According to the BBC on May 31, Sudanese authorities are going to free Meriam Ibrahim, the pregnant woman sentenced to death for apostasy. She gave birth to a daughter while shackled in her prison cell a few days ago. An official told the BBC she will be freed in a few days.
The government in Khartoum has been under monumental scrutiny and condemnation by the world for this ruling. Among others, British Prime Minister David Cameron called it “barbaric.”
What exactly was her crime? Part of it was abandoning the Muslim faith. And although Ms. Ibrahim was brought up as an Orthodox Christian, her father was a Muslim. That was enough for a judge to order that she, too, be considered a Muslim. She refused to renounce her own religion and was sentenced to death by hanging for her apostasy.
Meriam Ibrahim was also sentenced to 100 lashes for adultery. She had entered into a Christian marriage with Daniel Wani, an American citizen. The same court annulled her marriage as “not valid” under Islamic law. Sudan has been under Muslim law since the 1980s. The population of the country is predominantly Muslim.
Despite the fact of the Muslim majority, Abdullahi Alzareg, an under-secretary at the foreign ministry, said Sudan guaranteed religious freedom and was committed to protecting the woman. Before announcing Meriam Ibrahim would be freed for humanitarian reasons, the court said she would have been allowed to nurse her child for two years before she was hanged.
Merriam-Webster online defines apostasy as a “renunciation of a religious faith.” How could Meriam Ibrahim renounce a Muslim faith she never had? She was raised a Christian.
Scholars all over the world have been voicing opinions on this case. For countries under Muslim law, how should the abandoning of that faith be punished? Should it be punished? Could the apostates be simply banished from the country or must they be murdered, as was Meriam Ibrahim’s sentence?
The debate will most likely go on. For now, though, if the Sudanese government is telling the truth, Meriam Ibrahim and her child will be released and not be in danger of being hanged. If Meriam and her husband remain in the Sudan, however, it’s very difficult to say what still might happen.