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Runaway convert case: family issue or test of sharia law in US?

A Muslim girl who converted to Christianity in Ohio fled her family because she said she felt her life was in danger. A judge ruled Tuesday that the family must discuss their religious views, though they are not required to meet in person.

By Staff writer / December 23, 2009

In this Aug. 13 file photo, Mohamed Bary, right, his wife Aysha Bary, center, and their son Rilvan Bary answer questions about their daughter Rifqa Bary during an interview in Columbus, Ohio.

Jay LaPrete/AP/File

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Atlanta

The Muslim teenager who converted to Christianity and ran away from home, claiming she feared for her life, does not have to meet with her parents in order to mediate her future, a judge ruled late Tuesday.

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After converting to Christianity earlier this year, Fatimah Rifqa Bary says her father threatened her life. She fled her family home in Ohio to stay with a pastor in Orlando, Fla., who had vowed via Facebook to protect her.

Two separate law-enforcement investigations have found no credible threats to Rifqa's life were she to return home, but a Florida court placed her in foster care in her home state until the case is resolved.

At a hearing Tuesday in Ohio, the judge ordered that Rifqa and her family have a discussion about their religious beliefs, but did not go so far as to order them to meet face to face.

The hearing also crystallized Rifqa's legal strategy – stall the case in the courts until she turns 18 this summer. Once legally an adult, she can make her own decisions about where to live and how to pray.

If the case does go to trial, Rifqa's lawyers are expected to introduce evidence about apostasy and honor killings. Her parents say they simply want her to return home.

"The Rifqa legal team is saying that the parents are a threat to her and that she should not be returned; she should stay as a foster child in the care of Ohio until she's 18 and make up her own mind," Tom Trento, director of the Florida Security Council and a supporter of the girl’s court case, told OneNewsNow, a conservative news and opinion website. "And the other side, the family side, is saying, 'No, we want her back.' "

The case has unearthed sensitive issues around conversions from Islam and the prospect of so-called “honor killings,” where members of a family take the life of a relative who has dishonored the family name. It also shows, some critics say, the difficulty that Western courts have decoding and understanding sharia, the Islamic religious law that spans national borders.

"Unfortunately Rifqa Bary’s case highlights the danger of creeping Jihad in the Western world," writes sharia critic Wafa Sultan, author of "A God Who Hates," in a recent contribution to the Jihad Watch website.

Muslim leaders deny that Islam promotes honor killings. They say the practice can be tied to tribal behavior and customs that predate the prophet Muhammad, who established Islam.

"You're always going to get problems with chauvinism and suppressing vulnerable populations and gender discrimination," Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, told USA Today earlier this year.

Police say that at least six Muslim men have been arrested in the US in the past two years for crimes that suggest honor killings. Last month, Noor Almeki, a young Iraqi immigrant, was allegedly run over by her father in a Peoria, Ariz., parking lot. Police say the woman’s father was upset that his daughter had left a husband she married in Iraq and moved in with an American man.

On Tuesday, the family’s lawyer, Omar Tarazi, also withdrew a motion that sought to block Rifqa from getting Christmas cards from well-wishers. The next hearing in the case is scheduled for Jan. 19. [Editor's note: the original version of this story misstated Mr. Tarazi's affiliation.]

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See also:

Case of runaway convert leads to Muslim-Christian clash

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