Meriam Ibrahim, arrested last August in Sudan and sentenced to death after being accused by family members of apostasy and adultery, was not only pressured to recant her Christian faith and thereby nullify her marriage, but was kept in shackles while giving birth to her second child in prison. At least one Christian woman, also from Africa, was lauding the 27-year-old's resilience, and thanking her for bearing "heroic witness to the virtues of faith, marriage, and motherhood."
"I am a Christian and I will remain a Christian," Ibrahim resolutely declared in a Sudanese courtroom in May, where she was sentenced to death for alleged apostasy and 100 lashes for adultery.
As the married mother of two told reporters last week after finallly gaining her freedom, "Thanks to God we are all fine. I trusted God from the first instant. I knew that He would not abandon me."
It was that fierce determination to keep trusting in God for her deliverance that drew the support and admiration of many Christians from around the world for the would-be martyr.
"On behalf of all African women, I thank you Meriam Ibrahim, for showing the world the indomitable courage that is at the core of authentic femininity. I say this because your pain and persecution were tied so firmly to your femininity. And so your triumph was a most powerful witness to life, to motherhood, to marriage, to love and to faith," writes Obianuju Ekeocha in an "thank you" letter published on cultureoflifeafrica.com.
"You are indeed a true picture of faith and virtue, a true symbol of strength and resilience. You are, in my humble opinion, a real woman of substance, an African woman of substance and your story fills my heart with courage and audacity in my own vocation to defend our African culture of life, marriage, motherhood, faith and family, no matter how difficult, no matter how shameful and no matter how painful for me."
Ekeocha is a biomedical scientist living in England who describes herself as a "a committed cradle Catholic born and raised in Nigeria." She goes on to write:
"For under intense persecution, you refused to deny your Christian faith. Under the threat of the extremists, you stood as a witness and a martyr. Under the pain of incarceration, you would not deny your husband or renounce your marriage. Under the heavy shackles of prison you still had the strength and defiance to give life, to give birth. Under the certainty of a death sentence you had the determination to nurse your precious little baby.
"By your powerful example, the world has come to witness the resilience of a young African woman who in the worst conditions bore heroic witness to the virtues of faith, marriage, and motherhood."
Read Ekeocha's full open "thank you" letter to Meriam Ibrahim at culturelifeafrica.com.
Ibrahim, now free and united with her husband, Daniel Wani, and their two children, drew international attention when it was revealed earlier this year that she was facing death due to her Christian faith. The Sudanese court considered her a Muslim because her father is a Muslim, although Ibrahim repeatedly testified that she was raised as a Christian by her mother since the age of six when her father left them. Her case was compounded by the fact that she was pregnant at the time with her daughter, Maya, whom she give birth to in prison less than two months ago. Officials also kept Ibrahim's toddler son, Martin, with her in prison reportedly because they viewed his Christian father as illegitimate.
Being labeled a Muslim by the courts, she was also charged with adultery and threatened with 100 lashes, because Sudanese law prohibits interfaith marriages for Muslims. Ibrahim, a doctor, and Wani, a biochemist who has family in New Hampshire and holds dual U.S.-Sudan citizenship, married in 2011, the same year her mother died.
Despite intense pressure to recant her faith to alleviate the apostasy charge and subsequent death sentence during her time in prison, Ibrahim refused to deny Christ.
"Even when they condemned me to death I never thought of renouncing my religion. When I was asked to renounce my religion I knew what I was risking. But I didn't want to do it," Ibrahim told reporters last week upon her arrival in Rome, where she and her family met with Pope Francis at the Vatican.
Ibrahim described her meeting with Pope Francis as "the peak in the faith which I have never abandoned." The pope for his part expressed gratitude to Ibrahim and her family for their "courageous witness and constancy of faith," according to Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi.
Sudan's Supreme Court overturned Ibrahim's charges on June 23, and she was released from prison. But when Italian and U.S. authorities tried to transport Ibrahim and her family out of Sudan on the following day, they were detained at the airport in Khartoum under allegations of falsifying documents. Up until their release on Thursday, July 24, Ibrahim and her family had been staying at a safehouse at the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum, Sudan's capital.
Ibrahim is now looking forward to settling down with her family in Manchester, New Hampshire, where her husband's brother and his family live. The Sudanese family was expected to depart Italy this week for their U.S. home, and were expected to receive a grand welcome by the city's overjoyed Sudanese community.