Date of Publication: 11 June 2002




The issue of religion in Sudan has been caught up in what can only be described as a propaganda war, with claims being made that Christians were subject to violent persecution and were unable to worship within the country. (1) The reality is actually somewhat different. While Sudan is an overwhelmingly Muslim country, with Muslims making up well over 75 percent of the population (2), Christianity has deep roots within Sudan, some going back into antiquity. (3) There are active Christian communities in both the north and south of the country. Christians make up 4 percent of the national population, and perhaps between 10-15 percent of the southern population. (4)

The official position in respect of Christianity and freedom of worship within Sudan is clear. Article 24 of the 1998 Constitution of the Republic of the Sudan states: "Everyone has the right to freedom of conscience and religion and the right to manifest and disseminate his religion or belief in teaching, practice or observance. No one shall be coerced to profess a faith in which he does not believe or perform rituals or worship that he does not voluntarily accept." Article 90 stipulates that the President of the Republic cannot issue decrees affecting freedom of religion. The Constitution also makes clear that there are no religious criteria for elected public office. This built on previous Constitutional decrees, which, while affirming that "Islam is the guiding religion for the overwhelming majority of the Sudanese people", stated that "revealed religions such as Christianity, or traditional religious beliefs may be freely adopted by anyone with no coercion in regards to beliefs and no restriction on religious observances. These principles are observed by the State and its laws". (5) In northern Sudan Friday is the day of worship for Muslims; it is also a day off for Christians, who are also entitled to two hours off on Sunday to attend prayers. In southern Sudan, Sunday is the day of worship. In 1994, the present government repealed the 1962 Missionary Societies Act, legislation which had previously obliged missionary
groups to obtain an annual licence for their activities. This decision was announced at a Muslim-Christian Religious Dialogue Conference held in October of that year.

Sudanese Christians also play a full and active part, disproportionate to their numbers in society, in their country's political and social life. A distinguished Christian southern Sudanese academic, Professor Moses Machar, is Vice-President. A number of Christians are ministers within the Federal and state governments. The Rt Rev Bishop Gabriel Rorich, the Anglican bishop of Rumbek, served as a minister of state for foreign affairs for several years. Christians serve as ambassadors, judges and senior army and police officers. Dozens of Christians serve as members of the National Assembly. All ten of the governors of southern states within Sudan are Christians and Christians dominate within government structures in that part of the country.

Christian churches and denominations are well-established and well-represented in northern Sudan, and particularly Khartoum. Denominations active within Sudan include the Roman Catholic Church, the Episcopal Church, the Coptic Church, the Coptic Orthodox Church, the Maronite Church, the Presbyterian Church, the Sudan Pentecostal Church, the Africa Inland Church, the Greek Orthodox Church, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, the Eritrean Church, the Armenian Orthodox Church, the Apostolic Church, New Apostolic, the Sudan Interior Church, the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical, the Seventh Day Adventist Church, the Sudanese Church of Christ and the Evangelical Church. The Jehovah's Witnesses are also present. Christmas and Easter are public holidays within Sudan.

There are several hundred churches in Sudan, and several cathedrals, including the Catholic St Matthew's Cathedral and the Anglican All Saints Cathedral. The Catholic Church is also a major land owner within Khartoum itself. The Catholic Church has well over two hundred churches and it is reported that the Episcopal Church, part of the Anglican communion, has 400 clergy serving in 275 churches in Sudan. The latter also claims that "many are being converted to Christianity." (6) The costs of lighting churches is borne by the Sudanese government.

Both Pope John Paul II and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, have visited Sudan. The Pope was invited to visit Sudan by the present government, and stayed for several days in February 1993. A Papal mass was broadcast live on Sudanese television. (7) Dr Carey visited in 1995 and 2000, and spoke freely and openly about the situation as he found it in Sudan.

