Shari’a in North Sudan

As part of my own research on Islamic law in Northern Nigeria, I’ve been thinking about parallels between Nigeria and Sudan: both countries have a Muslim-Christian split, both have experienced civil war, and both have implemented Islamic law to varying degrees. So I was interested to see this weekend that Sudanese President Omar al Bashir is saying North Sudan will intensify its adherence to shari’a if Southern Sudan secedes in the January 9 referendum.


“If south Sudan secedes, we will change the constitution and at that time there will be no time to speak of diversity of culture and ethnicity,” President Omar Hassan al-Bashir told supporters at a rally in the eastern city of Gedaref.

“Sharia (Islamic law) and Islam will be the main source for the constitution, Islam the official religion and Arabic the official language,” he said.

Bashir’s remarks are noteworthy for two reasons, as the New York Times outlines:

The comments were some of Mr. Bashir’s strongest words to date seeming to acknowledge the likelihood of an independent southern Sudanese state and outlining his vision for the northern half, which would stay under his control.

Reuters, NYT, and the BBC mention the potential impact intensified shari’a in the North could have for the region’s non-Muslim residents. Extending shari’a in North Sudan could also affect legal and constitutional debates in other African countries – Kenya recently wrestled with the place of Islamic law in its constitution, and other African countries use shari’a as a source of law to varying extents. Changes to the legal and political structure in Sudan could even influence political debates in Nigeria.

Sudan has already been an important case study in African Islamic politics; North Sudan will apparently pursue this trend even further.


3 thoughts on “Shari’a in North Sudan

  1. Good points, and interesting comparison.

    I would just add one note of caution: Bashir’s statement should be seen in the context of the upcoming referendum, perhaps partly as scaremongering to unnerve the international community.

    But that’s a little bit beside the point, because I do think the statement points to something real. A rump North Sudan under Bashir would almost certainly fall back on Islamism and Arabism, since that’s the regime base. It would also need to find a new source of legitimacy after losing its standing as defender of Sudanese unity, and Bashir, personally, would need to prove his relevancy to avoid getting deposed and shipped off to the Hague if things turn sour.

    I would also add Egypt as a place that could be strongly affected by this — a North Sudan will presumably be drawn very close to Egypt, because of Arab identity, Nile issues and so on. If it turns radically Islamist, it might then exercise some ideological influence in return.

  2. Pingback: Sudan and the Politics of Denying Southerners Legal Residency | Sahel Blog

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