Religion in Chad
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The 1993 census found that 53% of Chadians were Muslim, 20% Roman Catholic, 14% Protestant, 10% animist and 3% atheist. Muslims are largely concentrated in northern and eastern Chad, and animists and Christians live primarily in southern Chad and Guéra. Islam was brought in the course of the Muslim conquest of the Sudan region, in the case of Chad complete in the 11th century with the conversion of the Kanem-Bornu Empire. Christianity arrived in Chad with the French, by the end of the 19th century.
The constitution provides for a secular state and guarantees religious freedom.
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Ancestors play an important role in Chadian classical religions. They are thought to span the gap between the supernatural and natural worlds. They connect these two worlds specifically by linking living lineage members with their earliest forebears. Because of their proximity, and because they once walked among the living, ancestors are prone to intervene in daily affairs. This intervention is particularly likely in the case of the recently deceased, who are thought to spend weeks or months in limbo between the living and the dead. Many religious observances include special rituals to propitiate these spirits, encourage them to take their leave with serenity, and restore the social order their deaths have disrupted.
Spirits are also numerous. These invisible beings inhabit a parallel world and sometimes reside in particular places or are associated with particular natural phenomena. Among the Mbaye, a Sara subgroup, water and lightning spirits are thought to bring violent death and influence other spirits to intervene in daily life. The sun spirit, capable of rendering service or causing harm, also must be propitiated. Spirits may live in family groups with spouses and children. They are also capable of taking human, animal, or plant forms when they appear among the living. The supernatural powers that control natural events are also of major concern. Among farming peoples, rituals to propitiate such powers are associated with the beginning and end of the agricultural cycle. Among the Sara, the new year begins with the appearance of the first new moon following the harvest. The next day, people hunt with nets and fire, offering the catch to ancestors. Libations are offered to ancestors, and the first meal from the new harvest is consumed.
Among the more centralized societies of Chad, the ruler frequently is associated with divine power. Poised at the apex of society, he or (more rarely) she is responsible for good relations with the supernatural forces that sanction and maintain the social order. For example, among the Moundang, the gon lere of Léré is responsible for relations with the sky spirits. And among the Sara Madjingay, the mbang (chief) of the village of Bédaya controls religious rituals that preserve and renew the social order. Even after the coming of Islam, the symbols of such authority reinforced the rulers of nominally Islamic states such as Wadai, Kanem-Borno, and Bagirmi.
Finally, most classical African religions involve belief in a supreme being who created the world and its inhabitants but who then retired from active intervention in human affairs. As a result, shrines to a high god are uncommon, and people tend to appeal to the lesser spirits; yet the notion of a supreme being may have helped the spread of Christianity. When missionaries arrived in southern Chad, they often used the local name of this high god to refer to the Christian supreme being. Thus, although a much more interventionist spirit, the Christian god was recognizable to the people. This recognition probably facilitated conversion, but it may also have ironically encouraged syncretism (the mixing of religious traditions), a practice disturbing to many missionaries and to Protestants in particular. Followers of classical African religions would probably not perceive any necessary contradiction between accepting the Christian god and continuing to believe in the spirits just described.
Because order is thought to be the natural, desirable state, disorder is not happenstance. Classical African religions devote considerable energy to the maintenance of order and the determination of who or what is responsible for disorder. In the case of illness, for example, it is of the greatest importance to ascertain which spirit or which person is responsible for undermining the natural order; only then is it possible to prescribe a remedy. In such circumstances, people frequently take their cases to ritual specialists, who divine the threats to harmony and recommend appropriate action. Such specialists share their knowledge only with peers. Indeed, they themselves have probably acquired such knowledge incrementally as they made their way through elaborate apprenticeships.
