What role should the church and the mosque play in the coming national elections?
During the first Islamic salvation period in Sudanese history, many mosques served as the spear head for political salvation. The Islamists who came to power were full of ambitions to return to the Rashidun Caliphate era and were hoping to establish a religious state following the example of Medina, whose affairs were all run from the mosque. The political and security role of mosques and the churches reached its peak with the raging battles in South Sudan and consequently the intensity of war rhetoric spoken from tribunes of mosques and church pulpits increased, along with Islamic Dawat and organizational activities carried out by young people in mosque yards.
This was during the first stage which salvationists like to call 'the revolutionary stage'.
Dr. Saleh Al-Toumm : "... politics may be part of the mosque speech but the speech itself should be instructional and invitational in nature.... so as not to dictate who to vote for".
In the current stage called 'the constitutional legitimacy stage', the voice of politics in mosques diminished, though has not died completely. However the extremist past is recalled when necessary, and after the emergence of the other voices on the Khartoum political stage following the Naivasha Agreement, the political scene changed again inside mosques. Mosque preachers toned down their attacks on the opposition and some even spoke about the flaws and shortcomings of the national government, although not in a direct way. This softer approach is based on the long-standing heritage of consultation or shura between the imams and the sultan adopted by jurists in the older times.
This climate of openness allowed a much better space for discussion and critical discourse. For example, those who used to reluctantly swallow the political speeches delivered by Islamist preachers have since found the courage to stand up and express their disapproval by advise, criticism and even sometimes curses. The heated arguments inside mosques and the exchange of sometimes sharp-tongued expressions prompted many to call for politics to be removed completely from places of worship so that worship would not be disturbed by politics. These calls materialised with a number of measures taken by the 'Belief and Dawat Administration' of the River Nile State Government banning all forms of political propaganda and party publicity in mosques.
On the other hand, some Islamists believe that the mosque is naturally a political platform as it is a religious duty to discuss all aspects of life in your religion, as your life IS your 'deen' or religion. This though can threaten Muslim unity, as there are naturally political disagreements amongst Muslims, as there are amongst Christians or Secularists.
The prevailing view as regards the close relation between religion and politics is represented by prominent Islamic scholar, Yusef Al-Qaradawi who sees religion and politics as intertwined and illustrates why on his website. However he adds on his website that political speeches containing specific names and minor details meant for defamation, slander, revilement or political party fanaticism should be banned in mosques. But he also adds that the basic function of mosques is to stand up to any issue that goes against Sharia, even if this means going against government policy.
Indeed, as Dr. Saleh Al-Toumm, Professor of Islamic Culture at Khartoum University says, mosques were the center of Islamic life in the beginning, but the emergence of the different denominations and sects, in addition to the Shu'ubiyyah movement, brought political differences inside mosques.
Thus every sect attempted to pass its agenda through mosque speeches and one of the rightly guided caliphs in the Omayyad era decided to schedule the Eid speech before the prayer after noting that followers of the worshippers left the mosque immediately after the prayer in order not to listen to his Eid speech.
Dr. Al-Toumm believes that politics may be part of the mosque speech but the speech itself should be instructional and invitational in nature. It should give the people choices and not make any reference to a certain party or individual, so as not to dictate who to vote for.
However there are those that believe that the mosque should play a much bigger political role and deal with controversial political issues directly. Dr. Yusef Al-Kouda, President of Hizb al-Wasat al-Islami or 'The Muslim Centre Party' believes that there is no problem in discussing such issues in mosques. Issues such as health or education or economics can all be based and directed through Islamic principles, so being political but not party political, Dr Yusef believes is the calling for all mosques.
Dr. Al-Kouda points out that the dispute that may rage as a result of discussing political issues in mosques is not the problem in itself but the problem is that people do not know the judgment of Sharia concerning that dispute. He adds that people should be taught the manners of discussion and disputing opinions with the imam politely after the prayer.
Of course, not only mosques were subject to calls to keep away from politics but churches had a taste of that too.
The leader of the SPLA Salva Kiir has maintained a tradition of issuing political statements from inside churches in Southern Sudan.
St Matthew's Church Khartoum
In protest to this involvement of the church and politics, the Congress of Catholic Archbishops in South Sudan distributed a poster calling for the separation of religion and politics, which has caused much unresolved debate about the role of the church in peace times and the ongoing relation between church and politics. At that time, Father Martin Satirlino, special secretary to the Cardinal (the highest Christian religious authority in Sudan) said in an interview with the Public Opinion Newspaper that the church has not yet taken a stand over the issue of unity and separation with politics. He added that any statement issued by the religious institutions in Sudan is received sensitively in the street and thus should be carefully calculated.
The church in Sudan, given its relatively new arrival in the modern political history of our country, is not accustomed to issuing political statements, unlike the mosque which maintained its cross-functional role in the life of Muslims through the ages. Dr. Safwat Fanous, political analyst and follower of Christian issues said in an interview with the Public Opinion Newspaper that the church with all its denominations is trying hard not to mix religion with politics, especially as Islamic groups are often being charged of such practice. He added that the church nevertheless has a key role in laying out and discussing the issues around the referendum, since the church will be directly affected by the outcome and therefore vulnerable to potential unity or division.
Both the mosque and the church are yet to express an explicit political position concerning the upcoming elections. However, the Sudanese church with all its branches and designations chose to keep itself more distant from southern political conflicts, such as the Lam verses Akol-Salva Kiir recent face-off. Certain Immams in Khartoum in contrast, have decided to assert more political authority, for example, urging people not to vote for the secularists or the communists.
The views expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the positions or opinions of the publishers of www.theniles.org
Mugahid Bashir is a Sudanese journalist who joined MICT's Sudan/South Sudan project in 2009.