Runaway Teen Convert Will Stay in Florida for Now, Judge Says
The 17-year-old girl who ran away from her Muslim family last month can stay in Florida with a Christian foster family until her next court date, a judge decided Friday.
Circuit Judge Daniel Dawson had been told by the lawyer of Fathima Rifqa Bary that the born-again teen, who goes by Rifqa, wants to stay with her foster family in Florida until she turns 18 next year.
During the hearing Friday, Rifqa told the judge that she loves Jesus and wants to be able to worship freely without fear of physical violence. Rifqa has publicly said in the court and to the media that she fears her life is in danger for leaving Islam.
"If I had stayed in Ohio, I wouldn't be alive," Rifqa told Orlanda, Fla.-based WFTV, in an interview. "In 150 generations in family, no one has known Jesus. I am the first – imagine the honor in killing me.
"There is great honor in that, because if they love Allah more than me, they have to do it. It's in the Quran," she added.
Rifqa's father, however, in an interview with Ohio news station WBNS-TV has denied ever threatening his daughter and claims she has been "brainwashed" by the pastor who has been sheltering her.
In court Friday, Mohamed Bary said if his daughter is returned home, she can practice whatever religion she wants, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
The Barys' lawyers say they are even willing to allow her to stay in a foster home if she returns to Ohio.
Rifqa's lawyer, however, said the real threat is the radical Muslims in Columbus, Ohio – said to be a center for suspected terrorists. Some, the lawyer claimed, have already made the girl their target.
Following Friday's hearing, Judge Dawson ordered the teen girl to remain in the state while the Florida Department of Law Enforcement determines whether her home is safe as her parents claim.
In response to the judge's decision, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist released his first statement Friday, saying: "I am grateful to Circuit Judge Daniel Dawson for his decision to grant Fathima Rifqa Bary the right to remain in Florida."
"We will continue to fight to protect Rifqa's safety and wellbeing as we move forward," he added.
It has been about a month since Rifqa ran away from her home by boarding a bus and traveling 1,000 miles to Orlando.
Rifqa – whose case is complicated by the fact that she is a minor and not a U.S. citizen – says that while she converted years ago, her parents did not discover her new faith until friends at their mosque recently alerted her parents about her Christian postings on Facebook.
The Bary family emigrated from Sri Lanka, where the population is mainly comprised of Buddhist (69.1 percent) with small communities of Muslims (7.6 percent), Hindus (7.1 percent), and Christians (6.2 percent).
All parties are expected to return to court on Sept. 3.