Thursday, July 24, 2014

Sudan 'apostasy' woman Meriam Yahia Ibrahim meets Pope

Mrs Ibrahim and her family meet Pope Francis at his Vatican residence

A Sudanese woman who fled to Italy after being spared a death sentence for renouncing Islam has met the Pope.

Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag flew to Rome with her family after more than a month in the US embassy in Khartoum.

There was global condemnation when she was sentenced to hang for apostasy by a Sudanese court.

Mrs Ibrahim's father is Muslim so according to Sudan's version of Islamic law she is also Muslim and cannot convert.

She was raised by her Christian mother and says she has never been Muslim.
Welcoming her at the airport, Italy's Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said: "Today is a day of celebration."
Mrs Ibrahim met Pope Francis at his Santa Marta residence at the Vatican soon after her arrival.

"The Pope thanked her for her witness to faith," Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi was quoted as saying.

The meeting, which lasted around half an hour, was intended to show "closeness and solidarity for all those who suffer for their faith," he added. 'Mission accomplished'

The BBC's Alan Johnston in Rome says there was no prior indication of Italy's involvement in the case.

Lapo Pistelli, Italy's vice-minister for foreign affairs, accompanied her on the flight from Khartoum and posted a photo of himself with Mrs Ibrahim and her children on his Facebook account as they were about to land in Rome.

"Mission accomplished," he wrote.

A senior Sudanese official told Reuters news agency that the government in Khartoum had approved her departure in advance.

Mrs Ibrahim's lawyer Mohamed Mostafa Nour told BBC Focus on Africa that she travelled on a Sudanese passport she received at the last minute.

"She is unhappy to leave Sudan. She loves Sudan very much. It's the country she was born and grew up in," he said.
Daniel Wani in Rome airport
Mrs Ibrahim travelled with her husband Daniel Wani

"But her life is in danger so she feels she has to leave. Just two days ago a group called Hamza made a statement that they would kill her and everyone who helps her," he added.

Mrs Ibrahim's husband, Daniel Wani, also a Christian, is from South Sudan and has US nationality.

Their daughter Maya was born in prison in May, shortly after Mrs Ibrahim was sentenced to hang for apostasy - renouncing one's faith.

Under intense international pressure, her conviction was quashed and she was freed in June.

n June, Meriam spoke to the BBC as she entered the US embassy, as Reeta Chakrabarti reports
She was given South Sudanese travel documents but was arrested at Khartoum airport, with Sudanese officials saying the travel documents were fake.

These new charges meant she was not allowed to leave the country but she was released into the custody of the US embassy in Khartoum.

Last week, her father's family filed a lawsuit trying to have her marriage annulled, on the basis that a Muslim woman is not allowed to marry a non-Muslim.

Monday, May 26, 2014

I renounced Islam, so my family think I should die

Apostasy is not just something that scandalises people in far off lands. Harriet Alexander hears the story of a British woman whose life was turned upside down when she left Islam - echoing the plight of Meriam Ibrahim, who awaits a death sentence in Sudan for the same "crime"

Amal Farah, above, said the case of Meriam Ibrahim prompted her to speak out Photo: WARREN SMITH

If Amal Farah were not living in Britain, she believes she might well be dead.

For the 33-year-old financial manager had carried out an act so heinous, her family felt she deserved to die.

Her crime? She had renounced her Islamic faith and converted to Christianity – “and within my community, that’s a capital offence,” she said. “They believe you deserve to die.”

Mrs Farah, who was born in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, but now lives in Britain, has never told her story before.

She was too afraid; told that, even in the UK, it was safer for her to keep a low profile.
Related Articles

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But when earlier this month the case of Meriam Ibrahim came to light – an eight-month pregnant Sudanese woman, sentenced to death for refusing to renounce her Christian faith – Mrs Farah felt she had to speak out.

“I had to do something,” she said. “I am so fortunate to be here, and I am in a position to be able to shout and scream and say this is wrong.”

Her voice quavering, fighting back tears, she said: “I read her story and thought: 'That could so easily have been me.’”

Meriam Ibrahim with her husband Daniel Wani

Ms Ibrahim currently awaits her fate in a cell in Khartoum, shackled by the ankles, having refused an offer from a judge to renounce her Christianity. She also faces 100 lashes for "adultery" - the court does not recognise her marriage to a Christian man, Daniel Wani, who has American citizenship.

She told the court that her Muslim father abandoned the family when she was young, so as a child she had been brought up a Christian.

A petition to quash Ms Ibrahim’s sentence, organised by Amnesty International, has been signed by 640,000 people so far – but the rights group has been barred from Sudan since 2005.
For Mrs Farah, many of the parallels between her own life and Ms Ibrahim’s are striking.
Both women are pregnant with their second child. Both were born in the Greater Horn of Africa region. And both lost their fathers when they were young girls.

