Sudan religion has played a dominant role in this African nation’s cultural and political life for almost two millennia. Islam is the religion practiced by the overwhelming majority of the Sudanese population and was formerly an official state religion until Sudan became a secular country in 2020.

Historically, Sudan has been home to Christians and members of other religious communities, with the former comprising about 5 percent of the population. In this article, we will present the basic facts about religion in Sudan and its role in its long history.

What Is the Main Religion in Sudan Today?

Sunni Islam is the main religion in Sudan. Up to 91 percent of Sudanese people are adherents of the Sunni branch of Islam, the most dominant branch of Islam in the Muslim world. Islam has played a decisive role in shaping the cultural and political life of Sudan.

The doctrine of Islam was incorporated into the country’s legal system under the rule of the National Islamic Front and the National Congress Party that were in power for almost four decades. From 1991 to 2020, apostasy constituted a criminal offense, and those found guilty of it could be subjected to public flogging or even sentenced to death.

A Strict Interpretation of Islamic Teachings

Until the military coup in 2020 that resulted in the overthrow of the Islamist regime and the constitutional changes establishing Sudan as a secular state, the government had observed a strict interpretation of Islam known as Wahhabism.

However, most of the population follows the traditional schools of Islam, with the Sunni Maliki school being dominant, but Sufism and Shi’a school are schoolsalso present. The dominant role of Islam in Sudan is reflected in the daily lives of its inhabitants. Islamic beliefs dictate the way people dress, their dietary habits, and social interactions.

When Did Islam Become the Dominant Religion in Sudan?

Islam spread to Sudan from Egypt in the mid 7th century AD following the Islamic Conquest of Egypt by the Arabs. Until then, Coptic Christianity was the main religion of what is today Sudan.

The process of Islamization of Sudan was gradual and is thought to have lasted several centuries. During this period, the adherents of Islam, Christianity, and various indigenous beliefs were able to live in coexistence. Islam eventually cemented itself as Sudan main religion, the only significant non-Muslim religious group being the Christians.

The Status of Non-Muslim Religions in Sudan

More than 30 years of Islamist rule in Sudan have caused a significant number of Christians to migrate to the newly-independent South Sudan, Egypt, or other countries. Despite being nominally free to practice their religion, Christians in Sudan were in a difficult position due to the suppression of public religious practices and other effective limitations to freedom of worship.

As for 2020, a number of laws enforcing harsh sentences against apostasy were repealed. Analysts and observers hope the Sudanese government will continue with reforms guaranteeing freedom of worship to all its citizens.

What Are the Main Beliefs of Muslims in Sudan?

As a strictly monotheistic religion, Islam stipulates that there is no God but Allah and that there can be no intercession between God and individuals. In practice, Sudanese Muslims observe five fundamental obligations known as the ‘Five Pillars of Islam.’

The first and most important law is a verbal attestation that there is ‘no God but Allah and Muhammad is His messenger.’ The second obligation is the salah (or namaz), a daily prayer in the direction of the holy sight of Mecca that is to be performed five times a day.

In addition, Muslims are called to give alms to the poor (zakat), fast until sunset during the holy month of Ramadan, and go on a pilgrimage to Mecca.

Some of the Things Muslims Consider Forbidden

Most of you are probably familiar that eating pork, drinking alcohol, and taking drugs are prohibited to Muslims. In addition, Muslims are prohibited from worshipping idols, having extramarital sex, or drawing or hanging a picture of an animal or human.

Are There Many Christians in Sudan?

Even though Christians today are a minority, Christianity is one of the oldest religions in Sudan, with a history going back thousands of years. Coptic Christianity was the largest religion in Sudan prior to the arrival of Islam.

Several prominent Christian denominations are present in the country and more than a dozen of the smaller ones. The majority of Sudanese Christians belong to the Roman Catholic or one of the Anglican Churches. The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria and the Greek Orthodox Church have a minor presence.

South Sudan’s Independence and Its Impact on the Christian Community

After South Sudan became an independent country in 2011, many Christians from Sudan decided to migrate to the newly-found country. The majority of Christians in Sudan live in the southern parts of the country or large urban areas. Many choose to move to South Sudan out of fear of marginalization and restrictions imposed on Christians in Sudan by the country’s regime.

Other Religions Present in Sudan

A tiny part of the Sudanese population (approximately 2.9 percent) follows folk religions. These include a variety of indigenous beliefs, the most prominent of which are African folk religions. Unlike organized religions, local folk beliefs are not systemized, have no written doctrine, and vary from region to region. Frequently, they are unique to a specific ethnic group.

Folk Religions and Their Beliefs

Beliefs in the existence of spirits are widespread among adherents of Sudanese folk religions. Spirit and ancestor worship is performed through elaborate rituals, which aim to secure goodwill or help from benevolent spirits and ward off the entities considered bad.

The rituals are usually performed by diviners and sorcerers. Various folk beliefs are still prevalent among the nomadic Arab tribes in the north of Sudan, and are they are not mutually exclusive with Islam.

