Mahmoud Mohammed Taha

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Mahmoud Mohammed Taha
محمود محمد طه
Leader of the Republican Brotherhood
In office
26 October 1945 – 18 January 1985
Preceded byParty established
Personal details
Rufaa, Anglo-Egyptian Sudan
DiedJanuary 18, 1985(1985-01-18) (aged 75–76)
Khartoum, Democratic Republic of Sudan
Political partyRepublican Brotherhood
OccupationPolitician, Religious thinker, Civil Engineer

Mahmoud Mohammed Taha, (1909 – 18 January 1985; Arabic: محمود محمد طه) also known as Ustaz Mahmoud Mohammed Taha, was a Sudanese religious thinker, leader, and trained engineer. He developed what he called the "Second Message of Islam", which postulated that the verses of the Qur'an revealed in Medina were appropriate in their time as the basis of Islamic law, (Sharia), but that the verses revealed in Mecca represented the ideal religion, would be revived when humanity had reached a stage of development capable of accepting them, ushering in a renewed Islam based on freedom and equality.[1] He was executed for apostasy for his religious preaching at the age of 76 by the regime of Gaafar Nimeiry.[2][3]

Early life[edit]

Taha was born in Rufaa, a town on the eastern bank of the Blue Nile, 150 kilometres (93 mi) south of Khartoum. He was educated as a civil engineer in a British-run university in the years before Sudan's independence. After working briefly for Sudan Railways he started his own engineering business.[3] In 1945, he founded an anti-monarchical political group, the Republican Party, and was twice imprisoned by the British authorities.[3]


Taha developed what he called "Second Message of Islam" after a period of prolonged "religious seclusion".[4] His theory was that the Qur'an contains two general messages that are apparently in contradiction. The message of verses of the Qur'an revealed while Muhammad was living in Mecca ("Mecca Qur'an"), take a different approach to religious freedom and equality between the sexes than do the verses of the Qur'an revealed after Muhammad had left Mecca and was living in Medina (the "Medina Qur'an").[4]

Traditionally Islamic scholars have solved this contradiction by the principle of abrogation (naskh) – which is based on the verse (Sura) 2:106 of the Quran, "None of Our revelations do We abrogate or cause to be forgotten, but We substitute something better or similar..."[Quran 2:106] The early scholars abrogated the Meccan verses and used the verses revealed in Medina in creating traditional Islamic law – Sharia.

Taha considered this "the first message of Islam". He believed that the "Medina Qur'an", and Sharia laws based on them, violated the values of equality, religious freedom and human dignity[4] and were outdated for the 20th century. They were "subsidiary verses" – suitable for the backward society of the 7th century, but "irrelevant for the new era, the twentieth century". Meccan verses, making up the "Second Message" of Islam, should form the "basis of the legislation" for modern society.[5]

True Shariah law, Taha believed, was not fixed, but had the ability "to evolve, assimilate the capabilities of individual and society, and guide such life up the ladder of continuous development".[6] While the Medina Qur'an was appropriate in its time to form the essence of the Sharia, he believed the "original, uncorrupted form" of Islam was the Mecca Qur'an. It accorded, (among other things), equal status to people – whether women or men, Muslim or non-Muslim. Taha preached that the Sudanese constitution should be reformed to reconcile "the individual's need for absolute freedom with the community's need for total social justice."

To advance his cause, he formed a small group known as the Republican Brothers.[3][7] The group scrutinised Islamic/Sudanese rituals, social customs, cultural values and legal practices. Republicans broke the social norm of restricting participation in Sufi rituals to men. (There was also a "Republican Sisters".) "Not only did women participate in all their prayers and other religious rituals but were the driving force behind the composition of many hymns and poems."[4]

Arrest and execution[edit]

Taha was first tried and found guilty for apostasy in 1967 but the court's jurisdiction was limited to matters of "personal status".[8]

On 5 January 1985, Taha was arrested for distributing pamphlets calling for an end to Sharia law in Sudan. Brought to trial on 7 January he was charged with crimes "amounting to apostasy, which carried the death penalty".[9] Taha refused to recognize the legitimacy of the court under Sharia, and refused to repent.[8] The trial lasted two hours with the main evidence being confessions that the defendants were opposed to Sudan's interpretation of Islamic law.[10] The next day he was sentenced to death along with four other followers (who later recanted and were pardoned) for "heresy, opposing the application of Islamic law, disturbing public security, provoking opposition against the government, and re-establishing a banned political party."[11]

The government forbade his unorthodox views on Islam to be discussed in public because it would "create religious turmoil" or a fitna (sedition). A special court of appeal approved the sentence on 15 January. Two days later President Nimeiry directed the execution for 18 January.

