Islam, Sectarianism and Politics in Sudan since the Mahdiyya

By Kramer, Robert S. | African Studies Review, April 2006 | Go to article overview

Islam, Sectarianism and Politics in Sudan since the Mahdiyya


Kramer, Robert S., African Studies Review


Gabriel Warburg. Islam, Sectarianism and Politics in Sudan since the Mahdiyya. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2003. xvii + 252 pp. Maps. Bibliography. Index. $19.95. Paper.

Few historians have contributed as much to Sudan and Nile Valley studies as Gabriel Warburg, who, for more than thirty years, has been a prolific writer, active contributor at symposia and conferences, and visiting scholar around the world. While his published work has tended to explore the relationship between Islam and politics in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, his focus has ranged from political movements to religious organizations, legal matters, slavery, and even border issues. At least three of his books are, in this reviewer's opinion, of particular importance: his history of the founding of Anglo-Egyptian rule (The Sudan Under Wingate, 1899-1916 [London, 1970] ) ; his treatment of twentieth-century Sudanese political development (Islam, Nationalism and Communism in a Traditional Society: The case of the Sudan [London, 1978]); and his study of nineteenth- and twentieth-century historiography (HistoricalDiscord in the Nile Valley [London, 1992]). This present volume, the result of a careerlong interest in the role of Islam in Sudanese politics-he calls it "my last major work on the topic" (xii)-is a worthy addition to his impressive body of work and will be welcomed by students of both Sudan studies and modern Islamic history.

An Israeli and longtime professor of Middle Eastern history at Haifa University, Warburg has never been granted entry into Sudan, and therefore has been prevented from conducting archival research at Khartoum's National Records Office and interviewing Sudanese who cannot leave the country. If this impediment has shaped his choice of research subjects over the decades, it also has obliged him to become a master of the secondary literature in Arabic and other languages, as well as keenly familiar with the archival materials in Kew's Public Record Office, Durham's Sudan Archive, and other places. Such familiarity with the literature is clearly reflected in Islam, sectarianism and Politics which, in 226 pages of text, presents a clear and cogent overview of the political and religious history of Sudan from the launching of the Mahdist movement in 1881 to the reelection of 'Umar Hasan al-Bashir as president in December 2000. (Important recent eventsin particular, the 2005 Peace Accord between the government of Sudan and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-make a compelling argument for Warburg's preparing an updated second edition of this work.)

Appropriately, the book begins with a brief discussion of the development of Islamic institutions and practices in Sudan prior to the Mahdiyya. Most familiar aspects of the subject are mentioned here: the Sufi orders, Sudan's "Holy Families," Turco-Egyptian rule, socioeconomic stresses, and foreign interests. Surprisingly, relatively little is said about the role of Islam in the two sultanates of Sinnar and Dar Fur, about which much has been written. Such is the drawback of a concise work, however, and the author admits (some of) what he has overlooked (3 n.8) and otherwise supplies references for further reading in his footnotes and bibliography.

Part 2 is concerned with the period of the Mahdiyya. …

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