Sudan abolishes Islamic law, separates religion from state

Sudanese leader Abdalla Hamdok

Sudan’s transitional government has abolished Islamic, or Shariah, law by separating religion from the state.

Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and Abdel-Aziz al-Hilu, a leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North rebel group, signed a declaration in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, on Thursday adopting the principle.

“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,” the document states.

The accord comes less than a week after the government signed a peace deal with rebel forces that has raised hopes of an end to fighting that ravaged Darfur and other parts of Sudan under ousted leader Omar al-Bashir.

The larger of two factions in the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, which has fought Sudanese troops in the nation’s border states, has refused to sign any agreement that doesn’t ensure a secular system.

Sudan is emerging from Western-imposed economic isolation that began soon after Bashir seized power in 1989.

Sudan’s former President Omar al-Bashir

Two months ago Khartoum approved wide-ranging amendments to its criminal law including repealing the death penalty for apostasy and allowing non-Muslims to drink alcohol.

Public flogging was also ended and women are now no longer required to need a permit from male family members to travel with their children.

New laws have also banned female genital mutilation (FGM), a practice that typically involves the partial or total removal of the external genitalia of girls and women.

According to the United Nations, about three percent of Sudan’s population is non-Muslim. Former president Jaafar Nimeiri introduced Islamic law in 1983 which was a significant catalyst for a 22-year-long war between Sudan’s Muslim north and the mainly Christian south that led in 2011 to South Sudan’s secession.

President Omar Al-Bashir extended Islamic law after he took power in 1989.

A transition government led by Abdalla Hamdok now runs the country in an uneasy coalition with the military, which helped remove Al-Bashir after months of mass protests.

Over the past few years Sudan has moved away from Iran’s sphere of influence and has forged closer ties with Saudi Arabia and the United States.

Earlier this year Israeli officials said that Tel Aviv and Sudan had agreed to move towards forging normal relations after the leaders of the two countries met in Uganda.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held talks with Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, head of Sudan’s sovereign council, in Entebbe. The Sudanese leader said he met Netanyahu to protect his country’s national security.

Analysts say Sudan the country’s leaders have moved in this direction to prove they have moved away from the Muslim Brotherhood who were the main proponents of Shariah law in Sudan.

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