Semi-autonomous Southern Sudan, which is mainly Christian and Animist, held a referendum last month, in which nearly 99% of registered voters opted in favour of full independence from the North. Sudan as a whole is controlled by an Arab-dominated government from the country's capital Khartoum and President Omar Al Bashir signalled in December 2010 that Sharia law will be extended in the event of secession by the South. Secession is expected to occur on 9 July 2011.
Check out the SUDANVOTES article about "The Church and the Referendum", too.
Amid the Popular Consultation in Blue Nile State about the future status of the region, the president's statement has created tensions and fears among diverse cultures and religions. The Catholic Church as the most dominant Christian denomination in the state is now under pressure as a result of al-Bashir's statement, according to Father Anwar.
Current religious tolerance in Blue Nile may come under threat.
In an interview, Father Anwar Barica, the second priest of the Blue Nile State Catholic Church, said he is concerned that the current environment of religious tolerance in Blue Nile may come under threat, if Bashir extends Sharia law. "When I was preaching one time in Khartoum, one of the neighbours, a woman, went to court, accusing us of interfering with her peace, as she lived near the church. We, the Catholics, we still do not have a clear view [of what will happen post-secession]," he added.
Bashir's Sharia law policy is receiving overwhelming local support from Muslims. When asked about the relationship between Christians and Muslims, six years after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between Khartoum and Southern Sudan, Father Barica said that this relationship remained good. He added that the central government supports the Catholic Church by paying some allowances to priests and teachers belonging to Christian Religious Education (CRE) programs.
Abud Hajji Fadlallah
However, fears are rising that this relationship will change. Abud Hajji Fadlallah, the County Secretary of the Islamic Council of Er Roseires in Blue Nile, has said that Bashir's policy has a place, as Sharia has been the practiced law in Sudan, especially in Blue Nile, for over three hundred years.
Since the signing of the CPA in 2005, Christianity has rapidly grown in the state. Father Anwar explained that there are over fifteen catholic churches in Blue Nile State's counties. Besides the Catholic and the Episcopal Church of Sudan (ECS), five more churches have come into existence: the Evangelical, the Pentecostal, the Presbyterian, the Sudan Inter-Church and the Sudan Church of Christ. Before the peace agreement, Sharia law proscribed the recognition and exercise of any religion or culture apart from Islam.
A popular consultation - enshrined by the 2005 peace accord - gives Blue Nile State and another state with a similar status (Southern Kordofan) a say in intra-state power and wealth distribution, as well as the resolution of other matters, such as land, religious, cultural freedom and educational reform. The popular consultation has played a significant role in increasing the presence of Christianity and other cultures and religions in Blue Nile State. It is, however, scheduled to end on 9 July 2011 (the anticipated date of secession).
With these complex dynamics in Sudan, particularly in Blue Nile State, the future of religious co-existence is yet to be determined. The state's popular consultation will surely play a great role in determining whether Blue Nile will keep its religious diversity, or will default to a monopoly of Sharia.
The views expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the positions or opinions of the publishers of www.theniles.org
Known as “Boboya” by his fellow South Sudanese, Simon works as Central Equatoria State Correspondent for ...