“Apostasy” Charge in Sudan?

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Presentation1The way Islam is covered in the media makes one really wonder if it is part of the agendas at morning meetings in different news organizations to have one of their headlines say something sensational about this religion. The best breakdown of how boringly obvious the cyclical nature of Islam scare stories was outlined in a recent piece in the Guardian.

The latest in the “look how evil Islam is” sensationalism is the story of a Sudanese woman sentenced to death for apostasy. One really has to give it up for the way some of the headlines read:

  • CNN – Christian in Sudan sentenced to death for faith; ‘I’m just praying,’ husband says
  • LA Times – Sudan woman sentenced to death after refusing to renounce Christianity
  • BBC – Sudan woman faces death for apostasy
  • The Telegraph – Pregnant woman faces death in Sudan for apostasy

No one with a sound moral conscience would come across these titles and not get absolutely appalled. Of course, much of the discussion has been about the circumstances surrounding the case itself. Meriam Yehya Ibrahim, 27, was sentenced to hang for leaving Islam, and to 100 lashes for committing adultery. The adultery part is due to her being married to a Christian man, which is a marriage not recognized by the Sharia for a Muslim woman, thus securing Ibrahim a whipping for adultery followed by hanging for apostasy.

It turns out that, at least based on the reports, Ibrahim was born to a Muslim father and a Christian mother. Although Islamic law recognizes Ibrahim as a Muslim by default (in lieu of her father being one), having been raised solely by her mother since the age of six makes things more complicated. Nevertheless, the judge issued his sentence and Ibrahim has a chance to file for an appeal.

This piece is not about the apostasy law in Islam. This whole case is both abhorrent and a mockery of what justice and Islam are about. Coincidentally, my latest article in Al Jazeera English happened to be about apostasy, in which I give a brief overview of what this whole issue is about. What I want to bring attention to here is the simple self-evident fact that a judge appointed by a corrupt government that instrumentalizes Islam for its own purposes is not ruling by Sharia in any way, shape, or form. I gave some comments in a report by Al Jazeera America about this, but I thought I should mention here what did not make it in that article. In short, as far as I can tell, this case has very little to do with Sharia or the religious status of Ibrahim.

Let us be clear about a few things with regards to the Sudanese government, and more specifically President Omar al-Bashir. This man is known to have siphoned as much as $9 billion out of the country and stashed it in UK banks. He is also charged with the Darfur genocide, which in order to carry out it he employed a propaganda machine to recruit young men for what he called a “Jihad”. I remember watching state-run news media in my early years that continually aired footage of young men in military gear who were supposedly in the South calling their brethren in the North to join their ranks. What a lot of people outside of Sudan do not know is that part of how al-Bashir got some of his fighters to go was by literally abducting them from public areas. It was not uncommon to hear that someone’s son went downtown and did not return, only to find out they had been “martyred” in battle.

For anyone to suggest that the Sudanese government is applying Islamic law is to expose themselves to be deluded to the highest degree. It goes without saying that no amount of facts or rational argument would sway Islamophobic, quote-minning, agenda-driven bigots. But for the rest of us who think the world is a little more complicated than to continue with a tiresome “religion is to blame” rhetoric, here is some Sudanese context for this past week alone in which this poor woman is being persecuted for her beliefs:

  • On Tuesday, May 13, 2014, the Central Bank of Sudan (CBoS) issued a circular directing banks to stop offering auto or real estate loans unless applicants were eligible for an exemption. According to the directive, banks are not to extend loans for the purpose of buying any vehicle except commercial trucks, minibuses and buses with a capacity of at least 25 passengers. The CBoS also prohibited banks from financing land purchases, land development, construction of buildings and apartment purchases.
  • The leader of the opposition National Umma Party (NUP), al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, was recently accused of high treason and was scheduled to appear on Thursday, May 15, 2014, before the state security prosecutor for questioning regarding the complaint filed by the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) after he accused the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) of committing serious abuses in Darfur. A large crowd of his supporters was expected to show up with him.
  • The NISS has carried out a massive arrest campaign against pro-opposition students amid escalating violence at the University of Khartoum (UofK). These protests have been escalating ever since the killing of UofK student last March by government forces.

In the midst of all the political and economic problems the country is undergoing, religion serves as a distraction for everyone in the country and abroad. In the current turbulent circumstances Sudan is undergoing, al-Bashir and his gang seem to be reaffirming to their conservative base and supporters that they remain as “defenders of Islam”, which they claim is under attack.

Islam is a game to be played by politicians in the Muslim world. In a twist of ironic fate, Egypt’s Sisi has turned Islam on Islamists. Whether it is with Saudi’s new atheism is terrorism law, or Sudan’s haphazard Sharia legal system that is used to oppress whoever al-Bashir and his bandits see fit, we would be misguided to point the finger at Islam claiming it to be the problem. It removes responsibility from individuals. By pointing to Islam as an abstract entity that is out there and yet to be defined, we let criminal governments get away with their oppressive tactics. More insidiously, it further promotes Islamophobia.

The Buddhists have a saying: “Don’t Mistake the Finger Pointing at the Moon for the Moon.” None of these events have anything to do with Sharia, and everything to do with corrupt politicians and government appointed judges. We must get over the sensationalist headlines and ask about what is really going on.

As for Meriam Yehya Ibrahim, we can only hope, regardless of whether she apostatized from Islam to embrace Christianity, or was raised a Christian, that she gets saved from this abhorrent and oppressive circumstance that she has been placed in.