Friday, August 17, 2012

A Genuine Issue of Religious Freedom

Rudwan and Nancy Dawod, The Sudanese
activist, a Muslim, has just been released 
after having faced charges in the Sudan for 
his work reconciling Christian and Muslims. 
 When we talk about threats to religious freedom: here is something substantive.  A week ago, one of my readers sent me the following article by John Zogby and Tom Prichard.  The Rev. Tom Pritchard, an Episcopalian priest, is one of the founders of Sudan Sunrise. Dr. John Zogby is a Senior Fellow at Catholic University’s Institute for Policy research and Catholic Studies.

                    By John Zogby and Tom Prichard

Rudwan Dawod, a Muslim from the Darfur region of Sudan and non-violent activist, is jailed in Khartoum on charges of terrorism awaiting a verdict on August 13.  If convicted, Dawod could be sentenced to death.  Dawod is a project director for the Washington, DC-based charity Sudan Sunrise, leading an initiative of Sudanese Muslims planning to rebuild the Catholic Cathedral in Torit, South Sudan.
Since the independence of South Sudan, on July 9, 2011, the northern Sudanese regime of Omar al Bashir has been increasingly belligerent towards Sudan's Christian minority.  In April three churches in Khartoum were burned by a mob as police and security officials looked on in tacit approval.  Dawod, a Sudanese citizen married to an American and living in Springfield, Oregon, was grieved by the news of the burning of churches.  He set his sights on rebuilding a church with Sudan Sunrise as a symbol for Sudanese Muslims who stand for peace.
Passing through the Washington area on his way to Sudan, Dawod met with Imam Mohamed Magid, the President of the Islamic Society for North American, who is Sudanese by birth, who wholeheartedly endorsed the project.  (See,
Dawod met with Bishop Johnson Akio in Torit, South Sudan to present his vision.  Bishop Akio enthusiastically responded, proposing that the best symbol for peace would be to rebuild the Cathedral in Torit.  The Cathedral was twice destroyed by forces from the North, and more than 1,000 worshippers gather each Sunday under a makeshift roof near the Cathedral ruins.  The Cathedral was first destroyed in the 1960’s, and then again in the 1990's in the second civil war, in which an estimated 2.4 million Southern Sudanese were killed and 4 million were displaced.
Prior to meeting Bishop Akio, Dawod estimated that he had 200 volunteers. That number grew when Dawod presented his vision to the leaders of the mosque in Torit, when an elderly Imam recounted how the mosque was built in 1941 with help from Christians who contributed financially and with volunteer labor.
Following their meeting, Bishop Akio traveled to the Vatican, where he spoke about the initiative on Vatican Radio.  Dawod proceeded to present the vision to Muslim leaders in South Sudan, and South Sudan government officials, and to make it public by announcing it on radio and through Southern Sudanese newspapers.  The initiative was enthusiastically received in the South by Muslims, Christians and by the government.  During a lull in the project, Dawod traveled to Khartoum to visit his family and renew his Sudanese passport.
This was Dawod's first return to Khartoum since he had been featured in an Al Jazeera English documentary about the growing Arab Spring youth movement Girifna (which means "fed up" in Arabic).  When Dawod arrived in June, non-violent demonstrations against the government of Omar al Bashir were gaining momentum.  Bashir is under indictment by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity in Darfur.  While in Khartoum, Dawod helped organize a non-violent protest, a right protected by the Sudanese constitution.  During the demonstration Dawod was abducted by government security agents and beaten until unconscious.  His father, brother and others were abducted the same evening, and their house was ransacked by government security officials who stripped it of anything of value, even the earrings from his sister's ears.
Held for several days in a "ghost house," Dawod was tortured by security who tried unsuccessfully to force a (false) confession that he was a CIA agent organizing a terror cell preparing to place bombs in Khartoum market places.  Dawod was also beaten specifically for opposing the burning of churches.
Dawod's trial has garnered coverage in national media in the US, although often he is described simply as an Arab spring activist with no reference to his leading a Muslim effort to rebuild a Catholic Cathedral.  Also, news media seldom report what it was that Dawod found inspiring about his hero and friend, the late former NBA legend, Manute Bol.   Manute lost 240 family members during the 22-year civil war in Sudan, yet he would say, "Muslims are not my enemies.  They are my brothers.  The problem is the government in Khartoum."  When Manute, a Catholic, was asked why he would have such an attitude towards those he could consider his enemies, he would say simply, "God says we are to forgive."  Manute repeatedly stood up for oppressed Muslim populations in the north of Sudan and dreamed of building schools across South Sudan that would welcome children of Christian, Muslim, animist families and from whatever tribe.
It was through volunteering with Sudan Sunrise to help build Manute's school that Dawod not only came to know Manute, but also his future wife, Nancy.  They were married in 2010.  In 2011 Dawod lead a team of young Muslims from Khartoum who with Sudan Sunrise's help delivered a truck load of relief food to refugees and local needy in Turalei.
Nancy and Rudwan's first child, a daughter, is due in September and will be named "Sudan".  Nancy's prayer is that Rudwan will be safely home for Sudan's birth.
The verdict and sentence, due on August 13, could range anywhere from acquittal to the death penalty.
The US embassy has been sending personnel to Rudwan's trial, and the US House of Representatives Sudan Caucus has issued a call for Rudwan's release.
Despite being beaten for opposing the burning of churches, Rudwan Dawod and his volunteers remain committed to rebuilding the Cathedral in Torit.  The only obstacle that remains is funding.   Rudwan's volunteers and Bishop Akio and his diocese see the strategic importance of this symbol of peace, but unfortunately they do not have the capacity to fund it.  Bishop Akio and the volunteers hope is that one positive outcome of Dawod's ordeal is that the Torit Cathedral will be built as a strategic symbol of peace, as well as the schools of which Dawod and Manute Bol dreamed of building across South Sudan.
For more information, go to and

Rudwan was released today by the Sudanese Government and will shortly be able to return to the United States

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