Sudan’s Separation of Religion from State not Concluded, Prelate Clarifies

Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, left, and The Sudan Liberation Movement-North leader, Abdel-Aziz Adam al-Hilu, hold up their hands in the conflict-affected remote town of Kauda, Nuba Mountains, Sudan, Jan. 9, 2020.

The agreement to separate religion from the state after three decades of Islamic rule in Sudan is a matter that is still under discussion, according to a Catholic Prelate in the North-East African country.

In a recent interview with ACI Africa, Bishop Tombe Trille Kuku of Sudan’s El Obeid Diocese faulted local media for reporting that Sudanese can now practice their religion without fear.

As a background, Sudanese Prime Minister, Abdalla Hamdok and Abdel al-Hilu, the leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation-North rebel group, on September 3 signed a declaration in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa that is allegedly aimed at putting an end to decades of Islamic rule in Sudan.

Reacting to media reports announcing the historic agreement, Bishop Tombe clarified that the signing was only the beginning of a dialogue on Sudan’s religion versus state matter.

“SPLM-North and the Prime Minister did not agree that there is a separation between the state and the religion but they have agreed that they are going to dialogue about this separation of state and religion,” Bishop Tombe told ACI Africa October 2.


He added, “Those who may be saying that there is good news of the repeal of the Sharia in Sudan ran fast on something that has not taken place.”

The Sudanese Prelate who doubles as the President of the Sudan Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SCBC) further said that the agreement is neither a repeal of the country's Sharia law, as has been interpreted by the public.

“They have agreed on the principle; something not really understood well by the mass media is that it is not repealing Sharia. I don’t think there is an article talking about repealing Sharia in the agreement,” the Bishop told ACI Africa.

He explained, “What the leaders agreed are the principles; since Islam laws or Sharia has been one of the main causes of war, they have agreed to the principle for dialogue with hope that there is the separation between state and religion.”

According to the Local Ordinary of Sudan’s El Obeid Diocese, although there are those opposing the agreement, a good number of people in Sudan support the change of separating the state from religion.

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Referencing the agreement, Bishop Tombe said, “For Sudan to become a democratic country where the rights of all citizens are enshrined, the constitution should be based on the principle of ‘separation of religion and state’, in the absence of which the right to self-determination must be respected.”

He went on to say, “The parties will discuss the norms, having the country separated from the religion with no application of Sharia.”

He added, “No Sudanese leader has the courage to speak that out except the Prime Minister. The dialogue has been going on for one year and no political or military leader said something about the separation of religion and state.”

“It is a positive move whether they are going to repeal it or not, it is going to be a possibility to dialogue,” the Sudanese Bishop said and added, “Even if they agree, they will agree that into terms that it is accepted by both parties. With dialogue, they will surely come to terms on what system they are going to use in ruling the country.”

The 56-year-old Prelate revealed that for the first time, religious leaders in Sudan had been allowed to give a statement, a move he interpreted as indicating a possibility to dialogue over the issue through seminars and make people understand what it means.


“There has been a separation of religion and state in Sudan,” Bishop Trille recalled adding that “it was only in September 1983 that the country entered into institutionalizing Islamic laws.”

He added, “In the 1950's, 1960’s and 70’s, there were no Islamic laws.  From 1983 to the present is when institutions became Islamized.”

Bishop Tombe also proposed some options to solving the Islamization of Sudan saying, “One way is to go back to where we were in the 1950s; Islam is not brought by these fundamentalists, Islam has been there before.”

The SCBC President continued, “We go back to our laws and continue to live as a nation without dividing the country into Muslims and Christians, non-religious and religious; we are able and I think it is possible to go back because it has been there before.”

“Always Islam is being used by the politicians for ruling,” he noted, adding that the statement providing gaps for confusion is clear, “Islam is the source of all laws, even before it was there but hidden and relatively more peaceful.” 

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The Bishop further noted, “Without removing this one article called Sharia being the source of all laws and norms in Sudan, even if they say it is repealed, it will remain the same.”

“The best thing to work on is the attitude of people to see themselves as Sudanese and not necessarily Muslims or Christians,” he said and added, “Let Sudanese have their own laws as people and Christians with their own laws as Christians dealing with spiritual laws and Muslims with their spiritual laws separately.”

“We are talking about Islamic laws, not Sudanese laws; if Islam wants to rule themselves by their own laws, let them rule themselves; a Muslim is free to apply Sharia for himself but not a law for Sudanese,” Bishop Tombe said during the October 2 interview with ACI Africa.