Tunisia Strives for Religious Tolerance

May 3, 2008

Author: Mourad Sellami

Source: The Arab American News


In Tunisia, synagogues and churches stand side by side with mosques. Jewish and Christian minorities freely practice their religious rituals. This tolerant climate is ensured by the constitution which provides for habeas corpus, guarantees freedom of conscience and protects freedom of religious practice. But this open atmosphere for religious practices has been challenged in recent years by the rise of radical Islam in the Arab-Muslim world.

Dozens of young Tunisians have joined conflicts in Afghanistan, Chechnya and Bosnia over the past decades, and are flocking to Iraq in particular today. Within the country, the "kameez" (knee-length shifts worn by men in Afghanistan and Pakistan) is making an appearance on the streets of Tunisian cities as symbols of support to the people of these countries. For women, religious headscarves are now replacing the traditional Tunisian "safsari" (a large piece of white cloth worn by women over their head and clothes).

These changes worry a vast number of Tunisians, because they concern the pillars of their society, based on religious diversity and — almost — secular legislation. These two principles are under attack by more radical Muslims, who regard them as discordant with Islam.