"I am a Christian and I never committed apostasy," the pregnant Sudanese woman told the judge as she stood in the court with her future and life at stake.
Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag, the 27-year-old doctor, was born to a Muslim father but later changed her faith to marry the love of her life, who incidentally happened to be a Christian.
Unfortunately for her, the punishment for recanting Islam in Sudan is no less than death.
Her face was inscrutable when she stood expressionless in the caged dock as the judge sentenced her to death. "We gave you three days to recant but you insist on not returning to Islam. I sentence you to be hanged to death," Judge Abbas Mohammed Al-Khalifa told the woman, addressing her by her father’s Muslim name, Adraf Al-Hadi Mohammed Abdullah.
Apostasy, or disavowing one’s self from the Islamic faith, is punishable by death in a few Islamic states including Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, and Sudan.
There is a disagreement among Islamic scholars regarding the punishment for committing apostasy. While there is no mention to worldly punishments to those who commit apostasy, a few sayings of Prophet Muhammad, commonly known as Hadith, do refer to apostasy as being punishable by death. Nevertheless, some key Islamic scholars reject the death penalty as a form of punishment for shunning Islamic faith.
Her case has re-ignited the debate over apostasy in Islam.
Although Ishag can appeal in higher courts and she might have a chance of being acquitted, the issue of the abhorrent punishment for a harmless decision must be addressed once and for all.