April 21, 2006 (KHARTOUM) — Sudanese Islamist Hassan al-Turabi accused some Islamic clerics of misunderstanding Koranic verses on marriages between Muslim women and non-Muslim men, role of women in prayers and their testimony in court.
- Sudanese President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir, left, seen in a 1995 photo, with his former mentor Hassan al-Turabi.
Speaking during an interview, he also urged Muslims not to "sit down lazily" and await for a messiah to address ills in their communities.
Al-Turabi also has said that the West is "confused" over the "grave consequences" posed by the current advent of democracy in Muslim countries and the "resurrection" of Islamic civilization.
He further condemned the Sudanese government for opposing the deployment of UN troops in Darfur.
The following is the text of Al-Turabi’s interview by Imam Mohamed Imam, published by London-based newspaper Al-Sharq al-Awsat daily newspaper on 21 April.
The jurisprudence and political opinions of Dr Hasan al-Turabi, the Sudanese politician and one of the most prominent leaders of the Sudanese Islamic movements, recently relayed by various media organs, have aroused wide reactions and great controversy.
These reactions have not been restricted to those specialized in jurisprudence and shari’ah, but they extended to the cultural, intellectual, and political circles within and without Sudan, and these opinions have become the subject of many television dialogues and meetings and press interviews, and occupied the internet chat rooms.
Al-Sharq al-Awsat took all these queries and others to Dr Al-Turabi, and conducted this interview:
- Your fatwas with regard to the marriage of a Muslim woman to a man of the people of the book (Christians or Jews) have aroused huge controversy. Do you mean the marriage of a woman, who becomes a Muslim while her husband continues to belong to his religion, or do you mean her marriage, if she were a Muslim from the beginning, to a man of the people of the book?
Al-Turabi: First of all, this ijtihad — interpretative jurisprudence — should be considered within the context of the general affairs of women in the address of the Muslim society. This is because the address of the contemporary Muslim society about women affairs is beneath the rulings of religious values, and far removed from these values. For instance, Muslims avoid talking about these rulings with regard to the marriage of their daughters.
Perhaps it goes without saying that this opinion of mine is not new, it is in fact old. This opinion was not merely an abstract opinion; it was a reply to situations to which the Muslim communities in the US were exposed. A woman, who wanted to convert to Islam, came to one of the Islamic centres in the US, and she wanted to know the ruling about staying with her husband who continued to belong to his religion. They, the officials of the centre, with their excitability and slavery to traditions, recommended to her that if she were sincere she ought to sue her husband for divorce, and hence would lose the custody of her children and all the costs of the court proceedings while she was taking the first step toward Islam.
In most cases this deterred women from converting to Islam and declaring their conversion.
Naturally, I read much in the history of Islam, when the situation became troubled between the Muslims and the polytheists, between Muslims and non-Muslim groups they were in touch with, and during the days of apostasy, in which there was much disturbance. I reached this opinion when I did not find in any text of Sunnah a single word to prevent the marriage between a Muslim woman and a man of the people of the book.
I was of the opinion that they ought to allow the woman to convert to Islam, and strengthen her belief; in many cases these women would call for God, and be active in their call, a matter that would bring her husband and those with him to Islam, and so on. This would be a great achievement in her family and in the other families. Naturally, this angered some people; and they attacked me and accused me of infidelity, and presented the issue as one of honour.
However, if you consider the issue impartially, then the conversion of the wife to Islam will affect the non-Muslim husband in a positive way, and he will convert to God’s religion. This is what the Muslims in Western countries need. We ought to leave it up to the Muslim minorities, who live with people of the book, and who are interested in this issue, to assess the situation, and to marry their daughters off to people of the book. Perhaps these girls, through matrimonial relations, would either bring about the people of the book to Islam, or remain committed to Islam. In the West, freedoms are relatively wider; let them investigate the situation on the ground, and the phenomenon in general. This is my opinion of this issue.
- Should I infer from this opinion that you are talking about allowing a Muslim woman to remain with her husband, who is of the people of the book, and not about marrying one of them from the beginning?
