Book Review: Sudan’s Identity, From Sinnar To Khartoum

Book Review: Sudan’s Identity, From Sinnar To Khartoum

KHARTOUM (Sudanow) - The question of identity is a globally intriguing issue. In the Sudan, what is often described as the ‘dual identity’ had contributed to the weakness of the country’s political and geographical set-up. It is a long time since Sudan had departed from the times of unity and delved into the times of disintegration and wrangling over the relation between the center and the periphery.


Well committed to his approach of going deep into the ethnic and cultural roots of the Sudanese society, Sudanese researcher and thinker Mohammad Awad Aboush in his book entitled “Between Sinnar and Khartoum” embarks on a diagnosis of the issue following the traces of the early fathers in the entire Sudanese geography and also after the emergence of the Sinnar Kingdom in the 16th Century.


For researcher Aboush, the rise of the Sinnar Kingdom had wound up the rule of the Nubian dynasties that continued for over four thousand years ushering in a new era in Sudan’s history.


The author explains, at length, the chronology of the alliance between the Abdallab Arabs and the Funjs that materialized the Sinnar Kingdom (or Sultanate), after the allies had crushed the powerful Nubian Alawa Kingdom.


“The most important characteristic of the Sinnar dynasty that constituted the real and virtual beginning of today’s Sudan, was that mixed composition of Sudanese. The second symptom was the spread of the Arabic culture and Islam,” writes Aboush.


Aboush had graduated from the Faculty of Arts, University of Khartoum in 1967 and served as Editorial Secretary and then Editor of the Sudanese Culture Magazine. He had also written a book entitled “A Reading in the Record and Address of the Sudanese Culture” and another book entitled” The New Sudan, in Search of a Way.”


In this current book, Aboush maintains that the era of the Sinnar Kingdom had seen “an unprecedented turn in the language and culture when the Sufi (mystic) sheikhs, with the khalwas (Koran seminaries) and the schools they launched, had managed to disseminate Islam and Arabic in the Sinnar Kingdom and its contemporary kingdoms. ”The existence of the Sufis among the public and their participation in the daily functions of the society, solving problems and mixing with the people, had helped them to become an integral part of the society’s life and thinking,” he writes.



There is consensus among researchers that the religious and psychological fabric of the modern Sudanese is Sufi, and the Sufi conduct had had its role in the formation of the Sudanese mental set up.


”Another factor that helped the Sufi preachers in the propagation of Islam, its codes, rulings and culture was the spiritual void felt by the Christian Sudanese after the Muslims had controlled Egypt: The spiritual inspiration that used to come to Sudan from the Christian church in Egypt had stopped as a result of Egypt’s turn to Islam.


The fourth symptom of the Sinnar Kingdom was the spread of tribalism in the North, East, West, Center and South of the Sudanese territories. The dynasties that rose in Darfur, Tgali and al-Musabbat, all in the West of the country, had also stood on tribal foundations. The Eastern Bija kingdoms were also tribal and had subdued smaller kingdoms and sultanates. The difference was that the Bija kingdoms, contrary to the case with Sinnar Kingdom, were not based upon alliances between Arab and local entities. They sprang up on local basis, but managed to contain Arab elements that came in and intermarried with the Bija monarchs.


According to researcher Aboush, this tribal influence in the formation of Sinnar Kingdom, had some negative impacts. It had, ironically, eased the job of the Turks when they invaded and occupied the country. Aboush further states that the tribal composition of the Sinnar Kingdom was not completely negative: The tribal system had perpetuated in the citizens of the Sinnar Kingdom the noble values of heroism and patience. Those values were passed to the coming generations and were of help in the resistance of the Turkish rule and in the Mahdia Revolution that eventually wiped the Turks out of the country in 1885.



The author had accounted for the characteristics of the era of the Sinnar Kingdom and the major and unprecedented changes that occurred in the Sudan during those times and that materialized the beginnings of contemporary Sudan. ”The Arabs had streamed into Sudan, settled down and mixed and intermarried with the locals. The end product was the demographic composition that formed the country’s cultural and social heritage,” wrote Aboush.


Aboush said the sultans of Sinnar were concerned with the reformation of the government structures and systems and the Kingdom’s economy, the judiciary, the security and the trade. For instance, the legislature had ruled a punishment for felonies committed against foreign traders which was four- folds of the punishment for assaulting local traders. The author charges that those endeavors for reform were frustrated by the Turkish invasion of the Sudan. “That invasion ended the renovation efforts undertaken by a national rule that embarked on advancing its systems and mechanisms within the framework of an autonomous rule that sought to establish the basis of co-existence and equity among the different and varied races that inhabited and shared the resources of the Kingdom,” wrote researcher Aboush.


Aboush states that the transition from the Sinnar era to the new Khartoum era was started by a foreign rule i.e. it came from above, from the top of the pyramid down to the grassroots of the society. It did not spring up from within the society via a natural and gradual cultural, economic and political process.


Aboush openly accuses the Sudanese political class who assumed power after independence of stopping short of effecting the required modernization, change and development.


Aboush said he shares the view of the few intellectuals who called for a return to the country’s old name of Sinnar, instead of the name ‘Sudan’.


”Those intellectuals had foresight and vision and a perfect understanding of the need for a return to the Sudanese heritage of the Sinnar era and for merging that heritage with the endeavors for the modernization and renaissance of the country,” he wrote.


It is worth noting that writer and former Foreign Minister, the late Jamal Mohamed Ahmad, had pioneered the call for a return to the name of Sinnar.


“A return to the heritage, is a return to the stock of the traditional Sudanese groups and societies of the old and middle age, and to their product in the domains of thought, poetry, adages, stories, folktales, the arts, sciences, and the social and economic systems. That cumulative reserve is what had shaped the identity and originality of Sudanese and what the Sudanese mind, visions, imagination, innovations and creations had materialized,” asserts Aboush.


Aboush maintains that the Sudanese, with their diverse ethnic backgrounds and whose position was further strengthened in the Khartoum era because of education, should have shouldered the responsibility of modernization at independence and should have made a correct beginning for the country’s political, social and economic renaissance by returning to their home-made cultural heritage, their own historical experiment. That common and all-embracing formula could have evaded the country the feuding, warring and conflicts we see today.




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