Religious Coexistence in the Sudan- Full Paper

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

Oslo Coalition on Religion and Belief

In Collaboration with

Norwegian Church Aid

Workshop on Freedom of Religion and Belief

5-6 December 2005

El Amirei Restaurant- Khartoum


Paper Titled:

Religious Coexistence in the Sudan

Presented By: Al Sadig Al Mahdi


Part One: Religious Bases of Intolerance

Both within the Religious creeds, and between them, there is a legacy of intolerance, which contributed massively to armed conflicts and sustained many secularist views that Religion far from realizing Human Salvation, caused Human Damnation!. No doubt if we consider the three ABRAHMIC Religions we have to admit the existence of texts and interpretations, which make collision inevitable.

Judaism: The beliefs that Jews are the Chosen Peoples and that God entered into a special Covenant with them, and that He gave them “the Land” and promised to support them in the eviction of its inhabitants, are beliefs, which sustain a permanent division within Humanity, and a God Ordained double standard. Such beliefs explain extreme intolerance towards others.

Christianity: The basis of intolerance here are beliefs that only those who believe in the role of Christ as Redeemer are capable of Salvation. That the second coming of Christ is inevitable when a final battle between Good and Evil will be fought Armageddon –a Battle, which the faithful will vanquish all others, who will perish.

Islam: Beliefs that the ‘Verse of the Sword’, which requires all non-Muslims become Muslims or accept Islamic hegemony, and that a final day of reckoning will come when even stones will direct the faithful to kill the Jews.

Such beliefs permeated Religious thoughts at times of Imperial conflicts between political powers fueled Religious intolerance within the said religions and between them.

They explain why the Jews persecuted Christ as demonstrated by the passion of the Christ. They explain why Christians later persecuted Jews and Muslims and the phenomena of pogroms, of the Crusades, and the inquisition. They explain Islamic regulations treating non-Muslims as second-class citizens and the criminalization of apostasy.

The legacy of Inter-Religious relations is a Legacy of Intolerance and hostility.

Part Two:

 The Sudan: from tolerance to Intolerance

Christianity penetrated the ancient Sudan Peacefully. By the 6th century AD, the three Kingdoms, which succeeded the ancient Meroitic Sudan, had become Christian and abandoned their Kushite Religion related to worship of Apedemak, the lion God. The Islamic armies, which conquered Egypt, after failing to conquer Nubia, decided to make peace with Christian Sudan and so they establish with it a pact of coexistence, which was unique in the International Relations of the then Muslim state. It took all the time from the 7th century AD to the 16th century AD for Islam to penetrate the territories of the Sudan, which were subsequently ruled by several Islamic Kingdoms: the Fur, the Funj, The KUNUZ, the Masabaat and Tegali. At the time, the Southern Sudan was ruled by its own Dynasties and tribal chiefdoms.

The fact that both Christianity and Islam penetrated the Sudan peacefully indicates the prevalence of high degree of tolerance and explains the phenomenon of tolerance, which is part of Sudanese Humanities to this day.

A period of Conflict:

The Ottoman conquest of the Sudan brought with it the practice of an oppressive central State, with its regime of social injustice. It was to some extent a conduit to Western Imperial aspirations at the time of the scramble for Africa sustained as it was by the mission of “the White Man’s Burden”. This array of factors explains to some extent the vehemence of the Mahdist Revolution and the Totalitarian system, which it established.

The Mahdist State was overthrown because it contradicted with the wave of Imperialist expansion, which had overwhelming military superiority and which exploited the internal contradictions to the maximum.

The Religious Policy of the British in the Sudan:

In many ways, the British espoused a more enlightened policy in Sudan than in the Middle East and in East Africa. They respected the Religious feelings of the Muslims in Sudan. Their wrath was directed against Mahdist ideology, which they sought to replace with the traditional Sufi affiliations of Sudanese Muslim Society. They did so to prevent any resort to Mahdist ideology in protest. They had no such checks in the South and so espoused a policy of Cultural and Religious intolerance towards Islam and Arab culture through the Southern Policy (1930), which established a type of apartheid.

