It is all but impossible to see the case of Meriam Ibrahim as anything but a grotesque illustration of Islamic religious intolerance. Western "progressives," however, are doing their best to portray it as something else, according to Rupert Shortt.
The battle for sexual equality clearly has a long way to run. But this doesn’t mean that any hardship suffered by a woman can be ascribed to misogyny. The logical false move has been especially blatant in media coverage of Meriam Ibrahim, the Sudanese Christian sentenced to death for her faith and forced to give birth in chains.
Time and again, reporters and presenters have spoken of the scandal as an issue of gender equality, rather than anti-Christian discrimination – as though male converts to Christianity in many Islamic societies are not also at risk of the harshest penalties as well. The explanation for all this is not hard to find. While women’s rights rank high in the liberal hierarchy of victimhood, freedom of worship for Christians ranks low.
The blind spot has helped to obscure some awkward statistics, including that there is barely a country from Morocco to Pakistan in which Christians can worship entirely without harassment, and that “freedom of religion” in many Muslim-majority countries means the freedom to convert to Islam, not away from it.
The Qur’an does not set out specific punishments for so-called apostasy in this life. The notion that converts to other religions should be killed fed into all the main branches of sharia law via the Hadith, a later body of teaching. It is partly for this reason that Muslim attitudes should not be considered immutable – either by Islamists on the one hand, or hostile critics of Islam on the other. Many senior Muslims are far less circumspect, though. When the Grand Mufti of Egypt stated that Muslims were free to change their religion, he was rapidly contradicted by Dar al-Iftaa, Egypt’s most authoritative theological council.
Researching my book Christianophobia: A faith under attack three years ago, I interviewed twenty Afghan refugees in Delhi who had fled to India after being threatened with murder by their families for converting to Christianity. Nineteen members of this group were men. Herein lies a scandal that progressive Muslims – and secular liberals in the West – should be more exercised about.