Source: The Economist
A death sentence issued by a Sudanese court has stirred up controversy
THE Koran is categorical. “There is no compulsion in religion,” it says (in the 256th verse of the second sura, or chapter). In another passage of the Muslim holy book, in the tenth sura, we find God asking the Prophet Muhammad a rhetorical question: “Had your Lord so willed it, all on earth together would believe, so can you then force the people to be believers?”
The same question may be posed to the government of Sudan. Not for the first time its courts have condemned a citizen to death for apostasy, the rejection by a believer of his or her faith. In this case the supposed criminal is a 27-year-old married woman with two small children; the smaller one, a girl, was born in prison soon after her mother was sentenced to hang.
The Sudanese authorities protest that the ruling can be appealed, hint that President Omar al-Bashir may commute it, and note that the case is complex. The condemned woman, Maryam Yahya Ibrahim, was born to a Christian mother and a Muslim father and so, under Sudan’s version of Islamic law, must be a Muslim. But her father abandoned the family when she was young. She was brought up as a Christian, married a Christian and, when denounced to the authorities by a relative, refused in court to change her faith.
In practice death sentences for apostasy have rarely been imposed, especially in modern times. Sudan, however, is an exception. In 1985 it executed Mahmud Muhammad Taha, a 76-year-old human-rights activist and religious reformer. He was judged an apostate because, ironically, he preached that Islamic law as practised in Sudan was cruel, based blindly on tradition rather than the tolerant spirit of Islam.