Turabi, Hasan Al- (1932– )

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TURABI, HASAN AL- (1932– )

Hasan al-Turabi is a Sudanese political leader and Islamist intellectual. Al-Turabi's family was well known and had a recognized tradition of piety. Al-Turabi's father was one of the first Sudanese to be trained as a judge in the British system of administering Islamic law in Sudan, and Hasan received a traditional Islamic education from his father along with his modern education in the government-supported system. In secondary school and then at the University of Khartoum, al-Turabi became active in the small, Islamically oriented student groups. He studied in London and received a doctorate from the Sorbonne. He returned to Sudan in 1964, in time to be a visible participant in the October Revolution that overthrew the military regime of Ibrahim ˓Abboud.

In the second period of civilian parliamentary politics in Sudan (1964–1969), al-Turabi led the Sudanese Muslim Brotherhood (established in the 1950s) into an important place in Sudanese politics. It was not a mass party but was well organized among students and professionals, and was able to give prominence in Sudanese politics to issues of Islamic identity. The Brotherhood continued this role in changing political contexts. Al-Turabi's Brotherhood was the core of the Islamic Charter Front in the 1960s, and then became part of the opposition to the military regime established by Ja˓far al-Numayri in 1969. In the late 1970s, al-Turabi participated in the national reconciliation process and became a significant force in the Islamization policies initiated by Numayri. Although al-Turabi did not have a direct role in drafting "the September Laws" of 1983 that imposed a version of Islamic law on Sudan, he and his group gained prominence in the new context. When Numayri was overthrown in 1985, al-Turabi reorganized the Brotherhood as the National Islamic Front (NIF), which emerged as the third largest party in the new parliamentary system. NIF was able to prevent the repeal of the September Laws and kept Islamic issues in the forefront of the Sudanese political agenda.

Al-Turabi's role was transformed in 1989, when a military coup led by Hasan ˓Umar Bashir established an Islamist-style military regime in which al-Turabi was the ideological mentor. Throughout the 1990s, the Bashir-Turabi alliance attempted to create a new political system. The regime engaged in severe violations of human rights and the civil war between the central government and the southern region intensified as a result of military intransigence and the NIF's agenda of Islamizing the whole country. In 1998 and 1999, Bashir relieved al-Turabi of all official posts and al-Turabi became a marginal force in Sudanese politics.

During the 1970s and 1980s, al-Turabi's ideas became widely known in the Muslim world. He called for significant renewal of the whole structure of Islamic legal thought and developed important concepts of Islamic democracy. His writings on the importance of gender equality in Islam were controversial but gained him a reputation as an Islamic liberal activist. However, the failures of the NIF regime in the 1990s and its excesses in blocking human rights reforms meant that al-Turabi's international visibility and reputation declined by the end of the twentieth century.


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

Esposito, John L., and Voll, John O. Makers of ContemporaryIslam. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Hamdi, Mohamed Elhachmi. The Making of an Islamic Political Leader. Boulder, Colo.: Westview, 1999.

John O. Voll