Islam in Sudan

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Image:Sudan sufis.jpg
Sufi ritual being performed in Sudan

Sudan is a religiously mixed country, although Muslims have dominated national government institutions since independence in 1956. Accurate figures are unavailable due to poor census data and the last 2 decades of civil war, but most estimates put the Muslim population at approximately 65%, including numerous Arab and non-Arab groups; Christians at approximately 10%; and traditionalists at 25%. Muslims predominate in the north, but there are sizable Christian communities in northern cities, principally in areas where there are large numbers of internally displaced persons. It is estimated that over the last 40 years, more than 4 million southerners have fled to the north to escape the war. Most citizens in the south adhere to either Christianity or traditional indigenous religions (animists); however, there are some Muslim adherents as well, particularly along the historical dividing line between Arabs and Nilotic ethnic groups.

The Muslim population is almost entirely Sunni but is divided into many different groups. The most significant divisions occur along the lines of the Sufi brotherhoods. Two popular brotherhoods, the Ansar and the Khatmia, are associated with the opposition Umma and Democratic Unionist Parties respectively.

The country's religious divergence is aggravated by the perception among southerners and non-Arab Muslims that they are second-class citizens. Northern Arab Muslims have dominated political and economic structures since independence in 1956. Southerners began an armed struggle to protest religious, political, and economic discrimination even before independence. The southern ethnic groups fighting the civil war seek some form of regional self-determination; the south will vote on unity or independence in a referendum in 6 years after a comprehensive peace agreement is implemented, following a pre-transition period of 6 months.

Shari'a law and its application to non-Muslims in the capital was a contentious issue during the negotiations, but it and the other major issues underlying the north/south conflict have been largely resolved in the agreements. Shari'a generally is to continue to be the basis of the national legal system as it applies in the north; national legislation applicable to the south is to be based on "popular consensus, the values, and the customs of the people." In states or regions where a majority hold different religious or customary beliefs than those on which the legal system is based, the national laws may be amended to accord better with such beliefs. Throughout the country, the application of Shari'a to non-Muslims is to be limited, and courts may not exercise their discretion to impose the harsher physical forms of Shari'a penalties on non-Muslims.

In the west in the three Darfur states, a war between militias drawn from largely pastoralist, Arabized Muslim tribes (government-supported) and largely non-nomadic African Muslims, resulted in the ethnic cleansing and redistribution of African Muslim populations in the region. It is primarily an ethnic conflict, not a religious.

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[edit] Ethnicity of the Muslim population in Sudan

[edit] Arabs

In the early 1990s, the largest single category among the Muslim peoples of Sudan consisted of those speaking some form of Arabic. Excluded were a small number of Arabic speakers originating in Egypt and professing Coptic Christianity. In 1983 the people identified as Arabs constituted nearly 40% of the total Sudanese population and nearly 55% of the population of the northern provinces. In some of these provinces (Al Khartum, Ash Shamali, Al Awsat), they were overwhelmingly dominant. In others (Kurdufan, Darfur), they were less so but made up a majority. By 1990 Ash Sharqi State was probably largely Arab. It should be emphasized, however, that the acquisition of Arabic as a second language did not necessarily lead to the assumption of Arab identity.

Despite common language, religion, and self-identification, Arabs did not constitute a cohesive group. They were highly differentiated in their modes of livelihood and ways of life. Besides the major distinction dividing Arabs into sedentary and nomadic, there was an old tradition that assigned them to tribes, each said to have a common ancestor.

The two largest of the supratribal categories in the early 1990s were the Juhayna and the Jaali (or Jaalayin). The Juhayna category consisted of tribes considered nomadic, although many had become fully settled. The Jaali encompassed the riverine, sedentary peoples from Dunqulah to just north of Khartoum and members of this group who had moved elsewhere. Some of its groups had become sedentary only in the twentieth century. Sudanese saw the Jaali as primarily indigenous peoples who were gradually arabized. Sudanese thought the Juhayna were less mixed, although some Juhayna groups had become more diverse by absorbing indigenous peoples. The Baqqara, for example, who moved south and west and encountered the Negroid peoples of those areas were scarcely to be distinguished from them.

