Wide-ranging persecution against the institutional Christian church has intensified across the Sudan in recent months, say relief-agency and church officials based in Khartoum.

Soon to enter its tenth year, a jihad is being waged by northern Arab Muslims against the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) in the south. In the war’s wake, millions of southern Sudanese blacks, who are predominantly either animist or Christian, have been displaced and subjected to unprecedented persecution.

Measures directed against Christians include closure of church properties; making conversion to Islam a prerequisite to receive food aid in the displaced camps; summary arrests; beatings and executions; imposition of shari‘a (Islamic law) requirements; and the expulsion of expatriate church workers.

Despite repeated government assurances that all Sudanese citizens have equal rights, a letter by Roman Catholic Archbishop Gabriel Zubeir states, “We see clearly that the reality is different. It is very evident that present government policies are aimed at creating one nation—a nation that is Islamic in religion and Arab in culture.”

The “Foreign” Church

In closing down Christian churches, government officials have invoked as their legal pretext the Missionary Societies Act of 1962, says William Knipe, spokesman for the Maryknoll Fathers. Knipe says the act was originally intended to curb the activities of foreign missionaries, but that the state is now interpreting the historic Sudanese church as a “foreign organization,” even though Christianity predates Islam in the Sudan by several centuries. Christians constitute an estimated 10 percent of the population.

“Without a certificate approving a fixed site for Christian assembly,” Knipe says, “all ...

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