The American government's Annual Report on International Religious Freedom states: "the government permits non-Muslims to participate in services in existing, authorised places of worship". (8) Christians are also able to hold very large open-air evangelical meetings. From 14-18 January 2000, 50,000 people attended the "Christian Family Convention" evangelical meetings in Khartoum's Green Square. Thousands were said to have started "a life following Christ". (9) Over 200,000 people attended a six-day Easter celebration addressed by German evangelist Reinhard Bonke in Khartoum's Green Square in 2000. The first day saw a crowd of 60,000. The organisers claimed thousands of conversions. In a television interview, the Sudanese president spoke out against criticism of the event. (10) Another example of open-air evangelism was the meeting held by evangelist Sammy Tippit in October 2001 in the Marouda Stadium in Khartoum. Some 20,000 people attended, and five thousand were said to have embraced Christianity. (11) 400 pastors, evangelists, bishops and other church leaders also gathered for daily pastors' conferences from 31 October-4 November 2001. Every year, the Holy Book floating festival is held on the banks of the river Nile, opposite the Grand Hotel. This Bible festival is held under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture. The Anglican church also operates a literature bureau at Khartoum
central station.

The Catholic Church has reported, for example, that over 6000 adults were baptised in one Catholic church in Khartoum on Easter night alone in 1995. This statement was documented by Africa Watch. (12) Several Christian groups have reported considerable church work and proselytising. The Jesus Fellowship Church and Dawn Ministries, for example, stated in 1996 that 3.21 million people saw the Jesus film, based on Luke's Gospel, in Sudan in 1995 alone, after which 1.62 million people it was claimed "showed great interest in Christianity". (13) This evangelical mission also stated that "most churches are growing" and, following a pastors' conference in May 1996, have decided to work together more closely in systematically evangelising the country. The same publication reported that a Muslim Imam had converted to Christianity at the end of 1995. He stated that no-one in his community had challenged his conversion, and that other Muslims had also decided to convert. It is also clear that the Government has acted where necessary to secure religious freedom. In March 1999, for example, police arrested thirty Muslim extremists who were causing public order disturbances outside an Orthodox church in Khartoum. (14)

The teaching of Christianity to Christians in government schools is mandatory. It is part of the official education curriculum. The American government has also confirmed that "[t]he Government requires instruction in Islam in public schools in the north. In public schools in areas in which Muslims are not a majority, students have a choice of studying Islam or Christianity." (15) To graduate from secondary school, students must pass an examination in religious knowledge, with Christians taking an examination in Christianity. (16) The churches are themselves very active in education within Sudan, and run several hundred schools, a large number of which are within Khartoum state itself. There are in fact a number of very prestigious, church-run schools in Khartoum and elsewhere in Sudan. The government allows churches to train and provide Christian education teachers to teach
within the school system. Christian syllabuses for schools are prepared by a special church committee. The Catholic Church runs several junior seminaries and a teacher training college and the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterians and others run theological colleges. Christian training centres are active. In November 2000, for example, the Ezra Bible Institute graduated 90 evangelists. The Dean of the Institute, Moses Zungo, said that the graduation marked another "giant leap" in the cradle of evangelisation in the Sudan. (17)

Few countries can claim perfect religious tolerance. For all the negative projections, it is clear that by any criteria freedom to worship is more firmly entrenched in Sudan than many other countries.


Welcoming Address to His Holiness, John Paul II by the Sudanese President Omer al-Bashir on the occasion of the Pope's visit to Sudan, Khartoum, 10 February 199318

"In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate

May I on behalf of the Government and the people of the Sudan welcome Your Holiness as a messenger of Peace and Love to this land which throughout its history has hosted a multitude of civilizations and faiths and, where Christianity and Islam have flourished and ingrained their values and ideals in the Sudanese people and endowed them with a sense of tolerance and peaceful co-existence unprecedented in the African Continent.

The missions of peace that your have undertaken in different parts of the world have borne fruit in helping bring about the demise of materialistic and atheistic communism and imbibed a feeling of spiritualism and family values in a world that has become obsessed with consumerism and materialism. Africa has been undergoing profound social and economic changes, which have led in their turn to conflicts and human suffering and the ever-deepening condition of poverty and deprivation. We have been on our part following with great admiration the efforts you have been undertaking together with men and women of goodwill to alleviate the situation and usher an era of fraternity, goodwill and brotherhood between the people of Africa. This has been a source of inspiration to us in the Sudan and a strengthening of our resolve and determination to deal effectively and humanely with the causes and roots of our own internal conflict. We are confident that the peaceful resolution of the problems confronting this country will be achieved in the near future, and the Sudan will be able to live in peace and concentrate the energies of its sons and daughters to the task of rehabilitation and development.

We are confident that our combined efforts and the efforts of all men of goodwill will enable us to achieve these cherished objectives, and the Sudan will once again become a land of peace, tolerance and of spiritual values as it has always been through its history.