For various reasons, National consciousness in Sudan developed in the North led by several vanguards and articulated by the Graduates’ Congress. The Congress rejected the Southern Policy and its endeavour to establish a Christian Anglophone identity for the South. Three of the twelve points in the Memorandum of 1942, which the Congress addressed to the Governor General of Sudan, sought to undo the effects of the Southern Policy.

A Religious Cold War in Sudan

The logical target of the Southern Policy is either and Independent State in the South, or a merger of it with one of the British East African territories.

However, for various reasons, the British Administration in the Sudan changed its mind and the future of Sudan from 1947 was conceived in terms of Unity. A unity, which, they argued, geopolitics subordinated both history and culture. The united Sudan suffered from an explicit and implicit Cultural and Religious Cold War.

‘Native’ Islam in the Sudan was either ‘Sufi’ or ‘Ansari’ – The Ansar i.e. Mahdists have undergone under the leadership of Imam Abdelrahman a “Perestroika” in Russian parlance and so joined the stream of Religious Toleration.

Therefore, under the Democratic system, which governed Sudan after Independence, there was ample Religious tolerance reflecting both the plurality required by Democracy, and the tolerance inherent in the ‘native’ Islam of the Sudan.

The crisis of Muslim Middle Eastern Societies after the fall of the Caliphate following events in Turkey after World War I, and enhanced by events after World War II, especially the establishment of the State of Israel, and the crisis of Muslim Indian Society before and after partition, have fueled powerful movements of Islamic assertion. Through their literature and modern organization, such movements spread to all concerns of the World of Islam and influenced political attitudes. Such influences, which by themselves, could be absorbed into the Sudanese Religious mosaic combined with the establishment of dictatorial Regimes to put an end to dialogue, to plurality, and raise the level of polarization.

  • The first military Regime (1958- 1964) established a system of exclusion. It blamed the consequent Southern protest on expatriate Missionary activity: Hence their explosion and the 1962 Act.
  • The second dictatorship (1969- 1985) after it ran out of socialist legitimacy sought Islamicist legitimacy by enacting the notorious September 1983 laws.
  • The third dictatorship (1989- 2005) is an Islamicist Regime armed with all the programs of some of the modern Islamic movements.

The legitimate question: Why has the Democratic Regime (1986- 1989) not erased the 1962 Act and the 1983 Laws?

Several Conferences, namely, 1987 Conference of National accord, the Kokadam Resolution 1986, the Sudanese Initiative of November 1988, and the United Transitional Program of February 1989, were seeking to do so in terms of a Comprehensive Peace Agreement. The process was foiled by the June coup d’tat.

Part Three: Religious Co-Existence: a Theoretical BaseÑ

Sudan’s religious map consists of a majority of Muslims (estimated about 75%), African Religions (estimated about 9.1%[1], and the rest are Christians. The exploration of religious co-existence in Muslim credentials is thus necessary, especially that the current Religious Fanaticism is based on Muslim Radical sects of foreign origin.

  1. Despite the intolerance to other religions seen in some Muslim views described earlier, we can say with Islamic authenticity that: Islam, whose beliefs and teachings are well defined and specific, recognizes Religious Plurality, and even Spiritual and Moral worthiness in ABRAHAMIC Religions: “Not all of them are alike: Of the People of the Book are a portion that is upright, who recite God’s revelations during the night, who bow down in worship * Who believe in God and the Last Day, who order what is right and forbid what is wrong, who are quick to do good deeds, these people are among the righteous * They will not be denied (the reward) for whatever good deeds they do: God knows exactly who is conscious of him” [2]

This tolerant attitude even extends to those who have sought Truth without the benefit of a revelation. In the period before Islam, some upright people have “deviated” from the prevalent polytheism; they were called the deviants (ALSABIEN). One such a monotheist was UMMAYA IBN ABY ALSALT. The Prophet (PBUH) even praised the Moral worthiness of a “virtue pact”: HILF ALFUDUL, which some of the polytheists of Mecca contracted to protect the down trodden and stand up to the usurper, he said about that pact: “I witnessed in the house of ABDULLAHI IBN JADAAN a pact, if I was invited to join in ISLAM, I would comply”. He also praised the well- known man of generosity HATIM AL-TAAY for his generous nature and said: My message is to complement Moral values. Those “human” seekers of Truth (i.e. by Human endeavor) are also recognized: ) The “Muslim” believers, the Jews, The Christians, and the SABIANS (i.e. the seekers of Truth by their own means)- all those who believe in God and the Last Day and do good, will have their reward from their Lord. No fear for them nor will they grieve).[3]