Although classical African religions provide institutionalized ways of maintaining or restoring community solidarity, they also allow individuals to influence the cosmic order to advance their own interests. Magic and sorcery both serve this end. From society's standpoint, magic is positive or neutral. On the one hand, magicians try to influence life forces to alter the physical world, perhaps to bring good fortune or a return to health. Sorcerers, on the other hand, are antisocial, using sorcery (or "black magic") to control or consume the vital force of others. Unlike magicians, whose identity is generally known, sorcerers hide their supernatural powers, practicing their nefarious rites in secret. When misfortune occurs, people often suspect that sorcery is at the root of their troubles. They seek counsel from diviners or magicians to identify the responsible party and ways to rectify the situation; if the disruption is deemed to threaten everyone, leaders may act on behalf of the community at large. If discovered, sorcerers are punished.
The survival of any society requires that knowledge be passed from one generation to another. In many Chadian societies, this transmission is marked by ritual. Knowledge of the world and its forces is limited to adults; among the predominantly patrilineal societies of Chad, it is further limited to men in particular. Rituals often mark the transition from childhood to adulthood. However, they actively "transform" children into adults, teaching them what adults must know to assume societal responsibilities.
Although such rites differ among societies, the Sara yondo may serve as a model of male initiation ceremonies found in Chad. The yondo takes place at a limited number of sites every six or seven years. Boys from different villages, usually accompanied by an elder, gather for the rites, which, before the advent of Western education with its nine-month academic calendar, lasted several months. In recent decades, the yondo has been limited to several weeks between academic years.
The yondo and its counterparts among other Chadian societies reinforce male bonds and male authority. Women are not allowed to witness the rite. Their initiated sons and brothers no longer eat with them and go to live in separate houses. Although rites also mark the transition to womanhood in many Chadian societies, such ceremonies are much shorter. Rather than encouraging girls to participate in the larger society, they stress household responsibilities and deference to male authority.
Islam became a dynamic political and military force in the Middle East in the decades immediately following Muhammad's death. By the late seventh century A.D., Muslims reached North Africa and moved south into the desert. Although it is difficult to date the arrival and spread of Islam in Chad, by the time Arab migrants began arriving from the east in the fourteenth century, the faith was already widespread. Instead of being the product of conquest or the imposition of political power, Islam gradually spread in Chad, and beyond its political frontiers.
Islam in Chad has adapted to its local context in many ways. For one thing, despite the presence of a large number of Arabs, Arabic is not the maternal language of the majority of Chadian Muslims. As a result, although many Chadian Muslims have attended Quranic schools, they often have learned to recite Quranic verses without understanding their meaning. Hence, perhaps even more than among those who understand Arabic, the recitation of verse has taken on a mystical character among Chadian Muslims. Moreover, Islam in Chad was not particularly influenced by the great mystical movements of the Islamic Middle Ages or the fundamentalist upheavals that affected the faith in the Middle East, West Africa, and Sudan. Beginning in the Middle East in the thirteenth century, Muslim mystics and da'is sought to complement the intellectual comprehension of Islam with direct religious experience through prayer, contemplation, and action. The followers of these da'is founded brotherhoods, which institutionalized their teachers' interpretations of the faith. Such organizations stimulated the spread of Islam and also provided opportunities for joint action, for the most part, which was not the case in Chad, where only two brotherhoods exist. Perhaps as a result of prolonged contact with West African Muslim traders and pilgrims, most Chadian Muslims identify with the Tijaniyya order, but the brotherhood has not served as a rallying point for unified action. Similarly, the Sanusiyya, a brotherhood founded in Libya in the mid-nineteenth century, enjoyed substantial economic and political influence in the Lake Chad Basin around 1900. Despite French fears of an Islamic revival movement led by "Sanusi fanatics," Chadian adherents, limited to the Awlad Sulayman Arabs and the Toubou of eastern Tibesti, have never been numerous.
Chapelle writes that even though Chadian Islam adheres to the Maliki legal school (which, like the other three accepted schools of Islamic jurisprudence, is based on an extensive legal literature), most Islamic education relies solely on the Quran. Higher Islamic education in Chad is all but nonexistent; thus, serious Islamic students and scholars must go abroad. Popular destinations include Khartoum and Cairo, where numerous Chadians attend Al Azhar, the most renowned university in the Islamic world.
