Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Sufis hoping for divine intervention in Sudan

From Ben Wedeman, CNN
Click to play
Sudan's Sufi wisdom
  • Sufism is a mystical Islamic tradition with a long history in Sudan
  • Sufi's follow prohibition against compulsion or force in religion
  • Some are praying country will remain united after recent referendum

Omdurman, Sudan (CNN) -- Islamic hardliners frown at their offbeat, spontaneous ways, but in Sudan, Sufism runs deep.

While they shun politics, the Sufis are well aware this country has reached a historic crossroads.

Southern Sudan last week held a referendum to determine if the south will split from the north. But some members of the mystical branch of Islam are hoping for divine intervention to head off what appears to be an almost certain divorce between the Muslim majority north and the Christian, Animist, south.

"We ask God almighty that they vote for unity," said Shaik Amin Briil, from a cemetery in the city of Omdurman, where followers of the Sufi Qadiriya order have gathered every Friday night for decades.

The Sufis, who brought Islam to much of Sudan and sub-Saharan Africa, dance, pray and preach using drama and humor.

It's finished. The south will be out. For me, as a Sudanese, it makes me sad because we want one Sudan.
--Hussein Ali, former government official, Sudan
  • Africa
  • Sudan
  • Sufi Islam

But most significantly, they follow strictly the Quranic prohibition against compulsion or force in religion. Everyone is at liberty to choose their own path.

Omid Safi, a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina, described Sufism as the most prominent mystical tradition in Islam.

"Above all else, it aspires to have a face-to-face encounter with God," he said.

"Rooted in the Quran and the experience of the Prophet Muhammad, Sufis often emphasize the transformative power of Divine love."

It's this power that some followers hope will help keep Sudan united.

Former government official Hussein Ali says Sudan's politicians have destroyed the country by fighting instead of having a dialogue with the people in the south.

"It's finished. The south will be out," he said. "For me, as a Sudanese, it makes me sad because we want one Sudan."

But Badr Khalafallah says after all the suffering it's better to live in a small country at peace rather than a large country at war. He works in Darfur, where, according to the United Nations, at least 300,000 people have been killed and more than three million others displaced as a result of conflict.

"For me, because I am working in Darfur as a civil administrator, I know the wars," he said.

"I know the displaced people, I know the conflict there. For this we have no right to have any war in Sudan."