In response to the party's nomination of its chairman Salva Kiir Miardit, the Sudanese daily Al-Watan published a fatwa by Sheikh Muhammad Ahmad Hassan forbidding Muslims from voting for a non-Muslim candidate in any election, whether local or general.(1) In the Sudanese daily Al-Sahafa, columnist 'Omar Al-Qarai criticized the fatwa, as well as how the Sudanese ruling party exploits religion for political purposes.(2)
Following are excerpts from Al-Qarai's column:
"No One Has Noticed the Speciousness Of This Fatwa"
"The fatwa… [issued] by a religious scholar known from his appearances in the media, which bans a Muslim from voting for a non-Muslim in elections, has caused turmoil in the streets of Sudan. The reason for this is not [the ban's] religious import, but its political implications, and also [the fact that] its publication was timed, for propaganda purposes, to precede the upcoming elections.
"However, no one has noticed the speciousness of this fatwa. As a consequence of the 2005 peace agreement [between the government and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement], the Muslims in the North, including the sheikh who authored the fatwa, agreed that a non-Muslim should be appointed vice-president of the republic… This non-Muslim would bear responsibility at the highest level for the country and its residents, and in particular, for the Ministry of Religious Endowment, which appoints the imam preachers who issue such bizarre fatwas.
"If Islam does not allow voting for a non-Muslim to promote him to a position of power, why does it allow a non-Muslim to become a ruler without being voted in? Why does this sheikh speak to us about voting but fail to discuss the Islamic view of propitiating non-Muslims and accepting them as rulers over the Muslims?
"[Is it conceivable that] the author of this fatwa, and his superiors in the Ministry of Religious Affairs and in the Ministry of Religious Endowment, would obey this non-Muslim ruler and accept his authority, and then forbid us to vote for him?"
"The Fatwa Presupposes That... Justice, Loyalty, Honesty, Wisdom, Expertise, and [a Work Ethic] Cannot Be Found in a Non-Muslim... This Contradicts Our Practical Experience"
"According to the correct religious knowledge, which is based on the basic principles of Islam, this fatwa is a priori invalid; it clearly shows this mufti's ignorance of the veracity of religion and of the times in which we live. The fatwa's lack of validity stems from its premises, which are false both intellectually and traditionally. Indeed, the fatwa presupposes that the qualities of justice, loyalty, honesty, wisdom, expertise, and [work ethic] cannot be found in a non-Muslim. Consequently, he cannot be elected to conduct our affairs, nor can we accept his authority. This contradicts our practical experience, which shows that many non-Muslims are better qualified for [such positions] than Muslims, whether from a professional or ethical standpoint…
"When at the turn of the past century Imam Muhammad 'Abduh visited Britain, he made a famous remark: "In England, I found Islam but not Muslims, while in Egypt, I found Muslims but no Islam!" It is in non-Muslim countries, rather than in Muslim states, that 'Abduh found the characteristics of justice, loyalty, honesty, and responsibility, which justify the allocation of public offices to individuals…
"In Sudan, our brief experience with the national unity government(3) has shown that the government of southern Sudan has dealt with corruption, by investigating the incidents, meting out punishment to parties involved, and even firing several senior officials and appointing others in their place.
"As for the government of northern Sudan, although it is aware of corruption [in its midst], based on reports by the state comptroller, we have not heard of a single senior official who has been fired or tried on this charge. If so, which side is it proper for a citizen to vote for, if he wants a functional administration that acts for the good of the country, [disregarding] narrow personal interests?"
"Islamic Law… Permits Accepting Assistance from Non-Muslims in Performing Tasks For Which They Are More Qualified than Muslims"
"Perhaps this sheikh mufti is not familiar with, or does not accept, the Islamic knowledge that is rooted in basic principles. However, Islamic law [i.e. shari'a], compiled and interpreted by our ancestors in their books… permits accepting assistance from non-Muslims in performing tasks for which they are more qualified than Muslims.
"Our ancestors presented evidence to this effect from the [life of the] Prophet: When he and Abu-Bakr traveled from Mecca to Medina, they sought help from a polytheist who was expert in navigation.
"In the Islamic state, there were writers, accountants, and treasurers of Zoroastrian, Christian, or Jewish origin. If at that time, [people] had had to be voted in to these positions, the honest Muslims of early [generations] would have voted for capable non-Muslims, since they would have recognized their qualifications and trusted their loyalty and [moral] character."
This Fatwa "Has Nothing Whatsoever to Do With Islam – Rather, It Is One of the Pillars Supporting the Election Strategy"
"This ill-advised fatwa has nothing whatsoever to do with Islam. Rather, it is one of the pillars supporting the election strategy of the National Congress [Party, headed by Sudanese President 'Omar Al-Bashir]. With the approach of election day, we will probably hear of more fatwas of this kind, which exploit the religions feeling of several foolish citizens in order to sell them the National Congress Party's worthless wares.
"In the past, mosques have been taken advantage of by this party in the worst possible manner for propaganda purposes, with both subtle and direct appeals being made to the worshippers to vote for its representatives. [The preachers] linked support for the National Congress with a war for the sake of Allah, warning time and again that whoever did not vote for it was doomed to burn in Hell!...
"A religiously motivated internecine war is a dangerous weapon, which has divided many a country [in the past], and will divide Sudan [as well], if wise people fail to expunge religious extremism from the political process…"
(1) Al-Watan (Sudan), August 20, 2008.
(2) Al-Sahafa (Sudan), August 24, 2008.
(3) Following the signing of a peace agreement between the rebels of southern Sudan and the government, a national unity government was formed, incorporating the National Congress Party and Sudan's People's Liberation movement.
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