Darfuris: The Builders of Al-Khalawi*

By Imam El-Leithy, IOL Correspondent
Translated by Abdelazim R. Abdelazim


Let peace prevail,
Cleanse your conscience, keep prosperity alive,
The Moura Hill now wears a green shawl,
Pick your sickles, drop your weapons, bow;
Our Sudan is happy with her faithful youth.

That was the song chanted by the Darfuri girls who had
been escorted by their mothers to attend the
graduation of a new class of Qur’an hafiz1 youth being
held in a football playground in Al-Fasher city,
northern Darfur.

All Darfuris have been used to this lifestyle since
they voluntarily embraced Islam in the third Hijri
century. Their efforts have focused on learning the
Qur’an by heart and reciting its verses. Darfur has
always been well known for producing large numbers of
educated Qur’an hafiz scholars. A Darfuri, not long
ago, used to cultivate the land and teach religious
principles across the whole Sudan in khalawi
(religious classrooms) which successive Darfuri
sultans were in a habit of building so as to maintain
their reputation of righteousness.
The girls danced and sang in successive patterns to
celebrate the graduation of 1,000 Qur’an hafiz males
and females. The scene—in my opinion—is but field
evidence that refutes the false claims of genocide,
ethnic cleansing, and rape. The playground, crowded
with girls, women, children, and local administration
officials, included boys and girls from the African
Zaghawa, Masalit, and Fur tribes mingling with their
peers from the Arab Rozayqat and Mahamid tribes.

Historical Snapshots of Darfuri Sultans

Islam reached the Sudan in AH 31 after the Baqt Treaty
had been signed by both `Abdullah ibn Abi As-Sarh and
the King of An-Noba, the northernmost part of Sudan,
in Dongola. During the next 300 years, Islam gradually
spread among the people of Darfur—more rapidly than to
those of An-Noba—where the first Islamic sultanate
(the Dayyo Sultanate) had been established in the
third Hijri century. The Dayyo Sultanate was also an
African tribe. Although that sultanate cherished the
basic African traditions and heritage of magic, drums,
and dances, it also introduced the Islamic Shari`ah as
an essential aspect of Darfuri life along with the
Dali Law.

Serious crimes, like theft, murder, adultery, and so
on, were adjudged by the Dali Law, which used to be
interpreted and enforced by the sultanate’s trustee,
known back then as Dali’s Sheikh. Pursuant to that
law, punishments were estimated in numbers of heads of
cattle to be decided according to the degree of the
offense. Murder, for example, was redeemed by a number
of cows, while adultery was purged by a number of

The Sultanate’s Grand Judge used to observe and
enforce the Islamic Shari`ah on matters like marriage,
divorce, zakah2, Hajj, jihad, inheritance, contracts,
and other civil affairs.

Al-Hawakir Supported Islam

In 1445, the Islamic Kingdom of Fur was established.
After 200 years, in 1640, that kingdom passed the
leadership of Darfur over to the Arab Sultan Sulayman
Sulun because his father had married a Darfuri
princess from the Sultan’s household. After that time
the Arab civilization prospered in that sultanate.

However, Sultan `Abdur-Rahman Ar-Rashid was, in fact,
the real factor behind that power transfer in the
sultan’s court. He built Al-Fasher city in 1792 and
brought scholars from Al-Azhar University3 and
neighboring Arab countries so they might teach the
Sudanese the principles of Islam.

During Ar-Rashid’s reign, the khalawi became
widespread and were financially supported by the
hawakir—arable land monopolized by the khalawi sheikhs
so that they could support their students, other
knowledge seekers, and the khalawi affairs. The
sultan’s regulations definitely forbade tax collectors
from levying any kind of taxes from the hawakir.
When the Arabs took over the rule of Darfur, the
titles of sultanate officials changed. The title
“Trustee” replaced “Dali’s Sheikh,” while the
“Superintendent” and the “Tribe’s Sheikh” replaced
other titles that had been used previously. Dali’s Law
was completely abolished in 1812 after Sultan Muhammad
Al-Fadl executed Dali’s Sheikh upon a clash between
the two men in power. The rule of Darfur had thus
become fully Arabic.