Al-Turabi: No, in the past I talked about a Muslim woman remaining with her husband, who is of the people of the book; but now, I open up the issue for an assessment of the situation as a whole, and for the assessment of the marriage itself, because there is no verse in the Koran to prevent such marriage. Therefore, I do not prevent it on the basis of the accumulation of the hearsay to which we are used. The hearsay to which we are used has always claimed that the unanimity was that of the mujtahid faqihs — scholar practising interpretative jurisprudence — in one of the eras, but when we read the Koran we do not find any trace of this, and hence we stop reading.
We are told to obey the guardian always, even if he has usurped the authority from us by force. This has been the case in all our eras. However, the Koran deters us absolutely from doing this. We ought to go back to the origins, the Koran and the Sunnah; if the Koran and the Sunnah left the issue for us to consider, as they did in this case, then we consider the issue, and express our opinion in general terms, or as news; after that we focus on the issue itself using this opinion and these general rulings. Then, whatever happens is for the sake of God.
Row over veil
- Your talk about the veil aroused wide controversy, as you say that it should cover the bosom, and not the head. What is the truth about this?
Al-Turabi: These are lies spread by some journalists who did not attend the forum in which I talked about some of the issues of the Muslim woman. There are words they wrote, which I never said. Some journalists are attracted by the name Al-Turabi, and hence they attribute to me words I have never said. In that forum I was not even talk about rulings; I was talking about the language of the Koran, and how it differed completely in people’s terminology.
The Koran talked about the veil in the rooms of the prophet, God’s prayer and peace be upon him. There are special rulings for the women of the prophet that do not apply to other women, and there are special rulings for the prophet himself that do not apply to other men believers. The prophet’s rooms were very limited, and people used to go to the prophet for comfort, education, and food, and also non-believers went to the prophet, and they were strangers; the prophet’s women used to be at home, and hence it was better that they would be veiled, which was only a barrier, so that if the people asked them for anything they would ask through that veil.
The veil is a general barrier and not a uniform for women. It is a general barrier that could be used in language, for instance to say that there is a barrier between the people and the Koran, or we might refer to the people who wrap the Koran in a cloth to wear it as a talisman, while they raise a barrier between their hearts and minds and the eloquent meanings and morals of the Koran.
In the lecture I said: If we talk about the clothes for women, we should not talk about the veil, the battle over the veil, and the veiled women, but we should talk about the scarf. I said that to clarify the linguistic aspects and not the Islamic rulings. Wine is called wine because it ferments the brain within the head, and a scarf is called a scarf because it covers the top of the head with the hair [playing on the two Arabic words Khamr, meaning wine, and Khimar, meaning scarf].
The Koran ordered women to cover their pockets with scarves, but the pocket here is not the one in which we put money, because these pockets could be empty, and if Moses, peace be upon him, were to put his hand in them, the hands would come out white, not black, which was his and his family’s natural colour [trying to emphasize the concept that the pockets could be empty].
I meant that the women who are believers ought to cover their bosoms with scarves. I have not talked about the rulings at all. Therefore, those who attributed this to me either heard it from someone and did not attend the lecture, or attended and heard but did not understand what I meant by my words.
Within the context of the linguistic science I was also explaining to women the meaning of "Men are the tutelary guardians of women’s interests and welfare [Koran verse]." Men and women might think that this means "dominance over women," because standing up for those who are sitting down is known in the language — in Arabic standing up and being a guardian are of the same root — however, women are not sitting down out of feebleness, but because they are either giving birth or bringing up children, and men with their muscles stand up, come and go, and serve; for instance, the waiter who serves us in a restaurant is standing up for us.
The entire lecture was an explanation of the meanings of the language, and was not at all about the rulings, but some people hasten to say, "Al-Turabi denounced the veil," or "Al-Turabi says that the veil is only for the bosoms," as if I wanted to expose everything under the bosom, i.e. from the belly down everything should be exposed. This is huge stupidity and false attribution to people. I wish the journalists would telephone me to ascertain such news.
- Then, you do not object to covering the head as a part of the veil?
