Monday with Mitch:
How big is this planet? Here’s how big. On one side, we pass laws to ensure gay couples can marry. On the other side, a wife is sentenced to death for refusing to denounce her religion.
Right now, Meriam Ibrahim, 27, sits in a Sudanese prison, nursing a newborn baby, with a death-by-hanging sentence looming over her head. Her “crimes” are apostasy and adultery. The former is because, although raised as a Christian by her mother, she refuses to renounce it and profess that she is Muslim.
The latter is because, since the government won’t recognize her as anything other than Muslim, it considers her marriage to a Christian man adultery.
May I remind you, this is 2014.
“There is pressure on her from Muslim religious leaders that she should return to the faith,” her husband, Daniel Wani, a U.S. citizen, told CNN this past week. “She said, ‘How can I return when I never was a Muslim?’ ”
Ibrahim was arrested in January, after her brother allegedly accused her of renouncing her religion. That this can be a crime is sick enough. That you can face a death sentence is beyond comprehension.
But in the tradition of the Roman Empire, the Crusades, the Red Terror and the Holocaust, Sudan, here in the 21st century, imposes Sharia law on Muslims and non-Muslims alike. And it sentenced Ibrahim, in an actual court trial, to 100 lashes for her adultery and the end of a rope for her faith.
There has been some media coverage of this atrocity in America, but nowhere near what a doddering Donald Sterling got for his idiotic comments or Kim Kardashian got for her third wedding. So let’s boil it down again. An imprisoned mother, who delivered her baby girl this past week with her feet shackled — and whose first child, a 20-month-old boy, is in that prison with her — is sentenced to die unless she renounces her religion.
All she has to do is say it. She refuses.
For this she may die.
We are often taught stories like this in our faiths. Joan of Arc, burned at the stake. Rabbi Akiva, skinned alive. Hussein ibn Ali, beheaded in the 7th century. The common denominator is that such atrocities happened a long time ago.
But they are happening today, in a world of iPads and satellite TV and driverless cars and laser surgery. The Sudan is a particularly murderous place, but it is hardly alone. Burma, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, China — all are countries where practicing religious freedom can mean imprisonment or even death.
Still, Ibrahim’s case evokes head-shaking that borders on disbelief. Her husband, who has muscular dystrophy, is in a wheelchair and depends on her for nearly everything. Her two children are stuck in her cell. Her father, a Muslim, apparently abandoned his family when she was 6.
And yet a sheikh, according to Ibrahim’s lawyer, told the Sudanese court that Ibrahim was “dangerous” to Islam.
SHE was dangerous?
“I am a Christian,” Ibrahim reportedly said in court, “and I will remain a Christian.”
For that they plan to execute her — after she finishes nursing the baby within two years. This, in her country, is what passes for mercy.
You can fly to the Sudan. There are no restrictions. Take Delta to Amsterdam and KLM to Khartoum. It is not some place that requires riding horseback over mountains. Yet it operates with an intolerance of a thousand years ago, while countries like ours debate whether certain pronouns are insensitive to transsexuals.
Doesn’t it make you wonder about the scope of this planet? And how we assume that, if one part of it has emerged from the Dark Ages, the rest will naturally follow.
Not so. A recent Pew report suggested Christians were the most persecuted religious group on Earth, despite being the largest. Islam was second on the list, despite being the second largest. Hate reigns. Anger boils. There are many nations where primitive justice — beheadings, amputations — is still doled out with ignorant impunity (A hundred lashes? Really? In a world with the Super Bowl?)
Human rights groups are appealing on Ibrahim’s behalf. Maybe if we make enough noise — the kind we make over a mistress or a teen rock star — her life will be spared (a BBC report Saturday offered some hope). Meanwhile, this brave Christian mother sits in a prison cell, baby to her breast, for the “crime” of wanting to believe in her faith. And you realize, sadly, how much of your life hinges on where you were born.
Mitch Albom is a columnist for the Detroit Free Press. Readers may write to him at: Detroit Free Press, 600 West Fort St., Detroit, Mich. 48226, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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