I’m not sure if everybody has seen the story of Rifqa Bary. Here’s what you need to know.
She’s 17. She is from Ohio, where she lived with her Muslim family (from Sri Lanka). She converted to Christianity and ran away from home to stay with a minister in Florida. After claiming that her father threatened her life if she did not practice Islam, she was put into foster care. Now, a judge is ordering she be returned home to Ohio under state custody.
It is pretty impossible to tell what exactly is the truth, but legally, I think the judge made the right decision. Honestly, I think this whole thing is a mess, but mostly because religious privilege distorts the light we see everything in.
It is possible that Rifqa’s father, Mohamed, threatened Rifqa regarding her religion. Honor killings are not totally unheard of in fundamental Islam. It’s also possible that he just stated he would prefer she practice Islam (as any religious parent might) but the Christians who helped her convert encouraged her to demonize him. It definitely wouldn’t be the first time Christians unfairly demonized Muslims in our country.
Even if we err on the side of caution that he might have made such a threat, Rifqa’s response was no better. If she did not feel safe in her home, there are ways the law could protect her. There are many things I do not like about custody and dependence laws in terms of the freedom of expression of young people, but ultimately I do understand how such laws protect young people as they mature until they reach the age of consent. Like the many young people who struggle coming out as gay to their family, there are ways to be declared independent and ways to find protection from abusive family members. Rifqa chose none of those paths, but instead ran away to be protected by Christians, and whether we like it or not, her family still has custody over her.
I very much struggle to trust the Christians involved with this scenario. First of all, I think missionary work and conversion is offensive and dangerous. Roping people in to a new set of delusional beliefs is, in my opinion, disrespectful to those people’s ability to think critically. But not only did they successfully coerce Rifqa to Christianity, they encouraged her to escape her current situation rather than deal with it in appropriate ways. They paid for her bus ticket to Florida and took her in and all of this was against her parents’ wishes. (This CNN Video report has those details.) I do not think it is right for parents to dictate what their children can and cannot believe, but it definitely is no better to coerce a young person to intentionally defy the wishes of her parents.
Ultimately, this whole situation is just messed up, but only because of the way we protect religion. Here are some questions people might raise:
» Do parents have a right to determine what their children do and do not believe?
» Do children have a right to determine what they do and don’t believe?
» Can government interfere with parents’ rights to raise their kids on religious grounds?
I think the fact anyone might humor such questions is despicable. If anyone is telling anyone what they should or shouldn’t believe, that’s definitely not “freedom of religion,” as we call it. This poor child is not the victim of Islam nor of Christianity, but of both. There is a war being waged over her soul, and she has never had an opportunity to think for herself that there might not even be such a thing as a God or a soul.
But society is okay with that. All that matters is that she be protected to worship how “she wants” to worship. It’s such a shame we care more about her beliefs than actually about her, but that’s the state of things. Disgusting.