Christianity in Sudan can be traced back to the 5th century even before the colonialists and Muslims stepped into Africa. Christianity was the official religion of the three Nubian kingdoms along Nile River: Makouria, Nobatia, and Alwa kingdom. Ever since the Muslim Arabs occupied North Africa and particularly northern Sudan, Christians have never had peace.
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Christianity is a tolerant religion unlike Islam. This paper explores the social, political, economic, and technological challenges facing Christians in Sudan. The suffering of the Christians in Sudan has been increased by the Muslim dominated Sudanese government.
Christians in Sudan today face numerous challenges. The basis of these problems traces its roots to a long history. The origin of Christianity predates both the colonial and Islamic era. This goes back to the 5th century when there were Christian kingdoms in northern Sudan with churches built in every village1.
Archeological evidence of this era is available in the Sudanese National Museum. By 580 A.D. Christianity was an official religion of the three Nubian kingdoms along Nile River: Makouria, Nobatia, and Alwa kingdom. This remained the way it is till 638 A.D. when Egypt was conquered by Arab Muslims. The Arabs occupied most parts of Egypt and forced the Christians to sign a non aggressive treaty with them, placing the border around Aswan2.
Nevertheless, Christians who were dominantly Nubians started experiencing conflicts around the border with Muslim Arabs. Sporadically religious differences became a factor in the sprained relationship between Muslims and Christians. These problems became part and parcel of the lives of Christians. Since then these problems have persisted up to date. Sudanese government is dominated by Muslims who are trying everything possible to Islamize the whole country3.
This act of coercion also occurred during the earlier spread of Christianity. Kingdoms that embraced Christianity forced their subjects to accept their new faith since it was considered as a faith of the state. Islamization of the early Kingdoms by the Muslim Kings was a major set-back to Christian faith. During that era, the King was the only person who could mobilize the people to resist invasion by the foreigners. The King’s failure to help these kingdoms led to their total collapse4.
Social, political, economic and technological challenges facing Christians in Sudan
During the era of government of National Salvation Revolution, scores of non-Muslims were converted to Islam. Muslims were also convinced to cross over to Christianity. The converted Muslims lived in fear of being attacked by their former Muslim brothers. Muslims rarely tolerate the existence of non-Muslims in their society.
Therefore, majority of Christians who lived in the north suffered denunciation and extermination. While Muslims-Arabs who lived in Christians dominated areas, particularly in the south, were looked upon with suspicion. Converted Christians were regarded as Judas/ betrayers. At the same time they were suspected by the Muslim Arabs as spies5.
Whether Sudan remained as one state or separated as it is now, the conflict between Muslims and Christians can not be solved easily. This problem has become more complex at the moment6. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed by the Khartoum government and the SPLA recognizes the diversity of the Sudanese people. The Christians in this case are considered as legitimated members of the society. However, Christians still face numerous challenges including socio-economic, political and technological problems7.
On matters political, before the split of Sudan the position of the Presidency was a monopoly of the Muslims. The best position which the non-muslim members, especially Christians would get was the deputy position8. Former deputy to President Omar Al Bashir, Mr. Al Zubeir Mohamed Salih had a Christian deputy by the name Gorge Kongor. Zubeir passed away when President Bashir was outside the country for official duty9.
The constitution gave Kongor the power to ascent to the throne for a temporary basis until the president was back in the country but he was denied that position even though it was only for a short time. This confirmed non-Christians’ perception that the position of Presidency was only preserved for Muslims.
Osman Mohamed Taha was appointed the vice President while George Kongor was retained in the third hierarchy. All the way through the history of Sudan, Christians from the south have always deputized Muslim-Arab presidents. The most recent case was that of Salva Kir deputizing Omar Al Bashir. The Southern Sudan tended to maintain a Muslim head of state to counter the dominant Muslim heads10.
In matters economics, a study carried out in Sudan revealed that Christian churches were doing badly as compared to Muslim Mosques and other secular sectors in Sudan. This has resulted to worsening state of some of these churches socio-economically. Despite of their vision and mission, churches in the whole of Sudan have not been successful economically. This has adversely affected the Christians since they are not been given economic back up in life. The only remedy left for the church is to focus on its own economy11.
In social matters, most of the Christians in Sudan are marginalized especially those in the south and western parts of Sudan. Christian faithful are susceptible to social mobility. Their places of worship are made of shabby materials which is a complete contrast to the earlier Nubian Kingdoms who worshiped in temples. Most church buildings in Sudan are very poor and some are makeshift structures12.
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Christians in Sudan have minimal access to technology. Technological gadgets available to them are backward and outdated. Advanced technologies in the neighboring countries such as Kenya and Uganda have been used to facilitate worship and evangelism. Technological gadgets used in these countries include Radio, computers, mobile phones, TVs, among others. However, these technologies are mere fairy tales to majority of the Christians in Sudan13.
