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Muslim Brotherhood in the Sudan

The Muslim Brothers originated among Sudanese students in Cairo in the 1940s. Jamal al-Din al-Sanhuri and Sadiq `Abdallah `Abd al-Majid were among its earliest propagators; in 1946 they were sent by the Egyptian movement to recruit members in the Sudan. They succeeded in setting up branches in several small towns in 1947-1949 but were barred from acting openly unless they declared their independence from the Egyptian Brothers, who were at the time illegal.

Another early recruit was al-Swim Muhammad Ibrahim, a former teacher at Hantub secondary school, who founded the Islamic Liberation Movement (ILM or Harakat al-Tahrir al-Islami) at Gordon College in 1947 in order to combat communism. Its leaders, Babikr Karrar and Muhammad Yusuf, called for the establishment of a socialist Islamic state. Early adherents came primarily from the rural areas of the northern Sudan and were deeply committed to Sufi Islam and opposed to communism. The ILM enabled them to adopt a modern Islamic ideology without cutting their ties with their families, who were mostly Khatmiyah adherents. This dual loyalty did not disturb the Khatmiyah because it did not regard the Muslim Brothers as political rivals.

The Sudanese Muslim Brothers were officially founded at the `Id Conference on 21 August 1954. AlRashid al-Tahir, one of the Brothers’ most prominent student leaders, later became the movement’s murdqib al-‘am (general supervisor). A politician and lawyer, alTahir established close relations with the Free Officers, especially with Salah Salim, their coordinator with the Sudan, and supported the pro-unionist camp. This changed following Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser’s attempted assassination in October 1954, when Egypt turned against the Muslim Brothers. The Sudanese Brothers forsook union with Egypt and joined forces with the Ansar-Ummah bloc, advocating the Sudan’s independence.

After the 1958 military takeover led by General Ibrahim `Abbud, the Muslim Brothers were at first allowed to continue their activities as a religious movement. On 9 November 1959 al-Tahir attempted to overthrow the regime, aided by an illegal cell of Muslim Brothers, communists, and others within the army. The plotters were arrested, and the Muslim Brothers lost their cadres in the army as well as their freedom to act.

The next important stage in their history began in 1964 when Hasan al-Turabi and several leading brothers returned from their studies abroad. Turabi, who had joined the brothers while an undergraduate at Khartoum University College in 1954, emerged as their most effective university spokesman and started promoting a peaceful settlement in the south. Most of the mass gatherings in October 1964, which ultimately led to the civilian revolution and the downfall of `Abbud, were led by the Muslim Brothers in the university.

In October 1964 the Muslim Brothers founded the Islamic Charter Front (ICF) with Turabi as secretary general. Concerned that they would remain a small elitist group lacking the broader support enjoyed by the communists, they decided that a front organization advocating an Islamic constitution was likely to gain support among Sufis and Ansar. Moreover, Turabi was a pragmatist whose prime concern was political rather than ideological, so the purist tendencies of the older Muslim Brothers were overshadowed. The ICF provided an ideal platform for his dynamic leadership. In the years 1965-1968 the ICF cooperated with Sadiq al-Mahdi’s wing of the Ummah party in its anticommunist drive and in promoting an Islamic constitution. The battle was waged first on university campuses, contesting student elections against the communists. Campus politics provided the launching pad for broader political action; the ICF-allied with the Ansar, the Khatmiyah, and others-succeeded in having the Communist Party of the Sudan outlawed in 1965. The ICF also succeeded in formulating an Islamic constitution, in alliance with the Ansar, but it was not implemented because of the May 1969 coup led by Ja’far al-Nimeiri (al-NumayC) and his Communist allies.

Following the coup some of the brothers’ leaders, including Turabi, were arrested. Others escaped to Aba Island, where some died in the uprising of the Ansar in March 1970; a few made their way to Egypt or other countries. `Uthman Khalid represented the Muslim Brothers as secretary general of the National Front (NF) of Opposition Parties, founded in London in 1970 under the leadership of the DUP and Ummah parties. Turabi, who was not exiled, met President Nimeiri following the abortive procommunist coup of July 1971 and asked for permission to resume the brothers’ activities. In 1972 their new campus organization, the Students Unity Front, gained control of the Khartoum University Students’ Union.

