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Sudan Declares Christmas Public Holiday

Gifts on the branches of a Christmas tree. (Photo: Diaa Bekheet)
Gifts on the branches of a Christmas tree. (Photo: Diaa Bekheet)

Sudan’s transitional government has declared Christmas a public holiday for the first time in years. A Sudanese minister said the decision is in line with the freedoms enshrined in the country’s constitution.

Religion Affairs and Endowments Minister Nasraddeen Mufreh said the decision is a result of the historic political changes in Sudan this year. Sudan’s military leaders ousted President Omar al Bashir in April after months of nationwide protests. Later, after a deadly crackdown by the military on demonstrators in Khartoum, opposition groups and military leaders agreed to form a joint transitional government.

Mofreh said the transitional government is committed to guaranteeing all freedoms enshrined in the constitutional declaration signed in August.

The United States recently dropped Sudan from its list of nations that severely violate religious freedoms, signaling its increasing support for Sudan’s transitional government.

Mofreh welcomed the U.S. decision.

“We really thank them for recognizing our efforts toward respecting freedom of worship in Sudan. They have now realized that we are a civilian government after the revolution of the great Sudanese people,” Mofreh told South Sudan in Focus.

Before South Sudan became an independent country in 2011, Christian civil servants and students in Sudan would get three paid days off from work at Christmas time. But when South Sudan and its large Christian population seceded, Sudanese authorities said the country was 97 percent Muslim and imposed restrictions on religious pluralism, including restrictions on Christmas celebrations.

The secretary-general of the Sudan Council of Churches, Father William Deng, says declaring Christmas a public holiday was the proper thing to do. He says providing more rights and freedoms in Sudanese society will encourage citizens to participate in rebuilding what was destroyed during the 30 years of Bashir’s autocratic rule.

“We are not Muslims, we are not Christians, we are not Arabs, and we are not Africans, we are Sudanese. And within this Sudan, there are Muslims, there are Christians, there are Africans and there are Arabs. Sudan is for the Sudanese and these Sudanese people are faithful to different religions,” Deng told VOA's South Sudan in Focus.

Khartoum resident Imman Kamaluddeen, who is from a Muslim family, said the transitional government is fulfilling a promise it made to the people.

“There is a need for all groups to enjoy the freedom of worship, and what I am seeing in this latest decision by our government to grant Christmas as a public holiday is something good and it indicates that our government is respecting freedom of worship of all Sudanese religion,” Kamaluddeen told South Sudan in Focus.

Clara Ismael, a member of Sudan’s Episcopal Church, said she is grateful to the government for declaring Christmas day a public holiday again, and she will use the occasion to visit friends and neighbors, including Muslims.

“This is something worth honoring, and we really thank the transitional government and we wish them all the best for the peace process in Sudan. People need to get stability. God is great and he will bless every step,” Ismael told South Sudan in Focus.