N’Djamena, Capital of Islamic Culture for 2009


Unity – Work – Progress

Located at the heart of Central Africa, the Republic of Chad has a long history dating back to the time of the first hominiens, as confirmed by Toumai’s archaeological discoveries.

Rock carvings in Tibesti

Central location at the crossroads of caravan trails from north to south and from east to west, has since long ago made of Chad a melting pot of cultures and beliefs. Islam, which was introduced to this region in the 11th Century, during the heyday of the Kanem-Bounou Kingdom, has expanded southwards from the north. Having been an inevitable point on the road to Mekkah, the country was well known to early African pilgrims who enjoyed the hospitality of their coreligionists, but also to famous Arab and Berber travelers, whose stories have contributed to publicizing the country’s history.

Throughout the history of Chad, the various ruling dynasties such as the kingdoms of Kanem-Bornu, Ouaddaï, Baguirmi and Yao-Fitri, and the principalities of Kotoko, as well as the Léré, Doré and Matavai monarchies, developed relationships with the Berber kingdoms, including Almohades, and their Bantu neighbors in equatorial Africa.
In this context, often marked by rivalries for control of trans-Saharan trade, Islam has expanded in eastern, northern and central Chad. Later on, in the colonial era, especially with Rabah, it turned out to be a bastion of ideological and cultural resistance. Thus, despite the colonial rule, Islam has been and remains the most distinctive cultural trait of Chad. Actually, besides French, Arabic is an official language in the country.

Despite its vast majority of Muslims, Chad is a country where several religions coexist in a wonderful atmosphere of tolerance. The Islamic heritage of Chad is mainly characterized by adobe architecture which is better suited to the local environment and which includes mosques, tombs, fortifications, dwellings and granaries. On the other hand, the abundance of cotton and leather has contributed to the emergence of marvelous traditional handicrafts and pottery. The intellectual heritage is represented by thousands of Arab and Islamic manuscripts treasuring collections of oral traditions and a corpus of knowledge ranging from algebra to zoology, through astronomy, Muslim law and customary law, theology, etc.. These manuscripts contribute to the promotion of knowledge in this country’s Quranic schools.

Aerial view of the Great Mosque of N’Djamena

N’Djamena, named after a nearby Arab village (Am Djamena, meaning a resting place), capital of Chad and formerly named Fort-Lamy, was created in 1900 after the death of Rabah. The city is situated at the confluence of the Chari and Logone rivers, facing the Cameroonian town of Kousseri, with which it is connected by a bridge. Being a city representative of the population of Chad, N’Djamena also reflects its religious diversity. It has many large and small mosques, but also churches of different Christian denominations. As an academic and cultural center, N’Djamena is home to several secondary schools and two universities: the State-run University of N’Djamena and King Faisal Private University, as well as a dozen of advanced schools specialized in the training of administrative, technical and scientific executive staff. Besides, the city has many cultural centers with libraries accommodating books in Arabic and French. ISESCO and the World Islamic Call Society (WICS) have established in N’Djamena two of the ten reading centers they created in Chad in 2001. The Chad National Museum, located in the city center, contains important archaeological, historical and ethnographic articles, which were enriched in 1999 by an ISESCO-funded collection of Islamic heritage.

c-index_clip_image006Traditionally dressed horse riders in a parade staged to mark a National Holiday in N’Djamena

Designated as 2009 Islamic Culture Capital for the Africa Region, N’Djamena will play host, as from 15 April 2009, the official launch date of the celebration, to a number of events to be co-organized by the Chadian Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports and ISESCO (see attached list of activities).