A new school textbook in Sudan depicting Michelangelo’s famed ‘The Creation of Adam’ has become an unlikely flashpoint for a conflict being waged between liberals and Islamists over the country’s future.
In January, Sheikh Muhammed Al-Amin Ismail addressed a major mosque in the Sudanese capital Khartoum to lambast a new history book that sought to educate teenagers about the European enlightenment.
“This is the history textbook for the sixth grade. What does one find in this book — the European Renaissance.”
Mr Ismail accused the National Centre for Curricula’s Dr Omar El Garai, who had showcased the book in a press conference, of defending “heresy and atheism” for including images of the 16th-century Renaissance masterpiece from Rome’s Sistine Chapel in the book for teenagers.
After shouting Allah dozens of times, Mr Ismail broke down in tears and shouted: “A picture of God hugging a naked woman?”
Mr Ismail’s speech has struck a chord with clerics and powerful Islamist factions throughout the country who feel threatened by the reformist transitional government.
“It is an ugly offence,” said Sudan’s Academy of Islamic Fiqh, a body ruling on Islamic law, which issued an edict banning teaching from the book.
“The book glorifies Western culture in a way that makes it the culture of science and civilisation — in contrast to its presentation of Islamic civilisation.”
The tussle highlights growing tensions between the country’s Islamists and liberals.
After decades of rule by a fascistic Islamist dictatorship, Sudanese protestors took to the streets in late 2018 demanding bread and liberty.
Long-serving president Omar al-Bashir was ousted, and now the country is ruled by powerful factions of the military and a fragile liberal transitional government.
Khartoum’s government has embarked on deeply controversial reforms in a bid to boost its international standing and rescue its ailing economy — but bringing it into a confrontation with those who see changes as anti-Islamic.
Since the Islamist outcry over the textbook, Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, who runs the country’s transitional government, has been forced to stop introducing the new curriculum.
Dr Garai, the man who tried to introduce Michelangelo to Sudanese school rooms, has received death threats and has resigned from the program in protest.