In recent weeks there has been a heated debate in Sudan regarding normalizing relations with Israel. The debate was sparked by Sudanese Investment Minister Mubarak Al-Fadil Al-Mahdi, who stated, in an August 21, 2017 interview on Sudania 24 TV, that normalization with Israel could benefit Sudan and that he saw no reason to avoid it. Al-Mahdi said: "I don't think [normalization] is such a big deal. The Palestinians themselves have normalized their relations with Israel." He noted further that times have changed, and even Hamas maintains contacts with Israel, as do many other Arab states and forces. He added that Arabs could benefit from Israeli technology and praised Israel's democratic regime.
For a MEMRI TV clip of excerpts from his remarks, click on the player below:
Al-Mahdi's statements evoked harsh criticism from the political and religious establishment in Sudan, and even calls for his dismissal. Sudanese Foreign Minister Ibrahim Al-Ghandour clarified that until a Palestinian state is established there will be no change in the Sudanese position on Israel, and called on government ministers to make sure their personal opinions are not construed as official government positions. The head of the Sudan Scholar Corporation, Mohamed Osman Saleh, said that Al-Mahdi's statements are opposed to the principles of the Islamic nation and to the three No's of the 1964 Khartoum Summit (no to reconciliation with Israel, no to recognizing it, and no to negotiations with it). He added that the reasons for refusing to recognize Israel are still valid and that Quranic verses forbid the Muslims to maintain contacts with those who fought them, especially the Jews." Another member of the Sudan Scholar Corporation, Sheikh Muhammad Hassan Tanoun, the imam and preacher at the Al-Nour Mosque in Khartoum, condemned Al-Mahdi's statements in an August 25, 2017 Friday sermon. He said that the Jews are "the head of the serpent" and that all tragedies around the world are caused by their "plots."
For a MEMRI TV clip of excerpts from the sermon, click on the player below:
A different opinion was expressed by Sudanese oppositionist and cleric Yousuf Al-Koda, known for his support of normalization with Israel. Al-Koda, formerly a member of the Sudan Scholar Corporation and now the head of the Islamic Al-Wasat Party, responded to Sheikh Tanoun's sermon in an article he published in the independent Sudanese daily Akhir Lahza. He wrote that the boycott of Israel harms the boycotting countries, whereas countries that have normalized relations with Israel benefit from this and also contribute to promoting the Palestinian cause.
It should be mentioned that Al-Koda voiced similar opinions in a talk titled "The Relations with Israel – Religious Aspects" at the Awakening and Dialogue conference in Khartoum in February 2017. In this talk he urged Sudan to declare a truce with Israel and establish diplomatic relations with it, saying that there is no religious prohibition to prevent this. As evidence he mentioned the Hudaibiya agreement that the Prophet Muhammad signed with his infidel rivals. He noted further that Sudan holds ties even with certain countries that occupy Sudanese land, without naming these countries.
Yousuf Al-Koda (image: twitter.com/uosifkoda2012)
The following are excerpts from Al-Koda's article in Akhir Lahza:
"Our Friday preacher [Sheikh Muhammad Hassan Tanoun] began his statements by saying that whoever advocates normalization with Israel is unfamiliar with the Quran and with the [Islamic] religion... because Israel is our enemy and is occupying Jerusalem. But our illustrious imam did not mention the treaties and agreements that the Prophet Muhammad signed in his day with enemies greater than the Jews, namely with the polytheists. [Quran 5:82 says:] 'You will surely find the most intense of the people in animosity toward the believers [to be] the Jews and those who associate others with Allah [i.e., polytheists].'
"There is a consensus that the Jews are closer to us than the polytheists, since they are People of the Book. [But] the Prophet signed agreements – namely what is known as the Hudaibiya treaty – [even] with the polytheists, while they were occupying the Kaaba. The fact that they were occupying the Kaaba did not prevent him from signing this great reconciliation agreement [with them]. They were not only occupying the Kaaba, they even prevented the Prophet and his supporters from worshipping Allah there during the 'Umrah or at any other time. In fact, even after the signing of the agreement, the Prophet was barred from entering Mecca and from performing the Umrah rites during the [first] year of the treaty, and he accepted that. This was included in the articles of the treaty, which specified that he would perform the 'Umrah [only] the following year... The Prophet agreed to this, because he considered the peace and stability afforded by the treaty as an opportunity to carry out da'wa [i.e., preach Islam]... This agreement was called a victory when the Muslims realized how beneficial it was, for the scope of da'wa increased manifold compared to what it had been in the days before the treaty, during the time of boycott.
"The Muslims, then, tried the weapon of boycott... [long] before the establishment of the state of Israel. The Arabs are boycotting the Jews to this very day... But the question remains, what have we achieved by this? Is this a boycott for its own sake, or does it have specific goal, namely to pressure Israel to comply [with the Arabs' demands]? [If so,] none of this has been achieved. Moreover, it seems that Israel has managed to bring over to its side many Islamic and Arab states that maintain ties with it, whereas the countries that maintain the boycott incur great damage because of this. Furthermore, it seems that countries that have normalized their relations with Israel, especially Turkey, are doing more to help the Palestinians than all the boycotting countries put together. This proves that ties with Israel, or normalized relations, do not necessarily produce [the results] that the advocates of boycott fear.
"We must therefore take stock and assess all the past years of boycott, assuming that the boycott is not an end in itself or a religious matter that requires examination and study... The Prophet did not confine himself to fighting and boycott, but employed several means and ways. Sometimes he fought and sometimes he [pursued] reconciliation, made a truce, or made concessions according to the interests dictated by the circumstances. Therefore, there is no choice but to abandon the useless boycott and turn to [the option of] establishing ties with Israel...
"I am not calling to renounce support for the Palestinian cause. On the contrary, I [identify] with every bid for liberty around the world, especially with the Palestinian cause..."
 Hamas responded with a statement condemning Al-Mahdi's remarks and claiming that they stem from ignorance about the Palestinian issue. Hamas.ps, August 23, 2107.
 Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), August 28, 2017.
 Alnilin.com, August 30, 2017.
 Sudantribune.net, sudanalyoum.com, August 23, 2017.
 On this talk, see MEMRI Special Dispatch No.6776, Sudanese Cleric: Islamic Shari'a Permits Normalizing Relations With Israel,
February 9, 2017.
 Akhir Lahza (Sudan), September 5, 2017.
 'Umrah refers to pilgrimage to Mecca performed at a time of year other than the Hajj.