Attorney Angela M. Lloyd listens to Rifqa Bary at Dec. 22 hearing (Photo: Columbus Dispatch
Fearing harm to Islam’s image in the U.S., the Council on American-Islamic Relations is assisting the Muslim parents of an Ohio teen who claims she had to flee for her life last summer because she converted to Christianity, portraying her as a victim of brainwashing while moving to bar any mention in court of the religion’s mandate to kill “apostates,” according to an Ohio pastor who himself is a former Muslim.
Jamal Jivanjee, director of the non-profit ministry Illuminate, told WND he met 17-year-old Rifqa Bary before the current controversy over her conversion – which friends say took place four years ago – and is absolutely convinced the Sri Lanka native is a genuine Christian. He affirms Bary’s claim that her life is threatened by her father, due to his religious beliefs and the Columbus, Ohio, mosque that pressured him to punish her in accord with Islamic law.
CAIR, the subject of a blockbuster expose by WND Books documenting its terror ties, was named by the Justice Department as an unindicted co-conspirator in the largest U.S. terror-finance case in history. The FBI responded by cutting off its once-close ties to CAIR. The Muslim group has sued the father and son who carried out an undercover investigation that obtained internal documents published in the book “Muslim Mafia”.
Jivanjee says CAIR appointed a local lawyer, Omar Tarazi, to cast Bary as a victim of brainwashing by another Ohio pastor, Brian Williams, and the Florida pastors to whom she fled, Blake and Beverly Lorenz, while maneuvering to isolate and discourage her.
Law enforcement officials conducted two investigations in which they concluded Rifqa would face no harm if she returned home. A foster court, nevertheless, place her in foster care until the case could be resolved. An Ohio judge ruled Dec. 22 her family could engage in a discussion with her about their religious beliefs, though not necessarily in person, and rescheduled a trial for Jan. 28 to determine her dependency.
A hearing is scheduled for today to consider various motions ahead of the trial, including a request to move Bary to a different foster home for her security, because the location of the current one has been compromised.
Bary’s legal advocates are employing a narrow strategy of persuading the court that she should become a dependant of the state simply because of conflict in the home, without mention of Islamic influences. In Ohio, achieving dependent status doesn’t require proof of criminal intent, Jivanjee points out.
Ohio Juvenile Court Judge Elizabeth Gill has barred the attorneys from talking about the case to reporters.
Rifqa Bary’s lawyers have been criticized by many of her supporters for complying with Tarazi’s desire to keep religious motivations out of the case. Observers with knowledge of Islam, such as author and Jihad Watch director Robert Spencer and blogger Pamela Geller, assert the case is inescapably about the religious beliefs of her parents and the local mosque that pressured them to abide by Islam’s deadly intolerance for conversion.
Tarazi also has asked the court to ban any witnesses from mentioning incidents between Rifqa and her parents that took place more than 24 hours before she ran away.
“CAIR’s agenda is to paint a positive view of Islam and defend the image of Islam here in the West,” Jivanjee told WND. “That’s why I think they’re interested in the case.”
Jivanjee told WND, however, he expects to be called as a witness and insists it will be impossible to explain why Rifqa left home without discussing Islam.
He says Tarazi’s insistence on fighting Rifqa’s attempt to become a dependant of the state makes it more likely a spotlight will be shone on Islamic doctrines and practices that sharply conflict with traditional American ideals.
Geller, meanwhile, pointing to the judge’s order and the reluctance of Rifqa’s court-appointed attorney, is skeptical that any religious evidence will be entered in the case and believes the teen needs new legal counsel.
Rifqa Bary says her father, Mohamed Bary, threatened her life after learning of her conversion. She says she became a Christian four years ago, long before she met Williams and the Lorenzes, but was baptized by Williams last year. When her parentsbegan preparing to move the family back to Sri Lanka, she sought refuge with the Lorenzes after connecting with them on the social networking site Facebook.com. The Barys reported their daughter missing to Columbus, Ohio, police July 19 then tracked her down to the Lorenz home in Orlando.
At the December hearing, Tarazi withdrew a motion to block third parties from communicating with Rifqa, including the hundreds of Christmas cards, notes and messages she had received from supporters worldwide. But the parties came to an agreement that all communications must be screened by Rifqa’s court-appointed guardian ad litem.
As a result, according to Jivanjee, since the last hearing, Rifqa has been virtually cut off from the outside world. She has no official visitors list, he said, even though in Florida she was permitted supervised visits, and she has not been allowed to have phone contact with any of her friends.
Jivanjee said when he inquired he was told foster children are not entitled to receive phone calls or visits from friends. But between the time she entered Ohio foster care and the Dec. 22 hearing she was allowed to talk on the phone with a few people under supervision, he pointed out.
In motions submitted to the Ohio court, Tarazi denied connections to CAIR and to the Noor mosque, the Jawa Report blog reported.
But when the case was still in Florida, the website said, attorney John Stemberger submitted a 35-page memorandum to the court documenting the mosque’s extensive terror ties. Documents identified the mosque’s founder and spiritual leader Hany Saqr in the Holy Land Foundation terrorism finance trial as one of the top North American leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood. Also, the mosque’s former resident scholar Salah Soltan has appeared at events in the Middle East with designated terrorists. CAIR was named an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land trial in 2007.
Tarazi has denied the Noor mosque is involved in funding the case. But a Facebook e-mail sent by Saqr announced Tarazi’s appearance as a speaker at Eid morning prayers Nov. 27. The Jawa Report said three independent sources who attended Tarazi’s talk said he gave an update on the case and a collection was taken afterward to help finance the case.
The Jawa Report also presented photographic evidence of CAIR’s management of media in the case. The blog noted in September that CAIR officials were present when Florida investigators interviewed Rifqa’s parents.
‘It’s in the Quran’
Despite news reports that she converted only last year, Jivanjee says there are as many as 50 people who can testify of her Christian conversion four years ago and her consistent statements of fear of reprisal from her parents since that time.
When I started hearing these allegations that she was brainwashed, I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I thought, ‘They can’t be serious.'”
While in Orlando, Rifqa explained her plight in an interview with local WFTV.
“If I had stayed in Ohio, I wouldn’t be alive,” she said. “In 150 generations in family, no one has known Jesus. I am the first – imagine the honor in killing me.”
She explained there is “great honor in that, because if they love Allah more than me, they have to do it. It’s in the Quran.”
Some of the reporting on the case, such as a Christian Science Monitor report, has conflated the widespread practice of “honor killing” in Muslim communities – often for bringing shame to a family through immoral behavior – with the requirement under Islamic law to punish apostasy with death.
Prominent Islamic scholars, including Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi, have asserted the Islam’s holy book, the Quran, teaches that rejection of Islam must be punished by death. A convert to Christianity in Afghanistan, Abdul Rahman, was jailed for apostasy in 2006 but released as mentally incompetent after the case drew international attention.
“All the schools of Islamic jurisprudence mandate death for the apostate,” Jihad Watch’s Spencer affirmed to WND. “Some teach that the female apostate is to be imprisoned until she recants – this is the situation that Rifqa’s clueless lawyers and the Ohio court have allowed themselves to be maneuvered into, such that Rifqa is now essentially cut off from the outside world.”
Jivanjee says he believes CAIR and the Muslim community want to silence Rifqa and hope that she is turned back over to her parents so they can take her back to Sri Lanka.
He points out her family is not in the country legally.
“A lot of people have said, the whole country is watching her and her family, so if she’s sent home, they’re not going to do anything to her,” Jivanjee said. “That may be true. But if she’s returned, many believe they will be on the first plane back to Sri Lanka, and there will be no protection for her there. So that’s the real danger of this whole thing.”
Jivanjee says Rifqa fled her home after discovering Mohamed Bary had shut down his longtime jewelry business and the family was making preparations to return to Sri Lanka.
‘There’s just a look’
Jivanjee said Rifqa contacted him about a year ago after hearing a recorded talk online in which he recalled his conversion from Islam to Christianity.
“I was intrigued when I first got the message from her, and I wanted to meet her. I have a daughter who is a little bit younger that her, and I wanted my daughter to meet her and my wife,” he said.
They set up a meeting, and he was immediately impressed with her faith.
“I try to communicate this the best I can – but I have never seen such strong faith in my life,” he said.
Jivanjee said he’s had the opportunity to travel around the Middle East and meet with other Muslims who have become Christians.
“I’ve heard their stories of suffering for their faith, there’s just a look – you can just tell when someone has suffered,” he said. “And when I meet with Rifqa, I saw the same thing. I saw somebody who went through tremendous suffering, yet she was filled with joy.”
Jivanjee calls her “one of the most loving people I had ever met.”
“In that first meeting I knew without a shadow of a doubt that she was the most genuine believer I think I had ever met,” he said. “And it’s hard for me to explain that, but I definitely believe it.”
Jivanjee said Rifqa came to faith in middle school through a girl in her class who had become a Christian through a youth camp and “came back telling all the kids about her faith in Jesus.”
“She started hearing about God in a way she had really never heard” and began attending church services with her friend, he said.
‘Your daughter is an apostate’
Jivanjee said Mohamed Bary is highly regarded at the Noor mosque, which began to put pressure on the family last spring after doing some “investigative work” that concluded Rifqa had become a Christian.
“They said, ‘Your daughter is an apostate. You need to deal with your daughter,'” Jivanjee recounted. “And that brought a lot of shame on their family. And her father took that very seriously, and they started to threaten to have her taken back to Sri Lanka, to have her dealt with.”
He said there also were plans to have her put into an institution with “uncontrollable” girls who convert from their faith.
“It’s like a women’s prison, where you’re locked up, beaten, all kinds of things,” he said. “They also threatened to have her forcibly married and also he threatened to kill her.”
Mohamed Bary originally denied an incident in which Rifqa alleged he raised a laptop to beat her and yelled, “If you have this Jesus in your heart you are dead to me and I will kill you.”
Mohamed Bary later admitted there was an altercation but insists he’s never threatened or tried to harm his daughter.
Jivanjee, however, says the father’s actions are consistent how a pious Muslim father would respond to a daughter who had rejected Islam for Christianity.