After 30 years of Islamic law, which, among many other injustices, made leaving Islam illegal, Sudan’s transitional government handed down a historic decision for the Muslim-majority nation—removing Islam as the country’s official religion. The revolutionary move comes as part of a peace deal leaders signed with rebel groups.
It also comes after millions of prayers for the church in Sudan. After Sudan’s former dictator, Omar al-Bashir, seized power in 1989, he implemented and strictly enforced Sharia law—churches were demolished or confiscated by the government and believers have been arrested and tortured. If someone wanted to leave Islam to follow Jesus, it was considered apostasy and was a crime punishable by death.
Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and Abdel-Aziz al-Hilu, a leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North rebel group, signed a declaration in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.
The step is the latest in a string of decisions made by the government to repeal laws that violated human rights. The changes come in response to demands made during months of street protests, which led to Bashir’s ousting in April 2019 and the installation of the transitional government.
The declaration signed by government leaders and rebel groups calls for a democracy: “For Sudan to become a democratic country where the rights of all citizens are enshrined, the constitution should be based on the principle of ‘separation of religion and state,’ in the absence of which the right to self-determination must be respected,” the document states.
However while many are celebrating newfound freedom in the streets, Christians in Sudan remain “cautiously optimistic.” Jo Newhouse, spokesperson for Open Doors in Sub-Saharan Africa, commented that Open Doors welcomes these new accords. She stressed that issues still need to be addressed for churches and believers—including the repeal of the blasphemy and public decency laws, as well as problems around church registration and building, and of confiscated church properties.
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“A move to allow representation of religious minority groups in the Ministry of Religious Endowments with delegates they have chosen themselves is also necessary,” she said.
Last month a group of 29 NGOs said the amendments did not go far enough and failed to address underlying human rights principles.
Contest and challenge
Last week’s signing of a peace declaration is meant to end years of war in Darfur and Sudan’s southern South Kordofan and Blue Nile states, which killed at least 300,000 and displaced 2.7 million people in Darfur alone, according to the UN.
As you might expect, the peace agreement and move to end 30 years of Islamic law has not gone uncontested. Islamist groups loyal to al-Bashir have challenged recent government decisions, insisting Sharia should remain in force and calling on the army to step in and “defend the law of God.”
Pray With The Church In Sudan