International Religious Freedom Report 2003
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor

The Constitution provides for religious freedom, and the Government generally respects this right in practice; however, at times the Government limited this right.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report.

Although the different religious communities generally coexisted without problems, there were reports of occasional tension between Christians and Muslims in reaction to the proselytizing by evangelical Christians.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has a total area of 495,755 square miles, and its population is approximately 8,997,237. Of the total population, 54 percent are Muslim, approximately one-third are Christian, and the remainder practice traditional indigenous religions or no religion at all. Most northerners practice Islam and most southerners practice Christianity or a traditional indigenous religion; however, population patterns are becoming more complex, especially in urban areas. Many citizens, despite stated religious affiliation, do not practice their religion regularly.

The vast majority of Muslims are adherents of a moderate branch of mystical Islam (Sufism) known locally as Tidjani, which originated in 1727 under Sheik Ahmat Tidjani in present-day Morocco and Algeria. Tidjani Islam, as practiced in the country, incorporates some local African religious elements. A small minority of the country's Muslims (5 to 10 percent) are considered fundamentalist.

Roman Catholics make up the largest Christian denomination in the country; most Protestants are affiliated with various evangelical Christian groups.

Adherents of two other religions, the Baha'i Faith and Jehovah's Witnesses, also are present in the country. Both faiths were introduced after independence in 1960 and therefore are considered to be "new" religions. Because of their relatively recent origin and their affiliation with foreign practitioners, both are perceived as foreign.

A representative of the religious community sits on the Revenue Management College, the body that oversees the allocation of oil revenues. The seat will rotate among Muslim, Catholic, and Protestant leaders.

There are foreign missionaries representing both Christian and Islamic groups. Itinerant Muslim imams also visit, primarily from Sudan, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for religious freedom, and the Government generally respects this right in practice; however, at times the Government limited this right. The Constitution also provides that the country shall be a secular state; however, despite the secular nature of the State, a large proportion of senior government officials are Muslims, and some policies favor Islam in practice. For example, the Government sponsors annual Hajj trips to Mecca for certain government officials.

The Government requires religious groups, including both foreign missionary groups and domestic religious groups, to register with the Ministry of the Interior's Department for Religious Affairs. Registration confers official recognition but does not confer any tax preferences or other benefits. There are no specific legal penalties for failure to register, and there were no reports that any group had failed to apply for registration or that the registration process is unduly burdensome.

In 2000 the Supreme Court rejected a request from one branch of a Christian evangelical church to deny government recognition to its independent sister branch. In 1998 the Eglise Evangelique des Freres (EEF) split into moderate and fundamentalist groups. The moderate branch of the EEF retained the legal registration for the Church, but in 1999 the Ministry of Interior also awarded recognition to the fundamentalist branch; the fundamentalist branch received recognition under a new name, Eglise des Freres Independants au Tchad (EFIT). Since 1999 the EEF branch has sought to bar the EFIT church legally from practice. The case ultimately went before the Appeals Court in February 2002, which upheld the rights of the EFIT to continue its religious work and its right to function.

Foreign missionaries do not face restrictions but must register and receive authorization from the Ministry of Interior. There were no reports that authorization was withheld from any group. Muslim, Catholic and Protestant missionaries proselytize in the country.

The country has both Christian and Muslim holidays that are considered national holidays. Muslim national holidays include: Aid-Al-Adha (February), Maouloud-Al-Nebi (May), and Aid-Al-Fitr (November). Christian holidays include: Easter Monday (April), All Saint's Day (November), and Christmas Day (December).

Religious instruction is prohibited in public schools. All religions are permitted to operate private schools.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

In July 2002 the Minister of Territorial Administration formally admonished the Catholic Church to stay out of all political activities. The Minister was reacting specifically to a "train the trainers" program that the Church conducted for election observers in advance of the municipal elections scheduled for late 2002 (a representative from the Ministry attended both the opening and the closing of the workshop, at the Church's invitation). According to the Minister, the Catholic Church was trying to become a political party or a civil society organization, which would illegally confound religion and politics. However, during the 2001 presidential elections, the head of the Superior Council of Islamic Affairs advocated on behalf of a Muslim candidate without a similar rebuke from the Government.

In 2001 the Minister of Interior formally banned the Islamic religious group Faid al-Djaria (also spelled Faydal Djaria), a Sufi group that adheres to a mystical form of Islam. The group arrived in the country from Nigeria and Senegal and incorporates singing and dancing into its religious ceremonies and activities. Male and female members of the group freely interact with one another during religious gatherings. The group is found from the Kanem region around Lake Chad into neighboring Chari Baguirmi. Acting at the request of the Director of Religious and Traditional Affairs, the Superior Council for Islamic Affairs, and certain ulama (Muslim religious authorities) who objected to Faid al-Djaria's religious customs that they deemed un-Islamic, particularly that both men and women sang and danced with each other, the Interior Ministry declared that the group lacked the proper authorization to practice. According to a Faid al-Djaria member, part of the Council's objection derives from a personal conflict with Faid al-Djaria's leaders. The September 2001 ban was the latest in a series of government actions taken against the group. The Minister of Interior previously had banned the group in 1998; however, from the beginning of 2000, the group increasingly became active, resulting in a number of arrests in the Kanem. The 2001 ban was implemented on technical grounds, and the Government did not recognize the group's registration. According to one Faid al-Djaria member, the group plans to ignore the ban and continue to worship as they have in the past.

