Ms. Ibrahim’s story bears uncanny parallels to another Christian story involving young African mothers who did become Christian martyrs, during the early third century: the story of Felicitas and Perpetua, executed for their faith in the Roman port city of Carthage in today’s Tunisia. Vibia Perpetua was a well-educated young woman, not unlike Ms. Ibrahim, who is trained as a doctor. Felicitas was a slave in an advanced state of pregnancy when she was thrown into prison along with Perpetua and other Christians to await their deaths by wild animals in the Carthage arena. Perpetua, like Ms. Ibrahim, went to prison along with a baby son. Felicitas, like Ms. Ibrahim, bore a baby daughter before her execution date.
The most dramatic parallel is the simple affirmation that Ms. Ibrahim gave in court that led to her death sentence: “I am a Christian.” Those also were Perpetua’s words, as they were of many martyrs in Roman times. Like Perpetua, Ms. Ibrahim, who was brought up in the Ethiopian Orthodox faith of her mother, also refused to recant.
This isn’t just a matter of ancient and modern coincidences. More significantly, the Roman world of the third century was strikingly like today’s secularized West in its contempt for Christians and indifference to their persecution.