Four years ago, Fathima Rifqa Bary snuck into a local church and had an “incredible encounter with Jesus” that led the formerly Muslim teen to convert to Christianity.
Now, the 17-year-old is involved in a legal battle with her parents, who are trying to regain custody of her after she ran away fearing that her family would kill her for leaving Islam.
“They have to kill me because I’m a Christian,” she told Orlando, Fla.-based WFTV, referring to the practice of killing a family member who fellow members believe has brought dishonor upon the family, clan, or community.
“It’s an honor [issue],” she added.
Though Fathima had tried to keep her faith hidden from her parents, her conversion was recently made known when friends from her family’s mosque alerted her parents about her Christian postings on Facebook.
The situation worsened last month when Fathima’s mother found a Christian book in her room. Fathima’s mother reportedly said she is dead to her unless she renounces her Christian faith.
The Christian teen also said her father had threatened to kill her after he heard that she had been baptized.
Fearful for her life, Fathima boarded a bus last month that took her from her home near Columbus, Ohio, to Orlando, nearly 1,000 miles away.
There, Fathima initially stayed with a Christian couple that she had befriended in a prayer group on Facebook.
“When she came to our house, she told us her parents would not report her missing,” said Pastor Blake Lorenz of Global Revolution Church, according to ABCNews.com.
But to Fathima’s surprise, her parents did report her missing.
And on Monday, Fathima found herself having to testify in a local Florida court about her fear of returning to her family in Ohio.
Throughout this time, her father has claimed that he has not threatened her.
On Monday, the judge decided that Fathima should move into a group home with the Florida Department of Children and Families until her next court hearing on Aug. 21.
The 17-year-old convert is being represented by a lawyer with the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal group that frequently takes on religious freedom cases. Her parents, meanwhile, are still searching for attorneys to represent them with the help of the Muslim community.
In addition to being a minor, Fathima is not a U.S. citizen – details that complicate the case.
Her family emigrated from Sri Lanka.