Chadian observance of the five pillars of the faith differs somewhat from the orthodox tradition. For example, public and communal prayer occurs more often than the prescribed one time each week but often does not take place in a mosque. Moreover, Chadian Muslims probably make the pilgrimage less often than, for example, their Hausa counterparts in northern Nigeria. As for the Ramadan fast, the most fervent Muslims in Chad refuse to swallow their saliva during the day, a particularly stern interpretation of the injunction against eating or drinking between sunrise and sunset.
Christianity arrived in Chad in the twentieth century, shortly after the colonial conquest. Contrary to the dominant pattern in some other parts of Africa, however, where the colonial powers encouraged the spread of the faith, the earliest French officials in Chad advised against it. This recommendation, however, probably reflected European paternalism and favoritism toward Islam rather than a display of liberalism. In any case, the French military administration followed such counsel for the first two decades of the century, the time it took to conquer the new colony and establish control over its people. Following World War I, official opposition to Christianity softened, and the government tolerated but did not sponsor missionaries.
Since World War II, Chadian Christians have had a far greater influence on Chadian life than their limited numbers suggest. The missions spread the ideology of Westernization—the notion that progress depended on following European models of development. Even more specifically, Roman Catholic mission education spread the French language. Even though Islam spread more quickly and more widely than Christianity, Christians controlled the government that inherited power from the French. These leaders imparted a Western orientation that continued to dominate in the 1980s.
The Protestants came to southern Chad in the 1920s. American Baptists were the first, but missionaries of other denominations and nationalities soon followed. Many of the American missions were northern offshoots of missionary networks founded farther south in the Ubangi-Shari colony (now Central African Republic) of French Equatorial Africa (Afrique Equatoriale Française—AEF; ses Glossary). The organizational ties between the missions in southern Chad and Ubangi-Chari were strengthened by France's decision in 1925 to transfer Logone Occidental, Tandjilé, Logone Oriental, and Moyen-Chari prefectures to Ubangi-Chari, where they remained until another administrative shuffle restored them to Chad in 1932.
These early Protestant establishments looked to their own churches for material resources and to their own countries for diplomatic support. Such independence allowed them to maintain a distance from the French colonial administration. In addition, the missionaries arrived with their wives and children, and they often spent their entire lives in the region. Some of the missionaries who arrived at that time had grown up with missionary parents in missions founded earlier in the French colonies to the south. Some missionary children from this era later founded missions of their own. Many remained after independence, leaving only in the early and or mid-1970s when Tombalbaye's authenticité movement forced their departure (see Fall of the Tombalbaye Government, ch. 1).
The puritanical message preached by many Protestant missionaries undermined the appeal of the faith. Rather than allowing a local Christian tradition to develop, the missionaries preached a fundamentalist doctrine native to parts of the United States. They inveighed against dancing, alcohol, and local customs, which they considered "superstitions." New converts found it almost impossible to observe Protestant teachings and remain within their communities. In the early years, Chadian Protestants often left their villages and settled around the missions. But abandoning village and family was a sacrifice that most people were reluctant to make.
Although language and doctrine probably discouraged conversion, the educational and medical projects of the Protestant missions probably attracted people. The missionaries set up schools, clinics, and hospitals long before the colonial administration did. In fact, the mission schools produced the first Western-educated Chadians in the 1940s and 1950s. In general, the Protestant missionary effort in southern Chad has enjoyed some success. In 1980, after a half-century of evangelization, Protestants in southern Chad numbered about 80,000.
