Sudan ends 30 years of Islamic law—historic move abolishes death penalty for leaving Islam

September 13, 2020 by Lindy Lowry in Africa

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.

Cautious optimism

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.

Read why Sudan is No. 7 on Open Doors’ World Watch List.

“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.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom has welcomed steps taken by Sudan’s interim government, calling the legislative reforms significant and historic.

“Sudan’s transitional government continues to live up to its commitment to justice, peace, and freedom,” USCIRF Vice Chair Tony Perkins said in a statement. “These new measures are important to protect the freedom of the Sudanese people to freely choose and practice their faith without punishment.”

Last month a group of 29 NGOs said the amendments did not go far enough and failed to address underlying human rights principles.

‘It must work’

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.”

And not all rebel groups support it. The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, which has been fighting for self-determination in South Kordofan region where many Christians live, said the accord lacks a clear separation of state and religion as well as safeguards for equality in citizenship rights and in economic opportunities, reported ChristianityToday.

Analysts, however, expect the groups to come around. “It is a Sudanese deal, negotiated by the Sudanese without external deadlines or arm-twisting. Both sides know that it must work or the democratic experiment will fail,” says Edward Thomas, fellow of the Rift Valley Institute in Kenya, and Alex de Waal, is the executive director of the World Peace Foundation at Tufts University in the US.

Pray with the church in Sudan

Praise God for the latest step toward Christians in Sudan being able to worship Jesus in peace.

Pray the transitional government has wisdom and repeals the blasphemy and public decency laws, as well as addresses the problems regarding church registration properties.

Pray religious minority groups would be allowed to be represented in the Ministry of Religious Endowments with delegates they have chosen themselves.

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