Rifqa Bary controversy

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Rifqa Bary
Fathima Rifqa Bary

(1992-08-10) August 10, 1992 (age 27)
Parent(s)Mohamed Bary (father)
Aysha Risana Bary (mother)
RelativesRilvan Bary (older brother)
Rajaa Bary (younger brother)

Fathima Rifqa Bary (born August 10, 1992 in Galle, Sri Lanka[1]) is a Sri Lankan United States Citizen author who drew international attention in 2009 when she ran away from her Ohio home, at age 16, saying that her Muslim parents were going to kill her for becoming a Christian.[2] Her story was broadcast on TV and discussed on political blogs,[3] becoming a focal point in a culture clash between Evangelical Christians and Muslims.[4]


Rifqa Bary is the only daughter of Mohamed and Aysha Bary. She grew up in Columbus, Ohio with her older brother Rilvan and her younger brother Rajaa.[5] Her parents initially came to the U.S. from Sri Lanka to seek medical care for Rifqa after she became blind in her right eye after Rilvan threw a toy airplane at her when she was 5.[6] Prior to moving to Ohio Rifqa was sexually abused by an extended family member.[7] After moving into an apartment in Ohio Rifqa shared a room with her brothers.[8] She and Rilvan attended New Albany High School. At the school Rifqa was a Straight A Student, she took AP classes, she was a cheerleader, and a member of the track and field team. During her spare time she wrote poetry and took guitar lessons.[9] Bary's parents have said that they are Muslims and pray five times a day. Her attorney, John Stemberger, who is the leader of a Christian advocacy group,[10] claimed that the Bary family were members of the Noor Islamic Cultural Center (NICC), near Columbus.[5] In an official statement, NICC denied it was familiar with Rifqa Bary or her family and stated that their records showed she attended the cultural center's Sunday School only three times in 2007.[11]

Rifqa became a Christian in 2005 at the age of 13. In July 2009, she was secretly baptized in Big Walnut Creek, at Hoover Dam Park by her mentor and friend Brian Michael Williams, an aspiring pastor and college student while her family was not at home. Rifqa eventually became a member of Columbus Korean United Methodist Church.[3]

In July 2009 Rifqa ran away from her family's home to the home of Orlando, Florida Christian pastor Blake Lorenz and his wife, Beverly, with whom Rifqa had communicated on Facebook. Rifqa had told Beverly Lorenz that her parents would kill her for converting to Christianity.[4] Williams drove her to a bus station where a ticket was purchased under an assumed name for her bus ride to Orlando, Florida.[3] Bary lived with the Lorenzes for 10 to 21 days (reports vary)[4] before they contacted child welfare authorities, though Florida law required that they contact authorities within 24 hours of receiving Rifqa into their home.[12] Rifqa eventually turned herself into the police and spent two nights in jail until a judge set her free.[13]

Her case drew attention when she appeared on television and declared that her father said, "He would kill me or send me back to Sri Lanka," describing herself as the intended victim of an honor killing.[4] A report commissioned by the Department of Justice under the Obama administration determined that honor killings are a credible threat for some young Muslim women who become "too Westernized."[14]

Her parents said they never threatened to harm her.[15] Her father told a reporter that, "Honestly, we didn't know why she left." Regarding the death threat described by his daughter, he said, "She doesn't know what she's talking about," and, "I want her to come back home. I love my daughter whether she's Christian, or anything else. I want my daughter back."[16]

Law enforcement investigations[edit]

Rifqa Bary was taken into custody by Florida child welfare authorities while an investigation was conducted. The court appointed attorneys for her parents: private practitioner Craig McCarthy for the mother, and a lawyer from the state Florida Regional Council for the father.[17] As is the result in the vast majority of cases involving alleged child abuse,[18][19][20] the Florida Department of Law Enforcement report was inconclusive, finding no hard evidence of physical or verbal abuse.[2]

In the report, Bary's father states that he did pick up his daughter's laptop to throw it, but did not throw it due to the cost of the laptop (Bary alleged that her father raised the laptop above her head as though ready to hit her with it).[2] The FDLE report raised questions about one claim made by Bary: that her parents did not know she was a cheerleader.[2] The FDLE report states that pictures of her in uniform were prominently displayed in the family's home three days later when the police visited and interviewed them, and that Mr. Bary signed the permission slip for her to be a cheerleader when Mrs. Bary would not.[2] The FDLE report also stated that they did not investigate anyone in the larger Ohio Muslim community and that Florida authorities relied in part on the investigation done by authorities in Ohio.[2]

On October 13, 2009, Orange County (Florida) Judge Daniel P. Dawson ruled that he would return Bary to Ohio pending a settlement of her immigration status.[16] Emergency custody continued in Ohio.[10]

Return to Ohio and Cancer Diagnosis[edit]

