We No Longer Live in a 9-10 World: The Ongoing Saga of Rifqa Bary, Part Two

If we step into the Way Back Machine to the year 1988, we might recall the enormous uproar concerning an author named Salmon Rushdie. He became a household word because of his fourth novel, The Satanic Verses , in which the depiction of Muhammad so enraged the Muslim world that a fatwa (religious edict) was issued the following year by Ayatollah Khomeini. Accusing Rushdie of blasphemy on Teheran Radio, Iran’s spiritual leader publicly offered a bounty for the death of the author.[1]

While it grabbed headlines and some mild attention (and sent the writer into hiding for more than a decade) it was more of a distant curiosity to Westerners at the time, living as they were in what we now call the “9-10” world. After the attack on the Twin Towers in New York, we would dust off these disparate memories and expand our Islamic vocabulary to include jihad , hijab , Shari’a , Sunni, Shi’a and a host of other formerly unknown words. But was the attack itself an anomaly or part of a larger threat that we must take seriously?

Last week we looked at the case of Rifqa Bary, a teenager who has fled her family after their violent reaction to her conversion to Christianity. This follows on the heels of a rash of honor killings in the West, more fatwas and a host of legal disputes in which the status of Islamic observance in non-Muslim countries is drawing attention to the question: What is it about Islam that makes them treat people this way?

First of all, we must recognize that while Islam holds sacred the Qur’an — its one holy book — the interpretation of that book varies widely. It would not be out of line to compare it to the Protestant world, which similarly honors the Bible as the revealed Word of God. That same book is used by Amish and Unitarians, by Baptists and Mormons with wildly varying outcomes.[2]

Thus the first pillar of Islam, the profession of faith (Shahadah ): “there is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet,” leads the Muslim faithful to the next set of writings, the hadith (or traditions) which shed more light on the intentions of Muhammad through anecdotes about his behavior and words of his earliest followers.[3] Thus, various schools of thought have grown over the centuries, leading observers to discuss and debate what Islam really requires of its followers.

In order that a given society might completely reflect the will of Allah as he made himself known to Muhammad, a practical application of Islamic belief to everyday life has been constructed, which is called shari’a . This legal framework, whose name means “path to the water source” regulates all elements of public and private life and names a host of capital crimes, which include insulting the prophet or leaving Islam. Both blasphemy and apostasy are punishable by death — and if we’ve learned anything about Muslims since 2001, we’ve seen that fervent believers take their responsibility towards Allah very seriously.[4]

How are we affected by the ways that Muslims interpret their scriptures as long as we don’t live under shari’a itself? To begin with, we must understand that while not all Muslims accept the same strict interpretation of the Qur’an , those who do will fight to the death for its tenets to be honored. That means that when we hear of death threats and charges of blasphemy we cannot dismiss them as unfounded. Rifqa Bary has been dumbfounded by the response in the media and the courts to her fears for her life. To understand the legal demands of Islam concerning her conversion to Christianity is to realize she isn’t simply acting paranoid.

David Rusin writes in Islamist Watch :

All major schools of Islamic jurisprudence stipulate that a sane adult male must be put to death for abandoning Islam, though varying interpretations persist on whether females should be killed or merely imprisoned. Many Islamic states outlaw apostasy and seven list it as a capital offense. However, freelancers such as angry relatives present the greatest danger to ex-Muslims, as Sunni and Shiite scholars largely agree that Shari’a empowers individuals to punish converts. This tradition has followed Muslims to the Western world.[5]

So the question isn’t whether she can leave Islam behind. The only debate is whether to kill or imprison her -– and an alternative to the latter is to bundle her off to her native Sri Lanka and marry her to a man who will then own her.

But there’s one more element –- the protests of her family, their lawyers, the Islamic representatives who are standing before the cameras and insisting that this is all an enormous misunderstanding. This is sanctioned by the faith as well. The Qur’an allows its followers to mislead and lie as long as the ultimate goal is to promote the faith, saying, “any one who, after accepting faith in Allah, utters Unbelief — except under compulsion, his heart remaining firm in Faith — but such as open their breast to Unbelief, on them is Wrath from Allah, and theirs will be a dreadful Penalty” (16:106). This is universally understood to mean that when there would be consequences to telling the truth, one is required to lie and it will not be held against him.[6]

Duplicity of this sort has been widely used to lure “blasphemers” or “apostates” back to their families, who promise to receive them calmly –- only to be ambushed shortly after arrival. Thus, Rifqa’s wariness over her father’s promises of tolerance and peace must be understood in context of a faith and culture that prize conformity to the will of Allah over family bonds, over the truth and over life itself. As she noted tearfully,

You guys don’t understand. Islam is very different than you guys think. They have to kill me. My blood is now halal , which means that because I am now a Christian, I’m from a Muslim background, it’s an honor. If they love God more than me, they have to do this.[7]

We pray for those who have converted to Christianity and are now in hiding, for those suffering persecution around the world and for those called to martyrdom for love of Christ. The ultimate sacrifice has been demanded often throughout history, but it’s hard to watch it unfold here where so many come to escape persecution. Last week’s hearing has allowed her to remain in Florida until the end of the month. After that, her fate is known to God alone.

[1] That edict was publicly reconfirmed in 2005 by Ayatollah Khamenai, and the Iranian state reminds Rushdie yearly of his status.

[2] What differentiates Catholics is the authority given to the Magisterium to interpret the Scriptures, which are combined with Sacred Tradition for our understanding of the will of God.

[3] One might also refer to the mishna , the codification of Jewish oral traditions, which augments the Torah with the wisdom of the sages over the centuries.