Ironically, Mrs Farah’s father was very secular. A high-ranking general in the Somali army, he served under Siad Barre, the military dictator, before going into exile in Ethiopia, where he campaigned for democracy. When Mrs Farah was aged just three, he was killed by a landmine.

“After that, little by little, my mother became more religious,” she said. “We were all Muslims, of course, but the older I got the more I was told to pray, to wear conservative clothes and so on. It wasn’t that I disliked Islam per se. But I disliked being told what to do, like being forced to wear the hijab. I dreamt of having control over my own life.”

A turning point came, she said, when her mother prepared her for circumcision, a practice now widely viewed as barbaric, and better known as female genital mutilation.

“I was really scared, and she was talking about how it was religious purification – an essential rite. I asked if there was anything I could do to change her mind, and she said no. I think that’s when I realised that I hated this feeling of powerlessness.”

When Mrs Farah was 18, the family fled Somalia – her mother, who had remarried, her stepfather, and her four half-siblings.

And it was when she began her degree in molecular biology at a British red-brick university that a new world opened up for her.

“It was a revelation,” she said. “I met atheists, staunch Christians, Jews, Hindus – they challenged me about my views, and I about theirs. It was an incredible sensation to be able to ask questions, and discuss ideas without fear, without looking over my shoulder. I had been in a cocoon – unquestioning, with everyone told they had to think the same way.

“It happened very organically for me. Initially I started exploring my own faith, reading all I could on the Koran – different translations, historical perspectives, listening to cassettes of various Saudi or Egyptian imams.

“At first my Mum thought it was wonderful. And I really did see the goodness in it; the sense of generosity, of speaking the truth, and not back biting. I don’t think it is a terrible religion at all.”

But she felt in her heart that it was not for her – and that, to be true to herself, she could no longer call herself a Muslim.

Yet finally she dared to broach the subject gently with her family – saying she was “having doubts about Islam” – her mother was “heartbroken”.

“My mother’s first words were: ’But you’re going to hell!’ They see that life is a test, and that my decision was but a challenge to my faith, and one which should be overcome.”

At first they tried to persuade her. Cousins telephoned her constantly, and an uncle was dispatched from Saudi Arabia to spend three days “answering her questions”.

In the eyes of the deeply-conservative Somali community in Leicester, of which her family was part, renouncing Islam was an act potentially punishable by death.

“It became more threatening. My mother felt incredibly guilty – she was also very, very angry.

"She blamed herself for the exposure to corrupt Western ways, and said: 'I knew it was wrong to bring you here. It was like putting you in the sea and asking you not to taste salt.’”

Mrs Farah has not spoken to her relatives since 2005.

She is adamant that it is not a problem with Islam, but rather one of intolerant societies.

“If you look at the Old Testament, there are some shocking things there,” she said. “But Jewish society realises that it’s no longer acceptable to stone someone to death, or to cut out their eyes, or enslave them. And the vast majority of Muslims realise that too.

“It’s just the extremists in Pakistan or Saudi or Sudan who fail to see the message of humanity behind the words.”

The crime of apostasy – for which Ms Ibrahim has been sentenced to death – is defined as the renouncing of your religion.

Some divisions of Christianity – among them Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Baptists – believe apostasy is a sin. But it is mainly seen as an Islamic crime, based on a Hadith – saying - from Prophet Muhammad who said, “Whoever changes his religion kill him.” But many scholars point out that numerous verses in the Koran guarantee freedom of belief.

Nina Shea, director of the Centre for Religious Freedom at New York’s Hudson Institute, said that apostasy from Islam is criminalised in many, though not all, Muslim-majority states. Turkey does not criminalise it, but Iran and Saudi Arabia do imprison converts. Actual executions by governments for conversion are virtually unheard of today.

“In the case of Meriam Ibrahim, the government of Sudan is adopting the practice of Islamic extremist groups like Boko Haram, al-Shabab, and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria,” she said. “All of those groups do put Christian converts to death.”

Mrs Farah tries not to think about her estranged family.

Her mother moved the family back to Somalia shortly after they last spoke – fearful that more of her children would abandon the faith. For her own safety, the Telegraph is not revealing particulars about where she now lives in Britain.

“I try to focus on the positive things,” Mrs Farah said. “I craved my freedom, and it took me a long time to be brave enough. I try not to think of my family, as it upsets me too much. I just wish, idealistically I suppose, that it didn’t have to be like this.