Al-Turabi: To start with, I do not call it veil; I call it scarf, because the Koran called it scarf, and called the barrier in the room veil. In your house, if you adopt a veil, you can call it veil, and if you wanted the word barrier or curtain, then you are free to use it. Here, I am talking about the language. I have talked much about the rulings, and I pointed out the things that some men sometimes do not like.
For instance, when the Koran verse refers to "preach to the women," the preaching here is not addressed by men to women, but to all men and women around the woman, i.e. to the society around the woman: her mother, her sister, her father and her husband. The husband is the one to abandon his wife’s bed — one of the ways suggested by Koran to discipline women — and the society ought to have an opinion, as the Koran verse specified. The woman complains to the one who abandoned her bed, because the abandonment happened in response to a mistake from her. As for beating up, it is not up to the husband or men to harm whoever commits adultery, but it is up to the society; furthermore it should not be done by stoning, but by whipping.
The next Koran verse addresses the society, i.e. the believers outside the home circle of the married couple, "If ye fear a breach between them twain, appoint two arbiters, one from his family, and the other from hers," as the verse continues. The contexts of the Koran verses from which we infer the rulings ought to be clear, and should not be curtailed, and presented as rulings out of context. Also the issue of testimony agitated some people.
Women and Islamic law
- Also I wanted to examine the issue of the testimonies. It seems that you equate between the testimony of woman and that of man, which contradicts the text of the holy verse, "Then a man and two women, such as ye choose, for witnesses, so that if one of them errs, the other can remind her?"
Al-Turabi: Honourable brother, do not judge me until I finish my talk. The verse to which you refer is the same one that guided us to record debts, state the date on which they ought to be paid up, and called on the writer to record, and on the witnesses to testify. God Almighty said, "If one of them errs," meaning that perhaps one of them errs; He did not say, "One of them definitely will err;" otherwise we would have favoured that ruling. In another verse of the Holy Koran itself, it is said if death approaches one of us then we should take "just witnesses among us;" He did not say "one man and two women" or "just men only," because the time of death is attended by more women than men. When death approaches wives, daughters, and sisters might be closer than men. In this situation men and women have the same rulings; they are sworn in, and if they are found to have sinned, then we ought to call other witnesses.
The general public does not know the procedures of giving evidence, there is giving evidence in registrations of contracts documents, and there is giving evidence in court before a judge. The judge listens to the witnesses, and the lawyers, the opponent attorneys cross examine the witnesses, and the judge talks to them so that they remember the exact details of the incident about which they give evidence, and so that the judge ascertains that they are worthy of trust, whether they were discredited before, and whether they have experience of the issue about which they testify.
Women could be specialized in law, or businesswomen, while a male witness might have no experience in law or in business; in such a case a judge could favour the experience of a woman in the case concerned. The female witness could be a gynaecologist, a obstetrician, and in this case, she would know whether a foetus was stillborn or died after birth, a fact that could have many consequences. This is what every judge, and every sane person would do.
The prophet, God’s prayer and peace be upon him, used to judge the giving of evidence between the opponents according to its face value, because he only knew the appearances, and some people might be better in giving evidence. In this case one side could be dealt with unfairly, but in doomsday there will be justice. The prophet, God’s prayer and peace be upon him, warned the witnesses by this lesson.
- Could we restrict this ruling to commerce, and in the commercial cases make the testimony of the man equal the testimony of two women?
Al-Turabi: The Koran did not say that she will err, but said, "So that if one of them errs;" The Koran did not rule that a woman would definitely err. However, because women in most cases do not work in commerce, God Almighty has not burdened them with work, but has commissioned men to go out, walk on earth, and bring money to support women.
The entire situation ought to be left up to the judge when assessing the testimonies; if a man and a woman were equal in everything, then the testimony of the one who experienced work in this specific field would have more weight.
In some fields a man might need another man to support his testimony.
- Within the context of the issues of women, in the issue of women imams, i.e. a woman leading men in prayers, and that you allowed it?
Al-Turabi: Who has prohibited this, so that I would allow it? What prohibited it was your tradition and persecution of women. Your tradition prefers women to pray at home, and even not to attend the collective prayers, which are led by men. Thus from the start, women do not appear at all, and if someone says that women are allowed to lead the prayers, men will rise up in anger. In the traditions of the Sunnah and the prophet’s life we find only one sign in the "Sunan of Abu-Dawud."
