Saturday, June 28, 2014

Being a Woman in a Muslim Land

Gabriel Said Reynolds, a professor at Notre Dame, gives us the details of Meriam Ibrahim's ordeal at the hands of Muslim fundamentalists. It's good that he does because it's hard to find anything about this in the mainstream media:
In August 2013 the Sudanese authorities arrested Meriam Ibrahim, daughter of a Sudanese Muslim man and an Ethiopian Christian woman, after a Muslim relative informed them of her marriage to Daniel Wani, a Catholic from South Sudan and an American citizen.

The authorities considered Meriam to be a Muslim because of her Muslim father, even though she had lived her whole life as a Christian. And as Islamic law forbids a Muslim woman from marrying a non-Muslim man (although it permits a Muslim man to marry a non-Muslim woman), her marriage was not a marriage at all in Sudan, where matters of personal and family law are controlled by religious courts. She was therefore guilty of zina, or fornication.

If fornication was the pretext for Meriam’s arrest, prosecutors decided to charge her as well with a still more serious crime: irtidad, or apostasy. According to Islamic law, Muslims cannot change their religion. When Maher Al-Gohari attempted to change his religious affiliation in Egypt in 2009 after he was baptized and received into the Coptic Church, his request was rejected. From the perspective of Islamic law, individuals such as Meriam or al-Gohari who are born Muslims can never legally enter into another religious community. Their rejection of Islam, however, amounts to apostasy: a crime against God and the Prophet Muhammad which is punishable by death.

With this logic Meriam Ibrahim was convicted of both fornication and apostasy. On May 15, 2014 she was sentenced to one hundred lashes for fornication, and death by hanging for apostasy. That Meriam’s Muslim father had left her Christian mother in Meriam’s infancy, and that Meriam never practiced Islam, had no legal importance in the case.
Meriam Ibrahim and husband
Reynolds, who teaches Islamic studies and theology at Notre Dame, notes that this is not some cultural aberration. This is the law in many Islamic countries. As British Prime Minister David Cameron said, it's barbaric to whip a woman simply for being in a marriage that Islam doesn't recognize and to execute her for leaving a faith she was never a part of. He might have added that it's also barbaric to have subjected her to the conditions she endured while in prison:
What made the case of Meriam Ibrahim particularly dramatic, and tragic, is that she was the mother of a young boy named Martin, and pregnant with a young girl (to be named Maya) at the time of her arrest. Since Martin was considered to be a Muslim, he could not remain with his Christian father but rather lived in (a bug-infested) prison cell with his “Muslim” mother (seen in pictures from jail with an Islamic headscarf). Moreover, Meriam was not admitted to a hospital to give birth but rather delivered Maya in that cell while she was shackled to the floor. When she was convicted, the religious court ruled that Meriam would be allowed to live for two more years in order to nurse her daughter. When Maya was weaned Meriam was to be hanged.

International pressure (particularly from the European Union) exerted on Sudan led to Meriam’s release on June 23. As her life would certainly be threatened by religious vigilantes (or even by her own relatives) in Sudan, she and her husband and children immediately sought to leave the country. They were not allowed to depart for reasons which are still unclear. In light of the involvement of diplomatic forces in the case it seems likely that she will eventually be allowed to leave, but it is still possible that some new legal action will be brought against her.
In fact, the latest is that she was rearrested and re-released, but not allowed to leave the country. Fearing for their lives, she and her family have taken refuge in the American embassy in Khartoum since her brother and many Muslim clerics want to kill her, and the government seems determined to get her to renounce her Christianity. Reynolds concludes with this:
We all can learn from the example of Meriam Ibrahim. After her conviction in May, Meriam was given three days to embrace Islam and save her life. This would have been an easy choice to make, but Meriam refused, declaring: “I am a Christian and I will remain a Christian.” Those who wonder whether heroic—and saintly—courage still exists can look to her.
Ibrahim is indeed a heroic figure. To stand fast against such enormous stupidity and terror takes tremendous courage.

It's not clear, on the other hand, what the Obama administration has done on her behalf, but it is clear that it has done nothing publicly. Perhaps if Ibrahim had said she had a lesbian partner whom she wished to marry, or if she had desired to abort her baby there would've been more sympathy for her in the White House.

In any case, the next time someone whines about a Republican "war on women" and how oppressive it is for women in America please enlighten this person about what a real war on women and real oppression look like. Tell him or her the story of Meriam Ibrahim.