Respect for religions

June 29, 2014 - 1:25:18 am

The conversion of a Sudanese woman to Christianity has triggered a controversy, which could have been avoided if the authorities had intervened earlier.

Sudan is in the news for a different reason – over the case of a woman who married an American and was recently spared the death penalty for converting to Christianity. The latest development in the case is that Sudanese and American officials are negotiating to pave the way for the woman to leave Sudan. Mariam Yahya Ibrahim, 27, was detained at Khartoum airport on Tuesday, one day after an appeals court overturned a death sentence imposed on her for having converted from Islam to

Christianity in order to marry her Christian American husband. Mariam was detained for trying to use documents issued by the embassy of South Sudan to fly out of Khartoum with her American-South Sudanese husband and their two children.

This was a case that clearly could have been avoided because it created a global outcry and showed Sudan in negative light. Conversion from Islam to any other religion is an extremely sensitive issue in most Islamic countries and almost always triggers a controversy. At the same time, the West often accuses Islamic countries of following double standards on this issue. While entry into Islam is encouraged and highly appreciated, exit from Islam invites strictures and even death. At the same time, in the West, people are free to switch religions as they choose. The contention of secularists and liberals is that freedom for religious conversion should not be one-sided, which sounds logical by every standard.

In the case of Mariam, death for her conversion was an unjust verdict, and was rightly vetoed by a court of appeal after it became an international issue. The first court which delivered the verdict should have taken a more lenient decision which could have averted a controversy. 

The talks between Washington and Khartoum are likely to be fruitful because Khartoum would only be happy to find a peaceful solution to the issue. Sudan is known as a moderate Islamic state and its population includes Christians and animists, who coexist peacefully with Muslims. It’s also known to practise a spiritual brand of Islam where extremism and rigidities have no place. For the same reason, controversies of this sort are rare in the country. 

Cases like Mariam’s are likely to emerge in future, and in other Islamic countries too. Religious conversions are not always ideologically and faith-driven, and often are economically motivated. A few wouldn’t mind embracing the religion of their spouses if that would guarantee them a more prosperous, peaceful life. Sentencing such people to death is against the current values of the world and will only help to show Islam in poor light. Islam is a religion of mercy and adherents of other religions are treated with utmost respect•