The one who interpreted that sign was the same faqih who criticized the opinion of other faqihs in allowing the three divorces to be reduced to a single one — if a man divorces his wife three times then he cannot remarry her without her getting married and divorced to a different man —, which is against the text of the Koran. This was because a senior companion of the prophet allowed that, but he was wrong because the Koran verse said "divorce can take place twice," but a third time would lead to rulings. However, Ibn-Taymiyah and his student, Ibn-al-Qayyim, when they found the Hadith related by Abu-Dawud, saw the truth.
The woman companion of the prophet, when she led the prayers, she did not only lead the people of her household, but the people of her home. The home is different from the house; it is the circle surrounding the house, and hence she had a muezzin. If the woman were more knowledgeable and more pious than us, and she stood to lead us in prayers, then we would not look at her beauty and be seduced by it; we do not look at the grey hair of the imam and his beard, but we listen to what he says.
We listen to women in life and we look at them; if the listener were a male judge, and she was suffering from an injustice, the judge would not look at her appearance, but at her story. If a preacher’s sermon were meaningless, and he were talking nonsense, then we would look at his face and his grey hair, we might find him ugly, and we would turn our backs to his sermon because it is devoid of meaning.
The same applies to government, which they call grand imamate. The Koran, God’s book, did not call the government grand imamate, because Abraham was made an imam of the people, but he was not a political ruler of anyone. The Muslims in their terminology called the government imamate, and bestowed it upon Quraysh — the Mecca tribe to which the prophet belonged to.
The word imamate was used in the Hadith because Quraysh were the imams of the people; they were imams of infidels, and when they converted they became the imams of Islam having priority over the others around them, as they were around the Kaaba, and around the famous markets. The word was used in this context, but the people started to say that having an imam from Quraysh is one of the conditions of government.
The government in the Koran is the guardianship. The prophet’s Hadith - People who adopt a woman as a guardian will never succeed - was said within the context of the dispute with the Persians; the Persians would not have succeeded even if they adopted as a guardian the cousin of the shah who died, and not the shah’s daughter, because they were Magi, and they would not have succeeded even had they adopted as guardians a council of males.
At that time, the Persians became a subject of much talk because the shah was succeeded by a woman. If this Hadith were true, then it would be confined to this context. The Persians did not succeed when they continued with their Magus traditions, but they succeeded when they became Muslims, they became imams of our Arabic language, and some people from their country became imams of Hadith, Koran recitation, and Koran interpretation, may God reward them.
Return of Jesus Christ
- Some Hadith explicitly referred to the return of the Christ, peace be upon him, but you reject this return. What is your evidence on this?
Al-Turabi: The Hadith do not supersede the Koran verses, because the Hadith are attributed through a succession of individuals, and are not related the same as the Koran. The Koran verses were written directly from the time they were told by the prophet, God’s prayer and peace be upon him. The prophet, God’s prayer and peace be upon him, did not record anything other than the Koran; he even prohibited the recording of anything else.
Did the prophet, God’s prayer and peace be upon him, change the Koran on his own accord? God forbid; the Koran says that the prophet was not allowed to make changes in the Koran, and that he did not attribute anything falsely to God Almighty. It is clear in the Koran verse that Jesus, peace be upon him, brought the glad tidings of a messenger, who would come after him, and whose name would be Ahmad, but he did not say that he would come during Jesus’ lifetime.
The Koran says that this Prophet Muhammad, God’s prayer and peace be upon him, was the final one in the series of Jesus and the rest of the prophets, because he is the final messenger. The Koran verse is explicit that Muhammad is the seal of the prophets who receive God’s revelations, and not only the final messenger. The Koran verse also shows that Jesus, peace be upon him, on doomsday will be held to account, because the messengers will be held to account, the same as those to whom they were sent.
Jesus, peace be upon him will reply that when he died he was not responsible for what they did, and that he did not say what they attributed to him that they should worship him and his mother and not God, and he will glorify God, "When thou didst take me up thou wast the watcher over them, and thou art a witness to all things;" therefore, he is not responsible at all after his death.