Practices such as divination, usage of amulets, traditional healing methods, and exorcism have been incorporated into Islam. In more remote, rural areas, a faqih may act as a diviner, healer, or exorcist in accordance with both the Quranic teaching and local customs and beliefs.

The Role of Religion in Sudan’s Long-Standing Civil War

Sudan has been gripped by civil war and armed conflicts since the beginning of the 21st century. Political analysts and observers have noted the critical role religion had played in the eruption of the conflict that caused major loss of life and widespread destruction.

Sudan has been plagued by conflict since it attained independence from Great Britain in the 1950s. Up to 3 million civilians had lost their lives as a result of nearly 40 years of civil war that saw the Arab Muslim majority in the north of the country pitted against predominantly Christian, African animist areas in the south.

Religious Tensions That Escalated Into a Full-Blown Conflict

The polarization of Sudan between two distinct ethnoreligious and cultural blocs originated back in the 19th century when Egypt conquered Sudan, then a protectorate of the Ottoman Empire.

Since then, the Arab Muslim elite has attempted to impose its rule on the southern areas of the country with the aim of achieving national unity through Islamization. Starting in the 1950s and 60s, Sudan religious conflicts have escalated into a full-blown civil war between the government in Khartoum and the rebels in the south.

An Inter-Religious Conflict or Control of Oil Reserves?

The government’s policy of Islamization and the attempt to impose sharia law on both Muslims and non-Muslims alike led to the radicalization in the south and, consequently, the outbreak of the Second Sudanese Civil War (1983 – 2005).

The war saw the two Sudan major religions embroiled in an armed struggle that devastated the country. Some analysts have suggested that the real reasons for the conflict are to be found in the fight for control over the fertile soil and water resources in a mostly arid country. The conflict was further exacerbated by the discovery of oil in the south.

A Move Towards Religious Pluralism

The political and economic situation in Sudan remains highly volatile in the wake of another military coup in October this year. Nevertheless, the abolishment of laws restricting the freedom of religion and draconian punishments against apostasy gives hope that Sudan will move towards religious pluralism.

The Future of Islam in Sudan

For the past several decades, the Muslim world has been gripped by politico-ideological conflict waging across a vast area of the globe, spanning from Lybia to Indonesia. The ongoing armed conflicts in Libya, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen involve thousands of fighters belonging to several Islamic sects.

The presence of the so-called Islamic State (ISIL) in Sudan poses a serious risk for the country, especially for its Christian and animist minorities. The development of the international struggle against the radical interpretation of Islamic teachings will directly impact the Sudanese religion and the socio-political well-being of the struggling African nation.

How Religion Molded Sudanese Society

We have already noted the significant impact religion had on the history of Sudan and its socio-political and economic development over the past decades. As the dominant religion in the country, Islam has had by far the biggest role in giving direction to Sudan’s socio-political and socio-economic processes.

The introduction of sharia as the source of law in 1998 reaffirmed the status of Islam as the official state religion and the dominant force in Sudanese society.

The Position of Minority Religions

As a consequence of the imposition of sharia law, religious minorities in Sudan faced effective restrictions on freedom of worship and public display of their beliefs. Christians and adherents of African folk religions were put in a disadvantaged position, resulting in their marginalization.

The pressure brought upon them by war, famine, and political instability resulted in the increased emigration of Sudanese Christians to neighboring countries. Recent political developments might lead to the relaxation of inter-religious relations in the country.

Some of the Defining Characteristics of Religion in Sudan

Muslims and Christians account for 96 percent of Sudan’s population. Religious worship in Sudan is deeply rooted in Abrahamic traditions of Islam and Christianity, the two religions that have dominated Sudan for the past 2,000 years.

Sunni Islam is the denomination with the greatest number of adherents. Islam also acts as a unifying factor in an ethnically and racially diverse country.

On the other hand, Christianity is confined to the southern extremity of the country along the border with South Sudan, in the Nuba Mountains, and large cities. The majority of Sudanese Christians are Roman Catholics.

Sudan Is Now Officially a Secular State

In consequence of the constitutional changes adopted last year, Islam is no longer the official state religion of Sudan, which is now a secular country. Many of the strict Islamic laws based on sharia were relaxed to increase freedom of religion.

Conclusion

The long and troubled history of religion in Sudan is still being written. Racked by continuous warfare and civil strife, Sudan remains one of the world’s poorest countries.

Here’s what we learned about religion in Sudan:

  • Islam is the dominant religion, with over 90 percent of the population being Muslim
  • Christianity is practiced by 5 percent of the population, while the remainder follow African folk religions
  • Religions of Sudan have had a significant impact on the country’s history
  • The Sudanese Civil War had its roots in religious, social, and ethnic tensions between the north and south
  • As of 2020, Sudan is a secular country

A long and tough road towards building a more prosperous society lies ahead of Sudan. The country’s three main religions have a unique responsibility and the chance to help their country achieve its goal.

5/5 - (14 votes)

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here