A Christian Muslim?

Why-I-Am-Not-A-Muslim-coverA reader submitted a story from CNN that has the strangest headline and lede:

Muslim teen fears for life after changing religion

A Muslim teenager from Ohio says her father threatened to kill her because she converted to Christianity.
Rifqa Bary claims her father wants her dead after she converted to Christianity.

Okay, this one is pretty simple, CNN. If someone converts from one religion to another, they’re by definition no longer the religion that they converted from. She’s not a Muslim teen, she’s a Christian teen.

The story has other problems, too. It’s about a 17-year-old named Rifqa Bary who ran away from her family in Ohio and took refuge in the Orlando, Florida, home of the Rev. Blake Lorenz of the Global Revolution Church. The teen said in an affidavit that her father Mohamed Bary was pressured by his mosque and told the teen that he would kill her. The reporter talks to the father:

Mohamed Bary told CNN a lot of false information has been given and “we wouldn’t do her harm.” He knew his daughter was involved with Christian organizations.

“I have no problem with her practicing any faith,” he said, but Bary admitted he would have preferred his daughter to practice the Muslim faith first.

I could be wrong, but that last paragraph just sounds weird. What does it mean to “practice the Muslim faith first.” I can’t help but think that the reporter explained the father’s quote incorrectly — that he said he would have of course preferred her to practice Islam.

The story is responsible insofar as it includes both the daughter’s and father’s perspective. However, it would have been helpful to have any outside perspective at all regarding the punishment for apostasy in Islam. What, exactly, are the range of beliefs for what should be done to females who convert? Certainly there are places in time and history where the consensus has held that capital punishment is in order for apostates. But there are also Muslims who argue that the Koran and Hadith should not be so interpreted.

It seems that this story would provide an excellent hook for a discussion of this topic, no? The governing body of the World Council of Churches met last week in Geneva and they took up the issue:

The World Council of Churches is calling on Pakistan to repeal the mandatory death penalty for blasphemy in the country’s penal code.

The reader who submitted the story wondered if CNN was trying to make a comment about whether this teen’s conversion was real or allowed. But the United Nations

The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights defines religious conversion as a human right in Article 18:

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief.

Does CNN disagree with this?

Print Friendly

  • Dave

    What does it mean to “practice the Muslim faith first.”

    Mollie, that could reasonably mean that the father would prefer his daughter follow the faith of her heritage until she is an adult, and then make an adult choice about whether she wishes to continue to do so or to change.

  • Dale


    I agree that’s one reasonable interpretation of the comment, but it’s ambiguous. A follow-up question may have clarified it.

  • Northcoast

    In the coverage of this story I’ve seen no mention of honor killings. Has this horrible practice just gone out of style, or has political correctness taken over the reporting?

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    The biggest gross mistake in the story is calling a young Christian woman a Moslem. Or has CNN decided that noone has a right to go from one religion to another??
    I’ve seen a number of short TV segments on the Bary case–and as Northcoast says– there has been no mention in the media of honor killings among American Moslems or Moslems around the world. This is a key missing aspect of the srory. The media keeps hammering away at what Rifqa’s father might or might not have said to her. However, far more important is the culture she may be forced to go back to and how it might put pressure on the father to act to supposedly protect his family’s honor. If I were her, I, too, would be terrified at being forcibly sent back.

  • http://ohioanglican.blogspot.com/ kjc402

    Article 18 is a joke, just as with any UN declaration.

    It is never applied in a Mohammedan or Communist country or when someone converts to Christianity.

  • Davis

    There’s been a lot of bad reporting on this story, especially when it comes to feeding anti-Muslim hysteria. I agree there should be more reporting on honor killings to show how rare they are inthe West, especially for a girl who was a high school cheerleader sans modest clothes or a headscarf.

  • danr

    Approximately 175000 Christians are killed for their faith every year. So yes, honor killings are alive and well.

    “Anti-Muslim hysteria” notwithstanding, far more reporting should indeed be done on honor killings. Reporting on their rarity in the West should be eclipsed by reporting on their tragic (and increasing) frequency elsewhere. The non-reporting of modern-day martyrdom is borderline criminal.

  • http://www.protocatholic.blogspot.com Gretchen

    Atlas Shrugs has quite a bit of information about honor killings in the west. Not quite as rare as mentioned here. Her reporting is admittedly pro-Rifqa Bary, however, she backs up much of what she says.

  • Jerry

    I think it’s a mistake to use the phrase honor killing in the way some here have since its real meaning is tribal, not religious; the murder is because someone has supposedly dishonored the tribe or family. That dishonor could be religious, of course, but any act that someone considers a matter of honor could be the motive.

    I’m not sure what phrase is best, but I would call crimes where there is a religious motivation simplyreligiously motivated murders.

