Transitional Government in Sudan Omits Christianity as School Subject

Hopes crumble in official directive to educational directors.

Letter from Sudan’s NCCER stating Christianity will not be taught in schools. (Morning Star News)

Letter from Sudan’s NCCER stating Christianity will not be taught in schools. (Morning Star News)

JUBA, South Sudan (Morning Star News) – Fears that Christianity would again be omitted as a course subject in schools in Sudan were confirmed in a recent government directive, sources said.

While Islam has long been taught in schools, the head of the body responsible for curricula in Sudan sent a letter to director generals of education throughout the country on Aug. 23 omitting Christian education as a subject for primary schools, according to a copy of the letter obtained by Morning Star News.

“All the subjects not mentioned [in this letter] are to be considered omitted and will not be taught in schools,” Omer Ahmed al-Garay, director general of the National Centre for Curriculum and Educational Research (NCCER), wrote in the letter.

The Rev. Yahia Abdelrahim Nalu of the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church (SPEC) confirmed that Christian education was again omitted from the curriculum of the new transitional government that took office following the deposing of President Omar al-Bashir in April 2019.

“Christian education has indeed been removed from the curriculum, and it has not been there since the independence,” Pastor Nalu told Morning Star News.

Since Sudan’s independence from the British in 1956, there have been no Christian teachers appointed by the government to teach Christianity in public schools. While the Aug. 23 directive mentions only primary schools, Christianity cannot be taught in secondary schools either as the government refuses to hire Christians to teach it.

Pastor Nalu has said that Christian students obliged to study Islamic Religion as a school subject are often forced to convert to Islam, especially in remote areas.

Effectively prohibiting the teaching of Christianity at government schools by barring the government from hiring Christian teachers, Bashir had left instruction on Christianity to churches and Christian schools.

Church leaders and others took to social media to protest the omission of Christianity from school curricula.

“This behavior is unacceptable from the ministry of education,” Christian schoolteacher Dawood Ishayia wrote on his Facebook page.

Another Christian leader criticized the Ministry of General Education for failing to take followers of Christ into account when making decisions that affect them. Botros Badawi Ali, Christian advisor to the minister of Religious Affairs, called for the establishment of a specialized administration within the NCCER.

Before talking about Christian education, there must be special department within the national center to develop Christian Education Curricula for both primary and secondary levels,” he wrote on his Facebook page.

Badawi Ali called for the appointment of Christian education teachers throughout Sudan in his Facebook post on Aug. 28.

Christians were also disappointed when an expected TV broadcast of school lessons on Christianity was omitted from the government-owned Television Station Khartoum International Channel in June. Christian parents suspected Islamist elements within the transitional government were influencing Khartoum State Ministry of Education planning.

School operation on Sundays in Sudan also has been contested. In July 2017, the Bashir government ordered all Christian schools in the capital to regard Sunday as a work day, but a Transitional Military Council on April 22, 2019 issued an order to restore Sunday as an official weekend recess day for Christian schools throughout the country.

After Bashir was deposed, military leaders initially formed a military council to rule the country, but further demonstrations led them to accept a transitional government of civilians and military figures, with a predominantly civilian government to be democratically elected in three years. Christians were expected to have greater voice under the new administration.

The new government that was sworn in on Sept. 8, 2019 led by Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, an economist, is tasked with governing during a transition period of 39 months. It faces the challenges of rooting out longstanding corruption and an Islamist “deep state” rooted in Bashir’s 30 years of power.

In light of advances in religious freedom since Bashir was ousted in April, the U.S. State Department announced on Dec. 20, 2019 that Sudan had been removed from the list of Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) that engage in or tolerate “systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom” and was upgraded to a watch list. Sudan had been designated a CPC by the U.S. State Department since 1999.

Following the secession of South Sudan in 2011, Bashir had vowed to adopt a stricter version of sharia (Islamic law) and recognize only Islamic culture and the Arabic language. Church leaders said Sudanese authorities demolished or confiscated churches and limited Christian literature on the pretext that most Christians have left the country following South Sudan’s secession.

In April 2013 the then-Sudanese Minister of Guidance and Endowments announced that no new licenses would be granted for building new churches in Sudan, citing a decrease in the South Sudanese population. Sudan since 2012 had expelled foreign Christians and bulldozed church buildings. Besides raiding Christian bookstores and arresting Christians, authorities threatened to kill South Sudanese Christians who did not leave or cooperate with them in their effort to find other Christians.

Sudan ranked 7th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2020 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.

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