From bases in the south, Protestants founded missions in other parts of Chad. For the most part, they avoided settling among Muslims, who were not responsive to their message. In the colonial capital of Fort-Lamy (present-day's N'Djamena), the missions attracted followers among resident southerners. The missionaries also proselytized among the non-Muslim populations of Guéra, Ouaddaï, and Biltine prefectures. Although Christianity appealed to some in the capital (there were estimated to be 18,000 Christians in N'Djamena in 1980), efforts in other parts of the Sahel were relatively unsuccessful.
In the late 1980s, the future of the Protestant missions in Chad remained unclear. As noted, many Protestant missionaries were forced to leave the country during the cultural revolution in the early and mid-1970s. Outside the south, other missions have been caught in the cross fire of warring factions. Rebel forces have pillaged mission stations, and the government has accused the missionaries of complicity with the opposition.
The Roman Catholic missions came to Chad later than their Protestant counterparts. Isolated efforts began as early as 1929 when The Holy Ghost Fathers from Bangui founded a mission at Kou, near Moundou in Logone Occidental Prefecture. In 1934, in the midst of the sleeping sickness epidemic, they abandoned Kou for Doba in Logone Oriental Prefecture. Other priests from Ubangi-Shari and Cameroon opened missions in Kélo and Sarh in 1935 and 1939, respectively.
In 1946 these autonomous missions gave way to an institutionalized Roman Catholic presence. This late date had more to do with European politics than with events in Chad. Earlier in the century, the Vatican had designated the Chad region to be part of the Italian vicarate of Khartoum. Rather than risk the implantation of Italian missionaries during the era of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, the French administration discouraged all Roman Catholic missionary activity. For its part, the Vatican adopted the same tactic, not wishing to upset the Italian regime by transferring jurisdiction of the Chad region to the French. As a consequence of their defeat in World War II, however, the Italians lost their African colonies. This loss cleared the way for a French Roman Catholic presence in Chad, which a decree from Rome formalized on March 22, 1946.
This decree set up three religious jurisdictions that eventually became four bishoprics. The first, administered by the Jesuits, had its seat in N'Djamena. Although its jurisdiction included the eight prefectures in the northern and eastern parts of the country, almost all the Roman Catholics in sahelian and Saharan Chad lived in the capital. The diocese of N'Djamena also served as the archdiocese of all Chad. The second bishopric, at Sarh, also was delegated to the Jesuits. Its region included Salamat and Moyen-Chari prefectures. The third and fourth jurisdictions had their headquarters in Pala and Moundou and were delegated to the Oblats de Marie and Capuchin orders. The Pala bishopric served Mayo-Kebbi Prefecture, while the bishopric of Moundou was responsible for missions in Logone Occidental and Logone Oriental prefectures. By far the most important jurisdiction in 1970, Pala included 116,000 of Chad's 160,000 Catholics.
The relatively slow progress of the Roman Catholic Church in Chad has several causes. Although Roman Catholicism has been much more open to local cultures than Protestantism, the doctrine of celibacy probably has deterred candidates for the priesthood. Insistence on monogamy also has undoubtedly made the faith less attractive to some potential converts, particularly wealthy older men able to afford more than one wife.
The social works of the Roman Catholic Church have made it an important institution in Chad. Like their Protestant counterparts, the Roman Catholic missions have a history of social service. In the 1970s, along with priests, the staffs of most establishments included brothers and nuns who worked in the areas of health, education, and development. Many of the nuns were trained medical professionals who served on the staffs of government hospitals and clinics. It was estimated that 20,000 Chadians attended Roman Catholic schools in 1980. Adult literacy classes also reached beyond the traditional school-aged population. In the area of development, as early as the 1950s Roman Catholic missions in southern Chad set up rural development centers whose clientele included non-Christians as well as Christians.
Though the Bahá'í Faith in Chad began after its independence in 1960 members of the religion were present in associated territories since 1953. The Bahá'ís of Chad elected their first National Spiritual Assembly in 1971. Through succeeding decades Bahá'ís have been active in a number of ways and by some counts have become the third largest international religion in Chad with over 80,000 members by 2000.
Freedom of religion
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