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Rising Salafism triggers upsurge in violence in Sudan

Osman Shinger
Rising hardline Salafism has triggered violence in Sudan in recent years, a dangerous trend which is increasingly prevalent.
26.05.2012  |  Khartoum
كنيسة مسيحية بعد حرقها في منطقة الجريف، شرق الخرطوم. (2012\\04\\27).
كنيسة مسيحية بعد حرقها في منطقة الجريف، شرق الخرطوم. (2012\\04\\27).

The burning of Skeikh Idris Wad Al-Arbab’s shrine east of Khartoum, the torching of a church in Al-Jarif east of Khartoum and the violation of another church in Nyala, Darfur are just three attacks among many committed earlier this year by Salafist groups across Sudan.

Salafism is an interpretation of Islam which emphasises the Salaf (\"predecessors\" or \"ancestors\"), the earliest Muslims, as model examples of Islamic practice, and bans any innovations or new interpretations of the scared texts.During the 2008 New Year celebrations, the young American diplomat John Michael Granville was driving home when a group of bearded young men ambushed him in an alley in Khartoum, opening fire on him and his Sudanese driver. A few hours later, they both died in hospital.

After this assassination, universities and mosques witnessed a rise of Salafism among young people. Meanwhile, it became more dangerous, increasingly targeting innocent citizens and foreigners.

A few months before Granville’s assassination, a group of Salafists, armed with automatic weapons, broke into the Thawra Mosque in Omdurman and opened fire on the those inside, killing dozens of people. Just a few days later, a member of the Takfiri group broke into Al-Jarafa mosque to the north of Omdurman and fired a machine gun at people gathered for sunset prayers.


The wave of attacks continued, affecting innocent children, women and the elderly. The jihadist Salafist groups broke into mosques, attacking their opponents and spreading their Takfiri message. Among the targets were student leftist groups including the Democratic Front, the student arm of the Communist Party of Sudan and other civil and secular groups.

Takfirism is the practice of accusing people of blasphemy, sometimes leading to the punishment of the accused. It is practiced by some Muslim extremists.The Salafist groups completely oppose Sufi groups, a fact which is evident in their speeches and seminars which describe it as polytheistic and resorting to holy men instead of God”.

The recent rise of Salafism in Sudan has been analysed by many political experts and observers. A range of explanations have been offered.

Yusuf Koda, leader of the Islamic Al-Wasat Party, blames the negligence and absence of moderate preachers and instructors”.

Others pinpoint the intellectual vacuum among young people, who have suffered from the deterioration of education. Their increasing lack of direction and options makes them susceptible to the jihadist Salafist groups.

Tayeb Zein El-Abidine, an Islamic researcher, believes that Salafist groups entered the country in the late 1930s and early 1940s but were not accepted for a long time given their incompatibility with the Sudanese’s Sufi outlook.

Explaining violence

Zein El-Abidine says support and financing from Saudi Arabia sparked the rise of Salafism which has been blatantly manifest over the last few years in many aspects of the political life, including the new government and the elections of the University of Khartoum and other Sudanese universities.”

Sufism is defined by its adherents as the inner, mystical dimension of Islam, which focuses on building a closer relationship to God, by renouncing all worldly possessions and aspirations.The mechanisms at work within Salafist groups are different from those of Sufi groups. The presence of Salafist groups is much stronger in mosques and schools through the lectures and seminars they organize,” according to Koda.

In this aspect, they are more effective than Sufi groups who only do Sufi rituals, beat drums and make no effort to attract new disciples,” he adds. The Islamic movement’s absence from political life in universities has created an opportunity for hardline Salafism to grow.”

According to the researcher Faisal Abdullah, these groups only turned violent recently. But the retreat of the Islamic movement from the preaching platforms in mosques, markets, and public places has enabled the Salafist groups to appropriate these spaces to preach and recruit young people.

He explains that the Salafist groups have resorted to violence due to weak intellectual and religious rhetoric that no longer convinced wide sectors of the enlightened youth”.

Growing Fear of Salafism

Observers are afraid of the rise Salafism in the country and point out that groups that once preached peacefully inside mosques, public places and universities now resort to intimidating people by issuing dangerous fatwas.

Many students and young people were intimidated by statements and publications distributed by Takfiri groups a day before the new year eve celebrations. Many people went home early, fearful of violence.

The rise of Salafism is unprecedented and has even started to influence the state’s official rhetoric at the highest levels. Newspapers reported that the Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research Khamis Kajjo Kanda, pushed for adherence to Salafism and the segregation of male and female students.

Many Sudanese citizens complain that the state has not done enough to control Salafist groups, especially in the 1990s when many fled their countries and came to Sudan, including Bin Laden’s group.