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A young Sudanese woman named Mariam Yahya Irbahim Ishag has been sentenced to 100 lashes and death by hanging for marrying a Christian man.

Mariam was born to a Muslim father, and even though her mother is a Christian — according to religious law in Sudan — a child must adopt the faith of the patriarch. As such, when 27 year old Mariam married a Christian, she was accused both of apostasy (leaving the faith) and adultery (because there can be no legitimate marriage between a Muslim woman and a non-Muslim husband).

What’s bizarre, at least to Western minds, is that Mariam has been a Christian her whole life. It’s not as though she’s suddenly converting to Christianity (not that that would justify state punishment anyway). She’s not abandoning Islam. She was never a Muslim. Her father was.

All of this raises problems with the freedom of religion, the freedom to marry, patriarchy, religious versus federal law, and more. It also brings to light a massive inconsistency in state law. After all, the Sudanese information minister correctly notes that capital punishment for apostasy is the law in a number of nearby countries, so why is Mariam’s case being so severely enforced, while so many others have gone overlooked? Maybe it’s a sign of radicalization. Maybe it’s merely a byproduct of a poorly-run, biased legal system. I don’t know.

What is clear is that Mariam has been sentenced to die because she claims to follow Jesus, and because the man she loves does the same.

After the judge sentenced her to death, she simply said, “I am a Christian and I have never committed apostasy.”

Western embassies have poured in complaints. Sudanese rights activists are rallying, at their own peril. Such outrage is nothing new.

What makes Mariam’s plight different from that of so many others is its transparency and immediacy. In the Western Church, we know there are martyrs. We know Christians — and Hindus and Muslims and Jews and many others — are persecuted and sometimes killed for their faith. We feel badly about it and maybe give money. But most of these cases are things we hear about through the grapevine of Christian networks, in Christian books — and, yes, propaganda — and from behind the pulpit. Mariam’s case is unique because it is happening, in a sense, right in front of us. We know who the killers are and we know who the victim is. We know the plan. An official date will be set. And still we simply watch.

Sometimes we talk about persecution and the “myth of persecution” in the West. Well, here it is in real time and cold blood, under the guise of a national judiciary. I don’t know what can be done. Petitions. Prayer. Activism. But I know we are watching the blood of the martyrs spill before our eyes.

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