The young mother stood before her accusers and boldly stated without reservation, “I am a Christian, and I will remain a Christian.”
These words, which sound as if they had been lifted straight out of an early Christian martyrology, were proclaimed in mid-May 2014 in a Sudanese courtroom by Meriam Yehya Ibrahim, 27, as she was condemned to death by hanging for allegedly apostatizing from the Islamic faith. The court further convicted her of adultery and sentenced her to 100 lashes because her marriage to a Christian man is considered void under Sharia law.
But Meriam had not, in reality, apostatized. While the court insisted that she was Muslim—the faith of her Sudanese father—her mother was an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian, the tradition into which Meriam was baptized and raised. As such, she remained adamant that she will not renounce Christianity, even if it means saving her own life.
The court’s decision immediately drew swift outrage from civil, religious and human rights organizations and countless concerned individuals around the world. Meanwhile, Meriam, eight months pregnant at the time, returned in shackles, her 20-month-old son Martin by her side, to prison where, on Tuesday, May 27—one day before Orthodox Christians celebrate the Leavetaking of Holy Pascha—she gave birth to a daughter.
Despite her unimaginable circumstances, her husband, Daniel Wani—an American citizen—stated in an exclusive May 30 interview with CNN that Meriam is “holding firm to her beliefs.
“There is pressure on her [to] return to the faith,” Wani continued. “She said, ‘How can I return when I never was a Muslim? Yes, my father was a Muslim, but I was brought up by my mother.’”
While the sentence is not likely to be carried out for some time—in past cases involving pregnant or nursing women, the Sudanese government waited until the mother weaned her child before carrying out any sentences—Meriam and her two children are likely to continue to endure in prison as the world awaits her fate.
During the last week of May, His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon, called upon the clergy and faithful of the Orthodox Church in America to pray fervently for Meriam and her family, as well as all who are “suffering persecution for their faith in Jesus Christ.
“May we join with people of faith the world over in praying for Meriam and her family, that our Lord will comfort and strengthen them as they endure their most unimaginable ordeal,” he said. “At the same time, may we reflect on our own commitment to our own faith in our all-merciful Savior, asking ourselves whether we would have the fortitude and tenacity to echo her bold words, and those of countless Christian martyrs through the ages—‘I am a Christian, and I will remain a Christian’—if we found ourselves in a similar position.
“So often, we perceive martyrdom as something that occurred ages ago, in some other place,” he continued. “The example she offers us today presents us with a new and personal challenge that we cannot ignore, especially as we conclude our celebration of Pascha and prepare to receive the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, to recommit ourselves all the more to Christ and His People, and tests us in embracing our Lord’s comforting words, “Do not be afraid.”
Numerous petitions in support of Meriam and her family have been circulating of late on the internet and via social media, including that found on the White House web site.