The Koran also said that God would make Jesus die, and take him up completely away from this existence, and purify him, i.e. liberate him completely so that he would not return at all to this existence. The Koran gave Jesus the glad tidings that those who follow him would vanquish the Israelites, who abandoned God. The Koran verses one after the other tells this to anyone who has a heart or who listens. The Koran told us some of the stories of the Christian culture, which was prevalent among the illiterate Arabs, because the majority of the Christian witnesses of the era of Jesus disappeared, because they were hunted down, tortured and killed, and hence their fate remained unknown.
We know from the Koran that Jesus, peace be upon him, was not crucified at all as his enemies thought; the others thought that he did not die at all, and that God did not end his life. The word take-up means death if it came within the context of religion or sleep; for instance, within the context of the angels took him up, or God took him up, this means concluding the life on earth until one is resurrected on the day of resurrection.
Despite the fact that the Koran verses are very clear, the creed of waiting spread among the Muslims. If the people are persecuted or humiliated, then they will look for any hope, however faint. This is how I interpret the brother Shiites waiting for the imam. God has not made human beings immortal. I think - God knows best - that the Abbasid Caliphate who killed the father of the imam, had also killed the 12th imam, but he did it in secret, and as people did not see a corpse, did not lay him in a coffin, did not pray over him, and did not carry him to the cemetery, they were hoping that he was still alive, and they inherited this idea or hope along the centuries.
Even the Sunnis, when they are weak, they wait for the Mahdi. If you were to study all the pronouncements of Al-Mahdi, and read what the writers wrote, you would find that they said that these were the hopes of the oppressed. In their views Jesus will come to kill the pig; therefore no Muslim is allowed to kill a pig if it belonged to a Christian, and you are not allowed to break their crosses, because there is no coercion in faith. You can only say kindly to the Christians that Jesus allowed you many things that were forbidden to Jews as a punishment from God to the Jews for crimes they committed.
I have seen many of those who claimed to be Al-Mahdi, and I lived with one of them in prison. Some individuals in Sudan claimed to be Al-Mahdi, and others in the Islamic world claimed the same. Some Hadith say: As if Jesus descends upon you and does this-or-that. I attribute these stories to the influence of the Christian culture, and that they were attributed by mistake to the prophet, God’s prayer and peace be upon him.
We even hear some Hadith, which are properly authenticated, attributing to God Almighty that he created the earth on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and created the entire heavens in two days. Reason tells you that this is silly. The words day and days ’of your God" are as eternal as a thousand years; here the thousand is not "999 + 1" because in the language of the Arabs (of that time) a thousand is the highest number. However, you will find this in Sahih Muslim — one of the two main authorities on authenticated Hadith. The days are extensive eras whose length we do not know at all.
Muslims do not talk about the seventh day, but I talked about it in my book, Al-Tafsir al-Tawhidi, and those who want to read about it can read the book, as I do not wish to burden your newspaper with sensationalism.
"I urge the Muslims not sit down lazily"
- This leads to talking about the awaited for Mahdi, and your rejection of the Hadith about him?
Al-Turabi: As I said, there are a number of Hadith, but I urge the Muslims not sit down lazily waiting for someone to fill the earth with justice for them, while they do not wish to work to fill a single inch of the earth with justice. Today the entire earth is engulfed in a darkness of injustice. The Muslims are not imposing justice, and they are waiting for it to come from heaven, as if they are saying the same as the Jews said to Moses, "Go thou, and thy Lord, and fight ye two, while we sit here and watch (Koran verse)."
I say to the Muslims, you all, God willing, are Mahdis. At least 17 times every day, if not more in prayers, you ask God to guide you to the right path. Have you lost hope that God will respond to you and you become Mahdis? If you have, then you would have abandoned what you read in your prayers. As for waiting for the one who will come at the end of time in his name and with signs on his back, and for whom the Muslims are waiting, this is wishful thinking, the same as the people of the book thought that success and piety would come to them just by hoping.
You are waiting for Jesus to return to repair the earth for you after you corrupted it, while you sit down and watch. You do not fear God, but you fear authority and the tyranny of the superpowers. God is greater than all of us, and is more deserving of your fear. Do not say we have been oppressed on earth, as the Koran mentions, but rely on God in what you do.
