Wednesday, September 1, 2021

RLPB 613. Sudan: Bibles Held as Government Wilts

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 613 | Wed 01 Sep 2021
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plus Update Ethiopia
by Elizabeth Kendal

Sudan's Arab Islamist Deep State, thoroughly entrenched.
Asharq Alawsat (Saudi newspaper) cartoon (April 2019)

Before the April 2019 ousting of the Arab Islamist regime of President Omar al-Bashir, Sudan had been one of the most violent persecutors of Christians and black Africans anywhere in the world. While the New Sudan is in sight it is not yet at hand; the 'people's revolution' is not complete. Unprecedented reforms have been enacted to de-Arabise, de-Islamise and radically transform this long-suffering, war-ravaged, multi-cultural nation. However, after nearly 40 years of Arab Islamist military rule, the difficulty of freeing Sudan from the grip of a thoroughly entrenched and heavily invested Arab Islamist Deep State cannot be overstated. Even at the societal level, resistance is strong, much of it incited by pro-Bashir fundamentalist imams who would like nothing more than to reverse the 'people's revolution' and restore Arab Islamic rule.

In September 2019 Sudan's new Minister of Religious Affairs, Nasr al-Din Mufreh, told Al-Arabiya TV that Sudan is a pluralistic nation ruled by secular law, that will fight extremism in mosques and empower women in society. In November 2019 he told Asharq Al-Awsat that Sudanese people 'of other faiths and religions are free to practise their rituals.' Subsequently, the transitional government declared Christmas Day a national public holiday. Then, in March 2020, the government abolished the state-appointed committees that the former regime had imposed on churches for the purpose of controlling and even acquiring them [RLPB 540 (11 March 2020)]. In July 2020 Sudan's new Harvard-educated Justice Minister, Nasredeen Abdulbari (a Darfuri), signed into law the Fundamental Rights and Freedoms Act 2020 which removed a raft of Sharia-based provisions, including the penalty of flogging and the criminalisation of apostasy (previously a capital crime). Islamists responded with protests in which they cursed Abdulbari as an infidel and called for jihad against the government of Prime Minister Hamdok, who had already survived one assassination attempt [RLPB 559 (22 July 2020)].

Photo by Jean Marc MOJON - AFP

Although the Fundamental Rights and Freedoms Act 2020 eliminated customs duties for religious literature, customs officials are refusing to release a shipment of Bibles. According to the Rev Saad Idris Komi, chairman of the Sudan Pentecostal Church, the officials have rejected his denomination's application for tax-exempt status for the shipment. Boutros Badawi, a Christian and senior adviser to Religious Affairs Minister Nasr al-Din Mufreh, raised the issue during a workshop on religious freedom in Khartoum on 8 August. He also criticised the government for taking no action on returning confiscated church buildings. Badawi's advocacy was courageous and not without risk. On 2 July Badawi was driving home at 11pm when he was ambushed and dragged from his vehicle by five armed men who beat him and threatened to kill him if he continued to advocate for the rights of churches. Mr Badawi believes that elements of the former regime remain entrenched in the system and are determined to obstruct his work, be it by slander (to ruin him) or by violence (to silence him). As Christian Solidarity Worldwide notes, the threats made against Mr Badawi bear similarities to those made against Osama Saeed Musa Kodi, the president of a Christian youth organisation, who was detained in Wad Madani in Gezira State earlier this year. The government's response to these attacks and intimidation has been totally unsatisfactory.

In January, protests erupted in Khartoum over a history textbook included in Sudan's new curriculum because it contained a picture of Michelangelo's 'Creation of Adam', which Islamists deemed 'heretical.' The protests were incited during Friday prayers by a pro-Bashir imam who accused Omer al-Qarray, overseer of the National Centre for Curriculum and Educational Research, of promoting infidelity and atheism. Mr al-Qarray (a liberal Muslim) subsequently received death threats. In the face of mounting pressure, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok wilted and froze the introduction of the new curriculum. Mr al-Qarray resigned from the curriculum project in protest, saying: 'I find myself unable to proceed with a government brought by a popular revolution but ... which surrendered to the pressures of the remnants of the defunct regime.' Sudanese journalist Zeinab Mohammed Salih observed: 'The government appears to be more concerned with being in harmony with more conservative views rather than becoming a representative government that reflects the diversity of the country.' As the Church awaits a decision on the Bibles, there are concerns that, with Christians comprising a mere six percent of the population, their rights might be deemed expendable - something to be traded for peace with Islamists. But with every trade-off, the New Sudan moves further away.


* grace Sudan's civilian transitional government with: (1) moral conviction to stand firm in face of Islamic resistance; (2) courage to resist belligerent Islamists; and (3) strength to endure, to see the 'people's revolution' through to completion.

In this we pray especially for Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, Justice Minister Nasredeen Abdulbari and Religious Affairs Minister Nasr al-Din Mufreh ... that God might do as he did with Cyrus: take them by the hand and use them for his good purposes, although they do not acknowledge him (Isaiah 44:24 to 45:8).

* bless and protect our brother Boutros Badawi - a senior adviser to the Religious Affairs Minister - as he advocates for the Church in Sudan; may the Spirit of God be pleased to take his courageous advocacy and use it to great effect. 'Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.' (Psalm 127:1 ESV)

* grant Sudan's long-persecuted Church all the grace and 'spiritual wisdom' required to navigate safely and honourably through these difficult days. Prayer for Sudan's Church: Colossians 1:9-14.


It is unsurprising that the transitional government's reforms to de-Islamise the state have attracted Islamic resistance from elements and supporters of the former Arab Islamist regime and from Islamic fundamentalist mosques and individuals. Earlier this year the government relented on a new history curriculum, wilting in the face of Islamist pressure and threats. Today, customs officials are refusing to release a shipment of Bibles in defiance of the Fundamental Rights and Freedoms Act 2020 which eliminated customs duties for religious literature. Many who have supported the 'people's revolution' for a New Sudan are increasingly concerned that the transitional government seems more eager to appease Islamists than defend rights and freedoms. Comprising a mere six percent of the population, Christians fear their rights might be deemed expendable and traded away for peace with Islamists. Please pray.



click on map to enlarge

An investigation by the Telegraph has confirmed that 'between late July and early August', TPLF forces 'systematically destroyed agricultural communities and indiscriminately bombed civilian areas in a series of attacks in the Amhara region.' At 6am on Sunday 8 August, TPLF forces attacked Agamsa village in North Wollo zone, Amhara Region. After meeting stiff resistance, the TPLF shelled the village with artillery, then went house to house killing residents and torching homes and fields, along with cattle. According to Gizachew Muluneh, the head of Amhara regional communication bureau, the regional government is fighting TPLF 'aggressors' in numerous locations throughout Amhara Region. On 18 August OLF-Shane fighters attacked Kiramu district in East Wollega zone, Oromia Region, firing indiscriminately, killing at least 150 residents, mostly ethnic Amhara. The next day, Amhara fighters carried out ethnic-based reprisals, killing at least 60. Please keep praying for Ethiopia.

For background and prayer points see: RLPB 611 (18 Aug).


Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF) and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).