Meriam Yehya Ibrahim, a Sudanese Christian woman, wife, and mother of two who was sentenced to death in Sudan two months ago for refusing to renounce her faith, flew out to Rome on Thursday, July 24, 2014, to meet a warmly welcoming Pope Francis and his words of support.
Convicted two months prior when her Muslim relative filed a complaint on the grounds that Ibrahim had illegally married a Christian man, American citizen of Sudanese origin Daniel Wani, Ibrahim had been accused based on the Islamic laws imposed in the country, which prohibit Muslim women from marrying non-Muslim men.
She herself never claimed Muslim faith, only Christianity, however because her father was a Muslim, she was considered a Muslim herself and therefore judged under Islamic law by the state. Despite Ibrahim’s attempt to reason that her religious rearing came mainly from her Ethiopian Orthodox Christian mother, the court tried her for apostasy—illegally renouncing her alleged original Muslim faith for another religion—and adultery, because it is illegal for a Muslim woman to marry a Christian man.
At her sentence hearing in May, her words to the court were firm: “I am a Christian, and I will remain a Christian.” Ibrahim had been eight months pregnant at the time that she was imprisoned, so she gave birth to Maya, now two months an infant, as a detainee.
When her trial reached the high court in Sudan, the death sentence was repealed, but not until after sparking weeks of international buzz and controversy on television, the internet, and other social media networks. Threats from a Sudanese Islamic jihadi group released a statement vowing to follow through with her allegedly justified death sentence though the process was cut off by the high court. As this went on, husband Wani reported to CNN that his family living in their old home in Khartoum, Sudan, had seen strangers loitering outside their house in increasing numbers each day for a few days.
Ibrahim’s attempts to leave the country were also not without difficulty: upon arriving to the airport in Khartoum, she was accused of falsifying her travel papers to the United States. This detainment lasted two more days.
Finally, through the charitable help of Catholic country Italy, which has good relations with Khartoum, and the collaborative efforts of the United Nations, Amnesty International, and the United States with Italy, the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum was able to quickly attain U.S. passports for Ibrahim and her family to leave the country. They flew out of Sudan with Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Lapo Pistelli and arrived in Rome to meet Pope Francis on Thursday, July 24.
Greeted by Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi at the airport, they traveled in government-protected vehicles to meet the pope. Renzi said, “Today we are very happy… today is a day for celebration.”
Additionally, Pistelli said in an interview that the family was in “excellent condition,” and described the negotiation between Italy and Sudan, saying, “We had the patience to speak to everyone in a friendly way. It paid off in the end.” Pistelli posted a photo on his Facebook page which depicted the family on board the plane from Sudan. He captioned it, “Mission accomplished.”
As they met at the pope’s private home in Domus Santa Marta in Vatican City, Ibrahim thanked Pope Francis for his support and prayers on behalf of the entire Roman Catholic Church. He returned the words with a thank you to Ibrahim’s family for their “courageous witness and constancy of faith.”
Pope Francis also spent some time playing with Ibrahim’s children, 18-month-old Martin and 2-month-old Maya, while the family spent their visit with him. This meeting, the Vatican said, was arranged because the pope wanted to “show his closeness, attention and prayer also to all those who suffer for their faith, in particular to Christians who are enduring persecution or limitations imposed upon their religious freedom.”
Today Ibrahim and her family are back safely in the United States at Wani’s residence in New Hampshire.
What are your thoughts on the outcome of the trial? Would you have done the same as Ibrahim? Share your thoughts in the comment section below!