Iman: Stories of Sudan’s struggle with extremism delivers global impact

October 7, 2020

Migration corridors, youth unemployment and dissafection, areas with limited official presence, and extremist and radical elements all contribute to concerns around violent extremism in Sudan.

Efforts to prevent the occurrence or reoccurrence of vulnerable members of society being ‘captured’ in such pathways are a focus for the Government of Sudan, UNDP, and international partners, using a range of approaches – like generating alternative opportunities and sparking honest conversations.

One such strategy was the creation of Iman: When faith is at the crossroads, a Sudanese film exploring the human side of those on a path to, or caught up in, violence. Based on actual events and stories from UNDP extremism research in Sudan, the film tells the story of four young Sudanese encountering radicalism on their path to adulthood.

With support from the Governments of Canada and Japan, Sudanese director Mia Bittar created the film with UNDP assistance to inspire conversation regarding violent extremism, pathways to it, and alternative options – with real impact on lives.

“I learned unlawful things to make livings,” says Ahmed*, a teenaged former gang-member in Khartoum’s most impoverished urban area.

The film prompted Ahmed to rethink, and change, his situation. “[I learned] what great damage that happened to me,” he says. Now, Ahmed fronts a rap group, writing music disparaging violence, and takes part in community prevention efforts.

Screened to 15,000 people across Sudan, with more sessions and online viewings planned with universities, NGOs and community groups post-COVID, the film prompted open community discussions on violence, religious identity, crime and gender-based violence. Instigators of violence were confident enough to share their own stories, considered a success with the film creating a safe space for people to reflect.

Outside Sudan, the film has also captured attention from agencies and organizations working to prevent and address violent extremism.

Peace, conflict or security-focused institutions in Stockholm, Barcelona and Accra have used the film in practitioner and policymaker training programmes, and agencies in Nigeria and the Philippines have used the film for training, particularly relating to territories recovered from extremist groups.

Similarly, the United States Military Academy – better known as West Point – has used the film to highlight extremist recruiting imperatives, while in Cameroon Iman has been used in schools as part of religious education.

Similarly, the film has used to raise the issue of violent extremism at Ministerial-level global meetings, including the 37-state International Conference on Counter Terrorism, and the Africa Security Forum.

Iman screenings at the United Nations Secretariat in New York. UNDP/Freya Morales.

“Seeing first-hand the impact Iman has at a community level, from stories like Ahmed’s, shows why this work is so vital,” say Iman Mohamed and Desislava Kyurkchieva, UNDP officials working to address violent extremism in Sudan.

“But, equally important, the film has been used by global partners who have noted the film’s accurate portrayal of ‘soft’ recruitment tactics and ‘civilised radicals’.”

At a more commercial level, the film screened at festivals in Geneva, Paris, New York, Berlin, Stockholm, and Rome, and continues to be used by community networks.

Watch: ‘IMAN’: When faith is at the crossroads


In Sudan, efforts to Prevent Violent Extremism (PVE) form part of UNDP’s support for security and peacebuilding, focusing on vulnerable communities and individuals in conflict-impacted or at-risk areas. With Sudan’s fragile transition disrupting a range of national and regional dynamics, mitigation is more critical than ever.

These efforts – under UNDP’s Partnering Against Violent Extremism (PAVE) initiative – aim to address the evolving root causes of extremism in addition to preventative measures to reduce its spread, often in conjunction with livelihood creation and migration or IDP initiatives. PVE efforts are undertaken in partnership with the Sudan National Commission on Counter-Terrorism (SNCCT), and are generously supported by the Governments of Norway and the Netherlands, with assistance from UNDP’s Arab States and Africa Regional Hubs.

* Names have been changed to protect identities.