The age-old dream of the human caravan is not to send astronauts in their orbit in outer space.. it is to send its individuals - every single individual in his orbit of self-realization. It is high time that this dream be thus reinterpreted. It is also the sacred duty of every man and woman to help intelligently reorientate human endeavour towards the culmination of this pilgrimage.

Mahmoud Muhammad Taha - Answers to the questions of Mr. John Voll - 17.7.1963

A moment to commemorate a thinker’s demise

Adil Ismail

When I decided to dedicate this week’s article to the 18th anniversary of the demise of Al-Ustaz Mahmoud Mohamed Taha which falls on Jan.18.2003, I was wondering what kind of commemoration would fit the cry about the on going political settlement. While the European human rights team is active nowadays in Khartoum and cocking their eyes at the government’s practices pertaining to human rights records, I was looking for relevant reference to write this article. To my pleasant surprise. I came across a dissertation written by the British scholar, Eddie Thomas who internetted it at: [asaloon \Biography of Al-Ustaz Mahmoud Mohammed Taha. Lt m]. So, this article would be mainly based on the above mentioned dissertation.

According to Eddie Thomas, Al-Ustaz (revered teacher) Mahmoud Mohammed Taha, was born around 1909 in Rufa’h, a small town on the east bank of the Blue Nile in central Sudan. He had his schooling in a nearby village after his mother died. As he was able to complete the extremely competitive educational system of the time, he graduated from the engineering school of Gordon Memorial college, now the University of Khartoum, in 1936. As an active participant from the very beginning of the movement in the nationalist struggle for independence, Al-Ustaz Mahmoud was dissatisfied with the performance of the educated elite. He criticized them for submitting their expertise to the sectarian traditional religious leaders who enjoyed wide support in the country.

Al-Ustaz Mahmoud and other intellectuals formed the Republican party which adopted, from the very beginning, a policy of open confrontation with the colonial authority that led to the arrest and subsequent imprisonment of Al-Ustaz Mahmoud in 1946. He was sentenced to a year in jail when he refused to abstain from opposing the colonial government. In response to the mounting protest, he was “pardoned”. But in the same year he was arrested and sentenced to two years.

By the end of his five-year period of seclusion in 1951, Al-Ustaz emerged with a comprehensive new concept of Islam. He summed up that understanding in his book “That is my Path”. Just before Sudan got independence, Al-Ustaz Mahmoud published a book about his proposal for a constitution of a presidential, federal, democratic and socialist Sudan.

Shortly after independence, a committee was formed to write a constitution to be presented for adoption by the parliament. He resigned from that committee objecting to the tendency of interference from the executive authority. Later he was denied access to the media when he tried to correct false allegations which the orthodox Muslims accused him of. In facing the mounting “orchestrated” rejection of his renewal efforts in Islam, he published many books. Mainly “The Second Message of Islam.”

In 1967 after the six-day war between Israel and the Arabs, he was the first man to propose a direct dialogue for a peaceful co-existance between them. He was mainly opposed to the nationalist Arab Movement and the primitive understanding of Islam by Saudi Arabia and the Muslim-Brothers Movement.

The sectarian ruling parties together with the Muslim-Brotherhood movement managed to amend article number 5/2 in the constitution in order to expel communist members of the parliament and dissolve their party in 1965, despite his principal opposition to Marxist communism. Al-Ustaz Mahmoud objected to that more vigorously and considered it as a falsification of democracy.

According to Eddie Thomas, when the May Regime took over power, one of the first steps that had been welcomed by Al-Ustaz was the decision to stop the war in the South and seek a peaceful way to settle the problem. He saw in that regime as an intermediary stage likely to protect the poor helpless Sudanese from a primitive rule that wears an Islamic mask.

For most of the remaining of his life, Al-Ustaz Mahmoud confined himself to manage the activities of the Republican Brothers organisation which included a growing number of women members. He continued to propagate the main tenets of the Second Message of Islam - a highly controversial practice in such patriachal society.

After Al-Ustaz’s public lectures were banned in 1973, his disciples functioned with some difficulty and their views tended to arouse opposition among the traditional religious and political circles.

Denied access to the media, the Republicans had to prepare their publications in a hide and seek manner in order to reach the public. The Republicans supported Numeri’s regime as long as it maintained policies of national unity and refrained from applying Sharia laws to the detriment of women and non-Muslims. The Republicans also believed that the May regime was the only available and preferable alternative to sectarian and fundamentalist civilian dictatorships.

The immediate cause of the mass detentions in 1983 was a pamphlet issued by the Republicans. It criticized what they perceived to be the failure of the chief of state security, who then happened to be the vice president, to check Muslim fundamentalists’ incitement of religious hatred and abetment of violence against the Republicans and against non-Muslim Sudanese. Despite their active opposition, the Republicans were all released. It became apparent later on that the release was a deliberate trap to involve Republicans in overt acts rendering them liable to prosecution under the new laws. That mass release inaugurated the sequence of events that culminated in the execution of Al-Ustaz Mahmoud four weeks later. Being aware of the intention, Al-Ustaz Mahmoud immediately assumed responsibility for the campaign against Nimeiri’s Islamization programme.

Within one week of their release, on December 25th 1984 the first leaflet “Either this or the flood” was published demanding the repeal of the new laws, and the guarantee of democratic civil liberties in order to debate the principles and process of Islamization. A few weeks later, Al-Ustaz was arrested and charged with a combination of offenses. It is important to note that the President’s sanction included the directive to add section 458(3) and the penal code to the charges. That section authorized the court to impose the Hadd (Sharia penalty) regardless of the statutory penal provision. That section violated the 1973 constitution which was still in force.

In announcing his decision to boycott the proceedings of the trail, Al-Ustaz Mahmoud improvised a strong statement, described by Dr. Thomas as ‘click to hear’. I hereby summarize it:
“I have announced my opinion many times, that the laws of September 1983, have deformed Islam and alienated people. Moreover, they have threatened national unity. This is from the theoretical point of view.
From the empirical point of view, the jury under the court in question, is technically unqualified, and morally indecent, it cannot escape from being misused by the authorities in a way to humiliate the thought and the thinkers. Therefore I am not in a position to cooperate with any court that denies the distinction of the independent judiciary and accepts to be used as a tool by the authorities to subjugate the people and the political opponents”.

When Al-Ustaz Mahmoud was brought to the stairs of the gallows, and the hood covering his head was removed he surveyed the crowd with a smile before the hood was replaced for the actual execution.
Following the overthrow of Nimeiri as a result of the April 1985 popular uprising, a constitutional suit was instituted by Al-Ustaz Mahmoud’s daughter and one of his disciples convicted with him in that court.
Nevertheless, the supreme court ruled that court, confirmation, proceedings and the execution of Al-Ustaz Mahmoud were all null and void.

Finally, and whatever the case might be, the murder of Al-Ustaz Mahmoud has clearly exposed the bankcruptcy of the Islamists and their Islamization project wherever they may be in this global village. It also manifests the Sudanese struggle for their right to be.

Source Khartoum Monitor