Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Muslims in Africa: When Pastor Kamis went to visit his small church in the Sudanese capital just before Christmas 2012, he found a pile of rubble and the remains of a single blue wall

Hours earlier, authorities had sent in a bulldozer and workers backed by police to demolish the Africa Inland church, which used to lie in a slum suburb of Khartoum. The structure was one of several small churches that the government has knocked down over the past few months, shocking Christians who worry that they will not be able to practice their faith in majority-Muslim Sudan now that the country's south - where most follow Christianity or traditional animist beliefs - has seceded. Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has said he wants to adopt a 100% Islamic constitution now that the South has split off. Authorities started a crackdown in December 2012 and it has been getting worse. Recently, security agents raided the library of the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church, founded by missionaries in central Khartoum more than a hundred years ago, seizing all books to check on their content. "They took hundreds of books and the entire archive, not just religious literature," said a church source, who like most others interviewed asked for anonymity or to be identified by only their first and last name for fear of arrest. Several church-affiliated institutions such as orphanages or schools have also been closed and a number of foreigners working for them have been deported, according to the Geneva-based World Council of Churches, a global ecumenical church body. "Christians in the north are compromised because they are no longer respected. They cannot even celebrate Christmas anymore," said Daniel Deng Bul, the Juba-based archbishop and primate of the Episcopal Church of Sudan, which covers both Sudans and is part of the Anglican community. Most southerners have moved south since the birth of their country but some 350,000 are estimated to remain in Khartoum. Some Christians also live in the Nuba Mountains, a region bordering South Sudan. Although Muslims have dominated Sudan for centuries, Christian roots go back to the 5th century. Missionaries were active in the 1800s, mainly from the Anglican, Presbyterian, Catholic, Africa Inland and Coptic churches. Without accurate census information, it is not yet clear what the current breakdown is. Some tribes also practice animist beliefs. Bashir has been facing pressure from religious hardliners who feel that his government has given up the values of his 1989 Islamist coup. He has been also facing small street protests in Khartoum and other cities against galloping inflation. Mobs stormed several churches in Khartoum in 2012, in one case burning Bibles in public. The government did little to prevent the attacks. "Authorities did not investigate properly or prosecute those responsible," said Jehanne Henry, a Sudan researcher at New York-based Human Rights Watch. "We have seen clear signs of rising intolerance for religious and ethnic diversity since the separation of South Sudan." In December 2012, Sudan's tightly-controlled press began printing accusations that foreign missionaries were planning to convert Muslims, a crime punishable by death in Sudan. A group of foreigners - some church sources say more than 100 people - were deported when newspapers reported a Muslim girl had been baptized. Some of the deported were only loosely affiliated with churches, such as expatriates giving English lessons to children in their free time. "We are supposed to be citizens with equal rights but in the eyes of the government we are a foreign entity which seeks to destroy Sudan," said one Christian of an evangelical church from the Nuba mountains.

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