Bashir: Sharia law will be strengthened if South Sudan votes to secede

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir recently said that if mostly-Christian South Sudan votes to secede in a Jan. 9 referendum, the predominantly Muslim north will begin adhering more strictly to sharia law.

Phil Moore/Reuters
Southern Sudanese citizens hold placards as they march in the streets in support of the independence referendum in Juba, South Sudan. The referendum on whether the region should declare independence, scheduled for Jan. 9, is the climax of a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of north-south conflict, fought over ethnicity, religion, ideology and oil and that killed 2 million people.

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 Jan. 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.

Alex Thurston is a PhD student studying Islam in Africa at Northwestern University who blogs at Sahel Blog.

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