Christianity in Sudan

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Holy Virgin Mary Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Khartoum Coptic cathedral (Khartoum) 001.jpg
Holy Virgin Mary Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Khartoum

Christianity has a long history in the region that is now Sudan and South Sudan. Ancient Nubia was reached by Coptic Christianity by the 2nd century. The Coptic Church was later influenced by Greek Christianity, particularly during the Byzantine era. From the 7th century, the Christian Nubian kingdoms were threatened by the Islamic expansion, but the southernmost of these kingdoms, Alodia, survived until 1504.

Christianity is a religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, as described in the New Testament. Its adherents, known as Christians, believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and savior of all people, whose coming as the Messiah was prophesied in the Old Testament.

Sudan country in Northeast Africa

Sudan or the Sudan, officially the Republic of the Sudan, is a country in Northeast Africa. It is bordered by Egypt to the north, the Red Sea to the northeast, Eritrea to the east, Ethiopia to the southeast, South Sudan to the south, the Central African Republic to the southwest, Chad to the west, and Libya to the northwest. It houses 37 million people (2017) and occupies a total area of 1,861,484 square kilometres, making it the third-largest country in Africa. Sudan's predominant religion is Islam, and its official languages are Arabic and English. The capital is Khartoum, located at the confluence of the Blue and White Nile.

South Sudan country in Africa

South Sudan, officially known as the Republic of South Sudan, is a landlocked country in East-Central Africa. The country gained its independence from the Republic of the Sudan in 2011, making it the newest country with widespread recognition. Its capital and largest city is Juba.


Southern Sudan (including what is now South Sudan) remained long dominated by traditional (tribal) religions of the Nilotic peoples, with significant conversion to Anglicanism (Episcopal Church of Sudan) during the 20th century.

There are conflicting reports as to the religious beliefs in South Sudan, though all agree that the three main religions are traditional African religions, Christianity and Islam. The South Sudanese President Kiir, a Roman Catholic, while speaking at Saint Theresa Cathedral in Juba, South Sudan, stated that South Sudan would be a nation which respects freedom of religion. The reported estimated relative proportions of adherents of African Traditional Religion and Christianity have varied.

The Nilotic peoples are peoples indigenous to the Nile Valley who speak Nilotic languages, which constitute a large sub-group of the Nilo-Saharan languages spoken in South Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, and northern Tanzania. In a more general sense, the Nilotic peoples include all descendants of the original Nilo-Saharan speakers. Among these are the Luo, Sara, Maasai, Kalenjin, Dinka, Nuer, Shilluk, Ateker, and the Maa-speaking peoples, each of which is a cluster of several ethnic groups. Some ethnic groups in West Africa such as the Serer people of Senegal, the Gambia and Mauritania have been reported as being of Nilotic origin.

Anglicanism The practices, liturgy and identity of the Church of England

Anglicanism is a Western Christian tradition which has developed from the practices, liturgy and identity of the Church of England following the English Reformation.


Coptic Christianity

A fresco showing the birth of Jesus, in Faras cathedral Sudan Farras fresco of cathedral 22dez2005.jpg
A fresco showing the birth of Jesus, in Faras cathedral
Reconstruction of a church in Old Dongola Church dongola (cropped).png
Reconstruction of a church in Old Dongola

Christianity reached the area of present-day northern Sudan, then called Nubia, by about the end of the first century after Christ.

Nubia region along the Nile river, which is located in northern Sudan and southern Egypt

Nubia is a region along the Nile river encompassing the area between Aswan in southern Egypt and Khartoum in central Sudan. It was the seat of one of the earliest civilizations of ancient Africa, with a history that can be traced from at least 2500 BC onward with the Kerma culture. The latter was conquered by the New Kingdom of Egypt under pharaoh Thutmose I around 1500 BC. Nubia was home to several empires, most prominently the kingdom of Kush, which conquered Egypt during the 8th century BC during the reign of Piye and ruled the country as its Twenty-fifth Dynasty.

