Sennar / Republic of the Sudan
Arab Region’s Capital of Islamic Culture 2017
on the occasion of its hosting the 10th session of the Islamic Conference of Culture Ministers
The selection of Sennar as a Capital of Islamic Culture for 2017 was not a matter of chance. Indeed, the Islamic Kingdom of Sennar represented a shining example in glorifying Islam and preserving Islamic heritage for more than 300 years after the end of Muslim rule in Spain. By happy coincidence, this decision concurs with the 500th anniversary of the establishment of the Sultanate of Sennar. Historically, Sennar was not only the capital of the first Muslim sultanate of the Nilotic Sudan but also became, thanks to its location in the Sudan’s heartland and to its demographic structure which accommodated most of Sudanese ethnic groups, an emblem of the country and an important platform for Islamic and cultural influence in Africa. Besides, it represented a model of ethnic and cultural plurality under the umbrella of Islam, and epitomizes Islam’s tolerance and coexistence with local cultures. All these factors have pushed some theorists interested in the Sudanese identity to consider Sennar a good example of the country’s ethnic and cultural diversity.
Moreover, the very name of the city echoes the entire country. In fact, historical sources point out to the Sennari Corridor at Al-Azhar Mosque and the Sennari Caravan on the Saharan Caravan Route, both of which refer to the Sudan as a whole. Moreover, the people of the Nilotic Sudan were known as Al-Sannariyah or Al- Sananeer in both Hejaz and Egypt during the rule of the Sennar Kingdom.
With its geographical location and socio-demographic structure, is a representative sample of the Sudan as whole. This has lead many thinkers, intellectuals and politicians to consider it as a melting pot showcasing the components of the entire nation. In the wake of independence, it was suggested to name the freshly established Sudan after Sennar but the then-president Ismail al-Azhari preferred the name “Sudan” for which the country has been known since the second half of the 19th century. However, Sennar has been a model of civilization for Sudanese intellectuals since the 1970s.
In light of this symbolic feature of the city, celebrating Sennar means celebrating all the Sudan’s sites, regions and cities with cultural and Islamic significance, which have contributed to Islam’s historical role as a religion of knowledge and learning. This gives a genuine dimension to this event and sheds light on the core of the Sudanese culture. Sennar has been a concrete incubator of civilization which carried the spirit of Islam and Arab culture in a unique symbiosis with local African elements.
History narratives suggest that Sennar, capital of the Islamic Funj Sultanate, was built by Amara Dunqas who made it capital of his kingdom. Later, thanks to the combined efforts of different human races, a new entity was later established, bringing together the Abdallabi Kingdom, the Funj Sultanate and other annexed parts like Bedja in the east and large chunks of Kurdufan in the west. This made the new entity the largest united geographical domain on the banks of the Middle Nile since the age of the Merowe Kingdom. Since then, Sennar has became a powerful city having relations with parts of Africa and Asia, including India, the Arab Peninsula and a major platform for the spread of Islam and science in the country. The country also benefited from the architectural heritage of the Northern population, which dates back to ancient civilizations in both Napta and Marowe, and which contributed to the greater evolution of the country until it became a world destination.
Sennar was home to a long human experience developed in the Nilotic Sudan, the cradle of ancient Sudanese civilizations. It was on the narrow Nile banks, which stretch from the First Cataract to the confluence of the Blue and White Niles, that the Marowe or Kush Kingdom thrived (750 BC-350 AD) and the three Christian kingdoms of Nobatia, Makuria and Alodia (from 580 to1450 AD) in a later time, thus paving the way for the emergence of syncretism of Christianity and African beliefs, which spiritually federated the country, laying the ground for the rise of these kingdoms.
The choice of Sennar as capital of Islamic Culture for 2017 is a true contribution to the historical and cultural heritage of the Sudanese nation and represents a logical extension of the Sudan’s efforts to preserve Islamic culture throughout history. It is also an opportunity to publicize the city and highlight its civilizational role and potential.