Rifqa Bary, the Ohio teen who made national headlines in 2009 when she ran away from her Muslim family after secretly converting to Christianity, writes in her new book that nearly six years after her escape she still lives in fear but does not regret her decision.
Born Fatima Rifqa Bary, the Sri Lankan native moved with her family to the US in 2000, when she was 8 years old, ostensibly to seek medical treatment after an accident involving a toy airplane left her blind in her right eye.
At age 12, Rifqa secretly became a Christian. When her devout Muslim parents discovered her conversion four years later, the teen fled her family’s home in New Albany, Ohio, and sought refuge in Central Florida.
Bary, now 22, is a college student majoring in philosophy. She still lives in an undisclosed location for fear of retribution.
In her new book, Hiding in the Light: Why I risked Everything to Leave Islam and Follow Jesus, released Tuesday by the WaterBrook Press division of Penguin Random House, Bary details her transformation from a girl growing up in a strict Muslim household to an apostate who, according to some people, shamed her family.
‘Those who do understand it, and understand it very well, are those who have wanted me dead. That’s why I have taken, and continue to take, precautions to protect my life and safety,’ she writes, according to Columbus Dispatch.
The book also sheds light on Rifqa’s strict upbringing, her first religious experiences as a Christian convert and a battle with cancer that nearly cost Bary her life at age 18.
In her memoir, the 22-year-old aspiring lawyer reveals that she had been molested as a child by a member of her extended family – an incident that ultimately prompted her parents to leave Sri Lanka and move to the US.
‘In some Muslim cultures, like mine, this kind of violation is a great source of dishonor,’ Bary explains. ‘Yet the shame is not attached to the abuser; it is cast on the victim.
‘So not only was I viewed now in my parents’ eyes as a half-blind picture of imperfection, but I was also a shameful disgrace to the Bary name. My mere presence and appearance were a stain against the most important thing of all — our family honor.’
On July 19, 2009, Rifqa Bary boarded a Greyhound bus in Ohio and traveled nearly 1,000 miles southeast to Central Florida.
Police used phone and computer records to track her to the Reverend Blake Lorenz, pastor of Orlando, Florida-based Global Revolution Church, whom she had met through a Facebook prayer group.
Rifqa claimed her father threatened to kill her for converting to Christianity and her mother threatened to ship her off to a mental institution in Sri Lanka.
The teenage runaway told a Florida judge at one point she feared she would become the victim of an ‘honor killing,’ but investigations carried out by the Columbus Police Department and Florida Department of Law Enforcement failed to corroborate this threat, according to Orlando Sentinel.
After several rounds of court hearings, Bary was returned to Ohio where she bounced between foster homes until she turned 18.
In her book, Rifqa Bary writes critically of her family and their local mosque, suggesting that they were the deciding factors in her decision to turn her back on Islam and flee.
According to Bary, her parents and older brother routinely abused her and prevented her from spending time with friends because in Islam, she write, ‘the place for women was at home close to their families, close to Allah.’
She also describes in the book how strict religious rules imposed by the leaders at the mosque attended by her family created a ‘whiplash of abuse’ at her home.
Fearing her family’s wrath, Bary said she would hide her Bible and lie to her parents so she could sneak off to church services.
Bary’s parents have repeatedly denied the allegations of abuse and claimed that they allowed her to freely practice Christianity.
Describing Bary as the ‘apple of the eye of her father,’ attorney Shayan Elahi said the family is heartbroken over her estrangement and wish Rifqa would reconcile with them.
Elahi, who represented Mohamed Bary, Rifqa’s father, in Florida during the custody battle, claimed that as a teenager she came to be exploited and manipulated by ‘Islamophobes’ pursuing their own political and religious agendas.
Rifqa Bary details in her autobiography how she was drawn to Christianity as a young girl because it offered her a chance to worship God in a more personal way, not by compulsion, and in a language she could understand.
‘To think that someone could pray in English about whatever they wanted to was both scandalous and fascinating to me,’ she writes.
Describing her first Christian chruch service, the 22-year-old college sophomore writes how she broke down in tears looking at a cross, which to her symbolized ‘freedom,’ ‘hope’ and ‘unyielding love.’
Upon her return to Ohio, Rifqa Bary was diagnosed with a rare form of uterine cancer and given a year to live.
After undergoing eight weeks of chemotherapy and several surgeries to remove the malignant tumor, Bary stopped treatment and refused to undergo a hysterectomy citing her religious beliefs.
Against overwhelming odds, today the 22-year-old is in remission.
But as she tries to lead a normal life, Rifqa says the fear of retaliation is always lurking in the background.
‘I still feel like my life is in danger,’ she says. ‘I don’t live in fear all the time but I still have to be wise and cautious.’