August 10, 2009 (KHARTOUM) — Several hundreds of Sudanese Shi’ites have held what is believed to be their first religious celebration in the predominantly Sunni country.
The London based Al-Sharq Al-Awsat newspaper reported that the Shi’ites rallied in Jabal Awliya suburb 40 kilometers South of Khartoum to celebrate the birthday of Imam Al-Mahdi, a messiah-like figure for the sect.
The participants included university students, lecturers, politicians, journalists and students of religious seminars.
The exact figures of Shi’ites in Sudan is unknown but is believed to be expanding rapidly.
A religious official told the newspaper that the government in Khartoum was aware of the gathering and keeping a watchful eye out for any misbehavior.
“We won’t allow any activity that diminishes the associates of the Prophet, peace be upon him” the official said, implying that the government would not tolerate attacks against the more prevalent Sunni belief.
A growing Shi’ite influence in Sudan could be the result of close relations between Sudan and Iran, the latter being the country with the largest Shi’ite population in the world.
Government sources told A-Sharq Al-Awsat that the government did not oppose Shi’ite activities in the country because “it’s linked to the good relations with Iran and the government doesn’t want any interference to damage these relations.”.
In the past, Sunni Islamists in Sudan have accused Iran of trying to spread its brand of Shiite Islam in the East African country through a propaganda campaign.
Three years ago the Sudanese chapter of the Muslim Brotherhood said it had presented evidence of Teheran’s attempts to convert locals to Shi’itism.
“It’s a large scale plan conceived by Shiite groups and local organizations with the objective of spreading Shi’itism in Sudan,” a spokesman for the group told the Arab daily al-Hayat.
Sunni groups have denounced what they say is a “Shiite peril” and the opening of several Shiite mosques in Khartoum.
They have asked authorities to close down the Iranian embassy’s cultural centre and to prevent it from holding conferences which they say are being used for propaganda purposes.
“Shiite penetration in Sudan has become possible because of a lack of control on the part of the authorities,” the Muslim Brotherhood’s Sudan country representative, Sadiq Abdullah Abdel-Majid, said.
In 2006, an Iranian exhibit at the Khartoum International Book Fair was closed by authorities after it displayed books that allegedly contained blasphemous content against Sunni Islam.