On October 27, 2009, Bary was returned to Ohio and temporarily placed in the custody of Franklin County Children Services.[21] The public agency was to monitor her internet and phone use[22] and hoped to reunite the family before August 10, 2010, when Bary would turn 18 years old.[1] A case-management plan was filed on December 1, 2009, stating that Bary and her family needed to have face-to-face talks about their understanding of Christianity and Islam as one step toward reunification.[1]

On December 22, 2009, a magistrate of the Franklin county juvenile court denied Bary's parents' request for forced mediation and set the date for the dependency hearing for the end of January.[23][24] The hearing was canceled on January 19, 2010, when a deal between the parties was reached with Bary becoming a dependent of the State of Ohio in exchange for admitting that she broke the rules when she ran away. On January 29, 2010, once it was learned that Bary would be allowed to contact Reverend Lorenz and his wife, Bary's parents, on the strict advice of their lawyer, requested to back out of the deal.[25] On March 2, 2010, Judge Elizabeth Gill denied their request and ordered them to continue their counseling sessions so that Rifqa could return home to her family before she turned 18.[26] In June 2010, Bary graduated from Focus Learning Academy. That same year, she was diagnosed with a rare form of Uterine cancer. The doctors gave her one year to live.[27] After three surgeries and 45 weeks of chemotherapy, Bary stopped her cancer treatments.[28] Her parents asked the courts to force their daughter to continue receiving chemotherapy, but they refused.[29] Bary has been declared cancer free.[30] On August 10, 2010, Bary turned 18 years old and Franklin County Children Services' custody of her ended.[31][32] After the gag order was lifted on her hearings, her father and mother stated that Bary had sent them a video two weeks prior, along with candy and music, saying she loved them. They also stated that Bary sent them letters including one where she thanked them for helping her be a successful student. At the same time, the parents' Ohio attorney, Omar Tarazi, indicated that Barys have not had a private face-to-face conversation with their daughter, even in the presence of a family counselor, since she ran away.[33] Omar dropped his lawsuit against Bary's lawyer, but he continued to sue Pamela Geller[why?] until September 21, 2011.[34]

Life After Winning Her Freedom[edit]

In September 2010 after turning 18, Bary was granted residency in the United States.[35] Rifqa Bary eventually went on to study biology in college and became an evangelist. During her time in college Rifqa was able to go on a mission trip to India.[36] On November 6, 2015 Bary became a legal US Citizen after she turned 23.[37] On July 15, 2015 Rifqa had surgery to receive a prosthetic eye.[38] Rifqa became a writer and signed with WaterBrook Press in 2014.[39] On May 19, 2015 she released her debut book "Hiding in the Light: Why I Risked Everything to Leave Islam and Follow Jesus".[40] Rifqa has since graduated from college with a degree in philosophy. She is now pursuing a career in law.[41]


  • Hiding in the Light: Why I Risked Everything to Leave Islam and Follow Jesus (2015)

Public debate[edit]

The situation drew international attention[16] and became a cause célèbre[4] and point of "hostility between some Christians and Muslims."[42]

Imam Muhammad Musri of the Islamic Society of Central Florida claimed that the controversy was caused "by far-right religious groups" portraying Islam and Muslims as extreme fundamentalists who might kill a child.[42] Harry Coverston, a professor of religion, theorized that some individuals must have an enemy.[42] Writing in FrontPage Magazine, conservative blogger and commentator Robert Spencer described the whole incident as a "slow-motion honor killing"[43] while Charlie Crist and Marco Rubio made statements in support of Bary. Mathew Staver, president of the Liberty University School of Law and lawyer for the Lorenzes said, "Lorenz had a legitimate reason to believe Rifqa Bary was in fear of her life because she'd converted to Christianity".


