Home | Comment & Analysis    Tuesday 7 September 2010

Islamic Sharia and consumption of alcohol in Sudan


By Jacob K. Lupai

September 6, 2010 — Sudan is often considered as two entities, the North and the South. The North is predominantly Muslim, Arab and relatively developed. In contrast the South is Christian or pagan, Black and, until recently, virtually undeveloped. At the time of British colonial occupation Sudan was administered as two territories, confirming the two entities face of Sudan. The Sudanese are about 70 per cent Muslim, 4 per cent Christian and the rest follow other traditional beliefs. Overall it can be seen that the majority of Sudanese are Muslim. However, as highlighted above Sudan is more or less of two entities with two predominant religions, Islam and Christianity.

After gaining independence from the British colonial rule in 1956 the successive northern dominated governments of Sudan laboured vigorously to create a strong united Sudan. Naturally no Sudanese would have been opposed to a strong prosperous united Sudan, a united Sudan that would have been secular, democratic and of equal of opportunities for all regardless of racial, ethnic and cultural differences. However, a united Sudan that was being laboriously created was a flaw. The population of Sudan was estimated as 39 per cent Arab and the rest were non Arab, mostly Black Africans. In their enthusiasm the predominantly Arab governments of Sudan relentlessly pursued policies for the creation of a united Arab Islamic Sudan. There was no let off from the implementation of those policies. One was the vigorous implementation of Islamic Sharia.

When Sudan gained its independence in 1956 alcohol was publicly consumed until 1983. There were bars, takeaway shops, restaurants and hotels serving alcohol to customers of all different backgrounds. Sudan even had breweries. Beer and sherry were produced in Sudan. Camel’s beer was a special Sudanese beer. There was also traditional brewing of alcohol where the alcohol was consumed in residential areas. Brewing of alcohol was a source of income to the poor. For 27 yeas after independence Sudanese had enjoyed the freedom of consuming alcohol in public places and the poor could brew local beer to augment their meagre incomes to make ends meet in their households.

It will be unrealistic and hypocritical to say that Muslims in Sudan did not consume alcohol between 1956 and 1983. Those Muslims who later enforced the implementation of Islamic Sharia might have been in fact alcohol consumers themselves. They might have consumed alcohol when it was legally available in public places and in private homes where it was locally brewed. In short Sudan was a nation of alcohol consumers. However, all that came to an end in September 1983 when President Jaafer El Nuneiri started the implementation of Islamic Sharia in Sudan. The guru behind the implementation of Islamic Sharia in Sudan was none other than Dr Hassan El Turabi of the National Islamic Front (NIF) that actually accelerated the demise of El Numeiri. El Numeiri never recovered and ended up a refugee in Egypt. It was alleged that in marking the implementation of Islamic Sharia in Sudan El Numeiri himself participated in dumping large quantities of alcohol into the Blue Nile near the Republican Palace in Khartoum as though he had wanted the fish to consume the alcohol instead of humans.

Islamic Sharia and consumption of alcohol in Sudan is an attempt to assess the extent to which alcohol is being consumed after what is known as September laws and the implication to unity of Sudan. When El Numeiri implemented Islamic Sharia it was not immediately clear whether he had intended it to be implemented in the whole country. At the time the South was enjoying local autonomy, a mini-independence status, as a result of an agreement signed in 1972 ending the first war between the South and the northern dominated government of El Numeiri. However, it turned out that Islamic Sharia was not implemented in the South. El Numeiri thought otherwise. In 1983 new hostilities were brewing up in the South against what was perceived as the marginalisation of the South by the successive northern led governments. El Numeiri might have decided against the implementation of Islamic Sharia in the South for fear of sparking off a widespread rebellion. The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement and Army (SPLM/A) had just started an armed struggle against the regime of El Numeiri. In his calculation El Numeiri might have wanted first to deal with he SPLM/A before implementing Islamic Sharia in the South. However, neither did El Numeiri deal decisively with the SPLM/A nor did he implement Islamic Sharia in the South.

