This post has been adapted from Wikipedia, and additional information has been added from the resources listed at the end.
Mariam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag, a.k.a. Adraf Al-Hadi Mohammed Abdullah (her “Muslim name,” because Sudan is considered a Muslim country), is a 27-year-old female Sudanese medical doctor who got her training and degrees from Khartoum University and is married to a U.S. citizen named Daniel Wani. Wani is confined to a wheelchair. They have a 20-month-old son named Martin Wani, and Ishag is eight months pregnant with their second child.
She has been condemned to death by Sudan’s Public Order Court in El Haj Yousif in Khartoum North (described as “notorious” by some sources), and will be hung for apostasy after about two years, giving her time to give birth and get her new baby started in life. Some time before her hanging, both she and her husband will be beaten with 100 lashes each for “adultery.”
Apostasy is the “crime” of rejecting one’s religion. (I am an apostate because I no longer believe the Christian fundamentalist nonsense I was taught in my youth. Fortunately, apostasy is not considered a crime in the U.S.) Yet Ishag never left her religion. She claims she has always been a Christian.
She had a Muslim father and an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian mother. Her father left them when Ishag was a very young child, so she was raised in her mother’s faith and eventually married a Christian man, Daniel Wani. According to the court, this is not good enough. She was given three days to recant her Christianity and “return” to Islam. While others in similar positions have “recanted” to avoid execution, Ishag is evidently braver. She refused.
She told the court she had been a Christian all her life, and could not rescind her beliefs at the request of a court. Since she has never been a Muslim, she said she could not have committed apostasy against that religion. But the court claims she should have adopted her father’s religion, and has therefore convicted her of apostasy for “leaving Islam.”
About 50 people outside demonstrated against the verdict.
Her husband, Daniel Wani, told CNN he feels helpless. “I’m so frustrated. I don’t know what to do,” he said. “I’m just praying.” I certainly sympathize with his frustration and feeling of helplessness; but, so far, his prayers don’t seem to be helping noticeably.
In Sudan and many other Muslim countries, Muslims and Christians are not necessarily treated alike by the law. Since she was a Christian from early childhood, none of this should have happened to her. No apostasy and no “adultery;” no beatings and no hanging; and no imprisonment. This whole thing came about because her father was a Muslim, and the court decided she should have taken his religion. So she was tried as a Muslim. In court, the judge addressed her by her Muslim name.
Because the Sudanese version of Islamic sharia law does not allow marriage between Muslim women and non-Muslim men, her marriage to a Christian man was ruled invalid by the court. This is why she and her husband were sentenced to receive 100 lashes each for adultery, to be administered some time in advance of her being hung. (Apparently, no dates have yet been set for the sentences to be carried out.)
There was no claim that either she or her husband ever had sex with, or was married to, anyone else. The adultery charges were added only because of the court’s ruling that her marriage to a Christian man could not be valid. (We in the U.S. would probably say “fornication” instead of “adultery.” That is, if their situation were to bring any comment at all. It wouldn’t, of course.)
After the sentence was decreed, the prosecutor’s spokesman Ahmad Hassan told the Associated Press that “they were given ample time to prove their innocence, but I for one believe in upholding our traditions and customs as Sudanese.” Well, that’s just dumb! Some traditions and customs are worth upholding. Death for apostasy is NOT one of them.
Her 20 month-old son has also been imprisoned with her. He is denied all contact with his father, who will never be permitted to raise him. Authorities have ruled that since the absentee maternal grandfather that he never met was a Muslim, he cannot legally be raised by non-Muslims. The nightmare has also included denial of bail, insufficient medical care for both Ishag and her unborn child, and beatings in prison.
It is claimed the U.S. Embassy has offered very little help, but I am not sure what help it could offer without the probability of making things worse. People in some African and Middle Eastern countries may be given increased punishments when people try to intervene for them. At some point, though, the U.S. must surely act on behalf of its citizen, Daniel Wani, and his family.
Accusing Wani of converting a Muslim woman to another religion and marrying her – although Sudanese law does not explicitly ban proselytism – authorities have taken Wani’s passport and forbidden him to travel.
Ishag is in Omdurman Federal Women’s Prison with her 20-month-old son. No visitors have been allowed. Vital medical treatment has been refused, and she has been denied transfer to a hospital, though she is 8 months into a difficult pregnancy. Surely it is time for intervention by the U.S. to prevent tragedy!