Your Holiness, Muslims read in their Holy Book everyday that Christians are the closest to them in love. The Koran says, I quote: "And nearest among them in love to the believers will thou find those who say, 'We are Christians', because among these are men devoted to learning and men who have renounced the world, and they are not arrogant.." A rapprochement between and a togetherness of Christian and Muslim spiritual as well as political leaders and a meaningful religious dialogue between Christianity and Islam, being the two faiths with the most following among the faithful can make our world a better place and an abode of peace.

Your welcome visit, Your Holiness, is a God sent gift for both of us to share our views on these important matters and a rare opportunity for Your Holiness to see the facts for yourself, and to see also how the Sudan, a multi-religious, multi-racial and multi-cultural society, has devised ways and means whereby all can enjoy life and live in harmony, fraternity and tranquillity. I thank you."


1 See, for example, recent claims by American Christian leaders that Sudan is the "worst violator of religious liberty" ("Christian Leaders Ask U.S. to Sanction Sudan, North Korea", 'The Washington Times', 2 May 2002. Southern rebels have even tried to portray Sudan as the "Taliban of Africa", perhaps unaware that the Taliban did not tolerate a single church in Afghanistan. Contrast this with a 5 April 1998 'New York Times' article by James McKinley which noted: "Khartoum's churches on Sunday are filled to overflowing with Christians, worshipping freely, and those congregations are growing."

2 See, for example, 'Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for 1999: Sudan', U.S. Department of State, Washington DC, 9 September 1999.

3 The Sudan National Museum has as a key display one thousand year-old Christian frescos relocated from northern Sudan when the areas in which they had been found were flooded. The Christian period within Sudan is well documented at the museum.

4 There is a certain amount of divergence in respect of estimates of the religious breakdown of the southern population. Human Rights Watch states that 4 percent of the population are Christian and that about 15 percent of southern Sudanese are Christian (Testimony of Jemera Rone, Human Rights Watch, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Subcommittee on Africa, 25 September 1997). The Economist Intelligence Unit in its report entitled 'Sudan: Country Profile 1994-95' also puts the Christian population of southern Sudan at 15 percent. The definitive United States government guide, 'Sudan - A Country Study', published by the Federal Research division and Library of Congress, states that "In the early 1990s possibly no more than 10 percent of southern Sudan's population was Christian." Muslims may make up a similar percentage in southern Sudan.

5 'Principles, Regulations and Constitutional Developments for 1993', Government of Sudan, Khartoum, 16 October 1993.

6 The Anglican Communion, the Inter-Anglican Information Network, 19 February 1997, available at

7 'Middle East International', 5 February 1993.

8 'Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for 1999: Sudan', U.S. Department of State, Washington DC, 9 September 1999.

9 "50,000 Attend Evangelistic Meetings in Khartoum", Dawn Fridayfax 2000 Number 8, Dawn Ministries, Jesus Fellowship Church, available at

10 "210,000 Listen to Bonnke in Khartoum", Dawn Fridayfax 2000, Number 21, Dawn Ministries, Jesus Fellowship Church, available at

11 "20,000 Attend Evangelistic Event with Sammy Tippit", Dawn Fridayfax 2001, Number 45, Dawn Ministries, Jesus Fellowship Church available at

12 'Behind the Red Line: Political Repression in Sudan', Human Rights Watch/Africa, New York, 1996, pp. 219/20.

13 "Sudan: Great Openness for the Gospel", Dawn Fridayfax 1996 Number 20, Dawn Ministries, Jesus Fellowship Church available at

14 'Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for 1999: Sudan', U.S. Department of State, Washington DC, 9 September 1999.

15 '2000 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom: Sudan', U.S. Department of State, Washington DC, 5 September 1999.

16 'Behind the Red Line: Political Repression in Sudan', Human Rights Watch/Africa, New York, 1996, p. 213.

17 "EBI Graduates 90 Evangelists", 'The Khartoum Monitor', 28 November 2000.

18 See, "Welcoming Address at the Airport By The Head of State Omar Hassan Ahmed Al Bashir, Khartoum 10 February 1993", in 'The Church in Sudan Journeying Towards Justice and Peace', Diocese Rumbek, Paulines Publications Africa, Nairobi, 2001.

Espac Published by The European - Sudanese Public Affairs Council Copyright © David Hoile 2005
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