For the first time in eight years, Christians in Sudan were able to publicly celebrate Christmas without fear of government reprisal.
Last week, a small group from Bahri Evangelical Church marched through the streets of Khartoum Bahri, in what is known as the March for Jesus, blaring hymns and lifting their hands in praise to God.
“Hallelujah! Today, we are happy that the Sudanese government has opened up the streets for us so we can express our faith,” said Izdhar Ibrahim, one of the marchers.
Just a year ago, the march would have been considered a crime, but now Christians in Sudan are calling the renewal of the celebration an “expression of religious freedom.”
Following the secession of South Sudan in 2011, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir suspended the Christmas holiday throughout the country. For years, the authoritarian leader’s government was known for harassing and marginalizing Christians, as well as other religious minorities. Churches were demolished, church properties were seized, and pastors were arrested under al-Bashir’s oppressive regime.
But a months-long uprising beginning December 2018—which eventually resulted in al-Bashir’s removal from office in April—gave Sudanese Christians renewed hope of being able to freely worship in their country. And for good reason.
A transitional government was sworn in on Sept. 8, with Abdalla Hamdok as the country’s prime minister. A Christian woman was appointed to the nation’s interim ruling Sovereign Council, and the constitutional declaration that guides the 39-month transitional period does not refer to Islam as the primary source of legislation in Sudan, but rather leaves room for Christians to have a greater voice in the new administration.
The tide of religious liberty in Sudan seems to be turning.
Anurima Bhargava, a member of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, said a commission meeting with Hamdok in early December was “one of the most promising meetings we’ve had.”
In addition, Johnnie Moore, also a USCIRF commissioner, called Hamdok a “transformative figure.”
“If Sudan continues on the path they’ve started, they have the potential of becoming the nation most astonishingly transformed in the shortest period of time,” said Moore. “Two years ago, no one could have imagined.”
And in a statement from US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Dec. 20, the State Department announced that Sudan had been dropped from the list of Countries of Particular Concern that engage or tolerate “systematic, ongoing and egregious violations or religious freedom.” Sudan had appeared on the CPC list since 1999. It is now on a special watch list.
Sudan’s Minister of Religious Affairs Nasr al-Din Mufreh, a Muslim himself, addressed the country’s history of Christian persecution.
“I tender my apology for the oppression and the harm enforced on you physically by [the prior government’s] bulldozing of your church buildings, arresting and falsely imprisoning your church leaders and raiding your property,” he said during a press conference on Christmas Day.
Under the current government, Dec. 25 has been restored as a public holiday, and Christians are hopeful that they can now “live life with ease.”
Above: Christians march through the streets to celebrate the birth of Jesus in Khartoum Bahri, Sudan, north of the capital Khartoum, on Dec. 23.
Photo: AP Photo/Mohamed Okasha