Religious Plurality is regarded in Islam as a norm: (If thy Lord had so willed, He could have made mankind one People: but they will not cease to dispute).[4]

  1. There are Christians in Sudan, and a small number of Jews. They are People of the Book, we should deal with them in terms of mutual recognition, mutual respect, abiding by the said Quranic Teachings, and abiding by what the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) said in this matter: “We the Messengers of God are like brothers, who have different mothers but the same faith”. (Narrated by: Al-Bukhari, Muslim, Abu-Daod & Imam Ahmed).
  2. Our attitude to the African traditional creeds in Sudan and the rest of Africa has been condemnatory in a way, which further fuels cultural denigration. They have provided moral cement for African societies, they have attempted to reconcile the occult with the Natural, to integrate society with the Natural environment, and to forge a continuous link between past, present and future generations. They have, therefore, been articulate in creating order and avoiding chaos. A Nigerian specialist in comparative Religion, Bolaji E. Idowu, maintained that African Religions believe in a One Supreme Being.  Similar descriptions have been given by Evans Pritchard[5], and Lienhardt [6] on Nuer and Dinka religions respectively.                       Idowu said that, despite the multiplicity of African Traditional creeds, common factors can be traced, e.g. a common name referring to God is found in different places in West Africa: Namely, the Nigerian Kollung, Piya, Pero, Tagale & Waja call Him: Yamba, in Cameroon and Congo, He is called Yambe and Yembe[7]. He said that, the different African creeds have the following common characteristics:
  3. Belief in a Supreme Being.
  4. Belief in lesser functional deities.
  5. Belief in the spiritual cogency of Ancestors.
  6. Magic and folk medicine.[8]

African Traditional creeds have further common Characteristics, namely: The ceremonial utility of music, song and dancing. This particular utility has been absorbed by SUFI ORDERS in Sudan, and by several African Christian Churches, for example, ALDORA Church in Nigeria. Such practices have been very effective in popular religious activity. The second common characteristic is the crucial Spiritual role of Natural Phenomena, a feature resembling Buddhism.

It is necessary to study these Religions and observe their positive moral, cultural, and social roles. This understanding is so necessary to create conditions for better understanding, and for eliminating cultural denigration, and for establishing a basis for toleration and co-existence.

  1. Nothing said here should deter Religious Preaching. It is necessary to abide strictly in this matter by: (Call People to the Way of your Lord, with wisdom and beautiful teaching. Argue with them in the most courteous way, for your Lord knows best who has strayed from His way and who is rightly guided)[9].

Such exchanges are inevitable, and are religiously sought after, but they should take place in the context of Religious Freedom for all, and Peaceful voluntary Religious Preaching. The Holy Quran clearly and strongly states that “there is to be no compulsion in religion”[10].

  1. It is imperative for all Religions in Sudan to abide by three conditions:
    • To emphasize their Teachings, which uphold the Brotherhood of Man and respect the values of Truth, Wisdom and Tolerance.
    • To uphold equal citizen Rights for all.
    • To refrain from compulsion in Religion.
  2. Sudan has accepted Christianity in its Nubian Kingdoms voluntarily and peacefully in the 6th century of the Christian Era. Sudan has later converted to ISLAM through centuries voluntarily and peacefully in all but its Southern regions. Many Southern citizens later converted to the Western churches of Christianity. It is now necessary for all the peoples of Sudan to contract a Religious Protocol or Charter to regulate the issues of Religion and Politics, Religion and State, and Inter-religious affairs.


