The Curious Case of Rifqa Bary

The Curious Case of Rifqa Bary

Imagine yourself at age 17 being compelled to leave home out of fear of death… from your parents. This scenario describes Fathima “Rifqa” Bary, a Sri Lanka native who ran away from home last year.  Over the past year, Bary’s situation has been newsworthy if not sensationalized in the eyes of the media. Although the latest news involves her fear of death by Muslim extremists, here are the alleged facts that initially brought national attention to this story last July:

    • Bary is a Muslim who claims to have converted to Christianity.
    • Fearing a fatal, parental, religiously based reaction, Bary ran away from home with the assistance of a Columbus, Ohio area minister as well as a Florida minister and his wife.
    • The Florida couple met Bary on Facebook.
    • Bary traveled to Florida via a Greyhound bus to live with the couple.
    • Wanting their daughter back in their custody, Bary’s parents, with assistance from Florida authorities, made sure she returned to Ohio.
    • Due to circumstances, a Columbus judge continues to keep Bary in foster care pending a court decided outcome.
    • And, perhaps, most importantly, Bary is an illegal immigrant.

The entire ordeal changes upon Rifqa Bary’s 18th birthday. In August, she’ll be considered an adult in this country where she will then be eligible to apply for special immigration status to remain in the U.S.  The most recent twist in this case, and our primary reason for presenting this case as our topic, is the fact that Bary’s parents are petitioning to have her deported to Sri Lanka, while they still can, because she’s still a minor.  In fact, Mohamed and Aysha Bary are now fighting to block their daughter’s current legal attempts to prevent her own deportation.

What originated as a custody dispute has now evolved into an immigration issue. Due to the nature of this case, the information provided by the media is likely incomplete because of a judge-imposed gag order. Both sides are, naturally, heavily coached by their respective legal counsel.  Ultimately, the public may yet discover additional details that could result in the entire case turning into something as simple as a teenage girl being so pissed off at her parents that she decided to pull a Tawana Brawley-style fabricated story.  Or, as some allege, this may be a case of a teenage girl being culturally exploited by a church with questionable intentions. At some point in this discussion, parental rights, as determined by Ohio law, will likely play some role in the outcome.

This week’s questions:

Regardless of the quantity of truth behind Rifka Bary’s story, the information presented as “facts” are compelling nonetheless.  Based only on these “facts,” should Bary be required to be deported now as her parents insist? Or should she be allowed to live in foster care until her 18th birthday so that, as an adult, she can be permitted to make the decision to attempt to play the US immigration system to legally remain in this country or to return to Sri Lanka?

Left Opinion

By Rana Odeh

Rifqa Bary, a 17-year old undocumented immigrant from Sri Lanka, has fled her parents’ home in Columbus, Ohio to Orlando, Florida where evangelical Pastor Blake Lorenz, whom she met on Facebook, took her in without informing her parents or the police about her whereabouts for three weeks. Bary, who is now in Florida’s foster care system, claims that her Muslim father would kill her for her conversion to Christianity if she returned home. Her parents, however, publicly stated they do not mind what religion she practices, they just want their daughter, who has been manipulated by strangers, to come home. The State of Florida is now fighting to keep her in foster care until she is 18, so she can apply for special immigration status without the consent of her parents.

Why has such a personal family crisis in Ohio made national headlines and required the intervention of the State of Florida? Well, because there are many people in the U.S. like Rev. Lorenz who believe this is the Crusades era, “These are the last days; these are the end times,” he said, “and this conflict between Islam and Christianity is going to grow greater. This conflict between good and evil is going to grow greater.” There he is, like many others, shamelessly linking good with Christianity and evil with Islam. Every teenager goes through a rebellious, confused and vulnerable phase of his or her life; Rev. Lorenz really took advantage of that when he brainwashed Rifqa through the Internet.
If the case were not a religious crusade, the U.S. would not have shown the same interest in it, nor would it have received such great attention in the media. The U.S. has rarely been so adamant about giving an illegal immigrant legal status. Suddenly, when it works in the favor of defaming an already discriminated against religion in the U.S., the state of Florida wants to give Rifqa special treatment. Neither Florida nor the U.S. immigration system in general would show the same compassion to an undocumented immigrant, if he or she feared his or her parents’ anger for converting to Islam. One of Rifqa’s lawyers, John Stemberger, head of the Florida Family Policy Council (which fought to keep Terri Schiavo on life support in 2005), stated “normally I would be an advocate for parental rights, but not in this case.” Let me finish his sentence for you…“because her parents are Muslim.” Rifqa should be with her parents wherever they are; they know what is best for her, and they just want the exploitation of their daughter from the Church to stop. After all, everyone knows you cannot fully trust the Church these days with the unraveling of several child molestation cases.

If a Muslim Imam was on Facebook chatting with little girls attempting to convert them, and then inviting them to run away from their home into his, he would surely be prosecuted. The entire situation is perverted; the Reverend, who at the end of the day is still just an adult man, is manipulating a naïve teenage girl. Rifqa was clearly confused and perhaps felt outcast in the U.S. for being Muslim. She desperately wanted to fit in with her primarily white and Christian classmates in Ohio. We need to keep in mind that the Reverend concealed this little girl’s location from her parents and the police for three weeks, which is criminal! I’m sure if an Imam concealed the location of a runaway Christian child, he would be accused of kidnapping and holding a child hostage, not to mention child abuse and sexual harassment.

