International Religious Freedom Report 2004
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

The Constitution provides for religious freedom; however, at times the Government limited this right for a number of religious groups in certain situations.

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 proselytizing by evangelical Christians.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has a total area of 495,755 square miles, and its population is approximately 9 million. 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 adherents to 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 are 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 rotates between Muslim and Christian leaders every 3 years; thus the Muslim representative is expected to transfer responsibilities to a designate of the Christian community.

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; however, at times the Government limited this right for a number of religious groups in certain situations. The Constitution also provides that the country shall be a secular state; however, despite the secular nature of the state, a disproportionately large portion 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 it 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.

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

The Government celebrates both Christian and Muslim holidays as 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 Catholic 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 combine 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.

The Islamic religious group Faid al-Djaria (also spelled Faydal Djaria), a Sufi group that adheres to a mystical form of Islam, continued to be banned during the period covered by this report. 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 interact with one another during religious gatherings. The group is found from the Kanem region around Lake Chad into neighboring Chari Baguirmi. The Director of Religious and Traditional Affairs, the Superior Council for Islamic Affairs, and certain ulama (Muslim religious authorities) objected to Faid al-Djaria's religious customs that they deemed un-Islamic. The Minister of Interior banned the group in 1998 and again in 2001. The 2001 ban was implemented on technical grounds, and the Government did not recognize the group's registration.

While the Government treats most faiths or denominations equally, 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. Government 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.

Abuses of Religious Freedom

In February 2003, 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 dated back several years. There was no further information at the end of the period covered by this report.

The Government has imprisoned and sanctioned fundamentalist Islamic imams believed to be promoting conflict among Muslims. In July 2002, the Superior Council of Islamic Affairs rebuked Mahamadou Mahamat (also known as Sheikh Faki Suzuki) and Haroun Idriss Abou-Mandela after the imams participated in a weekly program on religion aired by the private radiostation FM Alnassr. 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. Both had been previously banned from preaching by the council.

Imam Sheikh Mahamat Marouf, a fundamentalist Islamic leader from Abeche who the Government arbitrarily arrested and detained in 1999 for 1 year, continued to be prohibited from leading prayers. His followers were allowed to pray in their mosques, but the Government continued forbid them from debating religious beliefs in any way that might be considered proselytizing or a threat to public order.

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 included these children in a recent study and in its child protection efforts.

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious 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.

Abuses by Terrorist Organizations

There were no reported abuses targeted at specific religions by terrorist organizations during the period covered by this report.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

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

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

Most interfaith dialogue happens on an organizational 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 as part of its overall policy to promote human rights. In the period covered by this report, the Embassy widely distributed electronic journals on freedom of religion.

Embassy officials have continued to increase their outreach efforts, particularly among Muslim leaders, communities, and groups, including various trade associations, Arab-speaking journalists, and youth and women's groups. As part of this strategy, the Embassy donated books and posters regarding Islam in the United States to key Muslim leaders and to local schools. The Embassy also expanded English language learning opportunities to a Muslim university and a local mosque. In addition, the Embassy has worked with Arabic speaking women's associations, parent-teacher organizations, and journalists. Embassy officers also meet with various religious leaders and groups during travel outside of the capital. Finally, prominent Muslim leaders participated in U.S. Government-sponsored International Visitor Programs that focused on teaching American politics and understanding U.S. societal, cultural and political processes.