JUBA, South Sudan (Morning Star News) – Christian leaders in Sudan were skeptical about a government statement this week that it will consider removing Sundays as a student exam day.
Disregarding Sunday as a worship day for Christians, Sudan even before the 30-year Islamist regime of former President Omar al-Bashir had scheduled exams for both primary and secondary schools on Sundays.
Following the downfall of Bashir last year, new Sudanese Minister of Education Mohamed Al-Amin Al-Toam told church leaders in Khartoum this week that the government would consider excluding Christian holidays and Sundays in scheduling national exams, newspaper Sudan News Now reported on Thursday (March 5).
Persecution-weary church leaders said Christians in Sudan seek action rather than empty promises. The Rev. Yahya Abdelrahim Nalu of the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church said Christians have rights and shouldn’t have to beg for them.
“We are tired of such promises from the government,” Pastor Nalu told Morning Star News. “We need action to show the good motives from the government.”
Al-Toam reportedly told Coptic church leaders in Sudan that his ministry will also consider appointment of Christian teachers to teach Christianity nationwide.
Unlike Islam, Christianity has not been taught in public schools in Sudan for more than 30 years. Prohibiting the teaching of Christianity at government schools due to lack of Christian teachers appointed by the governments, Bashir had left instruction on Christianity to churches.
In July 2017, the Bashir government ordered all Christian schools in the capital to regard Sunday as a work day. The Ministry of General Education of Khartoum State sent a letter dated July 26, 2017 ordering all Christian schools in the Khartoum area to stop regarding Sunday as a public day off.
Sunday is considered a working day in Sudan, but traditionally Christian schools had not operated on their day of worship and rest. Fridays and Saturdays are public days off in Sudan, which has a sizeable Muslim majority.
The move prompted widespread outrage and led many Christians in Sudan and around the world to view it as another means of harassment and discrimination against Sudanese Christians.
In January Christians welcomed Sudan’s appointment of a second Christian to a cabinet-level position. Stephen Amin Arno, a Roman Catholic, was appointed to head up the Ministry of Labor and Social Development.
Previously appointed to the Sovereignty Council to oversee the transition to civilian rule in Sudan was Raja Nicola Eissa Abdel-Masih, a Coptic Christian. She was one of six civilians appointed to the council on Aug. 21.
In light of advances in religious freedom since Bashir was ousted in April, the U.S. State Department announced on Dec. 20 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 has 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.
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.
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.