Goshen News, Goshen, IN

May 31, 2014

GLOBAL FAITHS: Christian woman condemned to death, lashings — why?

By MARLIN JESCHKE Columnist
Goshen News

---- — Readers of The Goshen News may have read or heard about the case in Sudan of Meriam Yehya Ibrahim. She was sentenced to death May 15 for apostasy and to 100 lashes for adultery.

Meriam is originally Ethiopian, and her mother, a Christian, was married to a Muslim man. According to Islamic thinking and law Meriam is therefore Muslim, even though her father left the family when Meriam was only 6 years old and her mother raised her as a Christian. Meriam is therefore charged with apostasy.

According to Islamic law it is a crime for a Muslim woman to marry a non-Muslim man (although a Muslim man may marry a non-Muslim woman), so Meriam’s marriage several years ago to Daniel Wani, a non-Muslim American, is considered null and void. And since Islamic law nullifies her marriage she is considered guilty of a second offense, adultery for having engaged in sex with her husband.

Meriam’s marriage certificate identifies her as Christian. Three witnesses were reportedly prepared to testify to her “lifelong adherence to Christianity,” but they were not permitted to testify in court. Her husband is a wheelchair case, dependent upon Meriam for help. Why they were in Sudan is not clear.

Meriam’s crimes, according to Islamic law, incur the two penalties. First, the shari’a punishment for apostasy — and that of Sudanese law since 1991 — is death. And second, the punishment for adultery is 100 lashes.

The law of death for apostasy comes from an incident in the life of Muhammad when some Meccans feigned acceptance of Islam when Muhammad seemed to be winning, but then renounced Islam when Muhammad seemed to be losing. Muhammad reportedly commanded his followers to kill those Meccan hypocrites.

From this one incident Islamic jurists have rationalized the penalty of death for conversion to Christianity, even if some Muslims may do it ever so sincerely.

There is a smidgen of clemency in Islamic law. Meriam has a 2-year-old son, Martin, and is pregnant with another child, so the Sudanese criminal justice system permits her to have her son with her in prison, although the prison’s conditions are bad for the son’s health and she herself was denied health care for a difficult pregnancy. Further, Islamic law gives Meriam two years after the birth of her second child to nurse it before any execution would be carried out. Then, presumably, the Sudanese criminal justice system would execute Meriam after first applying 100 lashes.

Meriam gave birth to a daughter on Tuesday.

As for the children, some observers believe they would no doubt be given to Muslim relatives to be raised Muslim, even if their father is Christian. It was a Muslim brother of Meriam, in fact, who reported his sister to the authorities when he found out about her case. She was said to have been missing for a time earlier.

Sudan is 97 percent Muslim, which is one of the reasons why South Sudan, with its higher percentage of Christians, seceded in 2011. Sudan’s president Al-Bashir is an Islamist, and under his administration his country has instituted shari’a. It has led to harassment of non-Muslim minorities, which has only increased since the 2011 secession of the South.

A spokesperson for the African Center for Justice and Peace Studies says the verdict on Meriam Ibrahim goes against Sudan’s “own constitution and commitment made under regional and international law.” Sudan’s judiciary faces pressures from hard-liners within the country as the case is winding its way through Sudan’s courts. The United States, the United Kingdom and Canada have expressed concerns to the Sudanese government over this case, whose eventual outcome at present is not certain.