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Sudan: The Land of Two Niles

Black History Month

This month we have put together a series of blogs, that will focus on and celebrate, the rich Islamic history and culture of some of the countries Islamic Relief works in.

In this blog, we will explore the history and culture of Sudan, – it is the first country that Islamic Relief began working in, responding to the famine back in 1984.


Independence: 1st January 1956
Population: 41 million (2018)
Religion: Sunni Islam, Orthodox Christianity
Official Languages: Arabic

Islamic History

Sudan is a country with a long and complex history, its name derives from the ‘Bilad As-Sudan’ which means the land of the blacks in Arabic. Much of Sudan like in Egypt has a very rich history that dates back to the time of the Pharaohs. The word Pharaoh is mentioned many times in the Qu’ran. The Pharaohs lived during the time of Prophet Musa (AS) and had many kingdoms stretching from modern-day Egypt to Sudan. The Kingdom of Kush was in modern-day Sudan and evidence of this can be found throughout the country. In fact, there are more Pyramids in Sudan than in Egypt.

Much of modern-day Sudan later became Orthodox Christian like Egypt and Ethiopia. The Nubian Christian kingdoms of Nobatia, Makuria, and Alodia fell to Islamic armies in 650, 1312 and 1504 AD respectively. Today the vast majority of Muslims in Sudan are Sunni belonging to the Maliki school of Islamic jurisprudence.

Notable Figures

Tayeb Salih

Tayeb Salih, was Sudan’s most illustrious literary figure, a critically acclaimed and popular writer in the Arab world. Born in Karmakol, near the village of Al Dabbah, Sudan Al Dabbah in the Northern Province of Sudan, he graduated from the University of Khartoum with a Bachelor of Science before leaving for the University of London in England. He is known for writing the popular novel Mawsim al hijra ila al shimal (Season of Migration to the North, 1966), a slim, idiosyncratic novel that was immediately lauded and has subsequently been translated into more than 30 languages.

Prof Awn Alsharif Qasim

Professor Awn Alsharf Qasim was a prolific Sudanese writer, encyclopedist, a prominent scholar, a powerful community leader, a man of charity, and one of Sudan’s leading experts on the Arabic language and literature. He was a strong advocate of Arabic/Islamic culture and its interweaving with Sudanese culture. Qasim authored more than 70 books in the area of Islamic history and civilization, Arabic literature, studies in the Sudanese dialect languages. Qasim was born in Sudan’s ancient city Halfayat Almilook in 1933. His father immigrated to Sudan from Yemen in 1925 and settled in the city of Halfayat Almilook in Khartoum North and became a known religious figure in the area teaching and educating on Islamic sciences.


Sudan is the world’s largest producer of gum Arabic. The dried sap is a natural emulsifier and is prized throughout the world by the food, pharmaceutical, cosmetics, and ink manufacturers. While historically agriculture remains the main source of income and employment hiring of over 80 percent of Sudanese and makes up a third of the economic sector, oil production drove most of Sudan’s post-2000 growth.

Sudan has 84 million hectares of arable land and less than 20% is cultivated. Major agricultural projects such as the Gezira Scheme in Gezira state are underway in order to make Sudan food self-sufficient. Sudan is one of the world’s potential breadbaskets and Sudan is nicknamed as the Arab world food basket as it accounts for 45% of arable land in the Arab world. This is largely due to the river Nile with its main tributaries, the White Nile and the Blue Nile meeting in Khartoum, Sudan. While the White Nile is the longer tributary, the Blue Nile is the main source of water and fertile soil.

Last month Islamic Relief launched an emergency appeal after heavy seasonal rains triggered flooding which caused the River Nile to rise to its highest level in 100 years. The states of Khartoum, Blue Nile, River Nile, Gezira, West Kordofan, and South Darfur we among the worst hit.


Sudan has almost 600 groups that speak over 400 different languages and dialects. Sudanese Arabs are by far the largest ethnic group in Sudan. They are almost entirely Muslims; while the majority speak Sudanese Arabic, some other Arab tribes speak different Arabic dialects like Awadia and Fadnia tribes and Bani Arak tribes who speak Najdi Arabic; and Beni Ḥassan, Al-Ashraf, and Rashaida who speak Hejazi Arabic.

One of the most iconic things in Sudan is the cultural attire, which has somewhat become unique to the country now. Men’s traditional clothes are a long loose robes called jellabiya, it is normally white, and it consists of a white scarf (immah) and loose pants (sarwal).

Ful Medames is the most common dish eaten in Sudan, it’s a stew and is made from cooked and crushed fava beans. It is believed to have originated in Egypt, but it is very popular in Sudan as well, and even considered to be Sudan’s national dish. Kisra is also very popular, it is a common type of fermented bread that is eaten throughout Sudan. It’s a flatbread, similar to Ethiopian Injera and it is made from sorghum flour. It’s a staple food of Sudanese people and it is typically eaten together with various kinds of stews. Aseeda is also very popular, and is a cooked staple food made from grains, commonly sorghum, red millet, or corn, as shown above. It is eaten with almost every meal, be it meats, stews, fish or vegetables.

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