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) began with best wishes for Ramadan; a small but significant gesture that was greatly appreciated locally and reported by the media. President Bush's and Secretary Powell's Ramadan messages and Iftar receptions were widely covered in all media.