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Christianity in Sudan

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Christianity in Sudan

Holy Virgin Mary Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Khartoum

Christianity has a long history in what is now Sudan. Ancient Nubia was reached by Coptic Christianity by the 2nd century. The Coptic Church was later influenced by Byzantine Christianity. From the 7th century, the Christian Nubian kingdoms were threatened by the Islamic expansion, but the southernmost of these kingdoms, Alodia, survived until 1504.

Southern Sudan (including what is now South Sudan) remained long dominated by traditional (tribal) religions of the Nilotic peoples, with significant conversion to Anglicanism (Episcopal Church of Sudan) during the 20th century.


  • History 1
    • Coptic Christianity 1.1
    • Modern Missionary Activity 1.2
  • Persecution of Christians in Sudan 2
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • Bibliography 5


A fresco showing the birth of Jesus, in Faras cathedral

Coptic Christianity

Christianity reached the area of present-day northern Sudan, then called Nubia, by about the end of the first century after Christ.

It greatly developed under the influence of the Eastern Roman Empire.[1] Indeed, Byzantine architecture influenced most of the Christian churches in lower Nubia.[2]

The Byzantine Emperor Justinian I (reigned 527 to 565) made Nubia a stronghold of Christianity during the Middle Ages.[3] By 580 AD Christianity had become the official religion of the northern Sudan, centered around the Faras cathedral.[4]

Modern Missionary Activity

During the 19th century, British missionaries re-introduced the Christian faith into South Sudan. British imperial authorities somewhat arbitrarily limited missionary activity to the multi-ethnic southern region.[5] The Church of England and other parts of the Anglican Communion continued to send missionaries and other assistance after the country became independent in 1956, although that also precipitated decades of civil war and persecutions as discussed below.

Sudan, the largest land-mass country in Africa, has a population of nearly 40 million people with the heaviest concentration in the north: an estimated 16% are Christians while Muslims make up 62% and those who practice traditional religions 22%. Taking Southern Sudan apart from the north the numbers shift to almost 50% Christian in this southern area.

The majority of Christians in Sudan adhere either to the Roman Catholic church or to the Anglican churches (represented by the Episcopal Church of the Sudan), but there are several other small denominations represented there including:

  • Africa Inland Church
  • Apostolic Church
  • Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria
  • Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church
  • Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church
  • Greek Orthodox Church
  • International church of the Nazarene
  • Jehovah's Witnesses[6]
  • New Apostolic
  • Presbyterian Church of the Sudan
  • Seventh Day Adventist Church
  • Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church
  • Sudan Pentecostal Church
  • Sudan Interior Church
  • Sudan Church of Christ

Roman Catholic missionaries began work in Sudan in 1842; both Anglicans and American Presbyterians began in Sudan in 1899. The Anglicans through the Church Missionary Society had their base in Omdurman, while the Presbyterians began in Khartoum but developed ministry both in the north and in the south. The Sudan Interior Mission began working in the country in 1937. The Africa Inland Mission launched the Africa Inland Church in 1949. In 1964 all foreign missionaries were made to leave southern Sudan because of the civil war. A few groups maintained missionaries in the north. The Sudan Pentecostal Church, which has grown significantly in the south, was started later by the Swedish.

As of 2011 about 2,009,374 Sudanese practiced Roman Catholicism, mainly in the south of the country (5% of the population are devout Roman Catholics). Nine catholic dioceses include two archdioceses in modern Sudan,[7] with five Cathedrals.[8] The patron saint of the Sudan is the former slave Saint Josephine Bakhita, canonized in 2000.

About 100,000 people or 0.25% of the population belong to various Protestant denominations in northern Sudan. Catholicism is practised by some thousand followers north of Sudan's capital.

Persecution of Christians in Sudan

Sudan's Christians were persecuted under various military regimes. Sudan's civil wars temporarily ended in 1972, but resumed in 1983, as famine hit the region. Four million people were displaced and two million people died in the two-decade long conflict before a temporary six-year ceasefire was signed in January 2005.[9]

On 16 May 1983, Sudan's Anglican and Roman Catholic clergy signed a declaration that they would not abandon God as God had revealed himself to them under threat of Shariah Law.[10] Anti-Christian persecutions grew particularly after 1985, including murders of pastors and church leaders, destruction of Christian villages, as well as churches, hospitals, schools and mission bases, and bombing of Sunday church services. Lands laid waste and where all buildings were demolished included an area the size of Alaska.[10] Despite the persecutions, Sudanese Christians increased in number from 1.6 million in 1980 to 11 million in 2010, although 22 of the 24 Anglican dioceses operate in exile in Kenya and Uganda, and clergy are unpaid. Four million people remain internally displaced, and another million in the Sudanese diaspora abroad (of which 400,000 - 600,000 in the South Sudanese diaspora).

During the Second Sudanese Civil War people were taken into slavery; estimates of abductions range from 14,000 to 200,000. Abduction of Dinka women and children was common.[11]

In 2011, South Sudan voted to secede from the north, effective 9 July.[9] Persecution of Christians there had resumed by then.[6]

The Episcopal Church recognizes the martyrs of Sudan on its liturgical calendar on 16 May.[12]

The Naivasha Agreement also technically protects non-Muslims in the north. However, some interpretations of Muslim law in Sudan refuse to recognized conversions out of Islam (considering apostacy a crime), and also refuse to recognize marriages to non-Muslims. Sudan is one of the nations where being a Christian is hardest in the world, freedom of religion and belief are systematically violated.[13]

In May 2014, a woman called Maryam Yaḥyā Ibrahīm Isḥaq was sentenced to a hundred lashes for adultery and to death for apostasy. Her mother raised her a Christian since her Muslim father was absent, but the Sudanese legal system considers her a Muslim. Isḥaq was sentenced to a hundred lashes for adultery because she married a Christian man from South Sudan, while Muslim law considers her a Muslim and the marriage invalid. When Isḥaq argued she was a Christian, she was sentenced to death for apostasy. The sentence was not carried out at once as Ishaq was pregnant. Ishaq's husband is wheelchair bound and dependent on her.[13]

The fact that a woman could be sentenced to death for her religious choice, and to flogging for being married to a man of an allegedly different religion, is abhorrent and should never be even considered. 'Adultery' and 'apostasy' are acts which should not be considered crimes at all, let alone meet the international standard of 'most serious crimes' in relation to the death penalty. It is a flagrant breach of international human rights law," Manar Idriss, Amnesty International's Sudan researcher [13]

The verdict breaches the Sudanese constitution and commitments based on regional and international law. Western embassies, Amnesty International and other human rights groups protested that Ishaq should be able to choose her religion and should be released.[14] She was later released and after further delays left Sudan.

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ Sheen J. Freedom of Religion and Belief: A World Report. Routledge, 1997. p. 75.
  5. ^
  6. ^ a b
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ a b Persecution in Sudan
  10. ^ a b Martyrs of Sudan (16 May 1983)
  11. ^
  12. ^ Martyrs of Sudan
  13. ^ a b c Christian in Sudan sentenced to death for faith; 'I'm just praying,' husband says
  14. ^ Sudan woman faces death for apostasy


  • Jakobielski, S. Christian Nubia at the Height of its Civilization (Chapter 8). UNESCO. University of California Press. San Francisco, 1992 ISBN 978-0-520-06698-4
  • Maria Alloisio. Bakhita. Editrice La Scuola. Brescia, 1970.

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