Christians in Sudan are in awe at the changes two years post-revolution have brought to religious minorities in the country.
St. Matthew’s Catholic Cathedral in the capital city of Khartoum began conducting services on Sundays. The altar and pews are clean, there’s a youth choir accompanied by electronic keyboard music, encouraging Christians to come back to church, reports news website The World.
Now, we have neighbors who walk in and say, ‘Oh, happy Christmas,’ or ‘happy Easter.’ Before, they used to think this is haram [forbidden by Islamic law]. —Elizabeth Achu, 31-year-old economist
For 30 years, religious minorities were ostracized in Sudan under the dictatorship of President Omar Al Bashir. Churches were demolished and Christian holidays were not recognized. Christians were tormented, endured hate speech and forced conversion.
“I can just remember some kinds of things that were being said while you were in public transport, people looking at you and telling you, ‘Oh you’re kafir,’ [infidel,] you know, like you’re someone who’s going to hell because you’re not Muslim, you’re not covering up your hair,” revealed Elizabeth Achu, a 31-year-old economist.
Achu is one of the Christians who attended Sunday services at St. Matthew’s, saying she has many good memories in church. She added that it has been a safe place for her since she was a child, “because of so many things that I experienced growing up in Sudan as a Black woman and as a Christian young woman in Sudan during the Bashir regime.”
According to Open Doors UK, there are almost 2 million Christians in Sudan, representing 4.5% of the country’s population of 43.5 million.
When Bashir was ousted in 2019, changes were slowly integrated towards religious liberties. Sunday was reinstated as the official rest day for Christian schools in the country and the new government declared Christmas as a public holiday, reports Dabanga Sudan.
After Bashir’s regime, Sudan’s Minister of Religion Nasr Eddin Mofarah acknowledged the country’s multireligious heritage and encouraged those who left the country because of their faith to return. Last year, the government amended the penal code in an effort to eliminate all laws that violate human rights, including the right to religious freedom. The apostasy law was repealed and labelling individuals or any group as “infidels” is now prohibited.
“Now, we have neighbors who walk in and say, ‘Oh, happy Christmas,’ or ‘happy Easter.’ Before, they used to think this is haram [forbidden by Islamic law],” Achu said. “I now have Sudanese friends my age who come with me to church.”
Many Sudanese Christians welcomed the efforts of the new government to protect religious minorities.
Teacher Jirjis Efendi praised this “great change.” He said Christians “are able to perform their religious prayers and organize their religious celebrations and events in public spaces with complete freedom, something new after 30 years of oppression.”
While there are still much more to do to make Sudan a more tolerant country, the teacher lauded the changes the new government has been implementing. “Another positive development is the permission to construct new churches in a number of states, and Christian schools are allowed again to give lessons on Saturday instead of Sunday so that the teachers and pupils are able to attend the Sunday mass.”