One eyewitness (reporter Judith Miller) of the execution reported:

Shortly before the appointed time, Mahmoud Muhammad Taha was led into the courtyard. The condemned man, his hands tied behind him, was smaller than I expected him to be, and from where I sat, as his guards hustled him along, he looked younger than his seventy-six years. He held his head high and stared silently into the crowd. When they saw him, many in the crowd leaped to their feet, jeering and shaking their fists at him. A few waved their Korans in the air. I managed to catch only a glimpse of Taha’s face before the executioner placed an oatmeal-colored sack over his head and body, but I shall never forget his expression: His eyes were defiant; his mouth firm. He showed no hint of fear.[1]

Despite the smallness of his group of supporters (the Republican Brothers), thousands of demonstrators protested his execution and police on horseback used bullwhips to drive back the crowd.[10] The body was secretly buried.[12]

The President/military dictator at the time Gaafar Nimeiry was overthrown by popular uprising four months later, the execution thought to be a contributing factor. The date of his execution, January 18, later became Arab Human Rights Day. Fifteen years later when a Sudanese reporter asked Nimeiry about the death of Taha, Nimeiry expressed regret and accused Islamist Hasan al-Turabi (Minister of Justice at the time) of "secretly engineering" the execution. Others have also blamed al-Turabi for the execution.[1]


  • The Second Message of Islam. رسالة الإسلام الثانية
  • The Middle East Problem. "Mushkilat Al-sharq Al-Awsat" مشكلة الشرق الأوسط
  • This is my Path. "Qul Hadha Sabieli" قل هذه سبيلي
  • Mohammed's Path. "Tareeq Mohammed" طريق محمد
  • The Message of Prayer. "Risalat Al-salat" رسالة الصلاة
  • The Challenge Facing the Arabs. "Al-Tahaddi Al-ladhi Yuwagihuhu Al-Arab" التحدي الذي يواجهه العرب


  1. ^ a b c Packer, George (11 September 2006). "The Moderate Martyr". The New Yorker. Retrieved 29 April 2015.
  2. ^ Apostacy|International Humanist and Ethical Union
  3. ^ a b c d Packer, George (11 September 2006). "The Moderate Martyr: A radically peaceful vision of Islam".
  4. ^ a b c d Lichtenthäler, Gerhard. "Mahmud Muhammad Taha: Sudanese Martyr, Mystic and Muslim Reformer". Institute of Islamic Studies. Evangelical Alliance of Germany, Austria, Switzerland. Retrieved 30 July 2014.
  5. ^ Taha, Mahmoud Mohamed (1987). The Second Message of Islam. Syracuse University Press. p. 40f.
  6. ^ Taha, Mahmoud Mohamed (1987). The Second Message of Islam. Syracuse University Press. p. 39.
  7. ^ an-Na'im, Abudullahi Ahmed (Winter 1988). "Mahmud Muhammed Taha and the Crisis in Islamic Law Reform" (PDF). Journal of Ecumenical Studies. 25 (1). Retrieved 30 July 2014.
  8. ^ a b Warburg, Gabriel (2003). Islam, Sectarianism, and Politics in Sudan Since the Mahdiyya. University of Wisconsin Press. p. 162. Retrieved 17 December 2015.
  9. ^ PACKER, GEORGE (11 September 2006). "Letter from Sudan. The Moderate Martyr". New Yorker. Retrieved 16 December 2015.
  10. ^ a b Wright, Robin. Sacred Rage. pp. 203, 4.
  11. ^ Wright, Robin. Sacred Rage. p. 203.
  12. ^ Preface (not by author) to The Second Message of Islam by Mahmoud Mohamed Taha. Translated by Abdullahi Ahmen An-Na`im, 1987.