“...for once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light, (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true)”—Ephesians 5:8-9
Here’s a widely-reported and very troubling “breaking news” story from today’s headlines. It’s about a 27-year-old woman in Sudan, Meriam Ibrahim. She was born to a Muslim father and an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian mother. Her father abandoned the home when she was a young child. Nevertheless, in Sudan, children are expected to follow the religion of their fathers.
Three years ago, Meriam married a professing Christian man and about a year later gave birth to a son. She’s now expecting another child and is eight-plus months pregnant.
Sudanese law prohibits women from marrying non-Muslims, although men can marry whomever they want without any penalty whatsoever. So on May 11, 2014 (ironically Mothers’ Day) Meriam was convicted of apostasy for rejecting Islam and was given four days to recant, which would save her life.
But unlike countless others who’ve faced similar sentences in Sudan and elsewhere, she refused to renounce her faith and convert to Islam. After four days, on May 15, she appeared again before the court and declared openly and emphatically: “I am a Christian, and I will remain a Christian.”
In response, Judge Abbas Khalifa pronounced his verdict. “I sentence you to be hanged to death.” As if this weren’t horrific enough, Meriam was also convicted by the court of committing “zena”—an implication of adultery for marrying a non-Muslim. And for this alleged crime, she was also sentenced to receive 100 lashes—before the imposition of the sentence of hanging!
Currently, with her 18-month-old son and the child in her womb, Meriam remains shackled in a prison, awaiting the carrying-out of the sentences.
Ibrahim’s husband said he’s utterly distraught over the sentence and is fervently praying that it be somehow overturned.
Human rights groups worldwide have condemned the sentence, characterizing it as “heinous” and “abhorrent.” Amnesty International calls it “a flagrant breach of international human rights law.”
The U.S. National Security Council issued a statement, saying: “We continue to urge Sudan to fulfill its constitutional promise of religious freedom, and to respect the fundamental freedoms and universal human rights of all its people.” And a written report by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, citing that 60 percent of Sudan identifies as Muslim and that the nation’s president, Omar al-Bashir, seeks to enforce Sharia law, says: “Conversion from Islam is a crime punishable by death, suspected converts to Christianity face societal pressures, and government security personnel intimidate and sometimes torture those suspected of conversion.”
Meriam’s extremely poignant story is yet another contemporary example of the struggles and dangers of living a Christian life. Rightly did the Apostle Paul warn his disciple Timothy: “Indeed all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).
As we draw near the Great Feast of Our Lord’s Ascension, we remember the myriad lessons we’ve received during Lent, Holy Week and Pascha. The Church has offered us more sermons on Jesus Christ as “the Light of the world” than we can begin to count. Still, we seem insistent and even content to choose the darkness of the world rather than the Light of the world. Though we’re repeatedly called to “lay aside all earthly cares,” we, like spoiled children, enthusiastically chase after them and then complain that we’re simply helpless victims of modern society! We excuse ourselves from sharing real fellowship with certain others, even fellow communicants and family members, because they (for whatever reason) irritate us while we pursue relationships with certain others whose religious faith and ideology are diametrically opposed to what we believe is “good, right and true.” We’re all in favor of human rights and human freedom and human tolerance and human justice for all—- at least until they burden MY life, limit MY freedom, challenge MY opinions, and conflict with MY understanding of justice.
Where is the heartfelt joy—that inner light of our souls—that enables us to see the glory, majesty and miracles of our God and rejoice in thanksgiving for His grace, gifts and the divine forgiveness springing from the life-creating Cross and empty tomb of Our Lord?! Are we so quick to abandon our joy, recant our faith, renounce our Risen Lord, and burn a pinch of incense to Caesar to save our lives at the expense of our souls!?
We need to pray for one another, and especially for Meriam and those like her. We need to let the Light of Christ shine in our hearts that others may see. We need to sing forever with the Church, “Let God arise, let His enemies be scattered. Let those who hate Him flee from before His face.” We need to be able to stand in the midst of the fallen world with enough faithfulness and courage to say: “I am a Christian, and I will remain a Christian.”