Friday, June 15, 2007

Turabi the reformist?

The Christian Science Monitor ran one of the more surprising articles I've read in a while. Hassan al-Turabi was once the most powerful man in Sudan. He inspired a coup by Islamist military officers and, as parliamentary speaker, imposed Islamic Sharia law in the country. He also invited Osama bin Laden to live in the country during the 1990s.

Yet Turabi has recently advocated the use of traditional music and dance for Islamic worship... [and] encouraged the people of Darfur to oppose the government of President Omar al-Bashir.

The latter part might not be that surprising, since Gen. Bashir threw his former close ally in prison a few years ago. But the still influential Islamic scholar also recently declared that Muslim women didn't need to cover their hair with a veil.

"In Islam, the government is based on consultation and consent," he says. "We don't have a church. We don't have angels who come down to govern. When we imposed Islamic law [in 1991], we wanted to introduce religion so that it could supplement law, to mobilize religion in every citizen, because God is close to you and can guide your actions. To uproot corruption, people want to be democratic, they want to be equal under the law."

He also refers to the rebellion in Darfur as "just a fight against a state that denied justice."

He argues that his interpretation of Islam is merely changing with the times, though it makes one wonder if times have really changed that much in merely 10 years. As a result, there not surprisingly remain questions about Turabi's true motives. Many wonder if he's truly become a reformist or is merely adopting a new populist line to replace the Islamist populism of the 1990s. Change of heart or opportunist?

Only time will tell.

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