Orlando, September 01: A custody battle is raging between Christian evangelicals in the US and a Muslim family over a runaway teenage girl who converted to Christianity.
“We feel frustrated because this is a family problem of a certain family,” Imam Tariq Rasheed,6 director of the Islamic Centre of Orlando, told.
“The way it has been portrayed is defaming Islam and giving a negative picture of our religion.”
Rifqa Mohamed Bary, a 17-year-old of Sri Lankan origin, left her Muslim family in Ohio in July and went to Orlando, where she converted to Christianity.
The teen, who now lives with a pastor and his family, says she fears returning to her family because of her conversion.
Her father says that his daughter can practice Christianity and insists he only wants her to return home.
The case is being championed by evangelical Christians, who view it as a test of religious liberty.
Christian activists are lobbying to allow the girl to remain in Florida.
A Florida judge says the teen will remain in foster care until a Septemper 3 hearing.
Muslim leaders refuted claims by Christian activists that the Qur’an exhorts the killing of converted followers.
“There is not a single verse in the holy Qur’an that stops a person from exercising the freedom of choosing his or her religion,” contends Imam Rasheed.
“There is nothing about a punishment if you change your religion.”
Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons, assistant professor of religion at the University of Florida, said non-Muslims often confuse “honour killings” with Qur’anic verses on leaving the religion.
He stressed that that law is applied by a court, not by individuals or family members.
“They assume the law and the Qur’an are synonymous, and they are not.”
Simmon believes that the teenage girl may be herself confused about the difference between punishment under Islamic law and honour killings.
“This plays into an irrational sense of fear among people who aren’t familiar with the tenets of the faith,” he said.
“What is shameful in this entire ordeal is the way in which those who should know better, and who profess quite different values otherwise, are willing to repeat stereotypes and fuel fires of ignorance and violence.”