CPA and Religious Coexistence

In a paper I presented last month to a symposium about the Religious Freedoms in the Interim Constitution, I welcomed seven points regarding the Constitutional Text, namely, Article (38) for freedom of Creed and Worship, Article (5) giving Muslims the right to apply Shariaa, Article (5-3) exempting Non-Muslims exemption Islamic- based legislations, Article (6) stating Religious Rights explicitly, Article (15) for Family religious rights, Article (47) for the ethnic and cultural communities’ rights, and Article (27-3) providing for Human Rights as in the International charters. However, several points could be raised as contradicting Religious Freedom in the CPA:


  • The Machacos Protocol, which is the foundation of many items in CPA and the subsequent Constitution is based on a bipartisan trade-off. In the Muslim North, the writ of the National Congress Party (NCP) will dominate the North, and consequently laws, which have been enacted in the absence of the majority of the Muslim citizens, and to which they are opposed, will be continued, namely, 1991 Criminal Law[11], the Civil Transactions Act 1984, the Family Laws of 1991, the ZAKAT (Alms) Act 1994, the Khartoum State public Act 1996 and so on. As stated in the interim constitution, Article 226(5), these acts should continue functioning, yes there is a scheduled law revision process according to the CPA Matrices, but there in good sign that these revisions will not provide for freedoms and Human Rights as stated Internationally, the recently presidentially passed Act for the organization of Voluntary Work, which was issued in August 2005, is a good proof. The so-called Islamic legislations passed by the NCP are widely opposed amongst Muslim groups and sects. Particularly, many Muslims believe that so-called Islamic Banking is not Islamic.[12] That execution for Apostasy and adultery is not warranted, and that laws with a religious content should not be applied to citizens, who do not profess that Religion wherever they may reside. This is especially serious in the areas outside the Capital, since it was agreed in the Constitution upon a Commission for the Rights of Non-Muslims in Khartoum. Many Human Rights’ activists saw this as violation of equal rights, and raising questions about the rights of those outside the Capital.
  • There are many doubts that the current Judicial System can enforce the set constitutional rights effectively, the current Judicial system is partisan in essence, this have been pointed at by the International Commission of Inquiry about Darfur, and also by a Memorandum presented by the unjustly fired Judges, dated 5th January 2005. A reform, similar to that planned for the civil service, is necessary to the Judicial System, in order that it guarantees rights generally, and religious rights in particular.
  • Religious and cultural differences have been the source of so much conflict in Sudan. The CPA and its interim Constitution have not addressed them elaborately enough. They completely neglected Inter-faith relations. The two issues require Religious and Cultural Protocols or Charters based on an elaborated discussion and Agreement about the relevant points. I shall herein deal with the required Religious Protocol.

It is my considered opinion that all the relevant sections of Sudanese opinion are now ready to accept principles and legislation, which are consisted with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights UDHR (1948), with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ICCPR 1966, and with the Declaration on the elimination of all forms of Intolerance and discrimination based on Religion or Belief (1981). The Religious Protocol will include and articulate these provisions. It will act as Sudanese Commitment to Religious Coexistence

However, the protocol should also include aspects particular to the Sudanese Religious scene.

To outline these aspects, it is necessary to conduct a representative dialogue. Towards that meaningful dialogue I present the Islamic theoretical base set previously, and an Appeal for the Religious Charter[13], which I will cite below:

An Appeal for a Religious Charter

In a symposium held in January 2005 organized by the Council for Religious Coexistence and attended by the ??? of Canterbury, a recommendation of making a religious charter to organize the relationship between different creeds and within them in Sudan, was passed.

Such a religious charter seasoned as it should be by a rich Sudanese experience of both positive and negative lessons, would have a cardinal role in building the Nation, and would be instructive beyond the Sudan in Africa, the Arab World, and indeed internationally. Herein I present a proposal that could form a base for dialogue:

