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Sudanese Christians Celebrate Easter under Islamic Law

ICC Note

“Fanatics wanted to burn the church; they wanted to burn the school. They were shouting death to the Christian community,”

By Jeremy Reynalds

Sunday, March 23, 2008 Sudan (ANS) — Tens of thousands of Sudanese Christians celebrated Easter in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum on Sunday.

The AFP News Service reported that Christians say they have been free to practise their faith since the Jan. 2005 peace deal ended two decades of civil war between the Arab Muslim dominated regime in Khartoum and the largely Christian south.

However, AFP reported Christians are still suffering from discrimination under Islamic Sharia law.

Clerics told AFP that government schools ban Bible study, employers grant fewer holidays to Christians, and gatekeepers at Khartoum University and family parks refuse entry to non-veiled women.

There are also restrictions on building new churches. AFP said that Sharia law favors Muslims in inheritance and bans alcohol. Clerics say women can be stopped for what the authorities consider inappropriate dress.

“On Easter, I think we reflect on the suffering of our Lord Jesus Christ. At the same time we also reflect on the suffering of the community,” Rev. Cannon Sylvester Thomas told AFP at the Episcopalian All Saints Cathedral.

AFP reported that on Dec.31 2006, police fired tear gas into the church wounding six people. Last week, Thomas said, the security service alerted the church to threats from Arab tribesmen seeking to avenge fighting with southern ex-rebels.

There is no Easter egg tradition, AFP said. Instead there’s church, followed by candy and other goodies to offer visiting friends, family and Muslim neighbors.

AFP reported that on Monday, dozens of Episcopalian parishes expect to pull in 5,000 to 10,000 followers for a day of prayer, teachings and feasting on two slaughtered bulls.

Father Roko Taban, who is leading Easter services at St Matthew’s Cathedral, told AFP he would focus congregational prayers on the fragile peace agreement.

“The main focus is that peace be well maintained and implemented. This is our hope and our desire; that people will not go back to war,” he said.

Taban said educated Christians at least are beginning to largely ignore the conservative dress codes. Christian girls are frequently seen in short sleeves, low-cut tops and knee-length skirts.

“A good number of the educated people that we have… are beginning to fight for their rights. They want to be considered as equal with Muslims. Why should they be second class citizens when they are Sudanese?” Taban told AFP.

Muslim hardliners often paint Sudanese Christians as stooges of the West, AFP said.

Last November, when a British teacher was arrested, put on trial and jailed for insulting religion because she allowed students to name a teddy bear Mohammed, Sudanese Christians were affected.

“Fanatics wanted to burn the church; they wanted to burn the school. They were shouting death to the Christian community,” Thomas told AFP. “For us we are always sensitive on that. Whenever such a thing comes up, they are taking the chance to begin to threaten the Christian community… Some people adopt a low profile because of these fanatics.”

AFP said that the majority of the fighting between the government and the southern rebels was concentrated in the south, and southerners shouldered a disproportionate share of the suffering.

The conflict killed at least 1.5 million Sudanese and masses of southerners fled to neighboring countries or north to the wealthier Khartoum , where many still live in impoverished shanty towns.