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Churches in North Sudan Fear Repression After the Country’s Split

Churches in North Sudan Fear Repression After the Country’s Split

Churches in the northern part of Sudan are concerned about what will happen at the end of the week-long referedum on south Sudanese independence, if the expected outcome occurs.  Southerners are mostly Christian or follow traditional, folk religions, but the North has been under Islamic law since 1983.  It’s unclear what will happen to Christians in the north if the south does indeed secede.  The churches say they will remain open, but many Christians are fleeing south anyway.

For a while, Christian marriage certificates weren’t recognized, and the government confiscated the Catholic Club, repainting it with green Islamic colors and using it to house a northern political party.  After the peace agreement in 2005, when former southern rebels were allowed into the national government, churches say that they were afforded more rights and that non-Muslims were “better protected” in the capital.  But many Christians are alarmed by President Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s comments that Sharia law will be strengthened after secession.

The churches, however, remain resolute in the face of this impending danger.  “Even if there is just one Christian left in the north we will be here because the shepherd cannot leave his flock,” said Catholic Quintino Okeny Joseph, Vicar-General of the Archdiocese of Khartoum. 

The Coptic Christians seem less concerned about potential discrimination and oppression, perhaps because they are of Arab and not African descent.  The Sudanese Copts’ feeling of safety is ironic, however, given the recent revival of sectarian violence against Christians in Egypt.  A Coptic priest said that he was confident that such violence would never occur in Sudan.  “The Islam in Sudan is very quiet and very kind and no one from the Muslim people would attack any church,” said proto-priest Filotheos Farag, who explained that he was paid respectful visits by prominent Muslims during Coptic Christmas last week.

Interestingly, most seemed to agree on the fact that sectarian differences were political in origin.  “There are no problems between people in north Sudan, between neighbours – there is respect,” said churchgoer James Jok. “The problem is with the politicians.”

This seems to be the case, to some extent, with the situation in Egypt.  Although no one has taken official credit for the New Year’s Eve attack in Alexandria, many Egyptian Muslims have stepped up to show their support for Coptic Christians, even volunteering as “human shields” during services on Christmas Eve.  It will be interesting to see whether there is some kind of political crackdown on North Sudanese Christians after the election, and whether this sense of neighborliness will prevail – as we can only hope it will.

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Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

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18 comments

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9:55AM PST on Feb 20, 2011

Again, RELIGION rears its ugly head. (in my opinion) Mostly, individuals get along with each other just fine -- it's when religion becomes government, that repression happens. I hope well, for the christians of North Sudan.

12:28AM PST on Jan 13, 2011

I found it interesting that in the Sudan it is the politicians who are the ones creating all the uproar and the responses here are all about how bad the Muslims are.

Religion is a personal thing it is based upon one's faith in one's god or gods or spirituality or matter (science) or simply in one's self and one's fellows. It does not have to have any logic it in as it is based in faith. One has faith in his ability to climb Mt. Everest and does it. There may have been no logic in that faith since one had little experience climbing; it was simply faith in one's own ability. It is the same with religion one has faith in God, Allah, Gaea or whatever or whoever. This does not give one license to attempt to enforce his religious beliefs upon someone else. His faith or religion is for himself and himself only.
One has his concept of a supreme being or infinity and none of these concepts are exactly the same. That concept belongs to that one individual all by him or her self.
Religion has nothing to do with superstition but religious practices are filled with superstition as these are created by people who seek to control religion and the thoughts of men.

7:31PM PST on Jan 12, 2011

Thank you.

3:28PM PST on Jan 12, 2011

@Myke B.: I disagree. I think in this case, the problem can be summarised thusly - Omar Al-Bashir supports Shari'a law and hates Christians - you do the math!!

12:40PM PST on Jan 12, 2011

Nuke the bastards!

11:53AM PST on Jan 12, 2011

For decades, some people have used religion as an excuse to declare war. When in actuality it is about greed. Greed for more wealth and power.

9:48AM PST on Jan 12, 2011

Religion = superstition.
When will people realize this?

8:48AM PST on Jan 12, 2011

Yes, we all know how Islam cherishes the rights of personal and religious freedoms. Any Christian in a Muslim country is in jeopardy.

7:56AM PST on Jan 12, 2011

Ther is a problem with Politicans but also with church doctrines they require the belivers to convert no belivers. Churches set themselves up for conflict as long as they bellive they must save the nonbelivers. I must run scared from all churches for my views.

6:27AM PST on Jan 12, 2011

Why should any country try and control the religion of the population?!?! I am a catholic and under constant repression because we are the easy target. Often scared of Muslim and Islamic extremists, government officials and radical groups paint all religion with the same brush. A true believer in their religion would not harm others or force their beliefs on anyone else. Anyone who claims to do this is not a true follower of their religion, and it doesnt matter what their religion is. People have always used religion as a means to get what they want and this will happen again if these people are not protected. The governments need to make it clear that both sides are protected and racial and religious discrimination of any kind will not be tolerated.

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