  • Religious belief is a Human necessity. It provides a psychological anchor, a means of self-watch, a bulwark for morals and a means of collective identity in the face of loneliness and alienation. Faith is a voluntary Human Right, which could not and should not be imposed upon a person, nor people be deprived from it because when voluntarily accepted, it nourishes their conscience. There are ten basic Human necessities, namely, spiritual, moral, material, mental, emotional, social, aesthetic, athletic, entertainmental and environmental requirements. Morality satisfies MAN’s continuous tendency to evaluate things, and spirituality addresses MAN’s ultimate concern.
  • Each Religious Faith has its own beliefs, principles and values, which are defined by the believers through their accredited institutions. They should be mutually recognized as so defined. The State and Society should guarantee the Freedom of Religious belief and the Right of believers to apply their Religious injunctions, practice their worship, set up their sacred places, and proselytize their teachings without any obstruction provided they abide by the following:
  • Peaceful coexistence between different denominations within the same Religion.
  • Peaceful Coexistence between the different Religions.
  • Avoid compulsion in Religious matters.
  • Respect the equality of all citizens as citizens, and respect their free Religious Choices.
  • The three ABRAHMIC Religions believe in the same God, however, they differ in defining His attributes and Manifestations. This should facilitate spiritual and Moral Cooperation between them.
  • Religions of the various African cultures believe in a Supreme Being coupled with beliefs in lesser occult Beings and forces. They believe in a spiritual continuity with the Ancestors, and a similar relationship with the Natural Environment. Such believers are entitled to their belief unless they voluntarily convert.
  • The March of Human History has so far inflicted injustices upon certain Human groups because of their color, their sex, their age being too young or too old, their disability, and/or their social class. It is incumbent upon the faithful in all Religions to seek to redress this situation, and uphold the Brotherhood of MAN.
  • It is necessary to guarantee the freedom of scientific and technological research to discover and utilize all that is within the reach of Human Intellect and Perception
  • Globalization being the latest development in the creation of a single World Market sustained by the Revolution in communication and transport has come to stay. However, Globalization is accompanied by some negative social and environmental aspects, which should be eschewed. It is also necessary to accommodate Religious and Cultural Particularities.
  • In the political sphere, it is necessary to guarantee Religious Freedom, Citizen Equality as the basis of Constitutional Rights, and to ensure that a person’s religious belief should not add or subtract from his/her constitutional rights.
  • At the International Sphere, to abide by the ratified Human Rights charters and covenants and to seek to root their principles upon the relevant spiritual and Moral values.
  • Religions are transnational. Their networks in this respect should be recognized, provided they do not infringe upon the Rights of Sovereignty and citizen constitutional equity.
  • The establishment of an Independent Commission representing the recognized Sudanese Religious spectrum to follow the Implementation of this charter and to constitute a Forum of Appeal against any deviation. This body will function without prejudice to legal and other forms of redress.


I propose that this workshop, whether taking my own appeal as a base or not, should   become a serious brains storming about a Religious Protocol or Charter for the Sudan, which would contribute to the efforts of Nation building. Sudan could turn its rich experiences of positive and negative Religious relations to supreme value for present and future generations.

In the context of the current Religious awakening World wide, the greater realization of the importance of cultural aspects to Human Development, and the dialectical process between Globalization and cultural identity, the Sudanese Religious Protocol will have a significance far beyond its National Boundaries.



Ñ This was first cited by the writer at the lecture “The Social Upbringing of African Child”, Nubian Club on the African Child Day 16th June 2004.

[1]  See Chidi Denis Isiozoh and the table arranged by him from the entries made in Barret D.B : World Christian Encyclopedia, Nairobi, the source expects that African Religion followers to be 9.1% in the year 2000..

[2] Quran 3:113-115

[3]  Quran 2:62

[4] Quran 11: 118

[5] Edward E. Evans-Pritchard Nuer Religion 1975, Oxford. Oxford UP

[6] Godfrey Lienhardt Divinity and Experience: The Religion of the Dinka

[7] Idowu, E. Bolaji, African Religion: A Definition  , Maryknoll. Orbis Books, 1975.

[8] Idowu, op cit

[9] Quran 16:125

[10] Quran 2:256.

[11] Article 126 of which puts death penalty to Apostasy, this is very serious in the religious coexistence context, moreover, because it has been proliferating under this regime that the movements claiming even Muslims themselves as Apostates, when they espouse ideas to which they don’t agree

[12] In the BARAKAH symposium held in Mecca in October 2003, the pioneers of the so-called Islamic Banking Conduct admitted that essentially it resembles the Modern ‘Western’ Banking system in the interest idea even though with concealed ways, but at the same time it is deprived from its privileges.

[13] Other papers may be of relevance to this dialogue, namely, the cultural charter which is linked to the issue, and a Call for the Faithful in all faiths, I presented in my book Modern Calls, 2001