Mali is a Muslim-majority country where Christians, most of them in the south, number only around 2% of the population. The constitution of Mali upholds the right to religious freedom; actions that impede this right are punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment. Private Christian schools are permitted to teach Christianity rather than Islam.
Church leaders say that the government treats them as equals. Additionally, Muslim leaders have condemned what they believe to be extremist interpretations of sharia (Islamic law).
The main threat to Christians is the rise in terrorism from groups affiliated to both Islamic State (IS – also known as ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) and al Qaeda. Since 2012 jihadists have been waging a war to occupy northern and central Mali with the aim of establishing sharia throughout the country. Sometimes Christians cannot meet for worship for fear of being attacked. In May 2022 it was reported that IS forces were trying to seize control of the border between Mali and Niger.
Islamic governance is fairly popular, as many Muslims like sharia courts that deal out justice that is quick, cheap and understandable, and the low crime levels that result from sharia punishments. Islamists also provide Quranic schools in locations where there is little formal education available.
On several occasions church leaders have suffered abduction by suspected Islamists. In June 2021 five Christians, including a church minister, Leon Dougnon, were abducted in Bandiagara. He was held for more than three weeks even though the others were released after two days. In September 2021 Pastor Emmanuel Goita was abducted in Koutiala and released three weeks later. In November 2022 a German church minister, Hans-Joachim Lohre, was abducted in the capital, Bamako – at the time of writing he has not been released.
In October 2022, French forces completed their withdrawal from Mali. This could further destabilise Mali and the wider Western Sahel region.
Give thanks that the government of Mali is treating Christians as equal citizens. Pray that the Lord will protect believers from Islamist violence amidst growing instability and sustain them in their faith.