The topmost challenge facing Christianity and other religions in Sudan and the rest of the world is secularism. The modern day lifestyles are characterized by ungodly existence even among religious faithful.
This is one of the reasons why the Muslim dominant government of Khartoum has been pushing for Islamic state where the daily activities of the citizens are governed by religious doctrines. Christians in Sudan, though aspiring for secular state, are expressing caution on the way this type of state should operate. Christians are urged to balance personal freedom and abuse of values of human life14.
Christians in Sudan also face oppression and intimidation from the Muslim majority. Many of these atrocities were committed during the era of Government of National Salvation Revolution (G.N.S.R.). The incumbent is a member of the Islamic party branded as National Congress Party.
The party is believed to have been designed and structured by Muslims. During the era of Government of National Salvation Revolution Christian properties were confiscated. This included the forcible take over of the Catholic club by the state in Khartoum. There is still a widespread outcry by Christians in the north regarding the abusive approach used by the government machinery towards them15.
Government of National Salvation Revolution also used guerilla tactics such as promoting interdenominational conflicts to achieve their objectives. When the Christians in Sudan were voicing their concern to stop the war in south Sudan, the government had infiltrated the churches and was using their own members to fight them.
While most of the Christians were advocating for peace in south Sudan, those who had been compromised by the state were holding different opinion. Churches which complied with the state directives were converted into national churches. These include the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Sudan (ECSS) and the Reformed Episcopal Church (REC)16.
The Government of National Salvation Revolution was accused of intentionally interfering with the affairs of the Sudanese churches. Many church leaders pleaded with the incumbent to help stop these acts of injustice against the church but in vain. On the other hand, the attention of the president was drawn to the actions of Islamic group known as Ansar. The abuse and oppression of Christianity are exemplified in the burning of the Bible copies in Khartoum on February 8th 199917.
Christians in Sudan are also infringed of their legal rights. Religious freedom in Sudan is monopolized by the ruling party and the Government of National Salvation Revolution.
Even though the Comprehensive Peace Pact addressed the issue of religious freedom, its implementation has remained unsuccessful. Religious pundits stated that religious freedom in Sudan is disjointed and complex. Religious freedom is entrenched in the constitution, but since the Judiciary is dominated by the Muslims justice has become an illusion to the Christians in Sudan18.
Christianity in Sudan traces its roots back to the 5th century. Christianity existed in the northern Africa even before the coming of the colonialists and the Islamic religion.
Increased dominance of the north by the Muslim Arabs has caused a great deal of suffering to the Christians. Contrary to Islam, Christianity is known to be very tolerant to other religions. The problems Christians face in Sudan have been increased by the Muslim dominated government in Khartoum. Christians undergo all forms of oppressions and human right violations in Sudan.
Brenner, Louis. 2000. Histories of religion in Africa. Journal of Religion in Africa 30, no.2 (JUNE):143-167.
John, Kongi. 2011. Responding to Islamization, Marginalization, Victimization and Intimidation. Web.
Ogbukalu, Uke. 2005. African Christianity: An African Story. Pretoria, South Africa: Department of Church History, University of Pretoria
Yusuf F. Hassan. 2002. Religion and Conflict in Sudan. Nairobi: Pauline publications, Faith in Sudan series.
1 Brenner, Louis.” Histories of religion in Africa”. Journal of Religion in Africa 30, no.2 (2000):143-167.
2 Ogbukalu, Uke. African Christianity: An African Story. Pretoria, South Africa (Department of Church History, University of Pretoria, 2005).
3 Louis, 144.
4 John, Kongi. “Responding to Islamization, Marginalization, Victimization and Intimidation”.
5 Ibid, 4.
6 Ibid 5.
7 Yusuf F. Hassan, Religion and Conflict in Sudan (Nairobi: Pauline publications, Faith in Sudan series, 2002).
8 Ibid, 4.
10 John, Kongi. “Responding to Islamization, Marginalization, Victimization and Intimidation”.
11 Yusuf F. Hassan, Religion and Conflict in Sudan (Nairobi: Pauline publications, Faith in Sudan series, 2002).
12 John, Kongi. “Responding to Islamization, Marginalization, Victimization and Intimidation”.
13 Yusuf F. Hassan, Religion and Conflict in Sudan (Nairobi: Pauline publications, Faith in Sudan series, 2002).
14 Brenner, Louis.” Histories of religion in Africa”. Journal of Religion in Africa 30, no.2 (2000):143-167.
15 John, Kongi. “Responding to Islamization, Marginalization, Victimization and Intimidation”.
16 Ibid, 6.
17 Yusuf F. Hassan, Religion and Conflict in Sudan (Nairobi: Pauline publications, Faith in Sudan series, 2002).
18 Ogbukalu, Uke. African Christianity: An African Story. Pretoria, South Africa ( Department of Church History, University of Pretoria, 2005)