- (Photo: AP Images / Jay LaPrete)
The father of a teenage girl who ran away from home because she feared her Muslim family would kill her for converting to Christianity denies ever threatening his daughter and says she's being "coached" by the pastor of a church in Orlando, Fla.
“Honestly, it's not my daughter who is speaking,” Mohamed Bary told central Ohio news station WBNS-TV.
“I feel that she has been coached to say these things,” he added after refuting the allegations made by his daughter, 17-year-old Fathima Rifqa Bary, regarding his response to her recently revealed conversion.
The Christian teen, who secretly converted four years ago, said her father had threatened to kill her after he heard that she had been baptized.
"Not at all. It's completely false," Bary said.
Bary told reporters he believes Pastor Blake Lorenz of the Global Revolution Church "brainwashed" his daughter after befriending her in a prayer group on Facebook.
Fathima's older brother, Rilvan, supported Bary’s comments, telling WBNS that Fathima never talked about violence or honor killing until she met with Lorenz.
"You also saw in the video someone is patting her on the back and saying good job," Rilyan said. "She's definitely been told what to do. It's not even her. She's not even making eye contact in the video. What does that tell you?"
Though it's been four years since Fathima snuck into a local church and had an “incredible encounter with Jesus” that led the formerly Muslim teen to convert to Christianity, problems did not arise until recently, when the conversion she kept hidden from her parents was finally brought to their attention.
According to reports, friends from the family’s mosque alerted Bary and his wife about their daughter's 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.
Fearing for her life, Fathima last month boarded a bus that took her from her home near Columbus, Ohio, to Orlando, nearly 1,000 miles away.
There, she stayed with Lorenz and his wife, insisting that her parents would not report her missing. In many countries, such as Sri Lanka, from where the Barys emigrated, women who stray from strict cultural upbringings are often accused of bringing dishonor upon the family and are cast out or even killed.
To Fathima’s surprise, however, her parents did report her missing.
And now, the Christian teen is in a legal battle with her parents, who are trying to regain custody of her.
On Monday, Fathima testified in a local Florida court about her fear of returning to her family in Ohio.
Following the hearing, 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.