According to a Protestant pastor in N'Djamena, while differing faiths or denominations are treated equally by the Government, Islamic congregations appear to have an easier time obtaining official permission for their activities. Non-Islamic religious leaders also claim that Islamic officials and organizations receive greater tax exemptions and unofficial financial support from the Government. State lands reportedly were accorded to Islamic leaders for the purpose of building mosques, while other religious denominations must purchase land at market rates to build places of worship. However, in 2001 at least one Christian congregation was able to reclaim a former building that was being used by a Muslim congregation, because the Government found that the Christian church had a stronger legal claim to the building.

Abuses of Religious Freedom

In February, a church in the predominantly Muslim town of Abeche was burned; it was the most serious event in a series of acts of vandalism against the church. The Church of Christian Assemblies in Chad (ACT) had recently built the structure following a conflict with Abeche's Islamic Affairs Committee that dates back several years. When ACT left Abeche for the southern part of the country during the civil war of 1979, the church was converted into a mosque and Islamic school. Upon returning to Abeche in 1999, ACT members challenged the Islamic Affairs Committee's legal right to the structure; the courts ruled in ACT's favor in April 2001. When the Islamic Affairs Committee refused to abide by the court's ruling, the two sides agreed upon a compromise solution: they would cede the disputed site to the State, and build new houses of worship. ACT built its church in the same neighborhood as the original church, although they were forced to begin anew three times when vandals destroyed the foundation.

There are an undetermined number of followers of Faid al-Djaria, the banned Islamic group, who were prisoners in the Kanem. In 2000 the Sultan of Kanem arrested a number of adherents of the group Faid al-Djaria. In addition the Chadian Superior Council of Islamic Affairs, which believes that the group does not conform to Islamic tenets, requested that the Ministry of Interior arrest the group's spiritual leader, Ahmat Abdallah. In September 2001, the Council successfully petitioned the Interior Ministry to ban the group.

The Government has imprisoned and sanctioned fundamentalist Islamic imams believed to be promoting conflict among Muslims. The Government restricted a fundamentalist imam in N'Djamena, Mahamadou Mahamat, also known as Sheikh Faki Suzuki, from preaching from October 1998 to March 1999. At that time, the authorities also placed him under house arrest, charging that he was inciting religious violence. In July 2002, Faki Suzuki and Haroun Idriss Abou-Mandela, another imam whom the Superior Council of Islamic Affairs has prohibited from preaching, were rebuked by the Council once again. After the imams participated in a weekly program on religion aired by the private radio station FM Alnassr, the Council protested. According to the Grand Imam, who heads the Council, only those authorized by the Council can speak in the name of Islam on the radio. The Council accused Faki Suzuki of making improper remarks about other ethnic and social groups. In 1999 the Government arbitrarily arrested and detained in prison for 1 year Imam Sheikh Mahamat Marouf, the fundamentalist Islamic leader of the northeastern town of Abeche, and refused to allow his followers to meet and pray openly in their mosque. Since his release, Sheikh Marouf may pray but is not permitted to lead prayers. His followers were allowed to pray in their mosques, but were forbidden from debating religious beliefs in any way that might be considered proselytizing; however, the Tidjani followers were allowed to proselytize.

Several human rights organization reported on the problem of the "mahadjir" children. Teachers force these children, who attended certain Islamic schools, to beg for food and money. There were no real estimates as to the number of mahadjir children; however, UNICEF was conducting a study on children's status that was expected to include figures on mahadjir children.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion or attempts at forced conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

Although the different religious communities generally coexisted without problems, there were reports of occasional tension between Christians and Muslims due to the proselytizing by evangelical Christians.

Former Islamic adherents who have converted to Christianity as well to other religions were shunned by their families and sometimes were beaten; however, there were no reported incidents of beatings during the period covered by this report.

Most interfaith dialog happens on an individual level and not through the intervention of the Government.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Embassy discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights. In the period covered by this report, the Embassy widely distributed electronic journals on freedom of religion. The Embassy also sponsored two workshops on conflict resolution in the country, both of which addressed the issue of religious freedom.

During the past two years, Embassy officials have increased their outreach efforts, particularly among Muslim leaders. As part of this strategy, the Embassy donated books and posters on Islam in America to key Muslim leaders and local schools. One of the country's prominent Muslim academics participated in the U.S. Government-sponsored International Visitor Program, traveling to the U.S. to learn about the role of religion in a democracy.

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