Rifqa, like many other confused young girls, felt scared and made up lies to convince herself and the public that her running away into a strange man’s home was the right thing to do. She claims that her father is a strict devout Muslim and that her life is in danger if she goes back to her family. This is clearly a lie considering that Rifqa was a cheerleader that pranced around in a little skirt, cheering for boys at her school. No closed-minded “radical Muslim” father would approve of his daughter publicly jumping around in a mini-skirt, but Rifqa felt the need to justify her rebellious actions. Her parents sacrificed so much to bring her here for eye surgery as a child. Mohamed and Aysha Bary knew that Rifqa would receive better eye treatment in the U.S. than she would have in Sri Lanka, so they packed up and left their lives in their homeland behind for her. I don’t know about you, but the Barys sound like very loving and caring parents to me that did everything they could to assure their daughter would live a happy life. Clearly they are willing to sacrifice a great deal for Rifqa; they just want their little girl back.

Rana Odeh is a graduate of the University of Dayton with a degree in English and philosophy. Her research and writings focus on issues of race, class and gender. She can be reached at

Right Opinion

Rifqa Bary Fights for her Life
By David H. Landon

Last summer the story of a 17-year-old girl from Columbus, Ohio made national news. Rifqa Bary had been living in Columbus with her Sri Lankan parents who were in the country illegally. Rifqa ran away from home. Since a runaway teenager is not such an unusual story, it is the rest of the story, as the dearly departed Paul Harvey used to say, that has made this a news story of national interest. Rifqa left her home out of fear of her father, Mohamed Bary, a devout Muslim, who upon discovery that Rifqa had converted to Christianity had threaten to kill her.
The legal case for the return of Rifqa to her family began in Florida, where the young girl first ran to live with a Christian family she met over the Internet. The Florida Court returned Rifqa to Ohio but not to her parents. Rifqa had raised a sufficient prima case for possible child abuse that she was only returned to Ohio under the care of foster parents until an Ohio Court could sort out the matter. Today the case is playing out in the Franklin County Juvenile Court in Columbus, Ohio. There is also an issue as to whether the child could be granted a special legal status by the U.S. Immigration Court until she reaches her 18th birthday in August.
At the moment, the Court is considering a reunification plan that the parties are attempting to work through. Her parents are represented by attorneys provided by CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations), a radical Islamic group which recently gained notoriety as non-indicted co-conspirators in the U.S. case filed against the Holy Land Foundation for funneling money to
terrorists groups. Rifqa and her attorneys are fighting reunification. Rifqa still fears, and has told the Court, that her return to her parents, specifically to her father, Mohamed, will put her in grave danger. Her parents are arguing that Rifqa has been brainwashed by the couple who invited her to travel to Florida to escape her parents’ home. They believe that this is really a situation where a confused and rebellious teenager has been taken advantage of by a Christian pastor who has overstepped his authority by converting their daughter, who is a minor, to Christianity. However, Rifqa has stated that she converted to Christianity nearly four years before meeting the pastor online, and evidence would bear that out.

In Court, Rifqa testified that she was forced to run away only after her father was warned by the members of the Muslim community at Noor Islamic Cultural Center in Columbus that his 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.”

It was not the first time that Mohamed had used violence against his daughter. On several occasions Rifqa’s friends took her to the school counselor when she showed up at school with bruises on her arms and legs. Rifqa reported that these bruises were from her father and brother. Rifqa is an honor student, a cheerleader, and by all accounts of her friends, she was a not a problem child. However, while she was a happy, productive and successful student in school, she reported that she was tormented and oppressed at home. While some may have been surprised to hear Rifqa had run away from home, those close to her were not.

In the Muslim faith, the abandonment of one’s faith is a very serious matter. The reaction of the local Muslim community has not been exactly reassuring towards Rifqa. A local Arabic Columbus newspaper featured both a picture of Rifqa and the story of her offense towards Islam. As news of the case spread, the anger and hatred in the Muslim community towards Rifqa even reached an outcropping of Facebook pages dedicated to Rifqa and her crime. The attitude towards this young girl by the people on these pages is beyond what is accept- able as part of a public discourse about the issue. Here are samples of the Facebook entries: “SHAME FOR ISLAM!!!”“RIFQA WILL BE PUNISHED BY GOD.” On one page the entry was simply: “We need to kill her.” I defy you to show me a similar reaction in our modern times to any former member of the Christian, Buddhist, Hindu or Jewish faith who has left his or her religion faith. This is unique to the Muslim faith.

The question is how seriously we should take the statements by this 17-year-old regarding the intentions of her father to do her harm. But why not err on the side of caution? While most parents of any religion are deeply troubled when their child leaves the religion they were raised with, it is an issue that normally doesn’t require physical harm to the child as punishment for their apostate behavior. Further, most Muslims don’t follow this extreme practice in dealing with this issue. Rifqa will be 18 in a few short months. Let’s give her the chance to see her 19th birthday while she reconciles with her family on her own terms and as an adult who has the ability and legal means to protect herself.

David H. Landon is the former Chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party Central Committee. He can be reached at

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