Articles and Analysies
The Justice & Equality Movement (JEM)/ Religion and the State By: Dr. El-tahir Adam El-faki
By [unknown placeholder $article.art_field1$]
Feb 29, 2008 - 7:04:32 AM


The Justice & Equality Movement (JEM)/ Religion and the State

By: Dr. El-tahir Adam El-faki


“ religion as in politics we have understood the meaning of balance and the dangers of extremism ” Chris Patten, (The Tory case), 1983:23


To date, some circles inside and outside Sudan take the Sudan brand the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) as a religious Islamic Movement and an affiliate of Hasan Turabi. The political consequences of this accusation have been especially devastating to JEM mainly at the international level. The main beneficiary of this accusation is the government of Sudan , which has created the label in the first place.  


The United States of America (USA) has been carrying the banner of indicting JEM as an Islamic Movement without full scrutiny of JEM manifesto. Last year, the USA concluded economic sanctions against JEM president Dr Khalil Ibrahim Mohammed for no reason other than to prove to the international community that it is even-handed with its sanctions. The USA is a major player in the coming Darfur Talks and its full understanding of all stakeholders, including JEM, is crucial for reaching peace in Darfur .


The US negative image of JEM emanates from a false Islamic phobia that has stricken the USA leadership since the target attack of September 11. No matter whatever JEM does on the ground or succeed politically, the American administration seems to persist in its prejudicial views.   The US stance is based on biographies of some JEM leaders but primarily on that of its current chairman of Dr. Khalil Ibrahim Mohammed.


In this article we present two cases from Darfur with initial strong Islamic commitments, yet they changed allegiance and fought vehemently against an Islamic regime. It is here that we want to prove that past biography is not testimony to rigidity, pedantic views and inflexibility. Past political or ideological affiliations and passions can be traded for new loyalties and commitments.


We present two cases of former devoted Darfurian Islamists who managed to cast aside old ideological passions and fought their old Islamic allies for a different vision.  


Daoud Boulad

The first person is Daoud Boulad, ‘the revolutionary legend of Darfur ’.

Boulad was a product of the Sudanese Islamic movement and was one of its fervent advocates. He grew up among its members and worked extremely hard until it took power in Sudan in June 1989. He was a close confidant of the National Islamic Movement (NIF), and of its ideologue Turabi. Having realised the discrepancy between his beliefs on Islamic governance and that held by his protagonist elites from Northern Sudan , he slipped away and forged an armed rebellion. The rebellion was not for an Islamic cause. It was for the rights of the marginalised in Sudan as a whole of Darfur and Southern Sudan included. Boulad fought with distinction against the government of the National Islamic Front (NIF) and gave his life for the marginalised cause. He has remained in their hearts as a symbol of armed resistance up to present day. JEM as well as SLA/M consider him as their role model. For further details about his biography look at (el-tahir el-faki, Daoud Boulad-The revolutionary legend of Darfur , Sudan tribune, 4/7/2006 )


Mr Abdullahi Zambour

The second person is Mr Abdullahi Zambour, an elderly politician from the Massaleit tribe in the Western part of Darfur who spent some of his life as a young man studying Islam in Egypt . He was called back to his Elgenaina constituency in Darfur to be the first of his Tribe to contest a seat for the National Unionists Party (NUP), ‘later changed its name into the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP)’, against the Umma Party (UP). He won the seat comfortably and went to become a member of the first parliament in the Sudanese elections in the post-independence era. The NUP and its successor the DUP are based on sectarian Islamic ideology that calls for the implementation of the Sharia laws. Zambour remained faithful to the party until Darfur went into the flames in 2003. A thin man who stood tall and unbendingly proud in his Chadian refugee camps where he died at the age of over eighty. He remained up to his last days exceptionally focussed and cognitive. Filled with anger and resentment against the socio-political system in Sudan , he unreservedly set off to say: “if I knew then what I have come to know and understand now, I would not have chosen Arabic as a language or Islam as a religion”.

His statement summarises the roots of the problem in Darfur if not the entire of Sudan . For such an elderly person with hard religious convictions and adherence to its values to come out with such a vocal comment, should not be taken lightly. He joined JEM in its early days and worked very hard for its cause. He became a godfather to the Movement and always encouraged its members to stay put and fight until its objectives are achieved. His physical and moral contributions proved indispensable during the Abuja Peace Talks in Nigeria .


Although Zambour and Daoud belonged to the same religious background but different generations and political affiliations, the views they both came to comprehend later on and held were the same.   They both came to the conclusion that Sudan ’s ills lies squarely on its chosen Islamic-Arab vision.   Zambour’s verbal expression was perhaps extremely difficult for an elderly man to discharge knowing its impact if he were to be trapped by the bloodthirsty regime in Khartoum . It would be considered apostasy and blasphemy punishable by the death sentence, preferably performed by a sword.


