Al Sadiq Al Mahdi, the passing away of a giant Sudanese thinker

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A progressive leader and visionary who devoted his life to the advancement of democracy, question of women rights, and Islamic centrism, among others.

Last month, in the early hours of Thursday, November 26, 2020, news agencies announced the passing away of the last democratically elected prime minister of Sudan, Al Sadiq Al Mahdi, who died from coronavirus complications, after being admitted to a hospital in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, for nearly a month.

Since writing about political figures is often a thorny subject that could easily enter the author into unfortunate labyrinths, this article will be limited to shedding light on the late Al Mahdi as an organic intellectual and a prolific writer who has more than hundred publications in politics, religion, history, philosophy etc. A progressive think tank who devoted his life to the advancement of democracy, question of women rights, and Islamic centrism, among others.

Al Sadiq Al Mahdi, whom his followers fondly call him “the beloved”, was born in December 25, 1935 in Omdurman, Sudan. Obtained a master’s degree in economics from the prestigious Oxford University, in 1957. Elected head of the Umma Party in November 1964. Then, elected prime minister of Sudan for two different terms, briefly from 1966 to 1967 and again between 1986 and 1989.

It is of important significance to note that Al Sadiq Al Mahdi is a descendent of an ancient political family in Sudan. His great grandfather is Mohammad Ahmad Al Mahdi, who founded the Mahdist Movement in Sudan. A revolutionary movement that erupted in August 1881 against the colonial Turkish-Egyptian rule, and subsequently resulted in setting the foundation for the modern Sudanese state.

In a blatant acknowledgement of his uncannily intellectual capacity, the Institute for Objective Studies in New Delhi, India, chose Al Mahdi, in 2006, as one of hundred great Muslim leaders of the twentieth century.

According to Al Mahdi’s official website, he was also a founding member and president of the Global Forum for Moderation, an organization that aims at consolidating the concepts of Islamic moderation, confronting extremism, and deepening the reconciliation with the democratic heritage. He is also a member of the executive committee of Madrid Club, chairman of the Arab Council of Elders, which is part of a voluntary organization known as the Arab Alliance for Dispute Resolution, as well as a founding member of the Arab Democrats Network.

With regard to the question of democracy, Al Mahdi often talks about the schizophrenia that exists in Islamic societies. He sees the necessity of resolving the existing dialectic, by moving towards authenticity and rooting without regression, and for modernization without subordination.

In his book “Democracy in Sudan: returning and preponderant”, Al Mahdi critically documented his experience as a democratically elected leader. He also affirmed his deep belief that democracy is the only viable option, and that regardless of the particular juncture or difficulty that society is going through, in the end, people will inevitably opt for democracy.

Undoubtedly, the late Sadiq Al Mahdi was a leading advocate for women’s rights. He believes that social culture often reduces the value of women, and impacts negatively on the broader question of women’s rights and emancipation. Al Mahdi’s bold views on women’s issues have led many traditional jurists to believe that he had violated the conventional religious teachings. For instance, in contrary to what is prevalent in Islamic societies, Al Mahdi openly supports equality in inheritance between men and women. He argued that the inheritance in Islam is not linked to gender, but to social assignment, and that social assignments and responsibilities have changed, which calls for a new rationale that grants women a legitimacy in line with the spirit of the times.

It should be noted that the late Mahdi was enormously impressed with South Africa’s experience in the national reconciliation. During his fierce opposition to the regime of former president Omer Al Bashir, Al Mahdi put the government at the time before two options, either agreeing with his party to establish a round table similar to the “CODESA” of South Africa, or there will be no choice but to mobilize for a peaceful uprising that would eventually topple the regime.

The passing away of Al Mahdi will definitely leave a great political and intellectual void in Sudan and the Arab and African regions. However, the only consolation is that he left behind a huge intellectual legacy for the future generations.

By Mohamed Yousif Albadawi.