Country Profile: Mauritania

This Country Profile provides a basic overview of the legal history and institutional structures of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania (Al Jumhuriyah al Islamiyah al Muritaniyah), based on research produced by GlobaLex at NYU Law School and the Library of Congress. Under Mauritania's Constitution, Islamic law (sharīʿa or fiqh) has legal status and is the primary source of legislation. 

Country Background

Mauritania is a country in Western Africa, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean and the Western Sahara. It is bounded by Senegal, Algeria, and Mali. The capital of Mauritania is Nouakchott. The official language is Arabic, and the national languages are Arabic, Pular, Soninke, and Wolof. The country's population in 2017 was approximately 3.8 million. Islam is the official religion of Mauritania, and over 99% of the country's population is Muslim. Mauritania is a member state of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and Arab League.

Constitution & Legal Structure

Mauritania is referred to as a presidential republic, in which sovereignty belongs to the people. The current Constitution of Mauritania was adopted in 1991, and amended most recently in 2012. The system of government is based on principles of separation and checks and balances and has three branches: legislative, executive, and judicial. The legal system of Mauritania is a mixed legal system based primarily off of French civil law, influenced by Islamic legal tradition.   

Constitutional Status of Islamic Law

Islamic law has constitutional status in Mauritania. Islam is constitutionally recognized as “the religion of the people and of the State," and the preamble of the Constitution names sharīʿa as “the sole source of law.” The primacy of sharīʿa is affirmed in other pieces of legislation as well.

Jurisdiction(s) of Islamic Law

Islamic law has official jurisdiction in Mauritania, and is the foundation of the State. Many laws are derived from Islamic legal interpretations. For example, Mauritania's Penal Code criminalizes heresy, apostasy, atheism, refusal to pray, adultery, and alcoholism, and punishments include flogging, amputation, and stoning. Furthermore, Article 311 of the Personal Status Code states that in cases where the Code is silent or unclear, the matter should be decided according to sharīʿa.

Dominant School of Islamic Law

The official school of Islamic law in Mauritania is the Mālikī school of Sunnī Islam.

Sources of Law for Legal Research

Official Publications

Unofficial Databases


For an extended list of legal resources for this country, see the Library of Congress’s Research Guide, and for a narrative review, see the GlobaLex Foreign Law Research Guide (most updated version, where available). The Constitution is available in the LOC Guide in its original language and at Constitute in English translation. For full versions of past constitutions, amendments, and related legislation, see HeinOnline World Constitutions Illustrated or Oxford Constitutions of the World [subscription required for each].