For 30 years, Islam has been the official state religion of Sudan, and the country has been ruled by shariah law.
Now, the new transitional government, together with rebel groups that helped it assume power, is ending that.
Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and Abdelaziz Al-Hilu, leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM–N), signed the agreement on this week in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.
The agreement says: “The state shall not establish an official religion. No citizen shall be discriminated against based on their religion.”
Such separation of religion and state is ground-breaking and has yet to reach many Muslim countries.
The final signing is set for October, when ongoing conflicts in the Darfur region should also have reached a peaceful solution.
In addition, the government has already agreed a peace deal with Sudan Revolutionary Front rebel groups in Juba, South Sudan.
Previous strongman ruler Omar Al-Bashir came to power in a 1989 military coup by the Islamist movement who helped him implement Islamic law.
Last year, he himself was ousted in another military coup, after pro-democracy street demonstrations. He is now on trial, facing a maximum sentence of death.
Under the new leadership, Sudan is hoping to rejoin the world community, having been on the US list of state sponsors of terrorism since 1993.
One of the reforms required for removal from the list was normalisation of diplomatic ties with Israel. Last month, Israel’s Mossad chief met with a top Sudanese official in the UAE.
“It’s clear that this government, which is obeying the West, is going for full secularisation of the country, which is against our values and religion,” said the Popular Congress Party in a statement echoed by other Islamist parties in the country.
Otherwise, the reforms have been broadly welcome at street level.