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Religion in Tunisia

Population

With an average population density of 71 residents per km2, Tunisia is one of North Africa's most densely populated countries. However, regional differences are significant, and settlements are largely concentrated in the country's northern coastal areas, while the middle and southern regions are sparsely populated. Poverty and unemployment in rural areas have led to significant labor migration and immigration to the cities in the north since the 1960s (in 2019, 68 percent of the population lived in cities). The largest cities are Tunis (747,200 residents, 2014), Sfax (280,700) and Sousse (230,300).

Religions of Tunisia

Language

The official language is Arabic. French plays a major role both in teaching and in mass media. In the spoken language, the difference between hate speech dialects in the north and badaw dialects in the south is very large. A small Berber-speaking minority is found in central Tunisia and Jarba.

Religion

Almost all Tunisians (99.5%) are Muslims, the vast majority of whom are Sunni. Islam is the country's state religion.

Tunisia was reached by Islam in the second half of the 600s. General Uqba ibn Nafi, who was in the service of the Umayyads, conquered the country and founded the city of Kairouan 670, a city that after Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem is considered by many Sunni to be the fourth most sacred city of Islam, making it an important pilgrimage site.

According to Countryaah data, the country also has a small group (less than half a percent) of Shia Muslims. Sufic orders play a certain role in popular piety. Bahai is represented in the country with a few hundred members, but the government sees it as a heretical sect in Islam, which means that they are not allowed to practice their religion publicly but only privately.

Although the country was a French protectorate for 75 years, the Christian presence remained marginal. The government recognizes all Christian and Jewish religious organizations that existed in the country before 1956, the year when the country became independent. Today, it is estimated that just under 23,000 of the country's residents are Christians, the vast majority of whom are born abroad. The oldest and largest church, with about 20,000 members, is the Catholic, established in the country in 1219. The Catholic Church runs twelve churches, nine schools, several libraries and two clinics. The number of practicing Protestants is estimated at 2,000. In Tunis there is also a Reformed church and an Anglican church, each with a few hundred members. Judaism is the country's third largest religion with nearly 2,000 members. One third of these live in and around the capital, while the rest live in Jarba.

According to the constitution, the country must be faithful to the teachings of Islam. The office of president is only open to Muslim men. The constitution and other laws guarantee freedom of conscience and free practice of religion as long as it does not interfere with public order, which means attempting to enlist Muslims into another religion, which is thus prohibited. Despite this ban, it is permissible for Muslims to convert to another religion. The government provides financial support to mosques and pays the wages of the imams. According to a 1988 law, only persons appointed by the government have the right to conduct activities in mosques. Prior to January 2011, the mosques were open only for Friday prayers and approved religious ceremonies such as wedding ceremonies and funerals. Nowadays they can be open daily. Likewise, local conservative groups can replace the imams appointed by the government with more conservative eg. Salafists. The Jewish group has the government's permission to practice their religion freely and the government pays the big-rabbi's salary. In addition, the government guarantees security around the country's synagogues, and to a certain extent provides financial support for their maintenance and repair.

Existing civil law has a French model, but judges often follow Sharia law regarding customary law in family and inheritance disputes. Previous restrictions on the wearing of sectarian clothing have been removed. Nowadays, e.g. the universities themselves decide to what extent women may or may not wear niqab. In the public school, which is secular, the teaching of Islam is compulsory, but at the upper secondary level there is also teaching in Judaism and Christianity. The Jews have the right to run private schools, and the children in them have the right to go in these half school days, while the other half is to be spent in a secular school.

The following days are national holidays: Islamic New Year, Prophet Muhammad's birth, Id al-fitr and Id al-adha.

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