Sudan

The Coptic Church is exempt from property tax as it is registered with the government, but these are exceptions to a generally anti-Christian disposition in Sudanese law. Apostasy is illegal and punishable either by imprisonment or death. The US State Department further reports that Christian orphanages were asked to refuse male orphans and reduce the number of orphans under their care; furthermore, Christians had no legal recourse when their right by law to break for prayers was violated by authorities either at work or in school. 

Christian Demographics

Sudan is 97 percent Muslim, 2 percent traditionally religious and 1 percent Christian. The Christian community in Sudan is (since the creation of South Sudan in 2011) fairly homogenous, being almost entirely Coptic.

History of the Sudanese Christian Community

The historically established Coptic Christian church (it has existed since 543 CE) is treated significantly better than other, newer Christian denominations, especially those seeking to proselytize. Christianity was the predominant religion in Sudan until the arrival of Islam in the 600s-700s. However, the Christian kingdoms of Nubia prospered from 600 CE-1172 CE by dint of a robust treaty and trading agreement with the Egyptian monarchy. In 1260, these kingdoms were conquered and pillaged by the Mamluks, who expelled the majority of Christians in the country. Christianity experienced another particularly pronounced drop in adherence under Mahdist persecution for a decade at the end of the nineteenth century. However, from 1898 to 1960 the situation for Christians improved somewhat before the calls by radical Islamists for a more religious state became prevalent. From 1983, with the implementation of Sharia law, persecution and oppression of Christians became far more frequent, and this pattern has continued up to the present day.

Current Situation of the Christian Community

The Coptic Church is exempt from property tax as it is registered with the government, but these are exceptions to a generally anti-Christian disposition in Sudanese law. Apostasy is illegal and punishable either by imprisonment or death. The US State Department further reports that Christian orphanages were asked to refuse male orphans and reduce the number of orphans under their care; furthermore, Christians had no legal recourse when their right by law to break for prayers was violated by authorities either at work or in school. 


To whom do we turn?

How Christians Respond to Religious Persecution:
Lessons from Kenya, Nigeria, and Sudan

Robert Dowd, Ph.D. (University of Notre Dame)

 

Christians who are persecuted, that is attacked or discriminated against because of their religious identity, are faced with a choice. They may choose to endure, flee, fight, appeal to government, or reach out to those who share religious identity with their persecutors. They may also choose some combination of these responses. 

This study seeks to understand why Christians in three sub-Saharan African countries, Kenya, Nigeria, and Sudan, have chosen to respond to religious persecution in the ways they have and to identify the effects of such choices on the prospects for greater religious freedom in their countries.

In the study, we clearly differentiate the three countries in terms of the types of religious persecution that exist. In Kenya and Nigeria the persecution that Christians have experienced is societal persecution. In other words, the state is not the perpetrator. The perpetrators are societal movements, namely Al-Shabaab in Kenya and Boko Haram in Nigeria. In Sudan, the persecution is state sponsored.

The persecution of Christians in Kenya by Al-Shabaab and in Nigeria by Boko Haram has been extremely violent and the state in both countries has struggled to protect Christians’ lives let alone their freedom to worship. While Al-Shabaab and Boko Haram have also attacked Muslims they consider insufficiently faithful, they have often killed Christians immediately upon learning of their religious identity. This has been especially true of male Christians. While the persecution of Christians in Sudan has been less violent in nature, there has been systematic discrimination in ways that clearly make Christians second or third class citizens at best.

In Kenya and Nigeria, most ordinary Christians (i.e., Roman Catholics, Mainline Protestants, and Evangelicals) have responded to Al Shabaab and Boko Haram attacks by fleeing areas where such attacks have been most frequent. In both Kenya and Nigeria, Christians who have fled violent attacks make up a growing percentage of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). Many of them, with nowhere else to turn, find themselves in IDP camps. It is estimated there are over 50,000 IDPs in Nigeria because of the Boko Haram insurgency and, as of August 2015, over 70 percent of these IDPs were Christians.

Although some groups of Christians in northeastern Nigeria have chosen to take up arms to defend themselves against Boko Haram, Christians in the area have generally decided not to fight back.

There appears to be a split among Nigeria’s Christian leaders as to the best way to respond to attacks on Christians, with mainline Christian leaders, particularly Roman Catholic leaders, choosing to reach our to Muslim religious leaders and government to develop strategies to weaken Boko Haram, and Evangelical Christian choosing to demand government action and to call for Christians to defend themselves.

In Sudan, discrimination and harassment of Christians intensified after the creation of South Sudan in 2011. Many Christians have simply decided to worship ‘underground,’ seeking to avoid drawing the attention of the state. Many Christians seek ways to leave Sudan, but lack the financial resources to do so. Some have chosen to immigrate to predominantly Christian South Sudan, only to find a civil war that makes life in some parts of that country at least as challenging as life in Sudan.

Christian leaders in Sudan have chosen to appeal to Christians beyond Sudan in a way that does not backfire and end up shrinking the little religious freedom that they happen to enjoy. Christians have responded by enduring the discrimination and worshipping “underground.”  Christian leaders have sought conversations with the government in an attempt gain greater freedom of worship. This has met with some limited successes and appears to have prevented increased persecution.

Preliminary evidence suggests that Christian leaders’ efforts to reach out to Muslim religious leaders have been effective in providing Christians in certain areas of Nigeria and Kenya with greater security. In Nigeria in particular, there are numerous examples of Muslims hiding and defending Christians from Boko Haram militants. These inter-faith efforts to promote religious freedom may also be sowing the seeds of mutual respect and greater religious freedom for Christians and Muslims in the area.