Somalia Militants Kill Woman For Christian Faith

By BosNewsLife Africa Service

Al-Shabab has killed several Christians in recent years

MOGADISHU, SOMALIA (BosNewsLife)-- Minority Christians in Somalia face new challenges after suspected Islamic militants managed to enter the capital Mogadishu where they murdered a young woman for openly professing her faith in Jesus Christ, BosNewsLife learned.

Sufia was at home with her parents when armed men, who were believed to belong to the al-Shabab group, burst into her home, Christians said.

Leaving her parents untouched, the men apparently grabbed Sufia, forcefully dragging the woman from the home at gunpoint. They reportedly publicly shot her, firing into the on-looking crowd as friends and neighbors tried to save her.

No more details or the last name of Sufia were released amid security concerns.


Sufia's killers fled the scene and police so far did not detain suspects in last month's murder.

Her death came shortly after two Somali lawmakers were assassinated in Mogadishu, within 24 hours of each other, in attacks claimed by the Somali militant group al-Shabab.

Somali officials said unidentified gunmen shot and killed parliament member Abdiaziz Isaak Mursal as he was leaving his home in the capital on April 22.

He was reportedly killed for allowing the "invasion of the Christians into Somalia," refering to a lawmakers' vote to accept financial support from Western governments and members of the African Union who have sent troops into Somalia to oppose Islamist rebel groups.

A day earlier, another legislator, Isaak Mohammed, was killed by a bomb hidden in his car.  The explosion left another lawmaker seriously wounded.


Somali Prime Minister Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed condemned the killings, saying the violence only strengthens Somalia's resolve to defeat terrorism.

Among other known recent attacks against Christians was the murder of 41-year-old mother, Sadia Ali Omar, and her 35-year-old cousin, Osman Mohamoud Moge. They were beheaded in the port village of Barawa by al-Shabab on March 4.

Local residents, including Sadia's two daughters, aged 8 and 15, "were called to witness" the executions after they "found out that they were Christians," Christian aid workers said.

Al-Shabab says all Somalis are born Muslims, and those found practicing other faiths are considered guilty of "apostasy", or leaving Islam, and should be put to death.

The Islamist group, which used to control huge swathes of Mogadishu, has been under pressure in recent weeks, as the African Union peacekeeping force, known as AMISOM, has reportedly reclaimed at least 10 towns previously controlled by the militants.

Key Leader of Somalia’s Underground Church Slain

Pastor oversaw five groups in nearly 100 percent Muslim country.

