The Khartouma International Forum for Inter-Religious Cooperation and Peace convened in Khartoum from July 3-4, 2002. The meeting, which was jointly sponsored by the International People’s Friendship Council, the Sudan Council of Churches (SCC) and the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy (ICRD), brought together thirty religious leaders and scholars – Muslim and Christian – as well as representatives of the government of Sudan (GOS) and selected civil society organizations.
By Brian Cox
The purpose of the meeting was to address three war-related issues of direct concern and relevance to the religious communities in Sudan, namely:
- Involvement of religious leaders in the peace process;
- Freedom of movement for religious leaders to perform their duties in the zones of conflict, and
- Protection of holy sites and places of worship in the zones of conflict.These issues emerged as recommendations of the November 2000 meeting of the Khartoum International Forum for Inter-Religious Cooperation and Peace.
The participants included representation from the major Muslim orders and Christian churches in Sudan as well as the relevant Sudanese government authorities, women’s associations and human rights groups (list attached).
The program, which extended over two days, was held at the Green Village Hotel in Khartoum. It included working sessions during the day and a lecture each evening. Working papers were presented on the involvement of religious leaders in the peace process, respect for the sanctity of places of worship, and on the constitutional and legal framework relating to freedom of movement for religious leaders, particularly in the zones of conflict.
General discussion followed, and agreement was reached on various resolutions. A select committee was then appointed to translate that agreement into specific recommendations, which were presented to the forum on the evening of July 4, 2002.
The two lectures included one by a representative from the Ministry of Religious Affairs, who presented the Ministry’s policies and procedures relating to the establishment of churches and movement of religious leaders. The second lecture was presented by Dr. Gazi Salahul Din, Peace Advisor to the President of Sudan, who was presented with the recommendations from the group and who then briefed the participants on the then-ongoing peace negotiations in Nairobi. In response to the recommendations, he welcomed the prospective involvement of religious leaders in the peace process and promised the cooperation of the Government of Sudan in implementing the findings (see attached).
SUMMARY OF PROCEEDINGS:
The meeting started at 9:30 A.M. on Wednesday July 3, 2002 with a recitation from the Quran and a reading from the Bible followed by welcoming remarks from the co-chairs, Professor Abdalla Ahmed Abdalla and Mr. Taban Elonai, chairman of the Sudan Council of Churches.
Following the co-chairs’ remarks, Professor Abdul-Rahim Ali, Chairman of the Inter-Religious Dialogue Society, welcomed the participants and pointed to the importance of dialogue between the religious communities, a process that had not received enough attention by the Inter-Religious Dialogue Society. He praised the efforts of ICRD in bringing the Sudanese religious leaders together and contributing to the process of such a dialogue. He also indicated that the Society would evolve into an Inter-religious Council independent of the government to enhance meaningful cooperation between the religious communities.
Reverend Enock Tombe, Secretary General of the Sudan Council of Churches, followed, stressing that there is no alternative to dialogue, even after the unfortunate incident of the previous Easter in which a major confrontation took place between the Muslim and Christian communities in relation to the cancellation of a planned rally by a German evangelist. He noted that most of the recommendations of the November 2000 Forum had not yet been implemented, which is a source of worry to the churches. He called upon those who could influence government policy to take this message seriously because the alternative to cooperation is violence.
He also called upon pastors and Imams to support inter-religious dialogue and to respect one another’s faith. He concluded by saying that Muslim and Christian religious leaders should not repeat the mistake of the 1972 peace negotiations, which failed to include inputs from Muslim religious leaders. Religious leaders from both communities should participate.
Reverend Isaac, representing the Catholic Church, spoke on behalf of Archbishop Gabriel Zubair Wako, who could not attend. He reiterated the position of the Catholic Church in support of peace, dialogue, and serving the poor.
Dr. Douglas Johnston, President of the International Center for Religion & Diplomacy, welcomed the participants and recalled the spirit of openness and seriousness that contributed to the great success of the November 2000 meeting. He indicated that the ICRD – in conjunction with its partners in Sudan, the Sudan Council of Churches and the International People’s Friendship Council – has been pressing forward with implementation of 6 of the 17 recommendations from the November 2000 meeting of religious leaders and scholars: reconciliation training for Muslim and Christian leaders, which was conducted this past January; the 3 war-related religious issues that we were to be addressed at this meeting; establishment of an independent Center for Human Rights; and establishment of the Inter-Religious Council, referred to by Professor Ali, a council that will include representation from both faith communities as it seeks to address issues of mutual concern and to enhance inter-religious cooperation in moving toward peace. Dr. Johnston concluded by reaffirming ICRD’s commitment to aid in the implementation of all of the recommendations of the November meeting.
