On the Path of the Prophet in Unsettled Times: Sudan’s Republican Brotherhood Looks Abroad

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Mahmoud Mohamed Taha (1909–1985) founded the Republican Brotherhood in the early 1950s to promote social reform through a new understanding of divine revelation which had emerged during his two years of khalwa or retreat. From the 1950s through the 1970s, the Republican Brotherhood attracted a few thousand followers to Ustadh Mahmoud’s teachings, whose foundation was the discipline of tariq Mohamed, “the Path of the Prophet.” This Path was a challenging design for life that embraced gender equality and social justice against the backdrop of an increasingly Islamist-oriented Sudan. In the 1980s, the height of the Brotherhood’s membership, the Republicans confronted Sudan President Gaafar Nimeiry’s imposition of his version of “Islamic Law,” with publications and street corner lectures. Through peaceful protest, the Republican’s point was that Islamic Law would only be oppressive to the millions of non-Muslims in the country and to women. The result of this resistance was the 1985 arrest and execution of Taha for trumped-up charges of apostasy. In the decades following the passing of their teacher, the Republicans have kept a low profile in Sudan while trying to maintain both their faith and some social cohesion. In reaction to both the Islamist political conditions in Sudan and the failing economy, many Republicans have joined the Sudanese flight abroad, with modest communities of Republicans now established in the Gulf States of Qatar and UAE, as well as the United States. Through field work and interviews with members of these three communities, I have tried to understand the effort to sustain the discipline of the Path of the Prophet by Republican brothers and sisters under circumstances of the extremist orientations of Gulf politics, or the “moral ambiguity” of the United States. This study is part of a larger book project on the Republican Brotherhood following the execution of Ustadh Mahmoud.