Courage in Sudan

The BBC report of the case concerning Dr Meriam Yehya Ibrahim Ishag makes horrifying reading: Allegedly brought up as an Orthodox Christian, married to a Christian and now eight months pregnant, she has been condemned to death by hanging for apostasy and in addition sentenced to 100 lashes for adultery on the grounds that, having had a Muslim father, she is an apostate from Islam and her marriage not merely invalid but adulterous. Local media are reported as saying that there will be a delay of a couple of years before the sentence is carried out, so that she can give birth and wean her child. Dr Ishaq’s lawyers are appealing against her sentence.

What struck me when reading this sad story was the fact that Dr Ishag was given three days to renounce her religion but remained steadfast and quietly told the judge, ‘I am a Christian.’ With those words and that action we are all at once back in the age of martyrs. In truth, we have never left it; the only difference is that today we are more likely to hear of such acts of courage because of the improvement in communications. I cannot help wondering, however, whether this particular story would have made the BBC headlines were it not for the fact that Dr Ishag is pregnant.

Religious freedom is not a right universally accepted. Even among the religious, it is often interpreted as freedom for what I believe but not freedom for what you believe. That holds good whatever country we are considering, although it seems particularly true wherever a more exclusive form of Islam holds sway, e.g. Sudan, Saudi Arabia. Christians in Britain are not persecuted, but many think it acceptable to mock Christian beliefs and challenge Christian values even in Christian societies and institutions. We have seen what happened with Catholic adoption agencies, and I think it would be fair to say that there is uneasiness about possible legal challenges to the Church’s position on same sex marriages. We cannot assume that we will never be required to make the same affirmation of faith as Dr Ishaq. As we pray for her, let us also pray for ourselves; that we may not condemn others but work for peace, understanding and religious freedom for all.

Note regarding comments
I’m sorry to say that I am now having to hold all comments for moderation which, since I do not spend my life glued to the computer screen, means that some may be very late appearing on the blog. I’m sorry about this, but I’ve been forced to take this action by the increasing number of abusive comments and hostile attacks on other readers/commenters that the blog has been receiving. Some comments are also potentially libellous, which adds another layer of complexity to things. One consequence is that, while I’m away from the monastery, I’ll probably have to stop blogging as I won’t be able to keep an eye on the blog in the way I usually do.


7 thoughts on “Courage in Sudan”

  1. A sad story indeed. And it should remind us of how fortunate we are to live in a pluralist society, where religious belief is part of our freedoms which we take for granted.

    The sadness is that in some Islamic societies the Christian faith can be a reason to persecute, prosecute and condemn as in this case. I suspect that where we see cruelty, others will see something being done justly.

    I’m afraid that I can never see any justification for such persecution, not religion, culture or race can be used as an excuse – it’s intrinsically wrong to take a life or to threaten to take a life for any reason.

    God is the only judge, not mankind.

  2. Thank you for writing about this. I too was deeply moved by Dr Ishaq’s clear affirmation. Even when she had an Imam inside the caged ‘dock’ reasoning with her for 30 minutes, she was able to say ‘I am a Christian, I am not guilty of apostasy’
    Reports spoke of her pregnancy, but it seemed to be the double suffering she would endure – 100 lashes, after the baby is born, would be cruelly painful ..the prospect of death so unspeakably dreadful – that captured the headlines. Initial reports didn’t even give her a name.

  3. I was horrified when I read this. I am left speechless. Yet we once behaved like that – I am thinking of the English Martyrs. Prayer is the only course we can practically take. Your thoughts on this are very welcome. I am sorry to add to your burden of moderation. I try not to comment knowing what you are going through but I read everyday what you share here and on FB. I have so many questions I would like to ask if you were well.

  4. One assumes that these judges. ‘men’ have degrees in law, and therefore have the capability of reason at any level. By finding her guilty of adultery, then His/their judgement implies that women are are born in bondage to Islam, and therefore can never have freewill. This is contrary to anything holy.

    “The oppression does not come from Islam, but from laws made, in many cases, by Muslim men” – See more at:

    • If we put aside for one moment the particularities of this case, sad and shocking as they are, are you being quite fair to Islam or Muslim men in particular? I don’t have the same understanding of Islam and its ‘inner logic’ as a Muslim, but I think I can see where the Sudanese judge is coming from, even though I reject his conclusions completely. If one can be born a Muslim (one cannot be born a Christian, remember), and if abandonment of Islam is a grave sin which in Sudan the civil law has a duty to punish, then hasn’t the judge acted ‘properly’? Can we demand that another country adopt the same view of the relationship between church and state or religious freedom that we have?

  5. The case is shocking, and rightly raises all sorts of issues relating to religious freedom. Her stance is noble, and highlights the plight of Christians in the Middle East. But as a Catholic convert, it makes me very uncomfortable too. When ‘we’ (and to be honest, I cannot, at heart, join in with this) celebrate our martyrs, I sit in Mass thinking of those Protestants who also died for their beliefs, wondering at the absence of institutional regret at the conflict, hatred and death during the Wars of Religion. Are there Christian saints? Or only Catholic ones?

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