Religion in Mali


In 2019, Mali had a population density of 16 residents per km2. As a large part of northern Mali is desert, the majority of the population is in the southern parts. About 5 percent of the population is said to be nomads.

According to Countryaah data, the country has a low degree of urbanization for the region; In 2019, 42 percent of the population lived in cities, of which the capital Bamako (1.8 million residents, 2010) was the dominant.

For information on life expectancy and other demographic statistics, see Country facts.

There are about ten major ethnic groups in Mali; of these, the male-speaking bamboo, malink, dyula and sonink make up nearly half of the population.

The largest group, Bambara (3.1 million), are farmers in the country’s south-west, where they were politically dominant until the French colonization. They maintained their traditional religion for a long time and thus profiled themselves against the Muslim soninke, malinke and dyula. However, since the beginning of the 20th century, Islam has grown in importance, and today an estimated 70 percent are Muslims.

People in Mali

Malinke (2.6 million) was a carrier of the Mali kingdom (during the 13th-14th centuries), and their communities are still divided into family groups, which belong to three layers: free peasants, craftsmen and “slaves”. The craftsmen are divided into three endogamous caste-like occupational groups, blacksmiths, leatherworkers and troubadours (griots). The influence of Islam on the Malin culture has been evident since the time of the Mali kingdom; the majority of Malinke are Muslims, while the rest have maintained their traditional religion. They are found in Mali’s western part.

Dyula (76,000) is a Muslim trader in the southern part of the country. The likewise Muslim soninke (1 million) were carriers of the Ghanaian kingdom and are found in the western part of the country towards the border with Mauritania. They feed on agriculture and trade, the latter in competition with dyula. In Kayes in the west, khassonke (170,000) lives as resident farmers.

To the south of the corner of the Niger River are the Muslim songhai (1 million), who during the 1500s and 1500s had political power in the country. Groups of livestock-eating fulani (1.1 million) are living throughout the Sahel region.

In the Sahara region there are the Berber-speaking Tuaregs, which traditionally feed on camel care. Their number in Mali is estimated at around 1.5 million. The severe drought disaster of 1968–74 dramatically affected their conditions, and many were forced into permanent residence and financial poverty.

At the far south, towards the border with Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast, are a number of voltaic peoples, including senufo (800,000) and dogon (600,000).


In Mali, there are around thirty native languages, almost all of which belong to different branches of the Niger-Congo languages: man languages, gurus and atlantic languages. The largest are the Mandarin languages ​​Bambara (about 30% of the population) and Malinke (about 8%) and the Atlantic fulani (15%). A separate group within the Niger-Congo languages ​​consists of dogos (about 5%). The Nilo-Saharan language family is represented by songhai (6%) and the Afro-Asian by Arabic and the Berber language Tuaregic. Official language is French, while bamboo is widely used as an interpersonal language. See further population.


Islam, which today (2010) encompasses nine out of ten Mali, the majority of whom are Sunni, came to this part of Africa in the 8th century with Muslim Berber and Tuareg rulers who traded in the area, but also the Sufi brothers’ associations contributed to the introduction of Islam. Cities such as Timbuktu and Gao became early Islamic centers of knowledge. In the country there are many mosques attached to the orthodox Islamic movement Dawa al-Tabligh (Tablighi Jamaat). Together, almost one-twentieth of the population is said to be Christian, of which two-thirds are Catholics and one-third are Protestants, among whom the Methodists are most strongly represented. About the same proportion of Christians, who are mainly in and around the larger cities, practice traditional indigenous religion, which is spread throughout the country but is practiced primarily in the countryside.

In the spring of 2012, the government was deposed by a military coup because of how it handled the situation in northern Mali. During the summer, Tuareg Grebels occupied the MNLA (Mouvement National pour la Libération de l’Azawad) together with Islamist groups in northern Mali, which meant the introduction of sharia legislation. The new government quickly proposed a new constitution, but because of the disapproval of its anti-democratic content by the outside world, the 1992 constitution was reinstated, according to which the state should be secular and guarantee freedom of religion. Prior to the events of 2012, Mali was known to have a long tradition of tolerance between different religious groups.

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According to thesciencetutor, religious holidays in Mali are Prophet Muhammad’s birthday, Prophet Muhammad’s baptism, Easter Sunday, Kority (West African term at Id al-Fitr) and the Christmas holidays.

Mali Religion