Following Dr. Johnston, Bishop Daniel Deng, representative of Archbishop Joseph Marona, spoke. He indicated that Muslims and Christians in Sudan have no problems living together in peace and harmony. It is government policies that pose problems for the Christian community. He said the Muslims need to stretch out a hand to the Christians and give them fair and equitable access to national radio and television programming, among other things. He concluded by saying that what is needed is action not words.
Topic: “Role of religious Leaders in the Peace Process in Sudan”
The working paper was prepared by Professor Al-Tayib Zein al-Abdin, Head of the Department of Political Science at the International Islamic University, Islamabad, Pakistan, and the Reverend Enock Tombe chaired the session.
Dr. al-Tayib started out by providing a rationale for involving religious leaders in the peace process that keyed to the nature of religion as a moral and spiritual force that is supposed to produce peace within oneself, with God and within humanity at large. He acknowledged that there is a religious dimension to the conflict in Sudan, that politicians alone cannot resolve it, and that religious leaders have an obligation to help.
He elaborated four major roles for religious leaders:
- An educational role, primarily toward their followers, to teach them about peace-related values from within their own tradition and to encourage tolerance, coexistence and cooperation toward others.
- A social role in alleviating poverty and addressing social ills in the Sudan. This should be pursued without reference to religion, race, or gender.
- A political role in clarifying political issues of a religious nature, such as the relationship between religion and the state, freedom of religion and missionary work, construction of places of worship, the establishment of religious schools, etc.
- He suggested that religious leaders, one Muslim and one Christian, should be represented in the ongoing peace talks in Nairobi. The two persons should be representative of their respective faith communities and should seek agreement – and to the extent possible, speak with one voice – on those issues presented at the negotiating table.
Discussants of the first working paper included Professor Mohamed Osman Salih, head of the Ulama Council of Sudan and Vice Chancellor of the Omdurman Islamic University, and Father Filotheos Farag, Proto Priest of the Shahedain Coptic Church in Khartoum.
Professor Salih confirmed the need for experiencing one another’s faith in the churches and mosques. He stressed that social work should focus on promoting peace, tolerance and coexistence and that the political role of religious leaders in peacemaking should be viewed as integral to their spiritual mission and not merely as political activity.
Father Filotheos Farag indicated that communal relations in Sudan are better than in many other countries, contrary to what is projected abroad, but that a need exists to relate to one another better on the individual level.
He supported the suggestion of involving religious leaders in the peace process and expressed his belief that such involvement would be helpful in bringing peace to the Sudan. At the same time, he called for more meetings between Muslim and Christian religious leaders to develop a greater commonality of outlook on related issues.
He also suggested the development of training seminars for religious leaders in order to enhance their dialogue and reconciliation skills.
He reminded participants of the intercommunal nature of the Coptic schools in the Sudan and of their successes.
He also noted that the political environment in the Sudan is now more open, and there are fewer tensions than before.
Sheikh Yusuf Hasan Yasin from the Ansar sect followed and stressed the importance of dialogue in addressing differences and also the need to respect the rights of minorities as well as those of the majority.He noted the need to learn the facts about religion from their authentic sources and not from the behavior of radical groups.Sheikh Hasan Ahmed Abu Sabeeh from the Khatmiyya sect supported the call for involving religious leaders in halting the war and expressed the view that Muslims and Christians should work together in that process. He stressed his belief that religion would not be an obstacle on the road to peace. What is needed first – he said – is to develop common perspectives and positions on the issues of concern to both faith communities so as to enable the people of Sudan to live together in harmony and unity.
Joy Kwaji, Director of Women’s Affairs at the Sudan Council of Churches, questioned the depiction of the war in the south as a “jihad”. If the problem is political – she asked – why call the war jihad? She called on Muslim religious leaders to speak on this and on the rights of the non-Muslim minorities.
Dr. Hasanat Awad Satti, from the Sudanese Women’s Union, commented on the paper and focused on the social role of religious leaders. She called for establishing relationships across religious lines and interacting meaningfully during communal and family events. This, she concluded, would lead to relationships of trust that could prove very helpful to the peace process.
