December 29, 2010 (NAIROBI) – A high-profile Muslim cleric has called on Muslims in south Sudan not to vote for secession when they go to the polls on January 9, 2011 to decide whether they want their region to secede or remain in a united Sudan.
- Muslim cleric Al-Qaradawi (www.telegraph.co.uk)
The semi-autonomous region of south Sudan, where most people ascribe to Christianity or traditional beliefs, is due to hold a referendum vote in January 2011 to decide whether it wants to remain united with the predominately Muslim north or secede to form an independent state.
The plebiscite is stipulated under the 2005’s peace deal which ended nearly two decades of north-south civil war in which religion consistently featured as a tool of mobilization
Aggrieved by years of civil war and perceived neglect by the dominant governments in the north, southerners are expected to vote overwhelmingly for secession.
Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian cleric who heads the Union of Muslim Scholars, said in a televised interview that south Sudanese Muslims should not vote for secession which according to the clerics is a Western conspiracy to break up the unity of the Islamic World.
“A [south] Sudanese Muslim should not vote for secession…because behind secession always lies evil…The West now lives in the world of unity and blocs…We unfortunately live in the world of fragmentation.”
There are no exact figures on the number of south Sudanese Muslims, but they are believed to be a minority.
However, even some Muslims in southern Sudan say the north has oppressed them.
’’They put us in third class,’’ says Juma Said Ali, Deputy Director of Dawah Section in Southern Sudan Muslim Council, an organization in Juba. ’’It’s better for us to separate,’ he added.’
Al-Qaradawi claimed that the “Americans and Western countries” were standing behind the secession of south Sudan in order to disrupt the unity of the Islamic World.
“Sudan, this big country, is beset by conspiracies that do not want it to survive,” Al-Qaradawi mused while speaking in his widely watched TV program “Al-Shariah and Life” broadcast on the Pan-Arab TV Al-Jazeera.
The cleric further warned that the secession of south Sudan would spawn similar trends across Sudan, suggesting that the war-battered western region of Darfur, where the majority of the population are Muslim, could be the next in line.
“Now the south, and then comes Darfur. The West wants secession and breakup of the country…this is even more dangerous and we must not condone secession in any country,” Al-Qaradawi said.
Darfur is a region in western Sudan whose population is predominantly Muslims. The neglected region has been steeped in civil war since rebels belonging mostly to African ethnic groups took up arms against the Sudanese government in 2003.
The conflict claimed the lives of 300,000 people and displaced more than 2 million, according to UN figures.
Some rebel groups in Darfur, which stood as an independent sultanate up to 1916, have already expressed views in favor of the region’s right to self-determination.
Although widely acclaimed in the Middle East for his contribution to Islamic scholarship, some of Al-Qaradawi’s views are controversial in the West, especially his repeated defense of suicide attacks on Israeli civilians by the Palestinian Islamic organization Hamas.
He is banned from entering the United State and Great Britain.
Last week, a group of radical Muslim clerics known as the Legitimate League of Muslim Scholars and Preachers stirred up controversy when they declared south Sudan referendum as “null and void” from a religious point of view.
They called on the government to cancel the referendum and impose Shari’ah law in the entire country regardless of what southern Sudanese want.