I began the first part of “The Dichotomy between Religion and Culture in Sudan” by proclaiming my love for Islam, so I thought it would only be appropriate to begin the second part by proclaiming my love and attachment to our great Sudanese culture. So here it is: I love Sudanese culture. However, many aspects of our culture sadden me, and matters only get worse when religion is used to sanctify shameful cultural practices. Being from North Sudan, I will obviously have a different view of “culture” than someone from other areas, so forgive me if I am not all-inclusive. However, I am not being divisive either, because in the broad sense, what I am writing about is applicable to any place where religion and culture are intertwined and where one is wrongfully used to justify the other (almost every non-secular country.) I do believe that the two are extremely important and fascinating aspects of life. I can not imagine a life where one is living in absolute terms of religious practices, completely ignoring cultural traditions, or vice versa. However, I find it mind-boggling that some who claim to be “religious” choose to believe in clearly anti-Islamic behaviors, and even defend culture on account of Islam.
A good example of this is marriage in North Sudan. Now this is a big one to tackle, and I will probably address this numerous times in the future, because I believe it is one of the most disappointing aspects of Sudanese life. How so? Marriage in Sudan has been historically afflicted by ancestral antagonism. Most families in the North consider it a taboo to marry from Southern tribes. North Sudanese families are so enchanted by this notion of “Nasab” and “Asal” (Lineage and tribal affiliation) that it has successfully hindered marriages between people from distinctly different tribes. I am not referring to marriage between a Muslim from the North and a Christian Southerner here, but what I am getting at is the objection to marriage between two tribes of the same religion, especially when one is considered “3abd.” Inter-tribal marriage, so to speak, is sometimes rationally justified (because people often associate better with others of similar backgrounds) so I understand that it is not for everyone. But, if you are going to say that you are a good Muslim, you can not at the same time support prejudicial notions like investigating a family’s lineage to find out if the person in question is descendants of slaves—also known as having a “3irig”– which is utterly unacceptable and un-Islamic. You can’t be a racist and a good Muslim at the same time.
By supporting such discriminatory practices, people are hurting the culture rather than preserving it. Culture is dynamic not static, so we must be able to recognize that tribes cannot be permanently isolated and intermarriage will inevitably happen. The aforementioned case in point is only one of many where Islam is incorrectly used to validate appalling cultural practices which ironically negate Islam. It is absolutely essential to be able to recognize the distinction between religion and socially constructed cultural values, and be able to prioritize accordingly. It is also essential to admit that if you acknowledge certain un-Islamic cultural behavior, you are not to quote Islam. Having traditions and a rich culture is essential to humanity, but having the ability to discard negative cultural practices and evolve past them is, in my opinion, more valuable. Islam gave us the ability to do so, and I hope that Sudan embraces that fact, which is a far better implementation of Islam than using it as means of imposing rigid and ridiculous rules on people in the name of religion.