Saturday, 25 December 2010

Shari’a competition

Mohamed Abdel-Karim, leading figure of the
Shari'a Association of Scholars and Preachers in Sudan

On Friday security forces stormed the headquarters of the Umma Party and violently disbanded an assembly of the party membership on their way to join the party chief, al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, in prayer. Sadiq had addressed a meeting of the Umma Party’s regional secretaries where he reaffirmed his 26 January ultimatum to the NCP before he departed to prepare for the Friday sermon in al-Hijra mosque. The former prime minister threatened to either resign from politics or to campaign for the regime’s overthrow in case the NCP fails to meet his demand of forming a broad-based transitional government after the referendum. According to Sadiq al-Mahdi  a transitional government in the North after secession of the South should draft a new constitution for the North, organise free and fair elections, address the Darfur crisis, and negotiate a solution for the row with the International Criminal Court.
The NCP’s deputy chairman, Nafie Ali Nafie, was quick to rubbish Sadiq’s demand, but as Friday’s confrontation proves took the matter quite seriously. If the Umma, alone or in coalition with other opposition parties in the North, manages to galvanise public support for the proposition of a transitional government in Khartoum the NCP will have to negotiate, essentially, because the NCP has exhausted its argument for rule. Bashir’s recent shari’a outburst can be interpreted as an attempt to reengage the Northern Sudanese ideologically, i.e. beyond the patronage grease of the NCP machinery. The NCP’s shari’a is however not the only Islamic commodity on the market. Apart from the split inside the Islamic Movement itself, which cost it much of its credibility, the NCP’s monopoly over shari’a as a political slogan is today challenged from both its flanks. There is for instance Sadiq al-Mahdi’s own claim on shari’a, in which he has greatly invested in the past twenty years. Sadiq preaches a liberal shari’a that has made him the favourite Islamic scholar among Khartoum’s secular flock. However, the fact that he is the head of a rural based brotherhood that boasts a national revolutionary history, the Ansar, preserves his appeal in the same Northern mainstream that the NCP claims to represent. On the other end, there is the range of more extreme groups in Wahhabi style which the NCP tolerates, actively supports, or occasionally restrains as need implies. On the same day that the police attacked Umma followers in Omdurman it effectively protected a protest march of an extreme group down the University Avenue in Khartoum after the Friday prayers. The group named "the Shari'a Association of Scholars and Preachers" demanded the prohibition of the SPLM in the North after secession, on the grounds that the SPLM was plotting to impose ‘the secularism of the state’ in the North. In a public statement the group, which had lately gained considerable influence, issued a religious fatwa arguing that the Southern Sudan referendum was a grave violation of Islamic faith in a country where Muslims constitute more than half of the population. Today largely subservient to the NCP’s interests and virtually under the control of the security service these organisations, once big enough, have the potential to mutate into a stubborn enemy. 

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This work by Magdi El Gizouli is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.