At the center of the Rifqa Bary case is more than the plight of one teen. While we all like for our courtroom dramas to begin and conclude in a one hour timeframe including the commercials, the real world is not black and white.
For this reason, the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD) has been very deliberate in our response to this case. Let us begin by saying that within some Muslim families and communities, belief in some type of punishment for apostasy is a very real threat.
It may be dressed differently or given a different name, but it is still intolerance for apostasy. But also significantly, in my lifetime as a Muslim, I have not met Muslim parents who personally countenance punishments for apostasy. But I have met Muslim clerics who do (Islamists).
That being said, as a father, the thought of anyone – let alone the courts – usurping the place of the parents in the decisions of a teen is chilling. If we take religion out of the mix in this a priori discussion and hypothetically state that the girl was a younger teen who had run away from her family to pursue an abortion, I believe we would be having a much different discussion.
Rifqa's legal case is, however, particularly compelling in her favor due to her reports of prior abuse, verbal threats, and how close her age is to the age of majority of 18.
Addressing the issue of apostasy is a very real concern for AIFD and has been since our inception. I believe that the Bary case should be used as tool to bring to light many questions that Muslims should ask themselves. While I have never heard a Muslim directly or personally justify violence against another Muslim for the act of apostasy, there is a significant amount of pathology in the way many Muslims deal with apostasy from almost every level – from the familial to the tribal to the intellectual levels.
What I will show here is that the preponderance of the intellectual evidence shows a systemic intolerance and, in fact, there is strong evidence for legal (Shar'iah-based) underpinnings for the intolerance, abuse, discrimination, and even at its worst, direct countenance of murder of apostates.
I will also show that, thankfully, there is a disconnect between rational, moral, lay Muslims (the majority) and authoritative Islamic law as defined by the ulemaa (the theocratic scholars) who still, unfortunately, drive the ideas of a significant minority of Muslims in the West.
This problem, as evident in Afghanistan's Rahman case of March 2006 is magnified manifold in Muslim majority nations where there is far less influence of Western ideas of religious freedom upon Muslim interpretations of Shar'iah law and their treatment of apostates.
But the evidence will show that even in the West, the majority of Islamic scholars still endorse some sort of Islamic punishment for apostasy with various and sundry apologetics. Some scholars provide the absurd qualification of "only under an Islamic state" or "only as apostasy is a war against Islam," which somehow makes that all right.
And we will see that other texts in the West still basically endorse the death penalty.
Fathima Rifqa Bary
Many aspects of the Bary case are beyond troubling. From media reports, Fathima Rifqa Bary of New Albany, Ohio is the daughter of Sri Lankan immigrants Mohammed and Aysha Bary, who reportedly came to the U.S. in 2000 seeking medical care for Rifqa. According to some reports,
"Rifqa, a high-school junior, had been questioning her faith for several months, her father said. She attended one church with friends from school and later attended services at another church, Xenos Christian Fellowship, a megachurch that emphasizes small groups meeting at home."
She then apparently joined a Facebook prayer group and connected with the Lorenzs and their Global Revolution Church (GLC) in Florida online. She vanished from New Albany, Ohio on July 19, 2009. Her parents filed a missing person report with the local police in Columbus, Ohio. Hopefully further court proceedings will clarify Rifqa's whereabouts from July 19th to August 9th and why there was a delay in connecting her with the Ohio missing persons report.
Her whereabouts became known on August 11, 2009 after an interview with Rifqa surfaced and Pastor Lorenz of GLC reported her struggle. According to Fox News she testified in a custody hearing in Orlando on August 10, 2009 "that she'd recently changed religions and is worried her relatives will do something drastic, according to WFTV in Orlando and Central Florida News 13." Her parents denied the allegations.
Going on only what they knew to be the truth from the 17-year-old Rifqa, the Florida's Department of Children and Families (DCF) then quickly placed Rifqa with a foster family.
A recent report from The Tampa Tribune on September 5, 2009 reviewed some of the more salient facts and accusations in the case.
While there is no denying that many of the blogs and news stories have been sensationalized from both sides of this issue, there is no escaping the fact that the pleadings of Rifqa Bary must be given the benefit of the doubt and due process.
Regardless of the implications true or false to the community to which she belonged, thankfully individual rights trump those of the community in the United States. As Herb London recently discussed, our Constitution and religious freedoms which our government officials are sworn to uphold demand this.
Another hearing took place on August 21, 2009 with the coalescing of a legal and media firestorm. Rifqa's parents were present and Judge Daniel Dawson ruled that his court does have jurisdiction and more time was required to gain more facts until the next hearing.
In this specific case with Rifqa Bary, the courts will surely demonstrate whether the physical threat to Rifqa is real. If there is any doubt whatsoever, I pray that she be protected.
We must surely take Rifqa at her word in her television interview that her father "would kill me or send me back to Sri Lanka…where they have asylums where they put people like me."
Rifqa also said that after learning of her conversion to Christianity, her father said, "If you have this Jesus in your heart, you're dead to me, you're not my daughter." She has said that "They have to kill me…I don't want to die," noting her fear of being a victim of honor killings. At this point in the case we also need to remember that America is founded upon the premise that individuals are innocent until proven guilty. Read more here ...
Source: M. Zudhi Jasser