Although the NF, including some of the brothers’ leaders, continued to advocate armed struggle from exile, the majority of the brothers, led by Turabi, preferred pragmatism. He concentrated his efforts on restructuring the party in such a way that the old guard of brothers lost what influence they still had while his followers, who had joined in the 1960s, assumed the top positions. Turabi and the brothers who remained in Sudan were thus well prepared for Nimeiri’s move toward an “Islamic path” in the mid-1970s. Lack of democracy did not trouble Turabi and his colleagues because they realized that they could not rely on the traditionalist parties, the Ummah and DUP, in their fight for an Islamic state. It seemed reasonable to cooperate with Nimeiri, who was seeking their support, influenced by President Anwar el-Sadat’s accommodation with the Egyptian Brothers in the early 1970s.

The Sudanese Brothers decided to join forces with the regime following the failure of an anti-Nimeiri coup led by the Ansar in July 1976. The appointment of Rashid al-Tahir, a former leader of the Muslim Brothers, as deputy president and prime minister in that year was also an indication of change. Al-Tahir, though no longer a member, was popularly identified with the brothers. Once national reconciliation became official policy in July 1977, the brothers were well prepared and grasped whatever positions the government offered. Turabi himself was appointed attorney general in 1979, and many of his colleagues accepted positions in the judiciary, the educational and financial systems, and the Sudan Socialist Union (SSU). The brothers also managed to infiltrate the Ansar-dominated western regions, helped by Muslim Brothers who had become teachers in Kordofan and Darfur.

A noteworthy outcome of the brothers’ close collaboration with Nimeiri was their improved organization and finances, which partly explains their success in the 1986 elections. The National Islamic Front (NIF) was founded in April 1985 and came in a close third after the Ummah and the DUP. The NIF’s financial supremacy can be attributed to the fact that beginning in the early 1970s it had taken control of the Islamic banking system, first through its connections in Saudi Arabia and later through collaboration with Nimeiri. The establishment of the Faysal Islamic bank in 1978 enabled the Muslim Brothers to infiltrate the new system as employees and investors and gain access to credit and to a share in profits. The bank also opened doors to economic and social advancement for the movement’s young adherents and enabled the NIF to establish international financial contacts, primarily in the Arabian Peninsula. Following a June 1989 coup the NIF enhanced its domination of the banks, the building industry, transport, and the media. Since roughly 90 percent of the banks’ income was invested in import-export ventures, the NIF has dominated that field at the expense of the Khatmiyah supporters who had controlled it in the past. The appointment of `Abd al-Rahin Hamid, a prominent NIF member, as minister of finance and economy leaves little doubt as to the NIF’s overwhelming dominance of the state’s chief financial institutions.

Another factor in the NIF’s success in the 1986 elections was its supremacy among the Graduates’ constituencies. Sudanese university graduates living abroad were allowed, for the first time, to vote for any constituency they chose. The NIF exploited this departure by instructing its supporters to vote en bloc for candidates in marginal seats, capturing 23 out of 28 Graduates’ seats. This victory, however, emphasized an inherent weakness of the NIF: its main support even at this stage was among university students and graduates. Since the June 1989 fundamentalist coup the NIF has further strengthened its hold over all institutes of learning. Ibrahim Ahmad `Umar, an NIF member, became minister of higher education. He dismissed the university’s president and deans and reorganized higher learning in the five public and private universities, doubling the number of students. This enabled NIF members, who were mostly graduates, to benefit from the increased employment opportunities, which included senior academic posts as well as diplomatic, economic, and political positions abroad.

The Muslim Brothers first attempted to infiltrate the Military College in 1955, helped by Abu al-Makarim `Abd al-Hayy, an Egyptian army officer who had commanded the Muslim Brothers’ Special Apparatus. He had escaped to Sudan following the attempt on President Nasser’s life in October 1954. The abortive coup of 9 November 1959, initiated by Rashid al-Tahir with the participation of both Muslim Brothers and other supporters within the army, was a clear indication of future intentions. The next stage started in the military camps in Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Libya in the early 1970s, where young Sudanese Muslim Brothers were trained by Egyptian officers, under the command of Salah Hasan, an Egyptian Muslim Brother. Following national reconciliation, in July 1977, many of them joined the Sudanese army. Its members were put in charge of courses in “Islamic ideology and instruction” for senior army officers, enabling them to infiltrate the officer corps. Four members of the military council that has ruled the Sudan since the June 1989 coup, including its leader `Umar Hasan al-Bashir, attended these courses. Following Nimeiri’s deposition the NIF further strengthened its support within the army by openly supporting the army’s demands for better pay and equipment, while the Ummah and the DUP remained hesitant. The post-1989 regime is an indication that the NIF’s infiltration of the army has paid the expected dividends.