[4] http://atlasshrugs2000.typepad.com/atlas_shrugs/2009/09/the-muslim-meme-the-church-is-cashing-in-off-rifqa.html (Scrolling down on this post, there are many photos of those who have paid the price for upsetting their families with their behavior.)

[6] This is significantly different from the Catholic understanding of “mental reservation,” which is strictly defined and usually related to avoiding death or injury.

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  • Warren Jewell

    We of Western and Judeao-Christian culture, and especially ostensible practicing Christians, must learn that we have an enemy not merely to our religious faith and practices, but to our very freedom to have them.

    I don’t know what all that can mean, but it doesn’t sound good for either our enemies or us. Part of what we learn, as giving us challenge and opportunity by this young woman’s awful problems, must be how we will deal with this as at once a free people, and a tolerant people.

    I for one can see accepting martyrdom for my Catholic faith, but those lives of every Christian in our culture? And, just what, if we die or submit in droves and populations, and that enemy claims his ‘victory for Allah’ – hardly having been ‘seeded for Christ’ by the blood of modern martyrs – will we have accomplished?

    I can see this needing piles of our prayers: and, one can wonder less and less how Saint Paul called for our unceasing prayer lives. However, what other preparations and processes must we be ready to perform? For foreboding instance, what responses in our words and actions will we make about, perhaps, a Catholic church at best-attended Mass being held for hostage by jihadist Muslims, or some taking of our children gathered in school as, say, as at Beslan in Russia? It would be very head-burying in the ‘9/10’ manner to just say “It won’t happen”.

  • laurak

    Teenagers are always curious about things that are different from how they were raised. That’s what teenage rebellion is all about. Teenagers experiment with drugs, alchohol, illicit relationships, running away to see “new” things and they reject or at least test their parents beliefs for themselves. This young girl knew exactly what she was doing. I do not doubt that she truly does want to be a christian, but why didn’t she wait to declare her new found christian beliefs until she was legally an adult? She knew how her family would react and she did it anyway.

    I’m a volunteer in Catholic prison ministry at a juvenille correctional facility and the chaplin in charge of our facility does not allow the different religions to “evangelize” these under age girls for this very reason. They are not adults yet and the parents do not want other religions influencing their children while they are in our facility and to me, that is totally understandable.

    How would we like it if the muslims tried to convert our children? I know our Catholic girls are constantly being “evangelized” by the Protestants in the facility we volunteer at, too. The protestants have said all kinds of negative things about the Catholic church to these girls, in order to get them to turn from their faith and convert to “christianity” because Catholics aren’t really christians. The girls are constantly being bombarded with attacks on their Catholic beliefs and so we have a lot of classes and discussions about our religion with them to help them cope with these questions that the protestants have about the Catholic church. But, by the same token, there are protestant girls who are very curious about the Catholic church but aren’t allowed to come to our classes because their parents do not have a say about it, and I can certainly respect that as well.

    Parents have a right to be there to discuss their religion with their children, especially when their children are being “evangelized” by forces outside of the family. However misguided they are, families should have the right to discuss and debate these issues for themselves. Then, when the child is an adult, they should be free to make their own decisions.

    Rifqa Bary should be kept under supervision to protect her life, but her parents should also be allowed to finish raising their own daughter.

    We are supposed to treat others the way that we would want to be treated and we do not want the muslim people “evangelizing” our children either, do we?

    Mutual respect can go a long way toward opening closed doors. I think Jesus tried to teach us that as well.

  • elkabrikir


    with all due respect, I have 5 teen-agers and I respect their opinions as thoughts coming from authentic belief. Would one say that many of the saints, ranging from the Blessed Mother to St Therese of the Child Jesus were rebelling? I find your analysis of teen behavior insulting and untrue.

    Rifqa was not brainwashed by anybody and has been secretly practicing her Christian faith for several years. Nobody abused her freedom or evangelized her in a concerted effort. She learned about Christianity in a natural way. My understanding is that her impetus for running away was that she had been discovered; and, that her parents were pressuring her to stop being a Christian.

    She is 17 years old now and, I would dare say, is considered an adult in most Islamic cultures. She should be emancipated and allowed to live in the peace of Christ, and not on the run as if under the order of a Fatwah. (like Salmon Rushdie)

  • AnnaMarie53

    This is a subject about which I can actually make an informed and empathetic comment. At the age of 17 I began instruction (as we called it then) to become Catholic, which most certainly did NOT fill my parents’ hearts with joy and goodwill! On the contrary, when they found out after my baptism, they, and my entire natal family were horrified and certain I was on the fast track to hell. While I did not fear for my actual physical life, being ostracized by your kin is a real test of your faith. Praise be to our Lord and His Blessed Mother, I was able to weather the storm, marry in the Faith, and raise two sons to manhood. I feel deeply for this young woman who most certainly WILL face death if she returns to her parents. She needs the support of all Christians and the freedom to practice her faith as an emancipated adult, which is within the court’s authority.

    There is another side to this issue which you all have rightly pointed out. How are we to live with Islamic law? The truth is we cannot, except in very narrow circumstances. In this country, at least so far, we do not suffer anyone to be murdered, even by their parents, for professing a belief. As long as they can handle that part of being in America, all will be well. But people, wake up! No matter how much we wish it weren’t so, Islam sees every one of us as fodder for either conversion or death, with nothing else being acceptable to it. Like it or not, Islam cannot and will not co-exist with any other religion if they have any sort of choice about it. To say anything else is so is to tell the world’s second biggest lie, and to cling to it is infantile in the extreme. What is the prize holder for first place? I believe it was the one Satan told when he convinced modern man he didn’t exist.
    Pray for us all.