Home | Comment & Analysis    Thursday 20 April 2006

Sudan’s Turabi is now becoming a real thinker


By Alfred Taban, The Khartoum Monitor

April 19, 2006 — Hassan Abdallah Al Turabi, Sudan’s top Islamic ideologue is now becoming a real thinker as opposed to his previous static ideas and we congratulate him for that. He is now expanding his interpretation of Islam, drawing his views closer to Sudan’s mainstream view of Islam.

The way Islam has been delivered to us gives us the idea that this is the religion most restrictive of women rights and activities. But then Sudanese men and women have lived together, farmed together, eaten together and even defended their tribes together since time immemorial.

Some extremist Islamic practices brought what we see as segregation and belittling of women. Now Turabi is refuting this interpretation of Islam as, in his words, "textual and static." During prayers women have been segregated to the back rows and they have not been allowed to lead prayers. But now Turabi is saying women who are more learned in the Koran than men, and many of them are, should be allowed to lead prayers. Women, he said, can sit side by side with men during prayers, only they should not be touching one another so as not to arouse sexual desires and distract people from devotion.

Dr Al Turabi goes further to say this idea of equating two women’s testimonies (in court) to that of one man is unfair and a way of exploiting women. He said a woman’s testimony is as valid as that of a man, if not more reliable in some instances and made a very logical example of the unfairness of equating two PhD or Masters holding women to one illiterate man.

On the hijab (the Islamic veil), Turabi said it is only intended to cover the chest of a woman and not the entire body in a degrading way as is being practised today.

He said Muslim women can marry Christians or Jews as they wish and preventing Muslim women from marrying men of other religions is misguided and backward.

Regarding alcohol, Turabi says drinking alcohol is not a crime, unless it turns into a hostile act. He also said those northern Sudanese who died in the war in southern Sudan cannot be considered martyrs.

As non Muslims, these pronouncements are extremely important for us. It shows first and foremost that the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) is working. Turabi’s un-extremist views, if implemented, will truly lead us to national unity.

Regarding the anti-Turabi sentiments, I say the man is only exercising his full rights to freedom of expression as stipulated by the CPA. Alcohol is a commodity that non Muslims consume at any time. However, when someone who consumes alcohol misbehaves, he is penalized. This, we believe, is the correct way of dealing with alcohol. But in Sharia’s Islamic law that is now in force in northern Sudan, consumption, transportation and even possession of alcohol is punishable. This is what Turabi is now saying is wrong. His interpretation of the Koran is closer to our way of life and this is the only way in which this country can be kept as one.

A martyr is somebody who dies for his religion or country. Northern Sudanese who went to the south went there as defenders of the regime not of the country. They were not even defending Islam because the war in the south was not a religious war. Islam has never been under threat in the south. How could adventurers such as these be called martyrs? It is the southerners who died in their own part of the country defending themselves against aggression who are martyrs, so Turabi is correct.

Religions should be encouraging mixed marriages. Many of our Muslim brothers have not been encouraging that. They are thus encouraging segregation and inequality.

African women are proud of their hair and that is why it is plaited very nicely in and in various ways. Wearing hijab denies our women the chance to display their beauty.

Allowing women to pray in front of the queue gives every Sudanese the feeling of equality.

We encourage Turabi to go ahead with his thinking as that is the kind of thinking the majority of the Sudanese people identify with.

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