They demand the pure and simple withdrawal of the word “secularism” from the draft new constitution and its replacement by “multi-confessional state”. The active Malian League of Imams and Scholars for Islamic Solidarity (Limama), which brings together several imams in the country, called, on March 7, on all “patriotic Muslims” to vote against this project.
The president of the collective of Muslim associations in Mali, Mohamed Kimbiri, a member of Limama and close to the very influential imam Mahmoud Dicko, continues to attack “secularism according to the French mentality”. He assures that secularism “is nothing but the rejection of religion”.“The French reality and the Malian reality are different. So why are we going to make our constitution a carbon copy of the French model? That’s what shocked us a lot,” he asserted.
The committee finalizing the draft constitution nevertheless took care to add a paragraph indicating that “secularism is not opposed to religion and beliefs”but ” intended to promote and strengthen living together based on tolerance, dialogue and mutual understanding ». In vain: the controversy continued and the transitional authorities were forced to come out of their silence.
Secularism in the Constitution since 1960
On March 10, when the postponement of the constitutional referendum scheduled for March 19 was announced, the government spokesman, Colonel Abdoulaye Maïga, said he was surprised because the principle of secularism has appeared in Mali’s constitutions since 1960. .
However, secularism is not contested by all Muslim organizations. Indeed, the High Islamic Council, the largest Muslim association in the country, assures that it will campaign for the new constitution. He denounces a political debate, unrelated to religion.
Cherif Ousmane Madani Haïdara, influential religious leader and president of the High Council, had also shown himself, in a video at the end of 2022, open to different religions and explained that it was necessary to let everyone, especially Christians, practice their worship. in peace. He answered without naming him to Mahi Ouattara, an imam very followed on social networks, often holding unfriendly speeches with regard to other religions.
The High Council’s position reassures Christians, who are keeping a low profile in this debate. An official of the archdiocese of Bamako, preferring anonymity, is delighted that this controversy around the principle of secularism remains limited to religious circles and does not call into question the freedom of worship.
A mainly political debate
However, in a country that data shows is 90% Muslim and remains under jihadist threat, religious actors loom large. In 2013, Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta (IBK) was elected President of the Republic with more than 77% of the vote thanks to the support of Muslim religious leaders, including Mahmoud Dicko. Since then, political actors court them to benefit from the support of their faithful, who represent a solid electoral base.
Does this controversy over secularism illustrate a desire to make Mali an Islamic country? According to one analyst, it is mainly explained by political reasons and influence. Since the second coup d’etat of May 2021 consecrating Colonel Assimi Goïta as president of the transition, Muslim leaders have been sidelined and less consulted.
This irritates the members of the Limama in particular. The latter denounced their non-presence within the commission for the finalization of the new constitution. Before them, it was the High Islamic Council which had complained about its exclusion from the National Transitional Council, the legislative body. “These foot calls must be taken seriously, especially with the IBK example, underlines the analyst. The religious helped to get him elected, but also to bring him down. »
A country with a large Muslim majority
According to different estimates, the Malian population, which has just over 21 million inhabitants, is more than 93% Muslim. The Muslims are Sunnis, in their vast majority.
In recent years, the influence of Wahhabism has grown, notably under the influence of Imam Mahmoud Dicko, trained in Saudi Arabia.
A small minority, Christians make up about 2.5% of the country’s population, including 1.7% Catholics. The Archbishop of Bamako, Mgr Jean Zerbo, has been cardinal since 2017. In addition, 2.5% of Malians practice traditional religions.