Sudan is an overwhelmingly Muslim country. It is considered relatively tolerant of different religious factions, although atheism is not tolerated. The specific population of atheist in the country is unknown since the belief attracts capital punishment. Islam is the religion of Sudanese and the majority of Muslims in the country adhere to the Sunni Islam while the Shia Muslims prefer practicing their faith under the Umbrella of Sufism. Christianity predated Islam in Sudan, but military conquest and forced religious conversion that began in the 8th Century and lasted into the 16th Century drove the Christian faith almost to extinction.
Islam in Sudan
Islam is the dominant religion in Sudan, with around 95.3% of the total population being Muslim. Most Sudanese adhere to the Sunni branch of Islam. Also most Sunni follow the Maliki rites while the other follows Shafi and Hanafi rites. Shia Muslims is a growing number of the City of Khartoum and the surrounding villages.
The process of "Islamicizing" Sudan refers to the years of military conquests and religious conversions that spanned from the 8th Century until the 16th Century. In the 8th Century, Muslims conquered North Africa and opened the Trans-Sahara slave trade routes. Sufi orders, the Muslim brotherhoods, facilitated the conversion of the Christian Nubians to Islam from the 9th Century until the 14th Century. The Sanusi order in the 19th Century concentrated on the missionary work of spreading Islam and textual literacy in the Sahel region. As a result, much of contemporary Sudan became Muslims. However, the slave trade failed to unite the Islam brothers leading to conflict between the dark-skinned Africans in the south and the Arabized Berbers of the North which motivates most of the violence seen today in Sudan most notably the war in Darfur.
Besides these racial aspects, some of the Shia Muslims practice Islam under the Sufism umbrella, since Shia Muslims are considered, both socially and politically, as more controversial. Also, the Salafists and Jihadists have in many times attacked Sufi, Shia, and other sects they consider as heretics. Sunnis in Sudan practice rites that have a non-Islamic origin and integrate them to the religion. As such despite the bloody conflicts among the sects, Sudan is still one of the most tolerant Muslim majority countries in the world.
Islam is a monotheistic religion with no intercessors between God and an individual. The Muslims do not eat pork, and usury is forbidden by Islamic law. The Sharia governs the family and personal law such as marriages, divorces, and inheritance. Sharia is the law in Sudan. However, Sudanese Islam believes in magic and spirits as sources of affiliations and sicknesses.
Christianity in Sudan dates back to the First Century A.D., when it arrived under the watchful eye of the Roman Empire, and the religion grew to dominate much of Sudan shortly thereafter. The Byzantine Emperor Justinian in the mid-6th Century A.D made Nubia a Christian stronghold. In 580, Christianity became the official religion of Nubia the current North Sudan and centered on the Faras cathedral. The kingdoms of Magarra and Alwa also affiliated with Christianity. A century later the slave traders introduced Islam in the country, and the eradication of Christianity started. By 1504 most Christian kingdoms had fallen. In the 19th Century, the Mahdist state forced the Nubian Coptic Christians to convert to Islam. Successive regimes of the Ottoman-Egyptian, Mahdist, and the Anglo-Egyptian condominium reinforced and cemented Islam in the country. Most of the Christians migrated to South Sudan which is a Christian Country. The various military regimes revolving around the Muslim conquests in Sudan persecuted many Christians and by 1985 anti-Christian persecution grew including murders of church leaders and pastors, destruction of churches and Christian villages, mission bases, schools, and hospitals.
In Sudan, Christians, mostly Catholics, number around 1.1 million believers today, which equates to a 3.2% share of the total population. The country has the Archdioceses of Khartoum and the Diocese of El Obeid. The Naivasha Agreement technically protects non-Muslims in the north. However, some interpretations of the Muslim Law in the country fail to recognize or accept apostasy and marriages to none Muslims. Sudan leads the world as the most difficult country for Christians since freedom of religion or belief is systematically ignored.
Each indigenous religious belief set in Sudan is unique to a particular ethnic group or certain parts of a group, even though several groups may share common beliefs and rituals if they share a common ancestry or mutual influences. In most indigenous groups they believe in magic, evil spirits, lesser and high spirits, and divinity. They believe that spirits intervene in people lives when people transgress. These religions are not systematic and there are no coherent fashions in their doctrines and rituals. Animism is also common in Sudan and together with indigenous beliefs makes 1.5% of the population.
The State of Religious Freedoms in Sudan
Although the Interim National Constitution of 2005 provides for religious freedom in Sudan, the constitution establishes Islamic Sharia law as the legislative guiding force, and the official laws, policies, and rules of the government favor Islam. The Nubians living in the Nuba Mountains still suffer persecution from the government for their beliefs and customs as well.
What is the Largest Religion in Sudan?
Islam is the religion of Sudanese and the majority of Muslims in the country adhere to the Sunni Islam while the Shia Muslims prefer practicing their faith under the Umbrella of Sufism.
Religious Beliefs In Sudan
|Rank||Belief System||Estimated Share of Population in Sudan|
|1||Islam (predominately Sunni with several minority denominations present)||95.3%|
|2||Christianity (predominately Roman Catholic with other smaller denominations present)||3.2%|
|3||Animism and/or Other Indigenous Beliefs||1.5%|
About the Author
Benjamin Elisha Sawe holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Statistics and an MBA in Strategic Management. He is a frequent World Atlas contributor.
Your MLA Citation
Your APA Citation
Your Chicago Citation
Your Harvard CitationRemember to italicize the title of this article in your Harvard citation.