Look how many years have passed since these Hadith were related. All these Muslims who died say to God Almighty we did not do anything, and the Muslims deteriorated and became backward after their original rise, because they were waiting for the grace of God to send them the one who would repair everything as he stipulated, and because the only thing that the Muslims would have to do in their rise is to rely on God.
However, you can read about the Hadith of the Mahdi in new books I compiled and presented together, the Mahdis of the successors of the prophet are all those who follow the prophet, God’s prayer and peace be upon him, on the path of God’s guidance; they are not only two or four individuals, but there are hundreds of them in science and politics, and in all the fields of Muslims.
Shari’ah in Sudanese capital
- Let us conclude this section of jurisprudence and shari’ah by a question about the issue on which there is a stalemate between the government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement [SPLM], namely that Khartoum should be exempted from shari’ah?
Al-Turabi: Here, we come to the issues of authority that those who believe in divine rights and the clerics, despite their knowledge of God’s book to which they are witnesses, leave up to the caesars and emperors to rule contrary to what God ordered. When the Koran refers to those who rule contrary to God’s orders as the infidels, it does not refer only to those in authority. There have been Muslim believers in divine rights and clerics who say that usury is allowed when necessary, and should be assessed by the finance minister and the guardian.
However, when the prophet, God’s prayer and peace be upon him, was stricken by extreme poverty in Medina, the Koran did not give him dispensation to resort to usury, the Koran did not change the verse saying that if you devour usury then there will be a war between you and God to say, "Except you, Muhammad, are exempted, because you are poor."
The Naivasha agreement (over peace with the SPLM), as you know, abolished the shari’ah completely from the federal government, but this did not stir up the anger of those who today clamour angrily for the shari’ah. The agreement left it up to the northern provinces to adopt what they wanted from the shari’ah; now the capital wants to adopt what it wants from the shari’ah. When we extended the hand of peace to the brothers in the south, we did that because the state and society of Islam were established from day one on the basis that the society consists of Muslims and non-Muslims; this was the first Sunni model.
Had these people left us to continue to negotiate, then we would have ended up with something better than what they reached. Today, they are in a dilemma over the capital, and there is controversy. Do not ask me for a fatwa for those who did not ask for a fatwa, and did not ask about the issues of shari’ah, religion and language during the negotiations.
The constitution in our hands today does not include shari’ah in the federal government to enable us to search for a way out for those in Khartoum and around it. Silence about everything that is done by those in authority is the same disease that has been inflicted upon the Westerners. Who allowed usury in the West? It was allowed for the Renaissance, and for the capitalist bourgeois revolution, which was also driven by the Jews with their financial experiments who charged usury and devoured it. These people allowed usury after it was prohibited in Christianity, may God shelter us.
- After Hamas, and before it the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, won democratic elections, does this not mean that the Islamic movement in Sudan was hasty in rushing to jump to power through a military coup d’etat in 1989, while it was clear from the course of events that it was the overwhelming winner during the partisan period before the coup d’etat?
Al-Turabi: Now, the Islamic tide has developed in the Muslim society, and advanced across the earth in the Arab, Western and African societies, not all of them but in the majority of them. If the way is to be opened for these people, as it was opened in Palestine, then all these regimes will end up where Fatah has ended up, and Islam will be established. Now, the people in the West are confused, for them democracy is a higher value, but the rise of Islam and the resurrection of its civilization at the expense of the Western civilization would have grave consequences, because civilization is a higher value than democracy.
Today, they are talking explicitly that had they known that Hamas would achieve such a win, they would have blocked all the doors; they did not know, and Hamas itself, even in its innermost, did not think that it would achieve this victory. As for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the West did not allow them even the legitimacy of forming a party in a democratic framework; the Muslim Brotherhood fielded candidates in half of the seats, and had they all won, then the other side would have known that the brotherhood had won, and hence as soon as the number of brotherhood winning candidates reached double figures, the other side hastened to block the road publicly in broad daylight.
