By Deborah Laker, September 9, 2022, Religion Unplugged
“I started a fire,” said religious persecution survivor Mariam Ibraheem. Her eyes were stern but kind as she recalled being imprisoned and sentenced to death for her Christian faith.
Born on Nov. 3, 1987, in a refugee camp in eastern Sudan to a Muslim father and a Christian mother, Ibraheem said “danger lurked in every dark corner.” Disease, abuse and poverty plagued her life. Throughout these hardships, her mother, who had fled the war in neighboring Ethiopia, raised her children to trust and love God.
In 2013, a Shariah court sentenced Ibraheem to 100 lashes and death by hanging for marrying a Christian man. She was condemned for rebelling against her father’s faith and pressured to renounce Christ. Ibraheem was pregnant with her second child at the time and gave birth to Maya while shackled in prison. Her story sparked international outcry from Pope Francis, the United States and other embassies of various governments, eventually leading to her liberation.
Today, Ibraheem advocates for victims of religious persecution and domestic violence as the co-founder and director of global mobilization of the Tahrir Alnisa, “setting women free.” In an interview with ReligionUnplugged.com during the 2022 International Religious Freedom Summit, Ibraheem shared her story of boldly upholding her faith and her thoughts on the ongoing genocide in Ethiopia.
This conversation has been edited for clarity.
Deborah Laker: What was it like growing up as a Christian in a predominantly Muslim region?
Mariam Ibraheem: I mostly grew up with my mother. My mother, originally from Ethiopia, had fled war and settled in a refugee camp when she was 10 years old. And then my father is originally from Darfur in West Sudan. He had to leave the area because he was involved in honor killings of his sister and another man from a different tribe. This could have started a tribal war, so he fled the area. He met my mother when he was a bus driver at the refugee camp where my mom was settled.
I grew up in a staunch Muslim community. So there were so many restrictions. I faced a lot of challenges at school with religious education. As a religious minority — as Christians — me and my siblings were forced to study Islamic teaching and then memorize the Scripture. We were forced to repeat passages from the Quran Scripture that were offensive to us. Some describe the unbeliever and said that they deserved to die. But I am glad I had my mom, who was always sharing with us what she learned from Jesus and praying.
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