Sudanese Muslim and Christian religious leaders have agreed to join forces and promote religious freedom in the country, now that the Islamist government of Omar al-Bashir is out of power and a recently signed peace deal includes language saying freedom of religion is a human right.
At the end of a two-day conference this week, the religious leaders signed a declaration to promote peace and freedom of worship among all Sudanese communities and to encourage community dialogue among people of different faiths.
Khartoum Catholic Archbishop Michael Didi said the declaration will help create space for more religious freedom in Sudan as the country embarks on a new era following the revolution that led to military leaders removing Bashir from power.
Didi said three decades of religious oppression created social stigma among different communities across the country, and change will not happen overnight.
“I think we are moving well but it will take some time because many things were planted for a long time and to uproot them and make things new, and the understanding and the change of heart, the change of thinking and the change of how to deal with one, maybe it will need some time,” Didi told VOA’s South Sudan in Focus.
Jibril Bilal, a member of the Darfur-based rebel group Justice and Equality Movement, said the declaration’s resolutions are in line with the peace agreement mediated in Juba, which call for a secular system of governance in Sudan with equal rights for everyone.
“The state and the government and the official bodies have to stand in the same level of the people of Sudan. The state and government have to look after the interests of the Sudanese, regardless of their religion, ethnicity, colors and all this stuff,” Bilal told South Sudan in Focus.
William Delvin, co-chair of the Khartoum-based organization Unity International, said the declaration paves the way for religious freedom in Sudan after decades of strict Islamist rule.
He called on Muslims and Christians to forget the past and work together to build a new Sudan where citizens are treated equally.
Delvin praised the transitional government under the leadership of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok for enacting religious reforms.
“I think that God providentially had us here at this time after the repeal of the apostasy law, the banning and criminalization of female genital mutilation, after the peace agreement [between the government and rebel groups] and the discussion of having a secular state, the separation of mosque, church and state,” he said.
Raja Nichola Abdul Messih, a member of Sudan’s Sovereign Council, said the government is committed to reforming all oppressive laws and promoting social justice.
Sudan can be a shining example to the world where multicultural groups can peacefully coexist, said Messih.
“Sudan is known for multiethnic, multilingual, multireligious and multieconomic social and political activities. Therefore, its culture is a mixture of African and Arab features. They deal according to an interconnected social system through which it is easy to find suitable ground for the harmony of this hybrid of all their differences,” Messih told VOA.