It greatly developed under the influence of the Eastern Roman Empire. [1] Indeed, Byzantine architecture influenced most of the Christian churches in lower Nubia. [2]

Lower Nubia is the northernmost part of Nubia, downstream on the Nile from Upper Nubia. Sometimes, it overlapped Upper Egypt stretching to the First and Second Cataracts, so roughly until Aswan. A great deal of Upper Egypt and northern Lower Nubia were flooded with the construction of the Aswan High Dam and the creation of Lake Nasser. However the intensive archaeological work conducted prior to the flooding means that the history of the area is much better known than that of Upper Nubia. Its history is also known from its long relations with Egypt.

The Byzantine Emperor Justinian I (reigned 527 to 565) made Nubia a stronghold of Christianity during the Middle Ages. [3] By 580 AD Christianity had become the official religion of the northern Sudan, centered around the Faras cathedral. [4]

Justinian I major Eastern Roman emperor who ruled from 527 to 565

Justinian I, traditionally known as Justinian the Great and also Saint Justinian the Great in the Eastern Orthodox Church, was the Eastern Roman emperor from 527 to 565. During his reign, Justinian sought to revive the empire's greatness and reconquer the lost western half of the historical Roman Empire. Justinian's rule constitutes a distinct epoch in the history of the Later Roman empire, and his reign is marked by the ambitious but only partly realized renovatio imperii, or "restoration of the Empire".

Middle Ages Period of European history from the 5th through the 15th centuries

In the history of Europe, the Middle Ages lasted from the 5th to the 15th century. It began with the fall of the Western Roman Empire and merged into the Renaissance and the Age of Discovery. The Middle Ages is the middle period of the three traditional divisions of Western history: classical antiquity, the medieval period, and the modern period. The medieval period is itself subdivided into the Early, High, and Late Middle Ages.

Faras archaeological site in Sudan (Nubia)

Faras was a major city in Lower Nubia. The site of the city, on the border between modern Egypt and Sudan at Wadi Halfa Salient, was flooded by Lake Nasser in the 1960s and is now permanently underwater. Before this flooding, extensive archeological work was conducted by a Polish archeological team led by professor Kazimierz Michałowski.

Modern missionary activity

During the 19th century, British missionaries re-introduced the Christian faith into South Sudan. British imperial authorities somewhat arbitrarily limited missionary activity to the multi-ethnic southern region. [5] The Church of England and other parts of the Anglican Communion continued to send missionaries and other assistance after the country became independent in 1956, although that also precipitated decades of civil war and persecutions as discussed below.

Church of England Anglican state church of England

The Church of England is the established church of England. The Archbishop of Canterbury is the most senior cleric, although the monarch is the supreme governor. The Church of England is also the mother church of the international Anglican Communion. It traces its history to the Christian church recorded as existing in the Roman province of Britain by the third century, and to the 6th-century Gregorian mission to Kent led by Augustine of Canterbury.

Anglican Communion International association of churches

The Anglican Communion is the third largest Christian communion. Founded in 1867 in London, England, the communion currently has 85 million members within the Church of England and other national and regional churches in full communion. The traditional origins of Anglican doctrines are summarised in the Thirty-nine Articles (1571). The Archbishop of Canterbury in England acts as a focus of unity, recognised as primus inter pares, but does not exercise authority in Anglican provinces outside of the Church of England.

At the 2011 division which split off South Sudan, over 97% of the population in the remaining Sudan, in the north, adheres to Islam. [6] Religions followed by the South Sudanese include traditional indigenous religions, Christianity and Islam. [7] [8] The last census to mention the religion of southerners dates back to 1956 where a majority were classified as following traditional beliefs or were Christian while 18% were Muslim. [9] Scholarly [10] [11] [12] and some U.S. Department of State sources [13] state that a majority of southern Sudanese maintain traditional indigenous (sometimes referred to as animist) beliefs with those following Christianity in a minority (albeit an influential one), which would make South Sudan one of the very few countries in the world where most people follow traditional indigenous religion. However, according to the U.S. State Department's International Religious Freedom Report of 2012 the majority of the population adhere to Christianity, while reliable statistics on animist and Muslim belief are not available. [14]

