Judaism has a long history in Sudan. While the majority of Jewish families left the country following its independence in 1956 as anti-Semitic rhetoric grew amid tensions with Israel, the Sudanese government is now calling on Jewish people previously living in Sudan to return.
“Sudan is pluralistic in its thought, pluralistic in its culture, in its ideologies and Islamic religious sects, and even religions.There is Islam, Christianity, and a minority that follow the Jewish faith,” Sudan’s Minister of Religious Affairs Nasr-Eddin Mofarah in an interview with Al Arabiya earlier this month.
Mofarah acknowledged that the Jewish minority may have left the country, but invited them to come back to Sudan “through their right of citizenship and nationality.”
“As long as there is a civilian government [in Sudan], the basis of nationality is rights and obligations,” explained Mofarah.
Sudan’s civilian government was reestablished following the ousting of Omar al-Bashir after months of protests against his three-decade-long authoritarian rule.
The history of Jewish families in Sudan has been documented by Daisy Abboudi, the founder of the website Tales of Jewish Sudan, a collection of “stories and recipes from the old Jewish community in Sudan.”
Abboudi told Al Arabiya that her family had migrated to the UK after Sudan gained its independence. Since migrating, she has collected the stories of Jewish families in diaspora to produce Tales of Jewish Sudan.
“Generally, people are very fond of their time in Sudan. They look back at it. They see it as quite a happy period. Mostly they talk about the community, the fact that they were friends with so many different people,” said Abboudi.
She presents a picture of a multicultural and tolerant Sudan, telling Al Arabiya that “there was so many different people living in Sudan. And the fact that they were also close and they had all that family and all their friends.”
A melting pot
Tales of Jewish Sudan traces this history. Sudan was a melting pot of Jewish families who arrived from all over the Middle East and North Africa, and settled along the Nile in the Sudanese towns of Khartoum, Khartoum North, Omdurman, and Wad Madani in the 1900s, according to the website.
The community grew to no more than a thousand people, as a synagogue, recreational club, and a cemetery opened to accommodate the small community.
When the State of Israel was established in 1948, the relationship between Sudan’s Jewish community and its Muslim and Christian population became more strained, describes the website.
After gaining its independence in 1956, Sudan joined the Arab League and hostility towards the Jewish community in the country reached its peak.
Tales of Jewish Sudan recounts stories of how anti-Semitism pushed the majority of Jewish families to either leave Sudan or practice their faith within the confines of their homes.
The 1967 Arab-Israeli war, also known as the Six-Day War, pushed Sudanese Jews further away, describes Tales of Jewish Sudan.
On January 3, 2019, former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir said in a meeting with the Sudanese Trade Union Federation in Khartoum that he was advised to normalize relations with Israel. However, al-Bashir did not specify at the time whether the country would act accordingly and the two countries still lack formal relations.
But Abboudi considers the religious minister’s call for Jews to return to the country a step in the right direction.
“I think it is a really good for a step. I think it shows that there is obviously a change in the way the government is running, and the way the government is thinking,” she told Al Arabiya.