A third supratribal division of some importance was the Kawahla, consisting of thirteen tribes of varying size. Of these, eight tribes and segments of the other five were found north and west of Khartoum. There people were more heavily dependent on pastoralism than were the segments of the other five tribes, who lived on either side of the White Nile from south of Khartoum to north of Kusti. This cluster of five groups (for practical purposes independent tribes) exhibited a considerable degree of self-awareness and cohesion in some circumstances, although that had not precluded intertribal competition for local power and status.

Image:Mahdi Grave in Omdurman.jpg
Tomb of al-Mahdi in Omdurman, Sudan

The ashraf, who claim descent from the Prophet Muhammad, were found in small groups (lineages) scattered among other Arabs. Most of these lineages had been founded by religious teachers or their descendants. A very small group of descendants of the Funj Dynasty also claimed descent from the Umayyads, an early dynasty of caliphs based in present- day Syria. That claim had little foundation, but it served to separate from other Arabs a small group living on or between the White Nile and the Blue Nile. The term ashraf was also applied in Sudan to the family of Muhammad Ahmad ibn as Sayyid Abd Allah, known as the Mahdi (1848–85).

The division into Jaali and Juhayna did not appear to have significant effect on the ways in which individuals and groups regarded each other. Conflicts between tribes generally arose from competition for good grazing land, or from the competing demands of nomadic and sedentary tribes on the environment. Among nomadic and recently sedentary Arabs, tribes and subtribes competed for local power.

Membership in tribal and subtribal units is generally by birth, but individuals and groups may also join these units by adoption, clientship, or a decision to live and behave in a certain way. For example, when a sedentary Fur becomes a cattle nomad, he is perceived as a Baqqara. Eventually the descendants of such newcomers are regarded as belonging to the group by birth.

Tribal and subtribal units divide the Arab ethnic category vertically, but other distinctions cut across Arab society and its tribal and subtribal components horizontally by differences of social status and power. Still another division is that of religious associations.

[edit] Nubians

In the early 1990s, the Nubians were the second most significant Muslim group in Sudan, their homeland being the Nile River valley in far northern Sudan and southern Egypt. Other, much smaller groups speaking a related language and claiming a link with the Nile Nubians have been given local names, such as the Birqid and the Meidab in Darfur State. Almost all Nile Nubians speak Arabic as a second language; some near Dunqulah have been largely arabized and are referred to as Dunqulah.

In the mid-1960s, in anticipation of the flooding of their lands after the construction of the Aswan High Dam, 35,000 to 50,000 Nile Nubians resettled at Khashm al Qirbah on the Atbarah River in what was then Kassala Province. It is not clear how many Nubians remained in the Nile Valley. Even before the resettlement, many had left the valley for varying lengths of time to work in the towns, although most sought to maintain a link with their traditional homeland. In the 1955-56 census, more Nile Nubians were counted in Al Khartum Province than in the Nubian country to the north. A similar pattern of work in the towns was apparently followed by those resettled at Khashm al Qirbah. Many Nubians there retained their tenancies, having kin oversee the land and hiring non-Nubians to work it. The Nubians, often with their families, worked in Khartoum, the town of Kassala, and Port Sudan in jobs ranging from domestic service and semi-skilled labor to teaching and civil service, which required literacy. Despite their knowledge of Arabic and their devotion to Islam, Nubians retained a considerable self-consciousness and tended to maintain tightly knit communities of their own in the towns.