AMISOM troops from Djibouti in Beledweyne, Somalia (Ilyas A. Abukar, Wikipedia)
AMISOM troops from Djibouti in Beledweyne, Somalia (Ilyas A. Abukar, Wikipedia)
NAIROBI, Kenya (Morning Star News) – Underground Christians in Somalia are struggling to recover from the loss of a prominent church leader gunned down in March.
As in many cases of the mounting number of murders of secret Christians in Somalia, Islamic extremists with the Al Shabaab rebel group were suspected in the March 16 shooting of Abdishakur Yusuf at 9:40 a.m. on the outskirts of the capital Mogadishu. A leader of five underground groups in a country where leaving Islam is punishable by death, Yusuf’s prominence made publication of his death at the time too raw for the many who knew him, but they have granted permission now as they seek the prayers of brethren worldwide.
“Sadness and grief has befallen our community when our dear brother Abdishakur Yusuf was mercilessly murdered in Mogadishu by unknown gunmen,” a source who requested anonymity told Morning Star News. “He was found outside his house lying in a pool of blood.”
Al Shabaab, an Al Qaeda-affiliated force that has lost south and central territory to Somali government and Kenyan military forces the past two years, has members residing both clandestinely and openly in Somalia, including Mogadishu, sources said. Al Shabaab members constantly monitor movements of those they suspect of being Christians, they said.
Yusuf leaves a widow and three children, ages 11, 8 and 5; they have been relocated.
“He was shot in the head multiple times, so that his face is barely recognizable,” the source said. “We appeal to our brothers and sister to help the young family of our brother who is now with the Lord in a place where there is no more pain. We had to hold series of counseling and consolation meetings for our believers.”
Among duties of African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) peace-keeping troops in Somalia is to support the Federal Government of Somalia’s forces against Al Shabaab militants. With AMISOM’s recent successes, the United States has stepped up efforts to train and equip AMISOM troops with an eye toward squelching Al-Shabaab’s influence.
In the port town of Barawa in the Lower Shebelle Region, Islamic extremists from Al Shabaab on March 4 publicly beheaded a mother of two girls and her cousin after discovering they were Christians, sources said. The extremists called residents to the town center to witness the executions of 41-year-old Sadia Ali Omar and her 35-year-old cousin, Osman Mohamoud Moge, the sources said. Several sources independently confirmed the slayings. Omar’s daughters, ages 8 and 15, were witness to the slaughter, sources said.
In Mogadishu last October, gunmen who said they intended to kill a Christian for spreading his faith shot him to death, according to an area resident. Two men armed with pistols on Oct. 20, 2013 shot Abdikhani Hassan seven times as he approached his home after closing his pharmacy in Dharkenley District. Hassan was survived by a wife who was pregnant and five children ranging in age from 3 to 12.
Al Shabaab was suspected of killing Fatuma Isak Elmi, 35, on Sept. 1, 2013 inside her home in Beledweyne, Hiran Province in south-central Somalia (see Morning Star News, Sept. 9, 2013). Her husband had received a threatening note that morning believed to be from the Islamic extremist group and was away at the time of the murder.
Al Shabaab’s attack on the upscale Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi, Kenya on Sept. 21, 2013 killed at least 67 people, with dozens still unaccounted for (see Morning Star News, Sept. 22).
On April 13, 2013, Al Shabaab militants shot Fartun Omar to death in Buulodbarde, 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Beledweyne (see Morning Star News, April 22, 2013). Omar was the widow of Mursal Isse Siad, killed for his faith on Dec. 8, 2012 in Beledweyne, 206 miles (332 kilometers) north of Mogadishu. He had been receiving death threats for leaving Islam (see Morning Star News, Dec. 14, 2012).
Siad and his wife, who converted to Christianity in 2000, had moved to Beledweyne from Doolow eight months before. The area was under government control and there was no indication that the killers belonged to the Al Shabaab rebels, but the Islamic extremist insurgents were present in Buulodbarde, and Christians believed a few Al Shabaab rebels could have been hiding in Beledweyne.
On June 7, 2013 in Jamaame District in southern Somalia, insurgents from the group shot 28-year-old Hassan Hurshe to death after identifying him as a Christian, sources said (see Morning Star News, June 20). Al Shabaab members brought Hurshe to a public place in the town of Jilib and shot him in the head, they said.
On Feb. 18, 2013, suspected Islamic extremists shot Ahmed Ali Jimale, a 42-year-old father of four, on the outskirts of the coastal city of Kismayo (see Morning Star News, Feb. 28).
In Barawa on Nov. 16, 2012, Al Shabaab militants killed a Christian after accusing him of being a spy and leaving Islam, Christian and Muslim witnesses said. The extremists beheaded 25-year-old Farhan Haji Mose after monitoring his movements for six months, sources said (see Morning Star News, Nov. 17, 2012).
Mose drew suspicion when he returned to Barawa in December 2011 after spending time in Kenya, according to underground Christians in Somalia. Kenya’s population is nearly 83 percent Christian, according to Operation World, while Somalia’s is close to 100 percent Muslim.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Another Christian Murdered in Somalia

Photo by Voice of the Martyrs.

Somalia (MNN) — Another Christian was murdered because of her faith in Mogadishu, Somalia. A group of armed men burst into the home of Sufia and dragged her outside while shooting at neighbors trying to rescue her. After killing the young woman, the men fled from the scene and have not yet been found. Sufia’s parents were physically unharmed but are now mourning the devastating loss of their daughter.

Somalia is second to North Korea as the world’s worst persecutor of Christians. Somalis Christians face almost certain death in their own country and other neighboring countries where many Somalis flee as refugees. “In Somalia, they kill you if they just find a piece of literature,” said Voice of the Martyrs regional director.

Somalia’s population of over ten million people is 99.8% Sunni Muslim and 0.1% Christian. Since Somalia has suffered a civil war for over two decades, Christians are targeted by all of the factions fighting for control. 

The most dangerous group is the militant Islamist group known as al-Shabaab which controls much of southern and central Somalia. Al-Shabaab, “The Youth” in Arabic, has sworn to rid Somalia of Christians and impose its strict interpretation of Shariah law. In February 2012, al-Shabaab leaders announced that the group had joined al-Qaeda. When Christians are discovered by al-Shabaab, they are often beheaded on the spot.

Somalia’s community of converts to Christianity is estimated to be fewer than 200 people viewed as apostates by the Muslim majority.

Where are the churches? Every single church building in the country was destroyed during the civil war causing Christians to meet for fellowship in small home groups. Even through the times of persecution, God is moving in the lives of Christians and is giving them comfort.

As members of one body in Christ, let us join with Sufia’s loved ones in their suffering and grief at this time. Pray that they will trust wholeheartedly in Jesus Christ and have the assurance that Sufia is now experiencing the reality of heaven.

Pray that the gunmen will be found and brought to justice. Pray for the repentance of their sins and that they will come to faith in our Lord. Pray that the church in Somalia will continue to grow despite the harsh persecution God’s children endure.

Pray that the faith of those in Somalia would spread through Somalia and neighboring countries.