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Republican Brothers

By:
Paul J. Magnarella
Source:
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam

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Republican Brothers

In 1945 a small group of Sudanese led by Maḥmūd Muḥammad Ṭāhā organized the Republican Party to oppose both the establishment of a Mahdist monarchy in Sudan and the unification of Sudan with the Kingdom of Egypt. The party's manifesto also called for an Islamic resurgence. Following the 1969 revolution led by Colonel Jaʿfar Nimeiri, all political parties in Sudan were banned. Ṭāhā's followers consequently changed their organization's name to the Republican Brothers or, alternatively, the New Islamic Mission. They continued to advocate a new understanding of Islam to address contemporary personal and world problems as well as to meet modern, rational-scientific concerns.

Ṭāhā was born in 1909 or 1911 in Rufaʿa on the Blue Nile. By 1936 he had completed his engineering education at Gordon Memorial College (now Khartoum University). An active nationalist, he was twice arrested by the British colonial government and served more than two years in prison. After a period of seclusion and prayer that ended in October 1951, Ṭāhā emerged with his version of the “Second Message of Islam.” He spread his ideas through speeches, newspaper articles, pamphlets, and books until he was arrested and hanged on January 18, 1985, by the Nimeiri government, after a grossly unfair trial.

In their writings, Ṭāhā and the Republican Brothers define religion as a behavioral system of morals employed to attain peace, genuine freedom, and ever-growing, eternal happiness. They claim that Islam combines the materialism of Judaism and the spirituality of Christianity into a single religious experience. They stress the importance of achieving inner personal peace through religion as the necessary prerequisite to achieving national and international peace.

Ṭāhā and the Republican Brothers became politically controversial by opposing President Nimeiri's policy of imposing the sharīʿah on Sudan's diverse peoples. They charged that the traditional sharīʿah, based on fundamental political, economic, and social inequalities, could not be reconciled with modern constitutional government. For Sudan, they advocated a federal democracy with economic socialism and equal political rights for all, regardless of gender or religious preference.

The Republican Brothers’ argument follows from Ṭāhā's belief that the Qurʿān contains two divine messages—the First and the Second, based on the Medinese and Meccan texts, respectively. They believe that the portion of the Qurʿān revealed to Muḥammad at Mecca over a thirteen-year period directed the Prophet to call people to God by wisdom and good admonitions, not by compulsion. Muḥammad was enjoined to preach the equality before God of men and women and of people of all stations. The ruling Meccan class, fearing the economic and political consequences of these ideas, rejected this message and persecuted the Prophet. God's later messages were tailored to the specific socioeconomic and political problems that faced Muḥammad in Medina and were thus less universal. Although they greatly improved social conditions of the time, they were less egalitarian than the Meccan messages that they replaced. They legitimized compulsory conversion as well as the principles of sexual and religious inequality. The Prophet, however, continued to exemplify in his private life the high moral and social precepts embodied in the Meccan texts.

Because Islamic laws up to the present continue to be based on the allegedly inferior Medinese texts, the Republican Brothers claim that all Muslims must now turn back to the Meccan texts, or Second Message. Through ijṭihad they must reinstitute a religion and law based on fundamental principles of racial, ethnic, sexual, and religious equality. The historic sharīʿah, as advocated by the Muslim Brothers of Sudan, Egypt, and Syria and the governments of Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Libya, is a primitive level of law suited to an earlier stage of cultural development.

In the early 1980s the Republican Brothers had a few hundred hard-core members of both sexes and more than a thousand sympathizers. Many members were highly educated; some were university professors. They were widely respected by Muslim moderates and Sudanese non-Muslims, but were strongly opposed by the Muslim Brothers and other Muslim fundamentalists. After Ṭāhā's execution the Republican Brothers movement fell dormant in Sudan, which continued to be ruled by military-backed fundamentalist governments.

See also SUDAN.

Bibliography

  • Hale, Sondra. Gender Politics in Sudan: Islamism, Socialism and the State. New ed.Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1998. Find it in your Library
  • Lesch, Ann Mosely. The Sudan: Contested National Identities. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998. Find it in your Library
  • Magnarella, Paul J.“The Republican Brothers: A Reformist Movement in the Sudan.”Muslim World72 (January 1982): 14–24. General overview of the movement, based in part on interviews with one of its leaders. Find it in your Library
  • Stevens, Richard P. “Sudan's Republican Brothers and Islamic Reform.”Journal of Arab Affairs1 (October 1981): 135–146. Excellent general treatment. Find it in your Library
  • Ṭāhā, Maḥmūd Muḥammad. The Second Message of Islam. Translated and Introduced by Abdullahi Ahmed An-Naʿim. Syracuse, N.Y., 1987. Ṭāhā's major writing with an informative introduction by one of his important followers. Find it in your Library
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