The Blackwell Companion to Religion and Violence

By Andrew R. Murphy | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 33
Sudan: Religion and Conflict

Jok Madut Jok


Historical Background

The last century of Sudan’s history is awash with episodes of political violence that are at least partly rooted in the politicization of religion. But the most intense period began in 1965 with the establishment of National Islamic Front (NIF), an offshoot of the Egypt-based Muslim Brotherhood (Abdelwahid 2009; el-Affendi 1991). Islam has since become a state religion, at the least in the north, which means that the state or the government has carried out a program to spread Islam all over the country and to dictate, by means of a legal code, that individuals should behave in accordance with Islamic teachings. For example, though the two civil wars of Sudan (1955–72 and 1983–2005) have multiple root causes, they have become increasingly fanned by religious confrontations between the dominant Arab Muslim north and the less developed Christian and African south (see Johnson 2003). While religious affiliation has served as a principal marker of national identity during the civil wars, neither conflict can be understood as exclusively a religious conflict. However, religious issues have increasingly taken the forefront since President Nimeiri decreed Shar`ia (Islamic law) as state law in 1983. In the end, despite the fact that north–south conflicts stem from deep historical, cultural, social, and economic grievances, it is not an oversimplification to characterize them as religious.

While north Sudan has traditionally been tied to Arab Muslim culture and benefited from higher rates of development, the south remains comparatively poorer and comprised mainly of Christian and indigenous African populations. The period of AngloEgyptian rule in Sudan, known as the condominium to reflect the joint partnership to rule over Sudan between the Khedive of Egypt and the British Crown, reinforced and entrenched the historical divide between north and south. Despite Egyptian involvement, Sudan was practically a British colony, run by a governor-general appointed by Egypt with British consent (Collins and Tignor 1967). It was during this period that the

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