Mauritanian fatwas attack leftists for apostasy

There has been a wave of allegations in Mauritania accusing secular and leftist movements of apostasy, but some think these are aimed at stifling freedoms and strengthening the ruling regime.

al-monitor Men pray at a mosque in Nouakchott, May 18, 2012.  Photo by REUTERS/Joe Penney.

Topics covered

religion and state, religion, politics, cultural conflict, apostasy

Jan 27, 2014

Mauritania is currently witnessing a state of polarization between political, ideological and intellectual currents. This is shown starkly through the disputes between writers and activists taking place on the web as well as the stories they are spreading all over. This has led to a flood of takfir (accusations of apostasy) and an exchange of accusations.

Fatwas signed by a group of Mauritanian religious scholars were issued accusing some activists of apostasy and referring to excerpts from their posts on their personal pages on social media. Some activists deactivated their accounts due to family pressures after they were accused of apostasy.

The issue, however, was taken to the next level after a Mauritanian writer published an article titled “Religion, Religiousness and Masters.” Some perceived this article as offensive to the Prophet, saying it questioned his justice and accused him of racism. Therefore, they called for killing the writer and arresting whoever supports him or defends his freedom of speech. Indeed the writer was arrested, yet the protests and articles opposed to the writer did not stop. One Mauritanian businessman said he would pay 4 million ouguiya [around $13,800] to whoever killed the writer. The Supreme Council for Fatwa and Grievances issued a statement calling on activists on social media to “stop offending Islam and the Prophet and spreading atheism.”

Accusations against the leftist movement

This incident has opened the door for a series of articles and statements accusing the leftist movement in Mauritania of spreading atheism. It called on [leftist] activists to repent to God and integrate themselves into Muslim society. Some even demanded the shutdown of the left-affiliated Aqlam Horra (free pens) website, on which the article had been published. The website was seen as the platform of blasphemy in the country even though the article was deleted and an apology was issued. The website also noted that the article had been published on many Mauritanian websites and that the writer was not one of its staff. A number of leftist activists and writers attributed the systematic campaign accusing them of spreading atheism to an account-settling process the Muslim Brotherhood is carrying out in order to harm the movement on the political level and instill fear of it. The Muslim Brotherhood is also doing so to cover its loss in the latest legislative elections and distract public opinion from the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood took part in the elections the opposition boycotted and did not abide by the document it had signed. The document affirms the refusal of any elections under the current rule without guarantees ensuring the integrity and transparency of these elections. The left-affiliated Union of the Forces of Progress issued a statement denouncing the article and calling for implementing the law and fending off retaliation acts.

Tunisian Cafe

The campaign even reached the Tunisian Cafe in Nouakchott. Some demanded its shutdown and accused it of being a hotbed of atheism, saying that those who frequent the cafe are Westerner-wannabes who are against Islam and Muslims. Indeed, some websites started to disseminate news about the government’s intent to shut down some cafes. The campaign was confronted by some web activists and by those who frequent the cafe and consider it to be the only outlet for Mauritanian youth in a capital lacking entertainment venues. They believe that calls to shut down the cafe and accusations of spreading disbelief cause unrest. According to them, such rhetoric threatens the future of the state as well as freedoms. They noted the risk of emergence of takfiri movements, such as Boko Haram in Nigeria, and reiterated that neighboring countries and their citizens should not be involved in the political disputes between Mauritanians.

Intelligence agencies

Many are saying that Mauritanian intelligence is taking advantage of intellectual disputes on the web and conflicts between youth belonging to different backgrounds. The agency is recruiting jihadists to instill fear among those setting forth different proposals and to accuse whoever opposes it with apostasy. The agency also creates crises to distract the average citizen from real problems, such as high prices, unemployment and corruption. The only beneficiary of this situation is the government and the ruling power. They recently ran violation-riddled elections and were boycotted by the opposition, which puts their legitimacy in question. This situation will likely escalate because Mauritania is witnessing movement on political, cultural, intellectual and social levels.

The above article was translated from As-Safir Al-Arabi, a special supplement of As-Safir newspaper whose content is provided through a joint venture of As-Safir and Al-Monitor.

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