Jan 21, 2007 (MONTEREY, California) â€” On Jan. 18, 1985, Mahmoud
Mohammad Taha stood with his head in a noose, about to be hanged for
the crime of apostasy and heresy.
Moments before the hanging at Kober Prison in the Sudanese capital of
Khartoum, his hood was removed and his face revealed to a crowd of
more than 2,000. What they saw was a man at peace, said Mustafa
Eljaili, an Arabic teacher at the Defense Language Institute, who
heard the story from a witness.
"He was so relaxed," said Eljaili. "It was as if he wasn't a part of
the hanging. He was killed for his thoughts. He was calling for peace,
justice and equality. He was advocating a new understanding of Islam
from the Quran."
Every year since, Taha's followers have gathered to remember the
father of pacifist Islamic thinking. This was the first year Monterey
has hosted the event, Eljaili said. A growing Sudanese community on
the Peninsula was a key factor in the decision to hold the event in
Monterey, he said.
On Saturday, Sudanese Muslims from around the country gathered at the
La Mesa Community Center ballroom in Monterey for the annual
commemoration. It was a full day of lectures, seminars and debates
about the slain leader.
Panel discussions and DVD presentations on the life of Taha were part
of the program, as well as religious chanting. Taha's books and
photographs highlighting his life were also on display.
Taha was born in 1909 in the Sudan town of Rufa'a. He attended Gordon
Memorial College, now the University of Khartoum, graduating with an
engineering degree in 1936.
Taha was sentenced to a year in prison in 1946 after refusing to stop
his political activity against British colonial rule in Sudan, but he
was pardoned by the British governor general after only 50 days in
prison. He was eventually arrested again, tried, and sentenced to two
years in prison for leading a revolt against the British in Rufa'a.
In 1955, just before Sudan got its independence, Taha published a book
outlining his vision of an independent Sudan. The proposal called for
a presidential, federal and democratic form of government.
He was opposed to the application of Islamic (sharia) laws, which are
more restrictive of women's rights, according to Eljaili. Applying
them would mean creating distrust and animosity from Muslims toward
non-Muslims, Eljaili said.
"He advocated the earlier verses of the Quran as being those that are
essential," said Eljaili. "He said jihad is not for today. Jihad was
made for the seventh century."
In 1966 and 1967, Taha published three books, and also proposed a
dialogue to pursue peaceful coexistence between the Arab states in the
Middle East and Israel after the Six-day War in 1967.
"He thought that Arabs should sit and negotiate with Israel, instead
of holding onto the indignities that have been committed against them
in the past," Eljaili said.
At one point Taha was viewed by many in the Middle East as an agent
for the Israelis, according to Eljaili. But many others responded to
Taha's interpretation of Islam. He gained the name ustadh or teacher.
In 1983, Jaafar Numeiri, then president of Sudan, wanted to turn the
country into an Islamic state and in 1984 he replaced the country's
civil laws with sharia. Taha protested and he and four of his
followers were arrested on charges of heresy.
Following a trial that lasted two hours, all the men were condemned to
death. Taha was hanged within a week of the sentence, and a day later,
the four followers were pardoned after they recanted support for his
(The Monterey County Herald)