Mohamed Jar Elnabi, a lawyer representing Ishag, said her husband, Waniwas barred from even going into the court when she was being tried and sentenced. Elnabi said Wani is wheelchair bound and “totally depends on her for all details of his life, he cannot live without her.” Elnabi also said, “The couple’s son is having a difficult time in prison. He is very affected from being trapped inside a prison from such a young age, he is always getting sick due to lack of hygiene and bugs.”
The United Kingdom government described the sentence as “barbaric” and a UK minister was “truly appalled,” noting Sudan breached its international human rights obligations. The United States government, was, “deeply disturbed” and also called on Sudan to meet its obligations under international human rights law. A joint statement from embassies of Britain, Canada, the Netherlands and the United States before the sentence also expressed, “deep concern” urging “justice and compassion”. This doesn’t seem like enough support for a U.S. citizen and his family.
A lawyer for Ishag said the case would, if necessary, go to Sudan’s highest Constitutional Court. The version of sharia law passed in Sudan in 1983 outlawed conversions of faith on pain of death. However, their 2005 interim constitution guarantees freedom of religion. In addition, it is also guaranteed by international human rights laws that Sudan has apparently signed onto. However, the Sudanese constitution also stipulates Islamic law as a source of legislation, and since the secession of South Sudan in July 2011, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has vowed to make Sudan a more strictly Islamic country.
Traditionally, the death penalty has only been applied to apostates who were also guilty of treason. Those who simply converted to another belief, as Ishag is accused of doing, were not executed. Judges who apply the death penalty indiscriminately to apostates are said to have limited education in Islamic law. Neither were women traditionally sentenced to death even during times of war, because the prophet Muhammad declared vehemently that women should not be harmed.
Though I am no lawyer and have no special insight into such cases, I think most likely the death sentence will be overturned on appeal; but probably not before the family suffers tremendous harm. I have no idea how Wani is faring without his wife to help him. It’s anybody’s guess whether or not any of the beatings will be carried out, or whether the young man and woman will eventually be left alone to live the rest of their lives together, or permitted to rear their own children. It’s obviously a horrible situation for them.
According to Mohamed Ghilan, an expert in Islamic jurisprudence, speaking to Al Jazeera, this case serves the government of Sudan as a distraction against complaints the Sudanese people make about their government. He said, “The punishment has little to do with religion and serves as a political distraction. This is a ploy by the Sudanese regime to appear as ‘defenders of Islam’ to mitigate their corruption.”
It is important to understand that different Muslim countries interpret the Sharia law in different ways, and not all of them consider apostasy a crime. Sudan, like much of Africa, was a land of savage people before they ever heard of Islam, and the religion doesn’t seem to have changed a lot of them very much. Many, like this judge, are still savages.
I wondered exactly how flogging is done in Sudan and other countries where the practice still exists. I haven’t found a definitive answer, but Wikipedia provides some generalized information under the heading Flagellation:
Present-day official flogging
Main article: Judicial corporal punishment
No longer used in most Western countries, flogging or whipping is still a common punishment in some parts of the world, particularly in many former British territories and in Islamic countries. Medically supervised caning is routinely ordered by the courts as a penalty for some categories of crime in Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and elsewhere.
“Medically supervised” to keep the victim alive long enough to enjoy every stripe of the beating, I suppose. Am I getting cynical? I hope not.
Sudan won its independence from the UK in 1956, and this may be where they got the practice of flogging people. Flogging was practiced in the British Empire until 1879 and also in the United States until 1861, mostly in the military and to control slaves.
Farther down the page, Wikipedia has this to say about flogging under the heading Islam:
Flogging is a form of punishment used under Islamic Sharia law. It is the prescribed punishment (hadd) for offences including fornication, alcohol use and slander and is also widely favoured as a discretionary punishment (ta’zir) for many offences, such as violating gender interaction laws. Punishment is normally carried out in public. However, some scholars maintain that this goes against the teachings of Islam. In Islam, lashes for punishment for women are often performed with the Qu’ran under one arm to minimise the swing and as a reminder of the source of legislation. They are not supposed to leave permanent scars, and when the number of lashes is high, are frequently done in batches to minimise risk of harm.
Just a few days ago, on May 14, I discussed a Saudi Arabian flogging consisting of 1,000 lashes, and I wondered, “Is it even possible to survive that kind of beating?” This sounds as if it is, if only to be sure the victim suffers enough.