Before that, in Algeria, the West realized that the first round would knock out the regime, not only its representatives but also its direction, and that the system emerging through democracy would be an Islamic one. The prophets used to say, "And if there is a party among you who believes in the message with which we have been sent, and a party which does not believe, hold yourselves in patience." The prophet, God’s prayer and peace be upon him, received the Koran verses telling him to allow freedoms, so that we would see who has the ultimate reward. What happened in Algeria was that the experiment was suppressed and buried by force. They are doing the same in Turkey.
In Sudan, Islam progressed much further than it did in other countries; we came closer to power and to government than the totality of the Sunni world. When we achieved something by announcing laws linked to shari’ah during the final days of former President Al-Nimeiri, Bush Senior said to Al-Nimeiri: Who are these people you brought in? Send them to prison. Al-Nimeiri did, and we were sent directly from the palace to prison.
When Al-Nimeiri saw the Islamic popular tide, he wanted to do something to compete with the influence of the Islamic movement. Al-Nimeiri started his conquests; he prohibited alcohol, banned usury, theoretically not practically, and started to talk about the Islamic ethics as one of the qualifications of those assuming public posts. Then he received warnings from the West, and he personally went to reassure them that all those people (the Islamists) were in prison.
When Al-Nimeiri was toppled, and the popular revolution [April 6, 1985] you know came, and we joined forces with former Premier Al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, "before he achieved the imamate status," the armed forces came to him openly and said: Remove these people or we would remove you. He told us this, and later on he announced it. We made a mistake in not leaving it up to the popular revolution to bring about Islam, and we left it up to the soldiers.
Since the days of the Pharaohs, the soldiers do not like shura (consultations); they like giving orders. Therefore, when they established themselves in authority, they were seduced by it, and they turned against the era of the constitution, which was moving the people toward freedom and democracy, and toward spreading the federal rule. From the beginning, we did not want to monopolize power, oppress the people, and devour their money through corruption of government.
We read in the Koran that the chosen people who went out with Moses, peace be upon him, were given control over land that they hated to enter at first, and said to Moses: "O Moses! In this land there are a people of exceeding strength; never shall we enter it until they leave it." When they were given control, the Koran said about them, "Twice would they do mischief on earth and be elated with mighty arrogance," then they would be punished with people given to terrible warfare, but God would grant the Jews a victory against these people; if the Jews were to spread corruption again, then the punishment would be final and all that fell into their power would be destroyed completely.
We did not want the "National Islamic Front" or the soldiers to rule in the name of the Islamic movement, but others preferred this. I know that this military spirit corrupted the Orthodox Caliphate era, and it teaches those under its control the traditions of the soldiers and of caesar’s empire since the pagan days.
I am not going to mention names in order not to arouse the anger of some Muslims. The pagan spirit and the Roman culture destroyed the experiment of the orthodox nation rule in Islam, and did not allow it to develop along the lines according to which it started. The Orthodox Caliphates used to be elected, held to account, and considered equal to all other Muslims. This was our mistake, and God has held us to account for it, He even let us be sent to prison. Perhaps, God willing, this would be a penance for the mistake in our ijtihad [struggles].
I do not want the Islamic movement to fire at a head of state and kill him, because this happened before but it did not lead to anything. I do not want the Islamic movement and revolution to end up the same as the revolution in Algeria or Afghanistan. The revolution is all right, but after the revolution do not terrorize the people or kill them. The revolution ought to leave the people, as the prophet did, to coexist and reconcile to each other; everyone should be allowed to do what he likes, and we will see who will be rewarded by God in this life and also in the afterlife; also we should consult the people always.
If oppression and persecution were to increase, then it would be all right to rebel, "But if you show patience, that is indeed the best course for those who are patient [Koran verse]." The jihad verses are all defensive, and the fighting verses are all defensive. They talk about the sword verses, and say that they have superseded all the other verses; however this would be a deviation from the contexts of the Koran. They also took the Hadith out of context, "Kill whoever changes his religion," as if whoever changes his religion, if he were an infidel and converted to Islam, should be killed.
