Meriam Ibrahim Is Role Model of the Year

Terence P. Jeffrey | December 24, 2014 | 12:55pm EST
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Meriam Ibrahim with her 18-month old son, Martin, and one-week old daughter, Maya, in the Omdurman Women's Prison on June 5, 2014. (AP Photo)

In a year when some of the most exalted public figures in the United States distinguished themselves by advancing unjust causes or cowardly refusing to seriously resist them, a pregnant mother imprisoned in Sudan with her 18-month old American son set a standard for saintly courage.

Meriam Ibrahim is the role model of the year.

When a Sudanese court told Meriam she must renounce her Catholic faith and convert to Islam or be hung by the neck until dead, she gave a non-negotiable answer: No.

Meriam was born in Sudan to a Christian mother and a Muslim father--who abandoned the family when Meriam was six. Her mother raised her a Christian.

In December 2011, in a Catholic church in Khartoum, Meriam married U.S. citizen Daniel Wani. A Catholic priest witnessed their marriage; the Archdiocese of Khartoum certified it.

Daniel had emigrated from Sudan to New Hampshire in 1998 and was naturalized in 2005.

In November 2012, eleven months after she and Daniel were married, Meriam gave birth to their first child, Martin.

By law, because he was the son of a U.S. citizen, Martin was a U.S. citizen.

In February, Sudan threw Meriam and Martin in the Omdurman Women’s Prison. Meriam was then five months pregnant with her and Daniel’s second child.

In Sudan’s view, Meriam had allegedly committed two crimes. The first was apostasy. Because the father who had abandoned her was a Muslim, she had no choice but to be a Muslim, too.

Her second alleged crime was adultery. As a Muslim woman, she had no right to marry a Christian man. Thus, her marriage to Daniel was not a marriage, and their relationship was illicit.

In March, as reported by the Christian news site Morning Star News, Sudan formally charged Meriam with these crimes.

On May 15, when her case came to trial, the judge gave her an ultimatum: Embrace Islam or die.

Meriam refused. The judge sentenced her to be flogged for adultery and hanged for apostasy.

After her trial, Daniel Wani described his wife’s remarkable heroism to the Daily Mail. When he visited her in prison she told him: “I refuse to change. I am not giving up Christianity just so that I can live.

“I know I could stay alive by becoming a Muslim and I would be able to look after our family, but I need to be true to myself,” she said.

“My wife is very, very strong,” Wani told the Daily Mail. “She is stronger than me.”

“When they sentenced her to death I broke down and tears were streaming down my eyes,” he said. “Our lawyers were passing me tissues. But she stayed strong. She did not flinch when she was sentenced.’

The public posture the Obama administration adopted toward Meriam’s case intensified the family’s ordeal.

In a story published more than two weeks before Meriam was sentenced to death, the Morning Star News quoted Daniel saying that the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum wanted DNA evidence to prove his imprisoned son, Martin, was his in fact his son.

“I will have to take a DNA sample in Khartoum, then send it to the USA for testing,” Wani said. “I have provided wedding documents and the baby’s birth certificate, and doors were closed on his face.”

“I have tried to apply for papers to travel to the USA with my wife and child, but the American Embassy in Sudan did not help me,” he said.

On May 27, less than two weeks after she was sentenced to death—and while literally in chains in Omdurman prison--Meriam gave birth to a baby girl. She and Daniel named the baby Maya.

Meriam Ibrahim, her husband Daniel Wani and their children Martin and Maya are greeted by Pope Francis at the Vatican on July 24, 2014 after they arrived in Italy from Sudan. (AP Photo/L'Osservatore Romano)

The U.S. State Department initially refused to acknowledge that Daniel himself was a U.S. citizen. Then, when he signed a Privacy Act waiver, the department conceded he was a citizen, but would not concede that his two imprisoned children were citizens.

As the U.S. government refused to acknowledge the citizenship of her children, and the Sudanese government insisted that she become a Muslim or die, Meriam remained steadfast in her Catholic faith.

On June 23, a Sudanese appeals court ordered Meriam and her babies released from prison. But the next day, she and Daniel and the children were stopped at the airport as they tried to leave the country.

A month later, after taking sanctuary at the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum, the family flew to Italy--and freedom.

“I trusted God from the first instant,” Meriam was quoted as saying in the Daily Mail. “I knew that He would not abandon me.”

“When I was asked to renounce my religion I knew what I was risking,” she said.

Meriam now lives with Daniel, Martin and Maya in New Hampshire, where the state’s motto is “Live Free or Die.”

She has shown the world what that truly means.

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