'I am a Christian, I Have Not Apostatized'

Understanding Absurdity of Condemning Woman to Death for Converting to Christianity

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“I am a Christian, I have not apostatized.” Thus Sudanese Doctor Maryam Yahya Ibrahim, declared to the court, after a Muslim religious tried for 30 minutes to convince her to “return to Islam” or retract her apostasy. The story, namely Maryam’s nightmare, who is a 27-year-old mother of an almost two-year old boy and eight months pregnant, shows what a long way some Muslim countries have to go to ensure the fundamental rights of their citizens. On May 15, 2014 she was sentenced to death for apostasy and to 100 lashes for adultery. Initially, in August of 2013, Maryam was arrested, accused of adultery, on the basis of article 146 of the Sudanese Criminal Code, because she is married to a Christian with whom she has had a son. During the trial, in February of 2014, Maryam stated she was a Christian and, therefore, the accusation of apostasy did not apply, on the basis of article 126.

Many Sudanese activists protested outside the courtroom, holding posters with the following writings: “No to the prosecution of religions,” “No constriction in religion,” “Respect the freedom of religions.” The embassies of the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Holland issued a joint communique asking for respect of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Amnesty International mobilized immediately.

However, to understand fully the absurdity of what is happening to the young Sudanese mother and wife, to understand the atrocity of the brutal verdict issued in Maryam’s case, it is necessary to review her life briefly. Maryam was born of a Muslim father and an Ethiopian Orthodox mother. For Islam, the marriage of her parents is correct because, in Islamic law, a Muslim man is allowed to marry a woman belonging to the People of the Book, namely, a Christian or Jewish woman. However, Islamic law does not provide for the opposite case, so Maryam was accused of adultery because she married “illegally” a Christian who, as provided in the Shariah, did not embrace Islam before marrying.

But is Maryam a Muslim or a Christian? She affirms that she is Christian, but the court considers her a Muslim and condemns her as such. On the basis of what is clearly affirmed, not in the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Man of 1948, to which the diplomats and Amnesty International appeal, but in the Cairo Declaration of the Rights of Man in Islam of 1990, which refers to Sudan, Maryam is a Muslim. One reads in the Preamble: “desiring of contributing to the efforts carried out by humanity to guarantee the rights of man, to protect him from exploitation and persecutions and to affirm his freedom and his right to a fitting life, in conformity with Islamic law, which in article 11 states that “man is born free…” Despite this, article 5 affirms that “men and women have the right to get married, and no restriction based on race, color or nationality can impede them from exercising this right,” not to mention the restrictions just mentioned which have to do with the religious membership of the future spouses. However, it is in article 11 that the key affirmation is found: “Islam is the natural religion of man (al-islam huwa din al-fitra). It is not licit to subject the latter to some form of pressure or to take advantage of his eventual poverty or ignorance to convert him to another religion or to atheism.”

Article 11 is based on the expressed concept, be it of Koranic verse 30 of the sura XXX “Therefore, turn your face to the true Religion, in purity of faith, first Nature in which God hasmen,” be it by the saying of Mohammed transmitted by Abu Hyrayra “Every child is born with the a natural disposition to Islam (fitra) , it is, then, his parents who make him Jewish, Christian or Zoroastrian.” On the basis of what Islam has just shown, it does not provide for a sacrament similar to Baptism and it considers every person born of a Muslim father as physiologically Muslim. This would be Maryam’s case according to the Sudanese court. But once again the woman’s life contradicts what is upheld by the judges. At six years of age, the father abandoned Maryam and her mother, hence if in this absurd story a guilty one must be found, it’s the Muslim father who entrusted his daughter to the woman he had married and who brought her up in her faith. Therefore, Maryam is right when she affirms that she is a Christian, because she has not known any other religion in her life.

The case of the young Sudanese woman is still more emblematic of so many other accusations of apostasy because, if the sentence is confirmed, it would be a dangerous precedent that would consider an apostate one who has never changed his creed or never knew he belonged to Islam.

Fortunately, the woman’s pregnancy and the rules of Islamic law in this regard, make it so that the sentence cannot be applied for the next two years or at the end of the nursing period. In this lapse of time the international organizations, diplomacy, and public opinion must oblige whoever affirms religious liberty to affirm it outright, otherwise, there is no liberty.

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Valentina Colombo

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