Turabi, Hasan al- (1932–)

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Turabi, Hasan al-

Hasan al-Turabi is an important Sudanese Islamic thinker and politician.


Hasan (also Hassan) Abdullah al-Turabi was born in 1932 in the city of Kasala, Sudan to a Sunni Muslim family of religious learning and traditions. He earned a B.A. in law from the University of Khartoum in 1955, an M.A. in law from the University of London in 1957, and a doctorate in constitutional law from the Sorbonne in Paris in 1964. He became dean of the University of Khartoum Law School in the same year and a member of the Sudanese parliament in 1965, then attorney general in 1977. In 1979 he became Sudan's minister of justice.


Turabi was the leader of the Islamic Charter Front, the Sudanese branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, becoming secretary-general in 1964. Following the 1969 coup led by General Ja'far Numayri, Turabi was imprisoned. He escaped after six years and fled to Libya, from whence he was allowed to return to Sudan in 1977, becoming part of Numayri's government as part of a compromise with the Sudanese Islamic movements. A few years later, Turabi was imprisoned again, but was released after the overthrow of Numayri in 1985. Under his leadership, the Islamic Charter Front was transformed into the National Islamic Front (NIF) that same year. In 1988 the NIF joined the coalition government of Sadiq al-Mahdi—Turabi's brother-in-law—and Turabi served first as minister of foreign affairs and later as deputy prime minister. He was the ideological power behind the military regime of OMAR AL-BASHIR that took power from Mahdi in 1989. In 1996 Turabi became the speaker of the Parliament, and his influence spread throughout the state organization and political parties. He eventually fell out of favor with President al-Bashir's regime, and was imprisoned from 2004 to 2005.


Name: Hasan al-Turabi (Hassan al-Turabi)

Birth: 1932, Kasala, Sudan

Family: Wife, Wisal al-Mahdi; son, Isam

Nationality: Sudanese

Education: B.A. University of Khartoum (law, 1955); M.A. University of London (law, 1957); Ph.D. University of Paris—Sorbonne (constitutional law, 1964)


  • 1964: Becomes secretary-general, Islamic Charter Front
  • 1969: Imprisoned by Sudanese government
  • 1979: Becomes Sudanese attorney general under Numayri government
  • 1988–1989: Serves as Sudanese minister of justice, minister of foreign affairs in al-Mahdi government
  • 1996: Becomes speaker of Sudanese Parliament
  • 2004: Imprisoned by President Omar al-Bashir
  • 2005: Released from prison

Turabi's man influence, however, lies not in his statesmanship, but in his intellectual and ideological developments, as well as his impact on Islamism in North Africa in particular and the Arab world in general. Turabi is a fundamentalist Islamic thinker; he views Islam as the ultimate ideological and political authority for both state and society. He believes that Islam contains all the necessary elements for the creation of a viable and modern civilization and culture. Rather than a return to earlier Islamic social and political practices, Turabi advocates a progressive Islamic revival that incorporates the best of traditional Islam and Western culture. He argues that the state's only purpose is to set rules to enable society to conduct its affairs, and that it must allow society, the primary institution in Islam, to freely pursue its interests. The shari'a and the Islamist jurists ensure that the role of the state remains limited. Because any society has the right to exercise shura (consultation) and ijma (consensus), and because this requires producing ijtihad (opinions), pluralism is necessary to enable society to identify which policies best serve its interests. As such, Turabi argues, democracy is simply a Western term identical to Islam's shura and ijma. Although ultimate sovereignty belongs to God, practical and political sovereignty belong to the people. Society, therefore, always remains free to choose its rulers and representatives. In this fashion, Islam can bring the best of its own civilization along with other civilizations.

Turabi clearly distinguishes the conditions of contemporary life from those present during the rise of Islam in the seventh century. Because Muslims are living in a world much different from the one that Islamic jurisprudence legislated, they must look toward radical social and political reforms in order to bring about the necessary Islamic revival. The historical development of Islamic jurisprudence must be rejected in favor of a process that depends on free thinking, and the state must establish a new circle of ulama (Islamic clergy) while continuing to derive its jurisprudence from the people. Any democratic developments in Islam must extend to the institutions of society and the family, each segment of which must work to further Islamic revival in both public and private life. Political freedom is an original part of the creed and nature because freedom is what distinguishes man from animal. This includes the freedom of expression, which is stipulated in the shari'a.

As for the individual, Turabi notes that a person is not forced to worship God, but chooses to do so. Individual freedom is essential and cannot be taken away by the state, institutions, or society. This freedom, he argues, must be embodied in a constitution to ensure that the strength of any political leader may be checked by representative councils. Because institutionalization of freedom inevitably leads to its destruction, individual freedoms are bound and protected by Islam.

Turabi's views and writings on Islam seem to place him in the category of moderate Islamist thinkers, but the practice of his authority in Sudan suggests otherwise. Although he has called for freedom of association and multiparty representative bodies, the current Sudanese government has systematically destroyed most civic associations and remains one of the most oppressive regimes and egregious human-rights violators in the Middle East.


Turabi is internationally known as an Islamic thinker and as a key figure in the modern political history of Sudan. He is also known for having given sanctuary in Sudan to Saudi militant usama bin ladin from 1990–1996. Human Rights Watch has accused Turabi of masterminding the police state and numerous human rights abuses committed between 1989 and 2001.


Hasan al-Turabi will be remembered as the most important Islamic leader in modern Sudanese history, and a key figure in that country's history.


Sadiq al-Mahdi (1935–) was born on 25 December 1935 in Omdurman, Sudan. He received his M.Sc. in economics from Oxford University in 1957. He became leader of the Ansar al-Mahdi Sufi order, an Islamic mystic order in Sudan which in turn was the pillar of the main political party, the Umma Party. Al-Mahdi was prime minister of Sudan from 1966–1967 and from 1986–1989, when the position was abolished. He is the brother-in-law of Hasan al-Turabi.


Burr, J. Millard, and Robert O. Collins. Revolutionary Sudan: Hassan al-Turabi and the Islamist State, 1989–2000. Leiden: Brill, 2003.

El-Affendi, Abdelwahab. Turabi's Revolution: Islam and Power in Sudan. London: Grey Seal, 1991.

Moussalli, Ahmad. Moderate and Radical Islamic Fundamentalism: The Quest for Modernity, Legitimacy, and the Islamic State. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1999.

Nkrumah, Gamal. "Hassan al-Turabi: Remaking History."

Interview. al-Ahram Weekly Online (11-17 May 2006). Available from http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2006/794/profile.htm.

Turabi, Hasan al-. "Islam, Democracy, the State and the West: Summary of a Lecture and Roundtable Discussion with Hasan al-Turabi." Prepared by Louis Cantori and Arthur Lowrie. Middle East Policy 1, no. 3 (1992): 52-54.

                                             Jillian Schwedler
                                  updated by Ahmad S. Moussalli
                                 updated by Michael R. Fischbach