Muslims worry about life after secession
JUBA - On the fifth day of the referendum, the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission says voters in the south have passed the 60 percent threshold. Analysts predict an overall 80 percent voter turnout on the last day of voting in southern Sudan.
The people of southern Sudan went to the polls on January 9 to vote in a referendum for independence as provided in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that was signed in 2005. The vote will confirm the choice of the people to either remain in a united Sudan or secede.
During the one week of voting, FM radio stations in the southern capital Juba have been presenting live interactive programs about the referendum. In some of the radio stations Islam and the future of Muslims have been contentious issues.
A majority of southern Sudanese are Christians, with the minority being Muslims, believers in African religions and atheists.
During the war the ruling National Congress Party policy of Islamization and Arabisation took root in the major towns of southern Sudan, Juba included. This policy saw a number of southerners forced to convert to Islam.
The last six years of the Interim period have seen a number of Muslims from neighouring countries moving into Juba. Among these are Somali business people who have expressed fear of a religious backlash if the referendum results are in favour of secession.
To allay such fears, religious leaders have assured Muslims of a peaceful post-referendum south Sudan, free of religious bigotry or prejudice.
Until the NCP politicized Islam, some families in southern Sudan were known to have Muslim and Christian relatives living together peacefully.
Speaking to the BBC this week, retired Catholic Bishop Paride Taban said religion has not been a factor in Sudan’s civil war.
The Chairman of the Islamic council of southern Sudan, Tahir Bior, this week told a local FM radio station that if the south secedes from the predominantly Muslim north, Muslim rights and interests will be protected.