“Spare,” he said, “the grey hairs of your father; spare your infant son. Make a sacrifice for the health of the Emperor.”
“I will not,” I said.
Hilarianus said, “Are you a Christian?”
I responded, “I am a Christian.”
Two months postpartum, and preparing to teach the Martyrdom of Saint Perpetua and Felicity for my first Latin tutorial since the birth of my son, I began to cry.
The account of the third-century martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicity contains what is likely Perpetua’s own account of her experiences of her trial and imprisonment, and as such provides a useful counterpoint to the stylized and graphic accounts of virgin martyrs that became popular in the later medieval period. However, physically scarred by a crash caesarian and emotionally wrought from having come close to losing my son in delivery, I questioned my choice of class material. The price of Perpetua’s assertion of her faith was unimaginable: she was not only losing her life, but abandoning her son.
Fortunately, I am unlikely to be asked to renounce my faith under penalty of death. This is not universally true, however, which brings me to the reason why Churl generously invited me to write a guest post bringing the following story to your attention.
With the above background, you will understand how struck I was– to the very pit of my stomach– to read the story of Meriam Yehya Ibrahim, a Sudanese Christian woman who has been sentenced to death for apostasy. Like Perpetua, Meriam has a toddler to look after in prison. Like Felicity, she is heavily pregnant, and due any day. (Edited: She has now given birth to a baby girl.)
Although she was raised as a Christian by her Ethiopian mother after her Muslim father abandoned the family when she was young, Meriam is still seen as Muslim by the court that tried her. When she refused to recant her faith, she was sentenced to death by hanging. As they do not recognize her marriage to a Christian man, she has also been sentenced to 100 lashes for adultery. Her husband says that she is being kept in shackles. These sentences are, it goes without saying, a flagrant violation of human rights, but also go against Sudan’s interim constitution.
Fortunately, there is still hope. Her lawyers filed an appeal on Thursday, and international outcry has successfully saved the lives of other Christians convicted of apostasy. While her pregnancy gives her lawyers and human rights organizations time to work for her release, surely one can agree that the sooner a mother and her toddler are released, the better.
So, on this Saturday morning of Memorial Day Weekend, I ask you— I plead with you— to not only remember Meriam, her son Martin, her husband, and her lawyers in your prayers, but to take some time to add your voice to one of the campaigns calling for her release, and ask others to do the same. Christian Solidarity Worldwide is running an online campaign through which you can send messages of protest to the Sudanese embassies of the UK, United States, Canada, Brazil, Australia, and South Africa, depending on your nationality.
If, like me, you have many friends who are non-Christian or non-religious, they may not feel comfortable joining their voices to the CSW project, and may prefer to send messages via Amnesty International, who are addressing the Sudanese Minister of Justice. They are running separate campaigns for the US, Canada, and the UK. Note that the CSW and Amnesty International campaigns address different bodies, and so you may contribute to both without overlapping.
Finally, as Miriam’s husband is an American citizen, some senators have tried to bring the case to the particular attention of Secretary of State John Kerry, asking him to take diplomatic action. American citizens may contact their senator here, and the Department of State here.
(Alice is, in chronological order, a convert to Roman Catholicism, a wife, a doctoral candidate in medieval studies, and a new mother. She is on maternity- and thesis-finishing leave from online projects in order to complete her dissertation on twelfth-century commentaries on Genesis 1-3.)