She is free, but Sudan Remains in Shackles Intellectual and ideology shackles to be exact. Maryam Yahya’s case was not about apostasy only. It hosted many other social maladies. Social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, and online forums) have become an alternative reality to many Sudanese living in Sudan or the diaspora. Following the reaction on those platforms toward the case as it developed, revealed so much of those maladies. There is a deep rooted prejudice in the society towards people from the neighboring country, there is strong tendency to be judgmental and dogmatic about apostasy in Sharia, and people publicly condoned and called for hostility towards apostate or those of other believes. I am not saying that all people are that; but quite numbers are and the ratio of people of balanced tone are outnumbered by the "god-fearing" crowd in what seems to be a pharisaical antipathy carnival. The good news is that the case stirred the public to talk about those issues and such talks will not stop once the case is closed.
While her case was in process, the public opinion in Sudan split in many fronts. Human rights defenders supported her right of conscious and rallied for her, domestically internationally. Some government opponents took flaky positions about her citizenry rights, nevertheless, employed the case to belittle the government. The government on the other hand flirted with the radicals through the case but I doubt that the courtship yields any support now that Maryam is free and departed the country. Political parties were nowhere to be seen; none of them, to my knowledge, issued a statement about the case; however, they were all hyped up about the arrest of Saddig Al-Mahdi around the same time the case was at its peak. I guess human rights are not one package. You would think that they might be interested in activating the discussion about diversity, right? Sorry. They were not interested. They asked for a rain check this time.
I am writing this post in English to take those of you who do don't speak the language or do not follow social media discussion in a tour that might not be pleasant in some parts, but it will show you a silver lining … but we need to focus on the red flags more .. also, it will let you know more about the status of gender, citizenship, prejudice and xenophobia in Sudan. I will share with you my personal observation of the Sudanese mainstream’s opinions on social media and online forums. There were couple of themes and I will only focus on the obvious ones:
(1) She is at fault. Don’t even try to convince me otherwise! Wait, what?
Some people found her guilty for changing her religion. Period. Those who found her guilty accepted the capital punishment as well. It was hard to discuss the case with them for they took her decision as an insult to Islam. It was personal! Many would find it hard to gasp the idea of a religion that retains its followers by the might of sword, but it this notion seems to be acceptable to many Sudanese. The silver lining (see screenshot above ): Many people found this radical position is the real insult to Islam for it reinforces the stereotypes that associate Islam with radicalism. Below is a discussion between commentators on an news item published on "كلنا مريم" [we all support Maryam] the screen shot is part of a discussion in reply to one who said " We hope the law of God is absorbed and this apostate be killed for deviating from the right path of Islam." The responses questioned the bases of the apostasy legality in Islam and throw the question that Ridda wars during the formative years of Islam was not about apostasy but mere political decision. I find this intriguing and auspicious that such discussion is aired and not dealt with as taboos and given .
(2) Being Sudanese presuppose being a Muslim?
Many saw Maryam's Christianity as an insult to her citizenship. This #1 on the long list of major problem to solve. Religion diversity is becoming a myth in Sudan. Let’s move forward and ask: Why did they assume she is Muslim by default? Because Her father is a Muslim therefore she is one. No one wondered why she was brought up Christian and where was her father all this time. Disappearing men don’t get blamed in our society. He vanishes? No problem. He can always come back and claim his household whenever he wishes. He is dead? His other kids will claim their sister when they feel like it. Not only the next of kin in this case, the whole society claimed Maryam as Muslim with no regards to what she thinks of her believe. There was a sense of ownership of her soul since her citizenship is paternal. Bookmark this for invisible voice/ feminism gushing out sessions for yo’ll feminists out there. The silver lining (see screenshot(S) to the right): some women on Facebook supported Maryam and said that they proud of her. It feels good to see fellow women express such public camaraderie in a case that could stigmatize any supporter of being not a good Muslim.
(3) She married a Southern?! She is asking for trouble!