The majority of Christians in Sudan adhere either to the Roman Catholic church or to the Anglican churches (represented by the Episcopal Church of the Sudan), but there are several other small denominations represented there including: [ citation needed ]

Roman Catholic missionaries began work in Sudan in 1842; both Anglicans and American Presbyterians began in Sudan in 1899.[ citation needed ] The Anglicans through the Church Missionary Society had their base in Omdurman, while the Presbyterians began in Khartoum but developed ministry both in the north and in the south. The Sudan Interior Mission began working in the country in 1937. The Africa Inland Mission launched the Africa Inland Church in 1949. In 1964 all foreign missionaries were made to leave southern Sudan because of the civil war. A few groups maintained missionaries in the north. The Sudan Pentecostal Church, which has grown significantly in the south, was started later by the Swedish.

As of 2011, prior to the division of the country, about 2,009,374 Sudanese practiced Roman Catholicism, mainly in the south (5% of the population were devout Roman Catholics).[ citation needed ] Nine catholic dioceses include two archdioceses in modern Sudan, [16] with five Cathedrals. [17] The patron saint of the Sudan is the former slave Saint Josephine Bakhita, canonized in 2000.

About 100,000 people or 0.25% of the population belong to various Protestant denominations in northern Sudan. Catholicism is practised by some thousand followers north of Sudan's capital. A 2015 study estimates some 30,000 Muslim converted to Christianity in Sudan, most of them belonging to some form of Protestantism. [18]

Persecution of Christians in Sudan

Sudan's Christians were persecuted under various military regimes. Sudan's civil wars temporarily ended in 1972, but resumed in 1983, as famine hit the region. Four million people were displaced and two million people died in the two-decade long conflict before a temporary six-year ceasefire was signed in January 2005. [19]

On 16 May 1983, Sudan's Anglican and Roman Catholic clergy signed a declaration that they would not abandon God as God had revealed himself to them under threat of Shariah Law. [20] Anti-Christian persecutions grew particularly after 1985, including murders of pastors and church leaders, destruction of Christian villages, as well as churches, hospitals, schools and mission bases, and bombing of Sunday church services. Lands laid waste and where all buildings were demolished included an area the size of Alaska. [20] Despite the persecutions, Sudanese Christians increased in number from 1.6 million in 1980 to 11 million in 2010, although 22 of the 24 Anglican dioceses operate in exile in Kenya and Uganda, and clergy are unpaid. Four million people remain internally displaced, and another million in the Sudanese diaspora abroad (of which 400,000 - 600,000 in the South Sudanese diaspora).

During the Second Sudanese Civil War people were taken into slavery; estimates of abductions range from 14,000 to 200,000. Abduction of Dinka women and children was common. [21]

In 2011, South Sudan voted to secede from the north, effective 9 July. [19] Persecution of Christians there had resumed by then. [15]

The Episcopal Church recognizes the martyrs of Sudan on its liturgical calendar on 16 May. [22]

The Naivasha Agreement also technically protects non-Muslims in the north. However, some interpretations of Muslim law in Sudan refuse to recognize conversions out of Islam (considering apostacy a crime), and also refuse to recognize marriages to non-Muslims. Sudan is one of the nations where being a Christian is hardest in the world, freedom of religion and belief are systematically violated. [23]

In May 2014, a woman called Maryam Yaḥyā Ibrahīm Isḥaq was sentenced to a hundred lashes for adultery and to death for apostasy. Her mother raised her a Christian since her Muslim father was absent, but the Sudanese legal system considers her a Muslim. Isḥaq was sentenced to a hundred lashes for adultery because she married a Christian man from South Sudan, while Muslim law considers her a Muslim and the marriage invalid. When Isḥaq argued she was a Christian, she was sentenced to death for apostasy. The sentence was not carried out at once as Ishaq was pregnant. Ishaq's husband is wheelchair bound and dependent on her. [23]

The verdict breaches the Sudanese constitution and commitments based on regional and international law. Western embassies, Amnesty International and other human rights groups protested that Ishaq should be able to choose her religion and should be released. [24] She was later released and after further delays left Sudan.

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