However, praise be to God, the Koran verses are clear; I do not say abandon the Hadith of the prophet, God’s prayer and peace be upon him, because the Hadith explains the Koran, but I say it is better to read the Koran as a context of the Hadith, then you will find that the Hadith is the best explanation of the Koran.
- This brings up to your ijtihad that intellectual apostasy is not a cause for killing. As you know, in Afghanistan a Muslim citizen became an apostate, and was sentenced, but he was released on the pretext that he was imbalanced. The effect of this story extended even to international relations and foreign policy, as Italy gave him asylum?
Al-Turabi: There are a huge number of verses in the Koran, and it is difficult to recite them all. Even the people of the book, we argue with them nicely, except those who are unjust, and we believe in their prophets, and their books, even if they were altered. We should be kind to them if they do not initiate fighting against us, we should treat them fairly, and we should hold them to a fair and straight word between us and say to them let us discuss it.
- More than once you said that you could resolve the problem of Darfur in a single session. What is the secret of this session, which you are reluctant to grant to the people of Sudan?
Al-Turabi: I do not possess the weapons with which we could hit the Darfur resistance, or the public money that is under the control of those in power. However, I am talking about the issues and our plans as a party. We have drawn up a complete paper in Arabic and in English about all the contentious issues in Darfur. Let me summarize it for you:
There is a model of what is to be done between us and the southern population. Take this model and apply it to Darfur; however, they do not accept this because they are Muslims and all of them speak Arabic. Thus all the problems could be resolved; the vice-presidency problems [could be resolved]; at the regional level coordination could be established between the provinces so that the centre does not divide them and assumes supremacy over them; and their old borders from which their camel exports used to cross into Egypt, and their representation quota in the legislative councils, which have become appointed councils, are no longer suitable.
However, if they take their share, this will be deducted from the absolute majority share possessed and monopolized by the ruling party, and which is now demanded by the party’s partners in the south, i.e. 52 per cent.
I have never seen a constitution in the world that does such things. They also want their share of the public funds, with something extra, as they have been wronged since the days of the British occupation, because they publicly stood by the side of the Ottomans and also of the Germans against them.
As a result of this stance, they were deprived of roads, education and all aspects of development. Also the nationalists, the successors of the British, followed the example of the British, and did the same to the people of Darfur. Now they want a slightly larger share than the public funds allocated to the provinces. Give them this, and let them govern themselves during an interim period. Even the elections in which people compete; let national and regional parties fight these elections and let the elections decide who assumes power in the province, and who assumes power at a national level.
This is all. It is simple. Today there are two million Sudanese refugees, and the entire Sudan, people and government, do not pay a single dinar for these refugees. These refugees are separated from their kinfolk, and the government spurns them; they are looked after by Western and UN organizations. The African forces are present only in the city, while the entire Darfur area is abandoned as an armed-robbery battlefield, not only for the Janjawid militias, the resistance, and the Sudanese forces, but also armed robbery has become a way of life.
Every day people are dying as result of displacement and illness, education has virtually ground to a halt, and hygiene is deteriorating. All this happens while we sit down and wait for those in the seats of power as they enjoy themselves. Should we postpone the negotiations from one session to another, or should we deal with the issue as we dealt with the south, and hence dispense with the foreign presence.
However, we hear people screaming and wailing about the interference of the foreign powers. The Africans are welcome, and we are pleased to carry them on our heads (Arabic figure of speech expressing welcome); are they not foreigners?!
In the issue of the south, thousands are welcome, the international police forces and their dogs are welcome, and we are pleased to carry them on our heads, this is a literal truth, and not a figure of speech.
- What is your opinion of the recent incidents in Chad?
Al-Turabi: Chad was stormed by soldiers. I wonder whether they descended from heaven, or sprang up from under the earth. What is the name of the country to the east of Chad? This is first. How did President Idriss Deby himself enter Chad? Who was behind them, and who urged him? How did the Chadian ruler who preceded Deby enter Chad? These are known issues that no-one can deny. The telephones are known, the roads are known, the way they struck is known, and who they are and what documents are in their hands is known.
The Darfur issue and the Chad issue are the same; the Darfur issue has gone beyond the borders of the area and even the borders of the African continent, and has become an international issue; it would be better if we hasten to resolve it.