Tag: Sharia law

Sudanese judge orders Christian woman to hang for apostasy

A Sudanese judge on Thursday sentenced a heavily pregnant Christian woman to hang for apostasy, a ruling which Britain denounced as “barbaric” and left the United States “deeply disturbed”.

Born to a Muslim father, the woman was convicted under the Islamic Sharia law that has been in force in Sudan since 1983 and outlaws conversions on pain of death.

Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag (27) is married to a Christian and eight months pregnant, human rights activists say.

“We gave you three days to recant but you insist on not returning to Islam. I sentence you to be hanged,” Judge Abbas Mohammed Al-Khalifa told the woman, addressing her by her father’s Muslim name, Adraf Al-Hadi Mohammed Abdullah.

Khalifa also sentenced Ishag to 100 lashes for “adultery”. Under Sudan’s interpretation of Sharia, a Muslim woman cannot marry a non-Muslim man and any such relationship is regarded as adulterous.

In Washington, the state department said the United States was “deeply disturbed” by the sentence and urged Sudan to protect freedom of religion.

Britain’s Minister for Africa, Mark Simmonds, said he was “truly appalled”.

“This barbaric sentence highlights the stark divide between the practices of the Sudanese courts and the country’s international human rights obligations,” he said in a statement.

Ishag, dressed in traditional Sudanese robes with her head covered, reacted without emotion when the verdict was read out at a court in the Khartoum district of Haj Yousef, where many Christians live.

Earlier in the hearing, an Islamic religious leader spoke with her in the caged dock for about 30 minutes, trying to convince her to change her mind.

But she calmly told the judge: “I am a Christian and I never committed apostasy.”

Sudan has an Islamist government but, other than floggings, extreme Sharia law punishments have been rare.

‘Appalling and abhorrent’
“The fact that a woman has been sentenced to death for her religious choice, and to flogging for being married to a man of an allegedly different religion, is appalling and abhorrent,” said Amnesty International’s Sudan researcher, Manar Idriss.

If the death sentence is carried out, she will be the first person executed for apostasy under the 1991 penal code, said Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a British-based campaign group.

One of Ishag’s lawyers, Mohanad Mustafa, told AFP that they would take the case all the way to Sudan’s top Constitutional Court if necessary to get the verdict overturned.

The defence believes the criminal code prohibition against apostasy violates the constitution, he said.

After the hearing, about 50 people demonstrated against the death sentence.

“No to executing Meriam,” said one of their signs, while another proclaimed: “Religious rights are a constitutional right.”

A smaller group supporting the verdict also arrived but there was no violence.

“This is a decision of the law. Why are you gathered here?” one supporter asked, prompting an activist to retort: “Why do you want to execute Meriam? Why don’t you bring corruptors to the court?”

Sudan is perceived as one of the most corrupt countries in the world, ranked 174th by campaign group Transparency International.

About 100 people, mostly Ishag supporters, were in court to hear the sentence, which was also observed by Western diplomats.

In a joint statement ahead of Thursday’s ruling, the embassies of the United States, Canada, Britain and the Netherlands expressed “deep concern” over her case and urged “justice and compassion”.

She was convicted on Sunday, May 11 but given until Thursday to recant.

Amnesty said Ishag was raised as an Orthodox Christian, her mother’s religion, because her Muslim father was absent.

Information Minister Ahmed Bilal Osman told AFP earlier that Sudan is not unique in its law against apostasy.

“In Saudi Arabia, in all the Muslim countries, it is not allowed at all for a Muslim to change his religion,” he said.

Abdelmoneim Abu Idris Ali for AFP

Nigeria’s yan daudu face persecution in religious revival

On special days, after dawn prayers at the mosque, Ameer, a father of two, returns home to put on makeup from the collection he shares with his wife.

Usually, however, he settles for a colourful headscarf of the sort worn by women throughout Nigeria. Ameer also uses the female version of his name, Ameera, preceding it with Hajiya, the honorific for women who have completed the Muslim hajj pilgrimage to Mecca.

