In Memoriam: Abdel Salam Hassan
Abdel Salam Hassan Abdel Salam, who died in London this weekend, was a guiding light of Sudan’s human rights movement. He was one of a remarkable generation of Sudanese intellectuals, who grew up and gained a first-rate education in provincial towns (in his case, Wadi Halfa in Sudan’s far north), and who possessed a vivid curiosity about the complexities and paradoxes of their country. His first job was in the customs office, and one of the many oddities of Sudanese life which he explained was the convergence between poetry and customs officials – both vocations drew disproportionately from the Halfawiin. Abdel Salam remained a poet, but studied law.
Abdel Salam was a devout secularist. Among his role models was Farag Foda, and Abdel Salam brought the same quality of straight-thinking intellectual courage to his life and work. He was an unflinching advocate for human rights with a keen sense of the social and political context for making those rights real. He studied Islam deeply and mocked both the excesses of Islamist zealots, and those who were intimidated by them. Analyzing Sudanese jihadism for a chapter we co-wrote on the topic, he turned to the infamous el Obeid fatwa of 1992 and immediately saw that it was, as he said “the rantings of some second-rate provincial ulema.”
I first met Abdel Salam in London in 1990, when he was Chairman of the Sudan Human Rights Organization, re-founded in exile, which was briefly hosted at Africa Watch. He was a formidable intellectual presence. He had the ability to pick out a neglected human rights issue – for example he was keenly attentive to the plight of the Sudanese Copts. We worked closely together for the following fourteen years, notably on the project “human rights in the transition in Sudan.” As early as 1997, Abdel Salam recognized that the Sudanese civil war would surely come to an end, and the human rights community would then face the challenge of ensuring that the promise of the transitional period – peace, democracy and human rights – was not missed. He chaired the committee that organized the first 1999 Kampala conference. Characteristically, he chose to present a paper in that conference on race relations. Many of the southerners present, who did not know Abdel Salam personally, were puzzled, to say the least, when a conspicuously pale-skinned northerner took the podium to speak on this issue, but were won over by his frankness and acuity. He and I co-edited the volume of papers from the conference. For much of the process I served as his ghost writer, intellectually in his debt, and wishing only that he were better able to translate his analyses into the written word.
Abdel Salam coined the term al mashru’ al medani – “the civil project” – as a riposte to the Islamists’ al mashru’ al hadhari or “civilization project.” Following on from the two Kampala conferences (1999 and 2001), this remains the vision for the civil society coalition that Justice Africa pulled together.
Abdel Salam was unfailingly disorganized, but utterly without pretension or ego, and always witty. Once, turning up three hours late for an appointment, the frustrated administrator at African Rights scolded him, “˜do you call this 12 o’clock?’ With a self-deprecating smile Abdel Salam responded, “˜somewhere in the world it is 12 o’clock…’ He longed to return to Sudan, and his work with the Redress Trust from 2007 onwards allowed him to visit Khartoum again, and plan for resuming his vocation at home.
Tragically and shockingly, Abdel Salam was murdered at his small flat in Lewisham, south London, on Saturday. The circumstances of his untimely death are not clear. He was divorced but remained close to his former wife, Wafaa, and leaves an adult daughter, Azza.
May Abd-al-Salam’s soul rest in peace. Allah Yerhamo and Al-Baraka Fikom.
An absolute tragedy:
We’ll never forget you uncle Abd Elsalam.
My sincere and heartfelt condolences to his family and friends, May God Almighty shower him in His Mercies and Host him in an Honourable State.
A great loss for Sudanese people, and for advocates of human rights around the world, Rest in Peace Abdelsalam
A sad and irreplaceable loss, may Abdel Salam rest in peace.
The human rights movement in Sudan lost a real thinker and establisher who has huge contribution in all its fields around the world. Proudly we can stand out and say with help of Abdelsalaam we defeated the regime so many times in a peaceful civilized manner.
I’m so glad you did this Alex. I heard only yesterday and the shock runs through. What a fucking awful waste. it seems to me like a random local job, not political – and he might so soon have been home once more. I shall always remember him as you describe: gentle but intellectually fierce and uncompromising; amazingly not bitter, but saddened by what he saw going on; homesick but curiously contented. A lovely lovely man.
Will there be a MEMORIAL held for him in London? I would so much like to go and pay my respects. JVH
What a tragic loss!! what a tragic death!! life is really unfair how come a man who devoted his life to fight torture get killed brutally!! I feel sad for his loss ….he is irreplaceable !! May his beautiful soul rest in peace!! may god encompass him with his mercy!!
A great loss for Sudan, may he rest in peace…
His work will continue to live on in all of us…
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Like the late Dr. Tajudeen, I happen to meet with Abdel Salam only during the Kampala 1 & 2 conferences, in 1999 and 2001, and that was enough to know the man, and then to follow some stations in his journey from a geographical distance.
Sudan, indeed, has lost a great son and a veteran human rights defender and a fighter. May his soul rest in peace!
My sincere condolences to his family, friends and all those who happen to know him and whose loss is affecting them.
Inna Lillah Wa Inna Ilayhi Rajioon!
I would like to convey my sincerest condolences to the family of Abdel Salam for this loss.
I am really sad to hear this tragic news about Abdel Salam Hassan. You may recall that you introduced me to him at Justice Africa. I had rich and wonderful discussions with him about the human rights situation in both the Sudan and Eritrea. May he rest in peace!
My heart goes out to his family and friends.
His wise words will never be forgotten. A true blessing to have had the opportunity to be graced with his presence. Gone but definitely not forgotten!
Dear Mr De Waal,
thank you for your beautiful article. This is a great loss, I remember uncle Abdelsalam as I used to visit him with my father. Sincere condolences to his family. Also thank you for your great work and for helping me some years ago.
Yasmin Abdelwahab Sinada
My sincere and healtfelt condolences to Abdel Salam’s family and very many friends, for this tragic loss. It does seem unbelievable that he has died in this way, after everything that he has fought for. I am so, so saddened and sorry.
I’m sure Abdel Salam Hassan will remain a guiding light. May he rest in Peace.
In Memoriam: Abdel Salam Hassan
It’s tragedy for Sudan; a lost for the world society. Your light of hope and ideas will continue to shine. Condolences to Abdel Salam Hassan family, Wafaa and daughter, Azza.
Thanks Alex de Waal for the wonderful tribute.