As the public started to learn more about the case, information birthed more resentment. There is a Sudanese girl, apparently form the north, the privileged race, married a Southern Sudanese and converted to Christianity? This was unforgivable. The majority of the Sudanese are trying to shed their blackness and become more Arabized. Sudanese women are expected to marry Arabized men, and vice versa, to keep the “purity” going. For a Northern woman to marry a Southern, she should expect a whole a lot of trouble for crossing the racial line. The interracial marriage was not in her favor and fueled the public antipathy and hostility.
(4) It is just a show!
A good number of people commented that thousands of Christians are bombarded with bombs in the Nuba Mountain but the international community did not rush to their aid as they did for Maryam. I think it is a valid point and I am glad people started to realize the injustice projected upon the Nuba Mountain people. The ball is now in the international community’s court, whatever that means, to focus more on the mass killing based on race and religion in plagued Sudan. The killing in the peripheral areas is inseparable of the talks of diversity and citizenship rights. The government is systematically alienating the minorities – that’s including anyone who is not a Muslim or Arabized.
(5) She does not look Sudanese! Good riddance!
The sense of ownership of Maryam’s soul lightened as the international support mounted and more photos of Maryam became public. The lurking prejudices against Ethiopians spill over into antipathy and hurtful notes. It is ironic that this coincided with a campaign against domestic servants form Ethiopia to bring down their salaries. In more than one incident I read comments that “she doesn’t look Sudanese” insinuating that she is Ethiopian therefore they are not interested in retaining her within the subject of the honorable Sudanese.
This racist sentiment became bolder when the photo of Maryam’s landing in Italy gone viral. It is so touching to see her smile for the first time since she has become a public face. Most of the comments focused on her features not being “Sudanese” -- which perplex me since I am always mistaken for Ethiopians, and I do not know what type of godly skills they have to identify Sudanese form the others since we are very diverse in race and colors! Who is Sudanese according to the narrative? A Muslim for sure, and less African as possible! I see this as a victory for the long brainwashing and forcible pressure of the government to convince the Sudanese mass that they are made of one fabric and come in one shape and should speak one language. The diversity is seen now as a curse and stigma rather than a particularity. This trend is dangerous and it will breed more bloodshed.
I think Maryam’s case can lay the foundation for a serious work about the constitutional rights and the judiciary rule in applying those rights. The legal code pertaining to apostasy should be revisited and abolished. Citizens should be granted the freedom of belief as stated in the constitution and laws should reflect those rights. Recent reports say that the government bans building new churches, which is outrageous and unconstitutional. Wooing the radicals at the expenses of eradicating Christians is more problematic than what the government thinks. With the sprout of radical groups in the region and the weak grip of the government on the law enforcement on interstate immigration of radicals, this move will blow in the face of the movement sooner that it thinks. Containing this demon once unleashed is knotty.
Scholars need to rise to the occasion and discuss those matters before it is too late. It is scary to see men, old and young, throw their fests in the air defending a death verdict that has no grounds in Sharia and did not bother to educate themselves. No one asked about the legal justification of apostasy in Sharia. No one wondered or bothered to look further before supporting the verdict. Apostasy has no grounds in Sharia - not that I support Sharia application anyways but people should at least know more about what they apply first before killing other people for baseless crimes!
On the front of humanity, we are in trouble. The case brought to the forefront the deep issues we have in our society and the prevailing understanding of religion and freedom of belief. Although many people supported Maryam's right of belief, the radical voices are more detrimental. It showed the ugly face of prejudice and racism. It is okay to kill people who are different. It is okay to humiliate and imprison a pregnant woman and a mother for changing her belief – she actually did not change her believe. She. Was. Brought. Up. Christian! Yet, it is okay to put her on a death row! I did not think that anyone would be okay with a woman giving birth while in shackles. It is hard to fathom that any women, a mother, would accept to see another mother on death row for no crime but choosing a different path to reach God. If you really believe in a merciful God, do you really think He needs to terrify people by death to follow Him? Common. Have some respect for your Lord!
Azaz Elshami - July 25, 2014
Azaz Elshami - July 25, 2014