[edit] Beja

The Beja probably have lived in the Red Sea Hills since ancient times. Arab influence was not significant until a millennium or so ago, but it has since led the Beja to adopt Islam and genealogies that link them to Arab ancestors, to arabize their names, and to include many Arabic terms in their language. Although some Arabs figure in the ancestry of the Beja, the group is mostly descended from an indigenous population, and they have not become generally arabized. Their language (Bedawiye) links them to Cushitic-speaking peoples farther south.

In the 1990s, most Beja belonged to one of four groups — the Bisharin, the Amarar, the Hadendowa, and the Bani Amir. The largest group was the Hadendowa, but the Bisharin had the most territory, with settled tribes living on the Atbarah River in the far south of the Beja range and nomads living in the north. A good number of the Hadendowa were also settled and engaged in agriculture, particularly in the coastal region near Tawkar, but many remained nomads. The Amarar, living in the central part of the Beja range, seemed to be largely nomads, as were the second largest group, the Bani Amir, who lived along the border with northern Ethiopia. The precise proportion of nomads in the Beja population in the early 1990s was not known, but it was far greater relatively than the nomadic component of the Arab population. The Beja were characterized as conservative, proud, and aloof even toward other Beja and very reticent in relations with strangers. They were long reluctant to accept the authority of central governments.

[edit] Fur

The Fur, ruled until 1916 by an independent sultanate and oriented politically and culturally to peoples in Chad, were a sedentary, cultivating group long settled on and around the Jabal Marrah. Although the ruling dynasty and the peoples of the area had long been Muslims, they have not been arabized. Livestock has played a small part in the subsistence of most Fur. Those who acquired a substantial herd of cattle could maintain it only by living like the neighboring Baqqara Arabs, and those who persisted in this pattern eventually came to be thought of as Baqqara.

[edit] Zaghawa

Living on the plateau north of the Fur were the seminomadic people calling themselves Beri and known to the Arabs as Zaghawa. Large numbers of the group lived in Chad. Herders of cattle, camels, sheep, and goats, the Zaghawa also gained a substantial part of their livelihood by gathering wild grains and other products. Cultivation had become increasingly important but remained risky, and the people reverted to gathering in times of drought. Converted to Islam, the Zaghawa nevertheless retain much of their traditional religious orientation.

[edit] Masalit, Daju, and Berti

Of other peoples living in Darfur in the 1990s who spoke Nilo-Saharan languages and were at least nominally Muslim, the most important were the Masalit, Daju, and Berti. All were primarily cultivators living in permanent villages, but they practiced animal husbandry in varying degrees. The Masalit, living on the Sudan-Chad border, were the largest group. Historically under a minor sultanate, they were positioned between the two dominant sultanates of the area, Darfur and Wadai (in Chad). A part of the territory they occupied had been formerly controlled by the Fur, but the Masalit gradually encroached on it in the first half of the twentieth century in a series of local skirmishes carried out by villages on both sides, rather than the sultanates. In 1990-91 much of Darfur was in a state of anarchy, with many villages being attacked. There were many instances in which Masalit militias attacked Fur and other villages.

The Berti consisted of two groups. One lived northeast of Al Fashir; the other had migrated to East Darfur and West Kurdufan provinces in the nineteenth century. The two Berti groups did not seem to share a sense of common identity and interest. Members of the western group, in addition to cultivating subsistence crops and practicing animal husbandry, gathered gum arabic for sale in local markets. The Berti language had largely given way to Arabic as a home language.

The term Daju was a linguistic designation that was applied to a number of groups scattered from western Kurdufan and southwestern Darfur states to eastern Chad. These groups called themselves by different names and exhibited no sense of common identity.

[edit] West Africans

Living in Sudan in 1990 were nearly a million people of West African origin. Together, West Africans who have become Sudanese nationals and resident nonnationals from West Africa made up 6.5% of the Sudanese population. In the mid-1970s, West Africans had been estimated at more than 10% of the population of the northern provinces. Some were descendants of persons who had arrived five generations or more earlier; others were recent immigrants. Some had come in self-imposed exile, unable to accommodate to the colonial power in their homeland. Others had been pilgrims to Mecca, settling either en route or on their return. Many came over decades in the course of the great dispersion of the nomadic Fulani; others arrived, particularly after World War II, as rural and urban laborers or to take up land as peasant cultivators.

