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.


Witnessing to What or to Whom?

Today’s gospel, Luke 24. 35-48, tells us what happened after the disclosure at Emmaus. What fascinates me is not the disciples’ obvious failure yet again to recognize Jesus, nor that piece of broiled fish and what it says about Christ’s resurrected body (and believe me, the speculation to which it has given rise over the centuries is immense), but the words at the end:

Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.

Perhaps I am being very dim but the kind of witness being posited here is actually a little strange. The disciples had seen Christ suffer and die and rise again and had had the scriptures explained to them, but now he is asking them to witness to a future event: the preaching of forgiveness and repentance in his name. We hear our preachers exhorting us to ‘witness to Christ’ in various ways, but I wonder how often we think of that in terms of a past event: the death and resurrection of Christ as something located in history, made present through liturgical anamnesis, but essentially something to which we look back rather than forward. We are in the business of retelling the story rather than helping to tell it for the first time.

I am probably trembling on the brink of heresy again, but the idea of witnessing to a future proclamation of Christ which must embrace the whole world is quite stunning. It reminds us that Easter is the beginning of the story, not the end. There is still something for us to do, and do it we must, for it has been entrusted to us by Christ himself. As we shall sing at Pentecost, ‘All is made new.’