The Dichotomy Between Religion and Culture in Sudan (Part 2)

20 Nov

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.

5 Responses to “The Dichotomy Between Religion and Culture in Sudan (Part 2)”

  1. Anonymous November 20, 2008 at 5:23 am #

    unfortunately, there are similar practices in other countries. I know this exists in my beloved Jordan.

    However, how do people justify these pratices using Islam? Do they cite verses from the holy Quran for example? Or a7adeeth?

  2. optimist November 20, 2008 at 5:33 am #

    I had a conversation with an extremely religious woman who thought that women from North Sudan must not marry men who are say, descendants of slaves. She said that the issue of “Nasab” is huge in Islam. A common Hadith that is quoted– and that she quoted as well– was Prophet (s.a.w) said: “A woman may be married for four reasons:
    for her property, her status, her beauty, and her religion; so
    try to get one who is religious, may you be blessed.”
    Status is then regarded as means of applying discriminatory rules. It is wrongly used as justification that some tribes are superior to others. The woman actually told me that a man from South Sudan should not even dare to propose to a girl from the North because he should find one of “his own” instead of look at “banat 3a2ilat.” That’s when my jaw dropped.

    I do not understand how someone can claim to be religious yet support tribal discrimination, whether it be in Sudan or other Arab countries. No religion supports discrimination.

  3. Anonymous November 20, 2008 at 8:08 am #

    Hear, hear to your views!

    The irony is that I, northern Sudanese 7aseeb naseeb, believe that any and all of us who have the brown hue, that pigment called melanin in our skin, are tinged.

    I find it incredibly ironic that we set nonsensical standards of skin tone and features when…’our’ average northern Sudanese Muhammad Ahmad is considered as a 3ab in the Levantine or more explicitly as a sudaaaaaani in Egypt – both being derogatory terms.

    I know of one extremely educated Sudanese woman who stuck her ground and married the Tanzanian colleague of hers who learned about Islam and embraced it sincerely, in spite of the protests of her family – and now they’re both blessedly happy.

    I contrast that with another Sudanese woman who married a Caucasian Irishman who doesn’t hide his not being a Muslim and that he ‘became one’ just to get married to the woman, who is oblivious, and of course the Tanzanian man’s case gets more social disdain.

    I know which man I’d rather have my sister, daughter, cousin or friend marry.

  4. optimist November 20, 2008 at 4:29 pm #

    Sudanese people definitely tend to contradict themselves in terms of religious and cultural norms. IT seems like there’s a unwritten “pick and choose” policy where you can be as selective as you can regarding religion yet still call yourself a good Muslim– because you know, if you pray, fast, donate money, etc.. that makes you a good Muslim by default, you don’t have to do any further introspection.

  5. jlm July 20, 2013 at 3:37 am #

    Hi. I would like to ask your opinion about my situation. I am a filipino nurse here in ksa and I knew one of sudanese residents here. I am the first one who liked him and eventually we learned to love each other. It came to a point that he is talking about marriage, he told me he needs to consult this to his family. If they will not agree he has to make a choice. He is the breadwinner since his father is already dead. And he is the one supporting his 3 brothers and mother. He asked his mother about this but she refuse. And suddenly he wants me out of his life. I asked him to give his mother some time and maybe we can ask her again. He asked the second time around but she disagree. Because I have different culture and religion. He is telling me even he dies single he is happy because his family is happy. And he dont want anything to happen to his mother. He is telling me I should delete his number and he will not talk to me ever. He is telling me he loves me thats why he is doing this. I know wht other people think about filipinos. Do you think our situation is hopeless?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: