Fathima Rifqa Bary, 17 (Facebook photo)
A young Christian girl who ran away from her Muslim parents in Ohio when her father allegedly threatened her life will be allowed to stay with her foster family in Florida and keep her lawyer for now, a judge ruled today.
As WND reported, Fathima Rifqa Bary, 17, an honor student and cheerleader, was raised in a Muslim family in Columbus, Ohio. She became a Christian four years ago as a result of her interactions with children at school.
But Bary, a native of Sri Lanka, hitchhiked to a bus station and ran away from home July 19 because she says her family will murder her in what is known as an “honor killing” for converting to Christianity. In Islamic tradition, an honor killing is the killing of a person believed to have brought dishonor upon his or her family. The United Nations tabulates about 5,000 such “honor killings” annually around the world, and they have been documented even in the United States.
Bary sought refuge with a church group in Florida but has been in state foster care by court order. Orlando, Fla., trial lawyer John Stemberger is Bary’s attorney. Atlas Shrugs‘ Pamela Geller was in the courtroom for a hearing today.
Bary’s parents were present by phone. Geller said Bary’s father, Mohamed, has a “shark” of a lawyer named Shayan Elahi. Elahi, she said, “tried like hell” to get Stemberger replaced.
“He tried to stop Rifqa’s visitation with her friends (that’s when she began to cry),” Geller wrote. “I can tell you that the battle has just begun. They are just getting started.”
The courtroom was overflowing, with proceedings from the main courtroom on closed-circuit video. Lawyers for Bary’s parents accused Stemberger of publicizing the teen’s case, mentioned an attack on Islam and Muslims and argued that mediation would be “useless.”
Orange County Circuit Judge Daniel Dawson imposed a strict gag order on attorneys involved in the case. He also denied media access to police reports. The judge said the more media attention the teen gets, the less safe she will be. A pretrial hearing to determine where Bary should live – with her foster family or with her parents in Ohio – has been scheduled for Sept. 29.
As WND reported, Stemberger confirmed in an Aug. 31 press teleconference that the teen had been a victim of beatings at the hands of her father.
“Her father has slapped her with such force that it has knocked her over,” Stemberger said. “Her father asked her to wear the official headdress of Islam. Because she lowered her body down in the car so she couldn’t be seen, he punched her on the side of her face with great force because she was ashamed of that.”
The Christian teen turned to pastors Blake and Beverly Lorenz of Global Revolution Church in Orlando, Fla., whom she met through Facebook. She has been placed in foster care by the Florida Department of Children and Families, or DCF.
As WND reported, a Florida judge determined Aug 21 that she would not be returned immediately to her family in Ohio as her parents wished. She’s now awaiting a decision on whether she will become a dependant of the state until Aug 10, 2010 – her 18th birthday.
Blake Lorenz embraced the emotional teen as she told her story in the following video posted on YouTube:
“I’m a Christian, and my parents are Muslim. They are extremely devout,” she said. “They threatened to kill me. … You guys wouldn’t understand. Islam is very different than you guys think. They have to kill me. My blood is now halal, which means that because I am now a Christian, I’m from a Muslim background, it’s an honor. If they love God more than me, they have to do this. I’m fighting for my life. …”
Asked what her father, Mohamed Bary, told her, she replied, “He said he would kill me. Or he’d have me sent back to Sri Lanka where they’d put me in the asylum.”
She said she left a note for her parents before she ran away: “I said, ‘I refuse to deny Jesus. He is my Lord and Savior. I pray you find his forgiveness and mercy, and I love you both dearly.’ I wrote that, but they never showed it to the police officers.”
Bary warned that if she is forced to return to her family in Ohio, she will die “within a week.”
Fathima Rifqa Bary
Asked why she ran away, she said, “I was threatened by my dad. When my dad found out – I had a Facebook, that’s how he found out – and phone calls from the Muslim community started coming in with e-mails that confronted me. And I had a laptop and he took that laptop and waved it in the air, and he was about to beat me with it, and he said, ‘If you have this Jesus in your heart, you’re dead to me. You’re not my daughter.’ And I refused to speak but he said, ‘I will kill you. Tell me the truth.’ In these words, bad words, cuss words. So I knew that I had to get away.”
Bary said her father received numerous e-mails and phone calls from leaders of the Muslim community from the family mosque known as the Noor Center, warning that his daughter was an apostate. So the teenager sought to escape with her life.
Bary said she would sneak out to Christian prayer meetings and hide her Bible from her parents. After her father confronted her, he forced her to attend several classes, hoping she would return to Islam. However, several weeks later, her mother discovered a Christian book that belonged to her.
“I knew right then that it was over for me,” she said. “I had to leave.”
Fox News reported that the father discovered she had been baptized earlier this year.
The teenager said that in the 150 generations of her family, no one has ever known Jesus.
“I am the first one,” she said. “Imagine the honor in killing me.”
Bary said she wants to remain in Florida so she can be free to worship Jesus, go to church and read her Bible.
“You talk about religious freedom?” she asked. “No! I don’t have that. I want to be here. I want to worship Jesus freely. I don’t want to die.”
Bary’s father, a jeweler, called the church a “cult” and claimed it has brainwashed Fatima.
“This is a cult group who kidnapped my daughter and took her away,” Mohamed Bary told WESH 2 News.
Facebook photo of Fathima Rifqa Bary posted by boy named Tayee Adrian
Stemberger said he hopes the court will consider extensive evidence concerning the extremist ideology promoted by the Bary family mosque when it determines whether to protect her from her family and declare her a dependent of the state of Florida.
“Based upon everything that we have researched and all the experts I have listened to,” Stemberger said, “I think that there is no question in my mind that if she is sent back to Ohio, it is only a matter of time before she slips away in the night.”
The Florida Department of Children and Families may be reached by calling (850)487-1111 or fax (850)922-2993.
Verne Melvin, acting regional director of the Ninth Judicial Circuit Department of Children and Families, may be reached by calling (407)245-0400.