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U.S. Department of State
Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for 1999

Released by the Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
Washington, DC, September 9, 1999


Section I. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for religious freedom, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. 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 Chadian 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. The Government reportedly has denied official recognition to some groups of Arab Muslims in Ati, near the eastern border with Sudan, on the grounds that they have incorporated elements of traditional African religion, such as dancing and singing, into their worship.

Non-Islamic religious leaders claim that Islamic officials and organizations receive greater tax exemptions and unofficial financial support from the Government. State lands reportedly are accorded to Islamic leaders for the purpose of building mosques, while other religious denominations must purchase land at market rates to build churches.

Of the total population, 54 percent are Islamic. About one-third are Christian, and the remainder practice traditional indigenous religions or no religion at all. Most northerners practice Islam; most southerners practice Christianity or a traditional indigenous religion. Many citizens, despite stated religious affiliation, do not regularly practice their religion.

The vast majority of Muslims practice a moderate form of Islam known locally as Tidjani, which originated in 1727 under Sheik Ahmat Tidjani in what is now 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) is 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 minority religions, the Baha'i 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.

There are foreign missionaries representing both Christian and Islamic groups. Catholic and Protestant (primarily evangelical Christian) missionaries proselytize in the country. Itinerant Muslim imams also visit, primarily from Sudan, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan. Foreign missionaries do not face restrictions but must register and receive authorization from the Ministry of Interior.

In early June 1998, south of Guelengdeng, customs agents beat a foreign missionary for no apparent reason.

Instances of government intervention and prohibition of religious practices during the reporting period involved both Christians and Muslims. However, each case derived from frictions between moderates and fundamentalists within the respective Christian and Muslim communities. Government intervention was deemed necessary to prevent further conflict and potential security problems.

The Christian Eglise Evangelique des Freres (EEF), which consists of approximately 40,000 adherents located primarily in Bessao, underwent a split in 1998 into moderate and fundamentalist factions. Due to the fact that the moderate faction controlled the church organization recognized by the Government, the Government banned the fundamentalist group from its churches and further forbade adherents from meeting in their homes for prayers. Although tension remains between the two factions, the Ministry of the Interior rescinded its ban on the fundamentalist faction, and issued it a legal registration on April 7, 1999 to practice under a new name (Eglise des Freres Independantes au Tchad--EFIT).

Within the Islamic community, the Government also intervened to imprison and sanction fundamentalist Islamic imams believed to be promoting conflict among Muslims. In January 1999, the Government arbitrarily arrested and detained imam Sheikh Mahamat Marouf, the fundamentalist Islamic leader of the northeastern town of Abeche, and has refused to allow his followers to meet and pray openly in their mosque. A fundamentalist imam in N'Djdamena, Sheik Faki Suzuki (named after the Suzuki car equipped with loudspeakers that he uses for broadcasting his sermons around town) was restricted from preaching Islam for 6 months, from October 1998 to March 1999, and the authorities also placed him under house arrest. In both instances, the Government claims that the men were responsible for inciting religious violence; their followers reject the Government's claim and cite religious differences with the Government. Sheik Mahamat Marouf remains the sole religious detainee.

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

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

Section II. Societal Attitudes

Most interfaith dialog is effected on an individual level and not through the intervention of the Government. Although the different religious communities generally coexist without problems, some citizens have noted increasing tension between Christians and Muslims due to the proselytizing by evangelical Christians. In addition, tensions and conflicts between government supporters from the politically dominant northern region and rebels from the politically subordinate southern region occasionally have religious overtones.

Section III. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Embassy discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the overall context of the promotion of human rights. In November 1998, the U.S. Information Service office sponsored a radio debate on tolerance, which focused in part on religious tolerance between Christians and Muslims and featured leaders of the Catholic and Islamic communities of N'Djamena as speakers.

[End of Document]

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Revised last: 10-09-1999