Sudanese MPs block order to open Christian schools on Sundays

St. Matthew's Cathedral in Khartoum, Sudan. | Wikimedia Commons/David Stanley

Members of the Khartoum state parliament have blocked the Minister of Education's order to open Christian schools in Sudan's capital on Sundays.

On July 26, the Ministry of General Education of Khartoum State issued a letter ordering all Christian schools in Khartoum to stop regarding Sunday as a day off.

"In order not to affect the educational process and the ongoing plan, we ask you not to observe Sunday holiday," the ministry's Awadia El-Sheikh Saleh Omer stated in the letter.

The decision has been viewed by Christians in Sudan and around the world as another means of harassment and discrimination against the minority group.

"The government's decision to abolish Sundays for Christian schools is discrimination against Christians in Sudan," said a Sudanese church leader.

On Aug. 1, members of the parliament rejected the mandate, with the deputy speaker of the Khartoum state assembly, Mohammed Hashim, saying that the order had not been well thought through.

Hashim then asked Minister of Education Farah Mustafa to revoke his decision for the sake of peaceful coexistence, World Watch Monitor reported. He argued that Christians schools have been operating under the Saturday–Sunday system for years, adding that there is no evidence that it impedes the academic performance of the students.

Mustafa defended the order, arguing that he only gave instructions that all schools should adhere to the calendar adopted by the council of ministers.

Although Christians in some Muslim-majority countries worship on Fridays, Sudanese Christians perceive the move as part of a government campaign to eradicate Christianity in the country.

The day after the parliament members rejected Mustafa's order, the Sudanese government demolished a church in Omdurman, just west from Khartoum.

The Baptist Church in Omdurman was reportedly included in the list of 27 churches that have been designated for demolition by the government last year. The government has claimed that the churches on the list were in violation of the designated purposes of the land they were built on.

In March, the EU Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief, Ján Figel', raised the issue of the demolition of churches during his visit to the country. He was told that some of the demolitions had been suspended, but at least two more churches have been destroyed since then, and a church worker who tried to intervene was killed.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said that he had raised the issue of religious freedom "strongly" with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir during his recent three-day visit to the country. Sudan has maintained that the country "enjoys religious freedom" and "unprecedented openness."

The U.S. State Department has been designated as a Country of Particular Concern since 1999, and it is ranked fifth in the Open Doors' 2017 World Watch List of countries where Christians face the most persecution.