Sudan: Comment: The mis-use of religion for political aims
In both countries there is a similar pattern. Groups who face a political challenge from democratic, pluralist forces seek to misuse religion to regain the initiative.
There is a long history in Sudan of this manipulation. Islamist ideologue Hassan al-Turabi, brought to power through a coup in 1989, imposed the hijab on students and denied women the right to travel abroad without their husband's permission. Once out of power, he declared a woman could lead Muslim prayers and become president - simply because of the need, according to one Sudanese women's rights activist, to gain women's votes.
Since the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the country has been gradually opening up - major progress from the mid Nineties when the identities of local members of our women's solidarity network had to be kept a strict secret. But some feel their power slipping.
Politically-inspired manoeuvrings force people to fall in line behind an extremist position for fear of being branded 'anti-Islam' or 'pro-West'. In the global 'war on terror' context these are powerful labels most ordinary people are anxious to avoid. Yet the continued existence of women's and human rights activists in Sudan, as well as the diversity of Muslim culture found in Darfur, demonstrates that whoever instigated this latest incident cannot claim to speak in the name of all Sudanese."
By: Cassandra Balchin
Council member, Women Living Under Muslim Laws
29 November 2007
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