The Muslim Brothers’ policy on the “southern question” changed in the 1970s. Rejecting the liberal attitude of Turabi and his followers in 1964/1965, some now advocated partition, claiming that as long as the Sudan remained united an Islamic state would be impossible. The majority continued to insist on an Islamic state within a united Sudan, which would become the bastion of Islam in Africa. The NIF founded the African Islamic Center to undertake its missionary work among the non-Islamic majority in the south; in 1982 the Association of Southern Muslims was set up to establish Islamic schools and villages there, funded by Kuwait and the Gulf Emirates and stimulated by a mass influx of Muslim refugees from Uganda following Idi Amin’s defeat in 1979. The close relations between the NIF and southern Muslims helped the party in the 1986 elections in the south and explain the importance of this issue in the NIF’s election campaign.

In January 1987 the NIF published its National Charter, in which it elaborated on its special relation with the south and explained its program of islamizing it. Turabi proposed that the Muslim Brothers act as the Islamic vanguard in the south, with the traditionalists forced to follow suit. A major concession was the NIF’s acceptance of the right of all citizens, regardless of religion, to hold any public office. The charter promised freedom of conscience and equality before the law, stating that in a federal state, non-Muslim regions would be allowed to opt out of the Islamic legal system based on the shari’ah. However, the NIF consistently rejected any compromise entailing secularism, and the June 1989 coup can be partly attributed to the NIF’s adamant opposition to accommodating the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement.

The Sudanese Muslim Brothers remained independent of their Egyptian namesakes and offered a unique Sudanese version of the brothers’ ideology. They compared their relationship to that between the Sudanese Ashiqqa’ and the Egyptian Wafd; both propagated unity of the Nile Valley, but under separate identities. An additional reason for their insistence on their own identity was their fear that a united front with the Egyptian Brothers would alienate the anti-Egyptian Ansar, their most cherished allies. The brothers’ attempt to exploit front organizations that were less suspect to moderate Sudanese was regarded as a way to reach broader circles, especially among Khatmiyah supporters, and is reminiscent of communist practices. Similarly, the brothers tried to infiltrate other parties. Rashid al-Their attempted to become an Ummah candidate in the 1957 elections; Muddaththir `Abd al-Rahim and `Uthman Jaddallah managed to join the editorial board of Aljihad, the Khatmiyah newspaper. The rift between those declaring their affinity with the Egyptian Brothers and those opposing it was never really healed. Some of the older leaders, such as al-Sadiq `Abdallah al-Majid and Ja’far Shaykh Idris, continued to attack Turabi’s strategy from their exile in the Gulf states throughout the Nimeiri years. They were closely associated with the Egyptian Muslim Brothers, and after Hasan alHudaybi’s release from prison, in 1973, they suggested joining the world organization of Muslim Brothers under his leadership. Politically they criticized Turabi’s un-Islamic views with regard to the role of women in society and censured his intimacy with Nimeiri and his regime. Their proposals were defeated in the shura council; although `Abd al-Majid was offered the deputy leadership upon his return to the Sudan in the late 1970s, he declined and formed an independent movement of Muslim Brothers that challenged the NIF unsuccessfully in the 1986 elections.

The Islamic constitution proposed by the Muslim Brothers in 1956 sought the establishment of an Islamic republic with a Muslim head of state and a parliamentary democracy based on Islamic law and legislating in accordance with the shari`ah. Its Muslim citizens would be able to shape their lives in accordance with the dictates of their religion and to uproot social evils and corruption. Discrimination on the basis of race or religion would be forbidden, and non-Muslim citizens would enjoy all rights granted under Muslim law.