In 1985 after a wave of strikes and an uprising El Numeiri was toppled by the army when on a visit to the United States of America. He was granted refuge in Egypt. In 1986 elections were held to return Sudan to civilian rule. The grassroots which formed the bulk of the electorate seemed not impressed with the implementation of Islamic Sharia. Dr Hassan El Turabi, the architect of Islamic Sharia in Sudan and who had campaigned on NIF ticket failed miserably to be the prime minister of Sudan to consolidate the implementation of Islamic Sharia he started with El Numeiri. Instead Sadiq El Mahdi of the Umma Party won and became the Prime Minister. The implication is that the implementaion of Islamic Sharia in Sudan could only be imposed through a military dictatorship.

In 1989 a military coup overthrew the democratically elected government of Sadiq El Mahdi. It transpired that in fact the same Dr Hassan El Turabi that accelerated the demise of El Numeiri engineered the 1989 military coup and as a cover up the coup was led by a military man, Omar El Bashir, who came along with a strong agenda of the implementation of Islamic Sharia most probably as instructed by Dr El Turabi. Politics could be dirty. Dr El Turabi was the brother-in-law of Sadiq El Mahdi at the time. The 1989 coup may confirm that the implementation of Islamic Sharia in Sudan is only through a military dictatorship. However, like El Numeiri, Omar El Bashir also spared the South from the implementation of Islamic Sharia which among other things prohibits the brewing and consumption of alcohol. This seems to confirm the two entities of Sudan, the North and the South. Breaking the Islamic Sharia law on alcohol may result to imprisonment, flogging or fine. This, however, has not stopped alcohol being brewed and consumed in the North. The evidence is the continued arrest and persecution of alcohol brewers and consumers in Khartoum the seat of the government that boasts of the implementation of Islamic Sharia as the noblest thing to do instead of making unity of Sudan attractive.

On unity of Sudan the implementation of Islamic Sharia has not made it any attractive because the implementation only confirms the two entities of Sudan, the North and the South. The implementation is in the North. Also the victims of the implementation of Islamic Sharia in the North are mostly southerners who strongly feel marginalised to the extent that unity of Sudan is perceived as a very distant possibility. Under Islamic Sharia where on earth will a non Muslim such as a Christian southerner be the leader of an Islamic state or lead an Islamic army? It must be emphasised that southerners are predominantly non Muslim. This automatically suggests that the predominantly non Muslim South is very unlikely to be attracted to the unity of Sudan. The overwhelming deafening noise for separation seems to confirm this.

The implementation of Islamic Sharia in the North has been unfortunate. It has not stopped the brewing and consumption of alcohol in the North but instead has widened the North-South divide. Moreover alcohol is consumed with impunity. Despite Khartoum being the centre of the implementation of Islamic Sharia it is not completely alcohol free. So in the final analysis Islamic Sharia has not stopped the consumption of alcohol even in Khartoum and has not made unity of Sudan any attractive either. Nothing has been gained except the imminent breakup of Sudan. Only the enthusiastic Islamic fundamentalists may say what has been gained so far from the implementation of Islamic Sharia in Sudan.

In conclusion individual’s relationship to God should have been seen as an intensely private affair, the most intimate and personal of all ones relationships instead of imposition and the use of threats of harsh punishment supposedly to purify people for God who is anyway merciful and compassionate. A secular constitution could have made unity of Sudan somewhat attractive with consumption of alcohol an individual freedom of choice. Islamic Sharia may be interfering with civil liberties as it even dictates what and how people should wear clothes.

The author can be reached at jklupai@googlemail.com


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  • 7 September 2010 06:21, by MIMAMA


    Thanks for expressing your rights on behalf of the alcoholics.
    However, that is a minor grievance which did not encourage the southerners to fight the islamic regime. If sharia law could get rid of alcoholism well and great.
    Therefore, you should have exert your effort and time in constructing an article that advocates for the oppression of non-muslims.

    repondre message

  • 7 September 2010 18:07, by mimus

    Totalitarians cherish their totalitarianism over everything else, even national victory, even national survival:

    The Nazis cherished Nazi anti-Slavism over victory over the Soviet Union, the North Sudanese Islamicists cherish their Islamic Theocratic Prohibition over Sudanese unity, and the American Christian Psychiatrists cherish their Christian Psychiatric Drug War over victory over the Taliban.

    repondre message

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