Ameera is known as a yan daudu, shorthand for “men who act like women” in northern Nigeria’s Hausa language. The phrase means “sons of Daudu”, a fun-loving, gambling spirit worshipped in the Muslim Bori practice, whose trance and dancing rituals are traditionally associated with marginalised poor women, sex workers and disabled people.

For more than a century, hundreds of yan daudu were tolerated as part of an unremarkable but fringe subculture in the Muslim north, famed for their playful use of language, sometimes even accompanying politicians during election campaigns.

In this spirit, Ameera’s parents were accepting. “My parents realised all the things men like, I didn’t like. I didn’t like farming. I wanted to cook and sell things like women. Most of all, I loved braiding hair – I can do yours very nicely if you want,” said Ameera, with a dimpled smile and shrug of delicate, bird-like shoulders.

“They bought me a doll and let me spend hours braiding its hair,” he said, his soft voice almost drowned out by the screech of rickshaws and shouting tradesmen in a bustling, overcrowded satellite town outside the Nigerian capital, Abuja.

But now, with a religious revival sweeping Africa’s most populous country, the yan daudu are increasingly being persecuted. As Nigeria edges closer to passing a Bill outlawing same-sex marriage and targeting groups who support sexual minorities, many fear they will be driven underground.

“I don’t mind it when my friends call me yan daudu, but these days it sounds ugly [abusive] in other people’s mouths,” Ameera said.

On the plastic-covered walls hung miniature portraits of yan daudu colleagues, taken during a special trip to a studio so long ago the edges have yellowed. Many had previously lived in Kano, the north’s main city and a former Islamic sultanate that has long been a regional hub bringing together sexual minorities from across Nigeria and its desert neighbours.

“People were more tolerant then. Now people are more religious, we’ve had to change our outlook too. We can’t go out wearing brassieres and makeup any more,” said Salihu (Hajiya Sara), a yan daudu from neighbouring Chad, dressed in a sober black kaftan and so painfully shy he can barely make eye contact. He fled Kano in 2000, when Nigeria underwent one of its periodic “morality campaigns” and 12 northern states adopted Sharia law.

“It hurts my heart that people say, ‘May Allah reform you,'” he said, washing his feet in preparation for prayers.

As he hurried to the muezzin’s dusk call floating over the lamp-lit stalls, he added: “All judgment belongs to Allah, so if we are different it is because Allah made us different. All these clergymen condemning us should be careful though, because Allah can make one of their own children like us.”

Yet there remain some signs of acceptance. Dreadlocked mechanic Rodney Musa, repairing a motorbike in a patch of oil-stained dust nearby, isn’t bothered by his neighbours. “They’ve been here for the past 10 years – as far as I’m concerned we’re all just trying to earn a living,” he said.

Overhearing the conversation, a passing shop owner, Naz Nwakesi, reacted with horror. “They’re simply homosexuals with bad characters. They should try to reform themselves,” he said.

Amarchi, braiding hair at an open-air salon wedged between the Jesus is Trading hardware shop and Godz Power Barbing salon, said the yan daudu were embarrassing to women. “They should speak to God and ask God to make them women,” she added, before quoting a Bible verse that forbids cross-dressing.

At Ameera’s food shack, where around a dozen yan daudu find refuge working in an occupation normally reserved for women, these criticisms hurt. “That’s why my heroes are female prostitutes. There’s a kinship between us because they know what it is to be judged,” Ameera said. Though many yan daudu are gay, “some of us pretend to be gay just to feel alive – at least we know where gay people fit in the scheme.”

Whatever their orientations, few see being yan daudu as at odds with family life. Ameera is preparing to take a second wife while Yahuza (32), wearing a sparkling red dress and sandals decorated with bright diamante flowers, has three.

Monica Mark for the Guardian.