Nearly 60% of people included in the West African category were said to be of Nigerian origin (locally called Borno after the Nigerian emirate that was their homeland). Given Hausa dominance in northern Nigeria and the widespread use of their language there and elsewhere, some non-Hausa might also be called Hausa and describe themselves as such. But the Hausa themselves, particularly those long in Sudan, preferred to be called Takari. The Fulani, even more widely dispersed throughout West Africa, may have originated in states other than Nigeria. Typically, the term applied to the Fulani in Sudan was Fallata, but Sudanese also used that term for other West Africans.

The Fulani nomads were found in many parts of central Sudan from Darfur to the Blue Nile, and they occasionally competed with indigenous populations for pasturage. In Darfur groups of Fulani origin adapted in various ways to the presence of the Baqqara tribes. Some retained all aspects of their culture and language. A few had become much like Baqqara in language and in other respects, although they tended to retain their own breeds of cattle and ways of handling them. Some of the Fulani groups in the eastern states were sedentary, descendants of sedentary Fulani of the ruling group in northern Nigeria.

[edit] Status of Religious Freedom

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion; however, in practice the Government continues to impose many restrictions on non-Muslims, non-Arab Muslims, and those from tribes and sects not affiliated with the ruling party, such as in Darfur and the Nuba Mountains. Although the Government has not interfered with actual worship and does not arrest or detain persons for practicing their religion per se, it treats its form of Islam as the state religion and has declared that Islam must inspire the country's laws, institutions, and policies. The Constitution provides that, "Shari'a and custom are the sources of legislation."

Religious organizations and churches are subject to the same restrictions that are placed on nonreligious corporations. Religious groups, like all other organizations, are supposed to be registered to be recognized or to assemble legally. However, registration reportedly is no longer necessary; and the churches, including the Catholic Church, have declared they are not nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and declined to register. Registered religious groups are supposed to be exempt from most taxes, but the churches say they are still subject to taxes and import duties. Applications to build mosques generally are granted in practice; however, the process for applications to build churches is more difficult. The Guidance and Endowment Minister has denied building permits to most non-Muslim religious groups, alleging that local restrictions prohibit building places of worship in residential neighborhoods due to considerations of noise, numbers of worshippers, and other factors. The last permit was issued around 1975.

There have been improvements in relations among the various religious communities under the auspices of SIRC and the SCC, which represents 12 church denominations. The SCC acknowledges an increase in the amount of dialogue but does not believe there has been enough improvement in the nature of the dialogue to change religious relations. The SCC continues to express reservations about SIRC's power to create change. In Nairobi and Juba, southerners have created the New Council of Churches.

In December 2003, the Government invited Franklin Graham, an evangelical preacher, to visit the country. Graham received a warm welcome, and the state TV station covered his visit. Government officials have attended church services on Easter and Christmas to show solidarity and address the non-Muslims, but the Government will not allow Christians to enter mosques during Muslim festivals.

The Government, through the Guidance and Endowment Ministry, claims that it practices religious tolerance. However, non-Muslims, as well as non-Arab Muslims and Muslims from tribes and sects not affiliated with the ruling party, such as in Darfur and the Nuba Mountains, continued to express concern that they are treated as second-class citizens and discriminated against not only in such religious matters as in the issuance of permits for the building of churches, but also with respect to jobs and other societal relations. They noted that a majority of Christians are from tribes in the south, not affiliated with the ruling party, which Christians claim puts them at a disadvantage. Non-Muslims and a large number of Muslims are outspoken about their unease with the general application of Shari'a law to their communities, especially but not limited to non-Muslims.

[edit] See also

[edit] References


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