Now JEM consider religious sectarian party ideology as one of the main socio-political factors that surfaced to engulf Darfur and transform it into a bloody conflict. Those socio-political factors are based on a well-planned Arab/Islamic ideology. El-Tom of JEM extensively discussed the origins of the project in his article “The Arab Congregation and the Ideology of Genocide in Darfur ”, The ideology has been redesigned by some – but not all- Northern Sudanese elites to serve as tool of repression for incessant ethnic domination of the Sudan . All the religious institutions in the country at the disposal of the state have been directed to portray what has happened in the region of Darfur as ordinary tribal conflict. These facts point to a deliberate plan to change the demography of the region in favour of Arab stocks against the non-Arab people of Darfur . Recent UN reports of Arabs flooding Darfur from neighbouring Chad , Niger and West Africa stand testimony to the existence of a planned policy to repopulate the area with Arabs. If the intentions of the NIF were to promote religiousness and piety, its actual conduct points to rather different behaviour. While Muslims in the urban regions consider Arab nomads and their fellow pastorals lacking religiousness and piety, yet the machinery of the state has been directed against the learned and pious sedentary Muslims of the non-Arab origins. This clearly demonstrates that the so-called Islamic regime of the NIF is in fact a racial-self-interested worldly hierarchy stirred up by ethno-political achievements and not religious ideals. Darfurian true Islamic faith has not saved them from persecution and untold atrocities. For the NIF, Arab ethnicity transcends Islamic religion. Therefore it is possible to understand beyond any doubts why Zambour would have wished he wasn’t a Muslim. If JEM is the face of the other coin for the Islamic Movement he would not have joined it and worked for its cause.


Through centuries, the Darfurians thought their common faith with the Arabs would have made them equal among others. If we were to follow the dictum that basic Islamic principles reject race, tribal or colour superiority and recognize piety as sole means to human relationships and to its ‘gates of heaven’, the experience of Darfur would have been different.   This situation has stirred some Darfurians to doubt their faith and their hitherto peaceful co-existence and distance themselves away from the Arab community.


To the Arabs on the other hand, or rather some of them, the black Darfurians are nothing more than fictitious relatives. This also applies to black Darfuirans who have intermarried with their Arab neighbours for centuries.   The Arabs have never accepted the matrilineal Darfurian relatives as quasi-Arabs let alone as true Arab race. It is eccentric that some tribes in Darfur reject their African identity in favour of artificial Arab ethnicity. Some tribes like the Bargo that recently altered their name to “Solaihab” to indicate an Arab origin still live in the illusion that having Arab names override fiction. The reality becomes clear before their eyes when they emigrate or travel to the Arab peninsula and only to find they are in fact considered blacks or slaves no matter what names they have, what colour or how excellent they speak standard Arabic.


Darfurians of Arab origin supported by the GoS and given arms to fight against the non-Arab Darfurians undoubtedly rejoiced the rejuvenation of their racial superiority delusions sponsored by the State over the non-Arabs. The whole of the Arab nation and the Arab League stood and supported the Sudan government and failed to accept or admit the crisis in Darfur as Arab apartheid in disguise. The Arab league and the Organisation of Islamic Conference took blatant stance against the crisis and regard it as a small tribal conflict over meagre land resources initiated earlier by a fight over a camel. Mr Zambour having witnessed all of that wished once again to have never spoken Arabic in his life. Yet again he would not have joined ranks with JEM if the movement carries the banners of Arabisation.


On this background of thought and memories JEM members are building their political stance and vision for the future of Sudan where religious or racial superiority is rejected and replaced by Sudanese citizenship alone.

JEM is mainly a political movement based on certain agendas for settling the unstable political configuration in Sudan . Religion is none of its business and can never form a base for its political functioning. JEM commend the virtues of a secular system but does not denigrate the values of religious polity. This approach puts JEM in the same level with the USA and most other Western countries where the state is secular but adopts preferred religious and moral polities, (htt:// Now JEM’s vision for a new Sudan as stipulated in its manifesto is based on the pillars of democracy, human rights, equality and justice for all Sudanese based on citizenship irrespective of religion, race, colour, gender or region. Religion is the choice of the individual but the Sudan is for all.


Khalil Ibrahim, the chairman of JEM was asked April 23rd and 24th, 2005 in London and Birmingham respectively in the UK to explain explicitly the Movement’s position on religion and the state. His reply: ‘it is wrong and ignorant to separate religious principles and values such as honesty, good ethics, justice, family values and respect from politics and the state. It would have been better if the question was about the Sharia laws and the state’. And he continued to say “As far as the Sharia laws is concerned, it proved to be a real failure and impossible to implement equitably during the trials by Nimeiry in 1983 and Albashir from 1989 to the present day. It remained divisive and discordant to the nation. JEM does not intend to implement Sharia laws by any means”.


JEM members are not uniformly Muslims, some are Christians, animists and others are communists and liberals. For JEM to adopt the Sharia laws will be inconsistent with its evolutionary spirit and its objectives. The revolution has tuned the minds of its members for a fair secular system complimented with acceptable international moral values.


Dr El-tahir Adam El-faki, is the Speaker of JEM legislative Council. He can be reached at [email protected] .


© Copyright by