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In Sudanese prison, a Muslim woman risks all to help a Christian hide her Bible


Sylvain Dorient - published on 12/05/16 - updated on 06/08/17

“This is my Bible,” explained Meriam. “It is because of this book that I am in prison.”

Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag was 27 when the Sudanese police arrested her. A convert to Christianity, she was condemned to death for apostasy and her sentence was accompanied by 100 lashes for adultery, because she had married a Christian. Under pressure from international outrage, the Khartoum authorities finally backed down, releasing the young mother in 2014 after a harrowing time in prison, where she had given birth to her second child while in restraints. Her plight has made her an icon of the persecution of Christians in the world. She has founded a charity dedicated to women’s rights and religious freedom.

UN Photo by Tim McKulka
UN Photo/Tim McKulka
UN Photo by Tim McKulka

She refused to deny her religion

While Meriam’s trial was under way, she was assured that she would be pardoned on the condition she deny her religion and pronounce the Islamic profession of faith. She refused: “I could not lie. My children would have lost all respect for me if I did something like that.” She was put in prison with her 20-month-old son, Martin. She describes the difficult prison conditions: “At night it was hard to sleep. I had made a bed with my blanket for my son, and I watched over him because I was afraid for him.” When she had to go to the toilet, she asked a fellow prisoner, a Muslim, to look after her son and a relationship of trust grew between the two women. Meriam even gave her a Bible, which she had managed to get into prison through a corrupt guardian. Her fellow inmate hid it for her, taking a terrible risk, and was astonished to see the importance that this book had in the eyes of Meriam. “This is my Bible,” explained Meriam. “It is because of this book that I am in prison.”

She read at night, between the guards’ two rounds

“While Muslims had condemned me to death and whipping, because of my religion, a Muslim woman helped me to read the word of God,” Meriam recalls. Subsequently, she was able to help her fellow inmate, an illegal alien from Somalia, who needed money to get out of prison. The two women kept in touch and the Somali woman chose to convert to Christianity. Meriam put her in contact with people she knew, to support her in her new country and new religion. In the end, Meriam’s former cellmate married one of her benefactress’s friends.

Pope Francis blesses Sudanese Christian Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag and her daughter Maya during a private audience at the Vatican. Photo by L’Osservatore Romano via AFP
Osservatore Romano via AFP
Pope Francis blesses Sudanese Christian Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag and her daughter Maya during a private audience at the Vatican. Photo by L’Osservatore Romano via AFP

Translated from the French.

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