Meriam Ibrahim receives hero’s welcome

The Sudanese woman who refused to recant her faith before a death sentence arrived in the United States, where she was welcomed by the mayor of Philadelphia as a “world freedom fighter” and by supporters waving flags in New Hampshire.

Meriam Ibrahim flew from Rome to Philadelphia with her husband and two children and are ending their journey in Manchester, where her husband has family ties and where they will forge a new life. Her husband thanked the crowd for the support.

Today in Philadelphia, Mayor Michael Nutter said that people will remember Ibrahim along “with others who stood up so we could be free.” She is like Rosa Parks, who became the symbol of the U.S. civil rights movement when she refused to give up her seat to a white man on a bus in Montgomery and caused a boycott.

Nutter said that it was only fitting that she landed in Philadelphia, a city founded as a place open to all faiths back from the beginning. He gave her a small replica of the Liberty Bell, a symbol of independence.

“Meriam Ibrahim is a world freedom fighter,” he stated.

Ibrahim was sentenced to death over apostasy, which is the abandonment of a religion. Her father was Muslim and her mother was an Orthodox Christian. She married Wani, a Christian from Sudan. Muslim women in Sudan are prohibited from marrying outside the faith. By law, children are technically a part of their fathers’ religions.

Sudan initially blocked Ibrahim from leaving the country after the highest court overturned her death sentence in June. The family took refuge at the embassy in Khartoum.

Manchester, a city of 110,000 people and about 50 miles north of Boston, is northern New England’s largest town and has been a place of immigration for many years. There are about 500 other Sudanese living in the city.

Ibrahim’s husband, who previously lived in New Hampshire, was granted U.S. citizenship when he fled to the United States as a child to escape the recent Sudanese civil war. He returned and was a citizen of South Sudan for a time.

The family was met at the airport in Manchester by Gabriel Wani, Ibrahim’s brother-in-law, and dozens of other people holding balloons, signs, and flags. The crowd cheered on as they stopped in the terminal. Several women even reached out to hug Ibrahim.

“We’re just going to go and bring them home,” Gabriel Wani later said. “They want to come home, and they want to rest.”

Monyroor Teng, the pastor of the Sudanese Evangelical Covenant Church in Manchester, said that Ibrahim’s release gives him hope for the future.

“People are really happy to receive them when they come home,” he said. “It’s a miracle to me. I didn’t think that something like this would happen because, in Sudan, when something happens like that, it’s unreal. It happens to so many people. Maybe, who knows, I’m praying for those ladies who are in jail and those who have died,” Teng stated.

Rev. William Devlin, a New York pastor who had helped the family escape, said that Ibrahim expressed some sadness when he talked to her recently.

“She is leaving everything she knows behind,” he concluded from the interview.