Magazine article New Internationalist

Mohammed Wardi: Brian Scudder Talks to Mohammed Wardi, One of Sudan's Leading Musicians, about the Fundamentalist Assault on Music and Musicians in His Country

Magazine article New Internationalist

Mohammed Wardi: Brian Scudder Talks to Mohammed Wardi, One of Sudan's Leading Musicians, about the Fundamentalist Assault on Music and Musicians in His Country

Article excerpt

KHOJALI OSMAN died in the back of a Sudanese ambulance. The frenzied knife attack that slashed his chest and ruptured his stomach was the work of an Islamic militant. And Khojali's crime? Simply to have been a musician.

Khojali's death rocked Sudan. For he is the first artist to have been killed in a politically-motivated attack in the country's history. His death also symbolizes the final collapse of tolerance in a country once renowned for it. While the military-Islamacist government of Lieutenant-General Al-Bashir denies any knowledge of the murderer, many Sudanese believe it was the climate of perpetual hysteria fostered by the Government to keep itself in power that prompted the killing. This is certainly what Mohammed Wardi thinks. The last freely-elected head of the Sudanese Musicians' Union and a close friend of Khojali, Wardi has watched the slow painful closing-down of Sudanese music culture from his enforced exile in Cairo. For him the attack on Khojali is an attack on all Sudanese musicians and a direct result of Government policy.

The Imam's main sermon from the Friday prayers at the Central Mosque is televised throughout Sudan,' Wardi points out. 'A week before the attack this sermon condemned music and musicians as haram [forbidden under the realm's version of Islamic Law]. It is the Government that directly controls the contents of the sermon through the recently-created Ministry of Social Planning. We know that there had already been a great deal of debate in Government circles about music and Islam. A ban on men and women dancing together was already in place. The ground was well prepared for such an attack.'

Wardi points out that the attack was not an isolated incident. The way the Government has played on the feelings of the profoundly religious in Sudan has created an anti-music climate and resulted in verbal assaults on Sudanese musicians (particularly women). 'The Government has backed this up with a Public Order Act that empowers the security police to break up concerts and wedding ceremonies that infringe its interpretation of Shari'a law,' says Wardi. 'You do not know whether you will return from giving a concert or not. They fear the power of musicians over the hearts and minds of the people and are trying to stop them playing or being broadcast. They are trying to replace them with new musicians of no talent whose sole purpose is to promote their ideology by singing pro-Government songs about Jihad [Islamic struggle].'

Khojali Osman and Mohammed Wardi are representative of a different kind of Islam, a tolerant Islam with capacity not just to co-exist with other religions and cultures, but to embrace them as its own. …

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