“Constitutional and Legal Framework for the Freedom of Movement of Religious Leaders and Respect for Places of Worship in the Zones of Conflict”
Ambassador Izzel Din Hamid, Head of the European Department at the International People’s Friendship Council, chaired the session. The working paper entitled, “Freedom of Religion Under National and International Law” was prepared and presented by Dr. Ahmed al Mufti, Director General of the Khartoum Center for Human Rights.
Dr. al Mufti’s paper consisted of two parts:
Part One: Freedom of religion under international law;
Part Two: Freedom of religion under national law.
In part one, he outlined and described six stages in the evolution of religious freedom as a fundamental right in international law. These stages are:
- The adoption of the UN charter in 1945
- The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948
- The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966)
- The Declaration on the Elimination of all Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief (1981)
- The compromise of the World Conference on Human Rights between universality of human rights and religious particularities
- The annual observations about freedom of religion adopted without a vote by the commission on human rights.
Part two of the paper included an elaboration of freedom of religion under Sudan national law with a focus on two documents:
- The Sudan Peace Agreement of 1997, Implemented by the 14th Constitutional Decree of 1977; and
- The Sudan Constitution of 1998.
Dr. al Mufti also noted the general features of the Islamic penalties in the Sudan Penal Code of 1991 and also the personal matters laws, indicating that personal matters for each religious group are governed by religious belief, custom or tradition.
He concluded by noting that the so-called “separation of religion from the state” and “secularism” are political concepts that have no equivalent human rights standards to judge against. Nevertheless, he admits, that there are genuine concerns underlying such concepts that can only be addressed through guaranting freedom of religion without any discrimination.
The first discussant, Professor Yusuf al Khalifa, presented the issue of “definitions” and its importance to the debate on freedom of movement and respect for the sanctity of places of worship. He stressed the importance of constitutional and legal guarantees and clear by-laws to regulate practices.
He pointed out that respect for places of worship is a relative matter since there is no concrete yardstick to measure it against.
He called for a precise definition of who specifically constitutes a religious leader so that the process of selection will be fair, effective and meaningful.
Reverend Enock Tombe followed and raised the issue of conversion from Islam to Christianity, saying that the state does not respect the religious freedom of a Muslim to convert and that, according to the penal code of 1991, it is not lawful for a Muslim to change his religion.
He noted that, if coexistence is to become a reality, such issues must be addressed. Those who convert from Islam to Christianity shouldn’t be forced to go underground.
“Recommendations: General Discussion”
The session was chaired by Professor Abdalla Ahmed Abdalla, who started out by reading the following draft recommendation offered by Dr. Johnston:
- The Khartoum International Forum will seek to secure agreement in principle from both sides in the conflict for religious representation in the peace negotiations. The Sudan Ulama Council and the Sudan Council of Churches would determine the process for selecting the Muslim and Christian representatives.
- The Khartoum International Forum will select an advisory group that will provide support and advice to the two representatives.
After a brief discussion, this recommendation was passed, with a suggestion to add “and the other Sufi orders” following “Ulama Council” in the first recommendation.
Professor Yusuf al Khalifa presented a recommendation calling for the granting of a right to a Christian education for Christian children in the public schools.
After some discussion, it was acknowledged that an arrangement to that effect exists but that it is largely ineffective and that further coordination and cooperation between the Sudan Council of Churches and the Ministry of Education in this regard would be needed.
Regarding the need to provide qualified teachers for religious subjects, it was recommended that the state encourage the establishment of national theological colleges for the training of priests and teachers of religious subjects.
A review and reactivation of the directorate of Christian education was recommended.
H.E. Ahmed Abdul Rahman, Secretary General of the International People’s Friendship Council, noted that many reports about alleged violations of religious freedom in the Sudan make their way to the Council. These reports go unchecked, he said, because of the absence of any mechanism for verification and response. Consequently, nothing is done in relation to these allegations or grievances. To address this issue, he proposed the establishment of an independent, interfaith committee to investigate alleged violations of religious freedom that emanate from within or outside the Sudan.
A discussion of the proposal ensued and concluded with an agreement to establish a committee (through consultation between the three sponsors of the Khartoum International Forum) to investigate allegations of violations of religious freedom and to report their findings to the concerned parties.
Finally it was recommended that a committee be established to monitor implementation of the Forum’s recommendations. The committee would then submit progress reports to the Forum’s sponsors on a quarterly basis.
A select committee representing the three Forum sponsors met the next morning, formulated the meeting recommendations in final form, and presented them to the forum that evening. The text of the recommendations is attached.