A more pragmatic approach developed following the October 1964 revolution and al-Turabi’s rise to prominence. The newly formulated Islamic Charter proposed a presidential rather than a parliamentary system for the sake of greater stability and put greater emphasis on minority and regional rights. It undertook a complete revision of personal law in order to grant equal rights to women. The religion of the head of state was not mentioned in the Charter, a clear gesture to non-Muslims. The Charter proclaimed that even though all Muslims constituted one community, this Muslim state would encompass only Sudanese. Resident non-Muslims would be citizens with equal standing, guaranteed freedom of religion, decentralization, and public rights, namely, the right to determine their own way of life in the regions in which they constituted the majority, as well as the right to establish their own public institutions, be they traditional or modern.

Turabi advocated a gradual, nonviolent approach based on education and opposed the implementation of the hudud (mandatory punishments) at this stage, claiming that they should be applied only in an ideal Muslim society. The NIF’s later support of the hudud imposed in September 1983 by Nimeiri was justified on the ground that the hudud were part of an educational process whereby the state hoped to improve the morals of its citizens. The NIF continued to support the implementation of these laws after Nimeiri’s removal and the military coup of June 1989. Al-Mikashfi TAM al-Kabbashi, a leading NIF jurist, was a member of the committee assigned to revise the laws in accordance with the shari`ah and has headed the Supreme Court of Appeal in Khartoum since 1984. In a book on the implementation of the shari’ah in the Sudan Kabbashi justified the implementation of these Islamic laws, including the January 1985 execution of Mahmud Muhammad Taha, leader of the Republican Brothers, for apostasy, in which he was personally involved as president of the Court of Appeal. For Kabbashi and others in the NIF there was never any doubt as to the Sudan’s Islamic identity, which implied the Jahili status of all non-Muslims. The Sudan’s Islamic army would fight the enemies of Islam, “Communists, Crusaders, Zionists, Free Masons” or their Sudanese supporters, under the banner of Islam. However, regions in which non-Muslims were in the majority would be allowed to opt out of the Islamic legal system, provided the Sudan became a federation.

The brothers’ attitude toward democracy, as formulated by Turabi, was based on both pragmatic and ideological considerations. Since the establishment of an Islamic state was the primary aim, the means of achieving it became secondary. Ideologically, there were several differences between Western democracy and Islamic shura. First, the West separates democracy from religion, which contradicts the shura. Second, the shura provides a system whereby the life of all believers is fully coordinated, whereas Western democracy is limited to politics. Third, shura grants democratic rights only insofar as these agree with the shari `ah, whereas in Western democracy human rights are not limited by religious considerations. Fourth, Western democracy distinguishes between political passions and human morals; in Islam the two are inseparable. Finally, the shura provides greater guarantees for the unity of believers than does Western democracy. The shura accordingly can become a popular process based, unlike secular democracy, on the sovereignty of God and Islamic morality and free from secular distortions and manipulations. Shura can be applied by any group of people and is not limited by constitutional considerations. Military regimes can therefore apply the shura as well as elected parliaments as long as they fully implement the shari`ah. [See Democracy.]

Renewal and revival (tajdid) are among Turabi’s most cherished ideas. He believed that Islam had to be rethought constantly and was open to radical change by the Muslim community-not necessarily by learned reformers. There were indeed eternal principles in Islam, but fiqh, the classical exposition of Islamic law, was a mere human endeavor which might be reevaluated in accordance with present requirements. For many generations fuqaha’ (jurists) had neglected to rethink and redefine the role of the state and of the public in the formulation of Islamic law. Modern fiqh should concentrate on social rather than individual issues, since the former were hardly tackled in a largely individualistic society. The reopening of the doors of ijtihad was also advocated by the Muslim Brothers. With a few exceptions regarding the eternal components of divinity, everything was open to review and reinterpretation. The methodology suggested by Turabi was based on his formulation of tawhid, which involved a union of the eternal divine commands with the changing conditions of human life and a demand for harmony between reason and revelation. Tawhid should therefore lead to a single comprehensive methodology of reinterpretation, embracing all human knowledge-religious, natural, and social-absorbed through the filter of Islamic understanding.

[See also Ansar; Khatmiyah; Revival and Renewal; Sudan; Ummah-Ansar; and the biography of Turabi.]


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EI-Effendi, Abdelwahab. Turabi’s Revolution: Islam and Power in Sudan. London, 1991.

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Wolf, Susanne. “The Muslim Brotherhood in the Sudan.” Master’s thesis, University of Hamburg, 1990.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/muslim-brotherhood-sudan/

  • writerPosted On: September 30, 2014
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