The most notable tradition cherished by the Darfuri
sultans, until the fall of the sultanate in 1916, was
the upbringing of the sons of the tribes’ sheikhs
inside of the sultan’s palace. When it was time for a
tribe’s sheikh’s son to take over after his father, as
when his father died or became unable to look after
the tribe’s affairs, that son left the sultan’s palace
in a special procession in which the sultan appointed
him as the new sheikh.

Throughout the various phases of its history, Darfur
did not witness any discrimination between the Arabs
and the Africans in the sultan’s court, neither during
the African reign nor when the Arabs took over.
Official appointments in high sultanate positions used
to be made on the basis of individual competence and
knowledge. No minister or high official was ever known
by his tribe in Darfur.

Who Unmuzzled the Rifle?

Different stories have been told about the first
Darfuri conflict that would have deserved external
interference to be resolved. Conflicts were usually
insignificant disputes between herdsmen and farmers.
According to Mahjoub Al-Zayn, manager of Darfur’s
Heritage Center, the first case in which conflict
transcended its normal limits—yet an unarmed
conflict—was recorded in 1968. It was a political,
administrative, inter-Arab conflict between the
pastoral Rozayqat and Ma’aliyya tribes in which the
Ma’aliyya parties pledged to seek independence from
the Rozayqat administration and requested that they
have their own independent administration with a
separate electoral system.

The rifle began to speak in Darfur only after the
Libya-Chad war in the late 1980s, and the Chadian
civil war that followed. Robbers have been called
janjewid only after Chadian tribes immigrated to
Darfur. The term janjewid, originally borrowed from
Chad, consists of three syllables: jan means “man”; je
means “G-3 machine gun,” very popular in Darfur; wid
means “horse.” The whole word therefore means “the man
who rides a horse and carries a G-3 machine gun.” The
Chadian tribes that had immigrated to Darfur changed
the Darfuris’ code of conduct and brought new behavior
like armed robbery, plundering, and carrying heavy
arms into the region. The original native Darfuri was
armed simply with the old Enfield rifle, which was
used to drive the wolves away from his sheep.

Darfur has always been known for the inherent
tolerance of its Arab and African tribes alike. The
migration from the South to the North during autumn
was always seen as evidence of the harmony and love
between the more than 85 Darfuri tribes. That movement
had its own regulations that were observed by all. The
journey made by the nomadic Bedouins had its own
specified time, and permission was taken from arable
land owners.

The 11 routes, known as marahil, taken by the pastoral
tribes, had been predefined by the sultan. When the
journey began, the traveling tribes used to send
envoys to the villages they would pass by so that
those villages could prepare to receive their guests
and organize festivals for them on time. Inter-tribal
marriage and commercial exchange was popular during
such journeys. The intimate relationship between those
tribes reached its peak when they took the oath that
they are but one family and that their relationship
was a bond of blood, an event known as The Book Oath.

Such friendly scenes were sometimes disturbed by minor
transgressions between one tribe and another, but soon
such troubles were resolved via the watti’, rakuba,
and the ajawid council. The watti’ was land on which
all presented their problems; the rakuba was a very
spacious straw cottage in which sessions were held;
the ajawid were the tribes’ inspectors and sheikhs
whose word and judgment were accepted by the guilty
and satisfied the aggrieved.

Blood money used to be paid in the rakuba, but often
the guilty was pardoned on the condition that the
perpetrator’s tribe remember that act of pardon if the
latter tribe happened to transgress against the first
at a future time. Both tribes were said to hold a
rakuba. Furthermore, the sinful tribe had to help the
other tribe pay its blood money and solve its other
* The Arabic original of this article appeared in
islamonline.net (Arabic Section).

1- Those who have successfully completed their
memorization of the whole Qur’an.

2- Annual alms-giving.

3- Egypt’s major religious institution.


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