  1. ^ a b c Welsh-Huggins, Andrew (December 1, 2009). "Caseworker: Runaway, parents must talk religion". Seattle Times. Associated Press. Retrieved October 29, 2009.
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Investigative Summary OR-73-1741" (PDF). Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Archived from the original (PDF) on July 14, 2011. Retrieved October 16, 2009. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  3. ^ a b c Kruse, Michael (October 11, 2009). "The life Rifqa Bary ran away from". The St. Petersburg Times. Archived from the original on October 13, 2009. Retrieved October 19, 2009. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)
  4. ^ a b c d e Padgett, Tim (August 24, 2009). "A Florida Culture-War Circus Over Rifqa Bary". Time. Retrieved October 16, 2009.
  5. ^ a b Miller, Joshua Rhett (August 31, 2009). "Attorney Targets Alleged Terror Ties in Case of Runaway Girl". Fox News. Retrieved September 8, 2010.
  6. ^ Muslim schoolgirl, who famously converted to Christianity on Facebook and ran away from her Ohio home, reveals how ten years on she's still estranged and living in fear of honor killing by family or fanatics
  7. ^ 'I Was Terrified' — Partially Blind Muslim Schoolgirl Who Found Jesus Recalls Risking Her Life to Read the Bible
  8. ^ "The life Rifqa Bary ran away from". Archived from the original on October 13, 2009. Retrieved October 18, 2009. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)
  9. ^ Parents of US teen convert brace for tough fight
  10. ^ a b John Couwels (October 14, 2009). "Runaway teen Christian convert must return to Ohio, judge rules". CNN. Retrieved September 8, 2010.
  11. ^ "Statement from Noor Islamic Cultural Center" (Press release). Noor Islamic Cultural Center. September 4, 2009. Archived from the original on September 26, 2009. Retrieved October 28, 2009. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)
  12. ^ Edwards, Amy L. (December 23, 2009). "Pastors in Rifqa Bary case knew they broke law, ex-church official says". Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved December 24, 2009.
  13. ^ Ex-Muslim Rifqa Bary who fled her family after Christian conversion: 'I don't live in fear because every day belongs to God'
  14. ^ "Report on Exploratory Study into Honor Violence Measurement Methods" (PDF).
  15. ^ Schneider, Mike (August 21, 2009). "Runaway convert to stay in Fla. pending hearing". SiFy (India enterprise news). Associated Press. Retrieved September 8, 2010.
  16. ^ a b c Edwards, Amy L.; Stutzman, Rene (August 21, 2009). "Runaway teen convert: Judge may decide next chapter for Rifqa Bary,17-year-old convert". Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved October 16, 2009.
  17. ^ Green, Amy (October 17, 2009). "Teen Feared Death After Change from Islam to Christianity". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 26, 2010.
  18. ^ Association, Press (October 5, 2013). "Child sexual abuse victims are being failed by courts, says NSPCC". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved February 23, 2017.
  19. ^ Sharples, Tiffany (December 2, 2008). "Study: Most Child Abuse Goes Unreported". Time. ISSN 0040-781X. Retrieved February 23, 2017.
  20. ^ "National Statistics on Child Abuse | National Children's Alliance". www.nationalchildrensalliance.org. Retrieved February 23, 2017.
  21. ^ John Couwels (October 27, 2009). "Runaway teen Christian convert returned to Ohio". CNN. Retrieved September 8, 2010.
  22. ^ Heagney, Meredith (October 28, 2009). "Agency to watch runaway teen's Internet, cell use". The Columbus Dispatch. Archived from the original on August 24, 2010. Retrieved October 29, 2009. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)
  23. ^ Coueignoux, Stephanie (December 23, 2009). "Will Religious Runaway Return To Her Parents?". Central Florida News 13. Retrieved December 23, 2009.[dead link]
  24. ^ Heagney, Meredith (December 23, 2009). "Ruling: Runaway teen doesn't have to talk to family". The Columbus Dispatch. Archived from the original on December 26, 2009. Retrieved December 23, 2009. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)
  25. ^ Judge urges counseling for parents of teen convert
  26. ^ Rifqa Bary Muslim Runaway: When Two Faiths Fail to Heal Family, Judge Tries Counseling
  27. ^ Rifqa Bary tells of molestation, DCF woes and Christian faith in new book
  28. ^ Rifqa Bary refusing chemotherapy, believes faith cured her cancer, court document says
  29. ^ Ohio Judge Rules No Forced Chemo Treatment for Runaway Christian Convert
  30. ^ Muslim schoolgirl, who famously converted to Christianity on Facebook and ran away from her Ohio home, reveals how ten years on she's still estranged and living in fear of honor killing by family or fanatics
  31. ^ Andrew Welsh-Huggins (August 10, 2010). "Teen convert to Christianity leaves state custody". The Washington Times. Associated Press. Retrieved September 8, 2010.
  32. ^ Meredith Heagney (August 10, 2010). "Case ends as Rifqa Bary turns 18: Runaway convert might become Christian evangelist". The Columbus Dispatch. Archived from the original on July 24, 2012. Retrieved September 8, 2010. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)
  33. ^ "Rifqa's dad: 'We love her. We want the best for her'". August 10, 2010.
  34. ^ Lawyer for parents of runaway drops suit
  35. ^ Runaway Ohio Convert Becomes U.S. Resident
  36. ^ Rifqa Bary, symbol of religious persecution, becomes college student
  37. ^ Rifqa Bary
  38. ^ At the ocularist prepping for a prosthetic eye. I can't believe this is happening! Pictures coming soon.
  39. ^ Ex-Muslim Rifqa Bary who fled her family after Christian conversion: 'I don't live in fear because every day belongs to God
  40. ^ Rifqa Bary: Muslim-To-Christian Convert And Teen Runaway Still Fears Death At Hands Of Father, Or Mosque
  41. ^ What Ever Happened to Rifqa Bary? How This Persecuted Ex-Muslim Found Strength to 'Rise Up!'
  42. ^ a b c Heagney, Meredith (September 14, 2009). "Amid a holy war: National debate over a Columbus teen's faith exposes hostility between some Christians and Muslims". The Columbus Dispatch. Archived from the original on November 18, 2009. Retrieved October 16, 2009. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)
  43. ^ Spencer, Robert. "A Slow-Motion Honor Killing". FrontPage Magazine. Archived from the original on July 7, 2012. Retrieved April 21, 2011. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]