After hopes ran high in Sudan that the transitional government would have the subject of Christianity taught alongside Islam, expectations were dashed this month when authorities announced the academic schedule devoid of the world's most widely followed religion.
In Sudan – ranked on Open Doors' 2020 World Watch List as the seventh-worst nation for persecuting Christians (due to "Islamic oppression") – Muslim opponents of Christianity were among the officials blamed by those who were eagerly looking forward to students learning about Christianity in the classroom.
"Doubly disappointed when an expected TV broadcast of school lessons on Christianity was omitted from the government-owned Television Station Khartoum International Channel [last week], Christian parents suspected Islamist elements within the transitional government were influencing Khartoum State Ministry of Education planning," Morning Star News reported.
Last glimmer of hope?
Even though most have given up hope that the predominantly Muslim officials will change course, Raja Nicola Eissa Abdel-Masih – the sole Christian woman appointed to the council overseeing the Sudanese civilian government transition – announced that members of the council are trying to resolve the issue at hand.
"I have been in communication with the undersecretary in the Ministry of Education in regards to the removal of Christian Religion from the time-table of the subjects for the Basic School Certificate for the year 2020," the Coptic Christian told a group of Sudanese church leaders during an online meeting on June 16, according to Morning Star News.
New government, similar oppression?
After suffering under the ingrained Islamic doctrine led by Omar al-Bashir's regime – which was deposed in April 2019 – Christians were optimistic that Abdel-Masih could turn things around. And when the former longtime judge who served in Sudan's Ministry of Justice became one of only six civilians who were appointed to Sudan's 11-member Sovereignty Council months later in August, they became even more hopeful.
The major issue, according to the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church's (SPEC) Rev. Yahia Abdelrahim Nalu, is that Christian students are required to be instructed in the subject of Islam at school – with many being forced to convert to the religion during the process.
"Unfortunately, this is what is happening – most Christian students sit for Islamic Religion for the sake of obtaining the certificate, but they end up victims of Islamization," Nalu divulged to Morning Star News. The situation is even more dire for students in remote regions, according to Nalu, as they are forced to take Islamic Religion, while no churches or Christian schools are anywhere around.
In the eastern state of Al-Qadarif, teacher and SPEC pastor Sami Yousif Rahal notified church leaders that more than 650 Christian students were not only forced to study Islam but also "as a result, most of these students were forced to be converted to Islam as part of Islamization over the past years."
The previous government did its best to wipe out Christianity through the schools, with classes even being held on Sundays, which many Christians contested.
"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," the Morning Star News noted.
"In July 2017, the Bashir government ordered all Christian schools in the capital to regard Sunday as a workday, 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."
Adopting the rigid code of Muslim conduct based in the Quran – which severely punishes those who do not honor the prophet Mohammad or Allah – also made life more difficult for Christians.
"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," the report added. "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 2012, foreign Christians were expelled from Sudan and church buildings were bulldozed in an attempt to eradicate Christianity.
"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," the report stated. "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."
The transitional government led by Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok now has the challenge of purging three decades of corruption from Bashir's Islamist "deep state."