As hopes rise for a peace agreement in Sudan, national religious leaders have established a forum where for the first time in history Sudanese Muslims and Christians can come together to work out inter-communal problems and deal with such crucial issues as enhancing religious freedom and promoting a more egalitarian society in which non-Muslims are treated as full citizens.
By Douglas Johnston
May 20, 2003
This Inter-Religious Council (IRC) of Sudan has just held its inaugural meeting in Khartoum after almost three years of preparations.
“It is our hope that the Council will fulfill its expected role in national healing,” declared Dr. Al Tayib Zein Al Abdin, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Islamic University in Islamabad and newly-appointed Secretary General of the IRC.
Membership in the IRC’s Executive Body and General Assembly is equally shared by Christians and Muslims. The Muslims represent such major religious orders and groups as the Ansar, the Khatmiyya, and the Ulama Council, as well as other prominent religious leaders and scholars. The Christians represent member churches of the Sudan Council of Churches and several active nonmember churches.
The IRC will advise the Sudanese government and other organizations in promoting policy changes in such areas as human rights, education, employment, and land allocation that will be sensitive to people of all religions, including African Traditionalists.
Key to the formation of the IRC has been the work of the Washington-based International Center for Religion and Diplomacy. Its president, Dr. Douglas Johnston, has made 14 trips to the region over the past four years to meet with religious and political leaders from both the North and the South. Johnston adheres to a brand of faith-based realism. “I personally feel that inter-religious dialogue in and of itself is overrated, unless it can lead to building relationships and, in turn, trust-at which point all things become possible.”
Senator John Danforth, U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan, says that the Center for Religion and Diplomacy’s efforts “are doing an outstanding job of focusing the attention of both Muslims and Christians on the role religion plays in the tragic situation in Sudan.” Former National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane agrees, saying that the Center’s accomplishments in Sudan are “truly phenomenal.”
The Inter-Religious Council of Sudan meets next in July.
For photos and interviews, contact the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy.