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SUDAN - The Religious Dimension.

In Darfur, the Arab killers pray towards Mecca. The million displaced people do as well. In this western region of Sudan, marauding men on horseback, the women raped by them, the rebels who incited the fighting and the politicians, soldiers and police officers who have failed to control it - nearly all are Muslim. But most of the victims are African Muslims, being discriminated against by the Arabs. A large Christian minority is among the victims as well.

Sudan has a history of Christian-Muslim frictions and war as well as a racial Arab-African conflict. A rebel movement in the south, dominated by Christians, has fought the Islamic government in Khartoum for decades, largely over religious freedom. That conflict now appears to be petering out, partly because of the involvement of the US. But instead of peace, Sudan is mired in a grievous conflict in Darfur.

Political rivalries, ethnic strife and poverty have fuelled the clashes, but that has not stopped combatants from invoking religion and challenging the devotion of their rivals. Arif Shaikh, a representative of Islamic Relief USA who visited Darfur in April, was on Aug. 22 quoted as saying: In the long history of the Muslims, "it is not uncommon for people to question each other's version of Islam. But this is really a political, not a religious, dispute. So much animosity has built up, and that's why it's gotten to this level".

While the Muslims fight, many Sudanese revert to their historic grudges, directed against Christians, the US and foreigners in general. Inside the mosques of Khartoum, which follow the Sunni branch of Islam, there has been plenty of discussion about the violence in Darfur but little success at finding a way to end the bloodshed.

No religious leader has yet publicly chastised the combatants, either Arab or African. But America-bashing, long a theme at Friday prayers, is as fierce as ever. "We caution our people in Sudan and our people in western Sudan against trusting the USA, that it wants to help them", an imam, Abdel Jalil Al-Nathir Al-Karuri, said in a sermon broadcast on television in early August, adding: "What is being done now is for the interests of one country: Israel".

Imam Isam Ahmad Al-Bashir, in a sermon urged his followers at another Friday prayer service to resist foreign intervention. He said: "We must all say, irrespective of our different affiliations and leanings, races and groups, a resounding no to foreign intervention, which is lying in wait for our people. This is an issue that requires no bargaining. Divinity, morality and humanity is required in denouncing all forms of foreign intervention or we will be committing treason against God, religion and country".

The continuing conflict with the Christians began in 1983 after the president at the time, Ga'far Al-Numeiry, began a campaign to make the country adhere more closely to Islamic law, or Shariah. His effort included amputations as punishments for theft and public lashings for alcohol consumption. The current president, Omar Hassan Ahmad Al-Bashir, took over in a coup in 1989. He replaced non-Muslim judges in the south with Muslims and applied Shariah penalties to many non-Muslims in Khartoum and parts of the north. He also said the government's battle with southern rebels was a jihad.

Peace negotiations for the south that have been under way in Kenya have reached compromises: Shariah would remain in effect in Khartoum, under the tentative deal the two sides have signed, but the south would have its own legal code. Another agreement would give southerners the ability to hold a referendum for self-rule.

Most factors to the conflict in Darfur can be traced to a power struggle among top Muslim leaders in Khartoum. In Furburanga, a village close to the border with Chad, a dozen shaikhs recently met to explain their view of the violence, with the Arabs on one side and the Africans on the other. An Arab shaikh spoke first, saying the conflict could be resolved without outside involvement if everyone would simply follow the established principles of Islam. He said: "Prophet Mohammed says in the Qur'an that Muslims should talk and discuss and solve our problems. The Islamic religion has as its principle to love and be peaceful". He then questioned the religious conviction of some combatants, particularly the black African rebels.

An African shaikh spoke next. He questioned the devotion to Islam of those in the government-backed militias who attacked his people. He said he searched for a divine reason in all that had occurred, saying: "God has punished us. We just have to figure out why".
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Publication:APS Diplomat Fate of the Arabian Peninsula
Geographic Code:6SUDA
Date:Aug 23, 2004
Previous Article:SUDAN - Pax Americana Is Changing - Part 16B - Part 2.
Next Article:SUDAN - The Violence Continues.

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