In 2009, Rifqa Bary ran away from her home in Ohio, at the age of 16, claiming that her Muslim parents were threatening to kill her for converting to Christianity. The story made national news, but Bary’s parents claimed she was lying and was not in danger. The young girl sought refuge with an Orlando-based pastor who later turned her over to child welfare. Florida governor Charlie Crist and Sen. Marco Rubio also made comments on the matter, but critics claim this only politicized the matter. A report by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) found discrepancies in Bary’s story, but she still remained in state custody until she turned 18 years old.
From an undisclosed location, Bary has now spoken out to tell her side of the story through a new book, “Hiding in the Light: Why I Risked Everything to Leave Islam and Follow Jesus.” Here she shares her side of the story and seeks to explain the alleged discrepancies.
RNS: Your family is originally from Sri Lanka. Why did they move to the United States to begin with?
RB: At age 6, my life and my relationship with my family changed forever. First, a member of my extended family sexually abused me. Then later that same year my older brother accidentally blinded me while playing with a toy airplane. After these things happened, my family treated me differently, like I was damaged and they were ashamed of me. Looking back, I believe that being sexually victimized and losing an eye brought shame to our family. My family moved from Sri Lanka to the US to escape shame, even while they were saying it was just to get me medical attention for me, but we never returned.
RNS: And can you talk about your conversion experience after moving to America?
RB: In the U.S., my father regularly physically abused me, often punching me in the chest, shaking me furiously and throwing me across the room. I tried to give myself to Islam in order to find freedom, but all I found was abuse and oppression. By the time I was 12, I was contemplating suicide. With nothing else to do, I prayed. I asked God to show up—whoever He was.
The answer to my prayer came when a girl at school invited me to church. Without my parent’s knowledge, I went. My life changed that day. I found love, freedom and mercy in Jesus. I had to keep my faith secret, because it would bring dishonor on my family. If my father beat me because of unintentionally dishonoring the family, what would he do if I decided to leave Islam? I was terrified of what would happen if he knew I had become a Christian.
RNS: When you fled your home at age 16, it ended up gaining you national media attention. Talk about why you left.