05/16/2014, 00.00
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For Father Samir, Meriam's death sentence adds cruelty to human rights violations

by Samir Khalil Samir
Raised as a Christian, the Sudanese woman was sentenced to death for apostasy. Because she was married to a Christian man, she was also given 100 lashes for adultery. As Islamic radicalism spreads its violence around the world, it is time for Muslims to condemn Islam's violent version, choosing the "Islam of the city," not the "Bedouin Islam of the desert."

Beirut (AsiaNews) - Convicted of apostasy, a Sudanese woman was sentenced to death by hanging. Since she is seven months pregnant, the sentence will not be carried out for two years after she gives birth. Considered a Muslim, her marriage to a Christian man is not legal under Islamic law; therefore, she will also submit to one hundred lushes for adultery. As astonishing and horrible as the story may sound, it is a real life tale of human rights violations.

Meriam Yehya Ibrahim Ishag is 27. Her father is a Muslim who left her and her family when she was born. Raised as a Christian by her Ethiopian-born Orthodox mother, she later married a Christian from South Sudan.

However, Sudan has been under Sharia since 1983. As a result of this, an Islamic court sentenced Meriem to death last Sunday. She was given four days to recant and return to Islam.

Speaking from the caged box in the courtroom yesterday during the final ruling, she told the judge, "I am a Christian and I never committed apostasy".

In addition to the death sentence, the judge imposed 100 lashes for "adultery". Meriem had been arrested because her marriage in August 2013 to a Christian man was not valid under Islamic law. When she told the court that she was a Christian, and not an adulteress, the Islamic court convicted her of apostasy as well.

After the sentence, some of Meriam's friends demonstrated in favour of her release. Her lawyers plan to appeal, pointing out that the sentence contradicts Sudan's constitution (as does Islamic law).

Given the international community's growing interest and outcry, AsiaNews has turned to Islam expert Samir Khalil Samir for his thoughts. Here is what he had to say.

The cruelty and human rights violations embodied in Meriam Yehya Ibrahim Ishag's story and conviction lead me to a number of considerations.

First of all, she was born to a Muslim father and a Christian mother, she was for all intents and purpose, according to Islam, a Muslim. In such cases, the father, not the offspring, always decides. Yet, this is a violation of basic human rights and children's rights. We must protest against this practice as it is applied across the Islamic world without an utterance of protest.

When a Christian father - for the sake of expediency, for divorce for example - chooses to become Muslim, all his children become Muslim and are taken away from their Christian mother and given to the father's Muslim side. This happens in dozens of cases each year in Egypt. The father is Muslim, so the whole family must be Muslim. Such a principle is unacceptable.

Secondly, her father left the family, the young woman was a Christian. Her mother is Christian, and she got married to a Christian. A Muslim woman has no right to marry a non-Muslim. She must always choose a Muslim husband or a husband willing to become one before marriage. This problem exists in Europe as well. All Muslim women living in Europe have to force their husbands to become a Muslim; otherwise, they cannot marry or are not allowed to marry because they cannot get the green light from their embassies. The fact is that a woman from a Muslim country, in Italy for example, must obtain a single status certificate to marry. To do so, she has to write to her embassy, which rarely replies. When she goes to the embassy, she says: 'I need this document'. The embassy usually replies: 'Bring your future husband's conversion certificate.' All this is crazy, and Europe does nothing to solve this problem. This is a second offence to human rights.

Thirdly, there is the Islamic legal perspective on apostasy. AsiaNews has dealt with it extensively. Changing one's religion is a human right, protected under Article 18 of the Charter of Human Rights, which guarantees that everyone has the right to change or renounce religion. However, in Islamic countries, this is impossible. Every year, many people are killed by their family, if not by the State, for doing so. When people leave Islam, and say so publicly, they must be killed. Often, the only solution for them is to live like Muslims, experiencing their change only in their heart. This is what many do. That, however, becomes impossible if the person marries a Christian, just as Meriam did.

Fourthly, there is the fact of the death penalty as a punishment for apostasy. Why the death penalty? For what crime? This is the most offensive aspect of the whole thing from a moral point of view! I can understand that within a certain religious tradition leaving one's faith, i.e.  apostasy, may be seen as a sin but that, in and of itself, is not a crime. That someone may be given the heaviest penalty and be put to death is unacceptable.

In Sudan's case, there is finally an aspect of unqualified cruelty: delaying the death penalty until the victim gives birth to the child she has in her womb. It is as if the court is saying: We will kill you but we want your baby! It is unspeakably cruel for the mother and the child's future. Sooner or later, he will find out how his mother died, killed after giving birth.

All five of these elements are unacceptable.

Violence in and criticism of Islam

There is a broader problem here. As cruel as they may be, the kind of violence and death that Meriam can expect are gaining ground in the Muslim world. We see it in Syria, Egypt, Mali, Nigeria and elsewhere.

Many say that Islam has nothing to do with violence, that Islam means tolerance, etc. That is untrue. Islam opposes certain forms of violence but accepts other. A certain kind of reawakening among radical movements, spurred by "weakness in the Islamic world," is usually blamed for this bloodthirsty reaction.

Many Muslims are conscious that Islam is being rejected all over the world. They see Islamophobia everywhere. And they often say, "We need to go back to the sources." Yet, it is exactly those revivalist movements that show that the violence of early Islam. Understandably, the latter belonged to the Bedouin world of the 7th century, but it would be a mistake to believe that in the 21st century, "If we want to find the essential source of our religion, of our thinking, of our culture, we must materially recreate the desert of the 7th century."

Here in Lebanon I hear a lot of people say: "There are two Islam: a Bedouin Islam, that of the desert (the Arab desert I mean), and the ordinary Islam. We do not want the Bedouin Islam, we want the Islam of the city".

A serious problem haunts the Islamic world, which we might described as "theological". How can we interpret what is in the tradition, that is the Qur'an, the Hadith, and the Sunna? Can we continue to claim that the true Islam is that of the Medina period (622-632), that is Muhammad's warrior period? Is that the ideal? Or can we say that that way of life was an initial phase, quite normal for Bedouins, and typical of the pre-Islamic era. And that it is being maintained for cultural reasons? If this theological issue is not settled, then Islam will stand against the whole world and against itself because most Muslims do not want this kind of Islam.

Unfortunately, the voice that theologians, revolutionaries, warriors and politicians hear is that of violence. Muslims who oppose violence lack the courage to protest, or the opportunity to do so.

It pains me to see all those Muslims who complain about Islamophobia in Europe do nothing when it comes to protesting against the type of violence visited upon Meriam. Yet, that is what they ought to do. Muslims should go in front of Sudan's embassies around the world and say, "We are opposed to this." If they do not do that, it is quite reasonable to expect Westerners, Africans, and the entire world to say that "Islam is a religion of violence."

If Muslims want to save Islam's honour, and I hope they do, they must have the courage to go against radical and intolerant interpretations of Islam. Only then can they say that "Islam is a religion of tolerance and peace."

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See also
If Muslims ask for Europe’s "empty" churches...
China "ready for anything" to free workers abducted in South Sudan
The Pope's speech: lending Islam a helping hand to avoid a downward spiral
Islam walking a tightrope between violence and reform
Fr. Samir: Muslim friends, let us look for a more beautiful way of living together
04/06/2018 15:17


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