  • Davis

    Not quite as rare as mentioned here. Her reporting is admittedly pro-Rifqa Bary, however, she backs up much of what she says.

    I’m not inclined to trust someone who denies the Bosnian genocide because it happened to Muslims.

    But this underscores the problem with reporting on U.S. Muslims: the willingness to believe those on the fringes who have an anti-Muslim agenda. Muslims, like all religious people, deserve to be reported on with both respect.

    BTW, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights applies to state actors, not individuals. Like countries that permit torture of political prisoners.

  • Robert

    But the United Nations…

  • http://goodintentionsblog.com Bob Smietana

    Atlas Shrugged is a birther too. And claims that Ted Kennedy conspired with the Russians against Reagan. And that Obama is a Nazi. And that anyone who asks questions about Rifqa Bary’s claims is a shill for the “return Rifqa to terror movement.” Lots of reliable reporting there.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    I’m not even going to visit the truther site but just wanted to mention that the Kennedy claim comes from the Soviet archives. I’m not sure if Andropov ever took Teddy up on the offer but the late Senator did make an offer to work with them.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Whoops, I meant “birther site.” With all the revelations about Obama’s appointee, I’m getting my conspiracy theories confused.

    Also, isn’t it about time that we got a good religious conspiracy going for our Godbeat reporters to cover??

  • http://goodintentionsblog.com Bob Smietana


    Do we know that Kennedy made the offer, or that Paul Kengor claims that there was an offer. Big difference.

    As far as I can tell Kengor says that there’s a memo about a letter from one Soviet official saying that Kennedy made the offer, through Senator Tunney, — who Kengor in the past said confirmed such an offer, but in a recent interview made no mention of that confirmation. Kinda of tenous, don’t you think?

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Well, I don’t think it’s that Kengor claims the offer so much as the Soviet archives claim there was an offer. The Forbes column I linked to says that Tim Sebastian published a story about it in the London Times in 1992 and published the memo in full in his 2006 book.

    As to the veracity of the claim itself, I can’t speak one way or another. Although it would be an elaborate ruse . . .

  • Dale

    Davis wrote:

    BTW, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights applies to state actors, not individuals.

    So as long as the state stands by while private actors violate those rights, the state is in full compliance. Interesting interpretation.

    Anyhow, minors like Rifqa Bary don’t have the same rights as adults. No court is going to interfere with her parents’ custody because they refuse to let her practice a religion other than Islam. Until she’s 18, her parents have the right to make religious decisions for her.

    However, her parents do not have the right to physically or emotionally abuse her. If a court finds that her parents abused her, the court may take temporary jurisdiction over her, which might involve prohibiting either her or her parents from leaving the country, and mandatory counseling.

  • http://nathanrein.com Nathan Rein

    The reference to Kennedy and Andropov made me curious. An English version of the relevant Soviet memo was posted here, evidently copied from Kengor’s book. There’s lots of discussion of the memo online, but there doesn’t seem to be any easy way to authenticate it. It looks pretty legitimate to me, though. Maybe someone with better Google-Fu than I can figure something out.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Please keep comments focused on journalism. If you want to discuss honor killing, blasphemy, or other issues, take it to the cafe.

    – the management

  • http://ontheotherfoot.blogspot.com Joel

    Something I noticed in the CNN story is that her turning 18 is assumed to be the turning point at which all of this becomes irrelevant. But would the father and the extended culture she’s leaving give any significance to her age of majority? In at least some Muslim families (keeping it non-stereotypical), a daughter is presumed to be her father’s responsibility until she marries. Would he necessarily have respected a conversion if she were 18 rather than 17? CNN didn’t touch on that at all.

  • http://nathanrein.com Nathan Rein

    I think the best coverage I’ve seen on this so far is from the Orlando Sentinel.

    From a few weeks ago: http://j.mp/jipIs

    From a few days ago: http://j.mp/ngyGM

    They seem to have some good legal reporters looking at the case.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie


    I agree. I found one of the stories in question somewhat sloppily written but they have had fantastic information in the Sentinel. Thanks for linking.

  • James Martel

    Why isn’t the press exploring a whole bunch of issues related to this story.

    1. What is the level of Islamic honor killings in America. What is the true historical use of honor killing in Islamic history.
    2. Do Muslim families regularly use threats of violence against their westernizing children or children interested in other religions or no religion.
    3. What is being taught at the parents place of worship. Are these teachings commonplace.
    4. Why can’t journalists investigate these issues without being called a racist and threatened with death by Muslims.

  • Davis

    Let me add some more angles to be investigated:

    Who is behind this Facebook ministry and how were they able to get this girl to come to Florida?

    Who is funding her legal case and what is their political agenda?

  • http://ontheotherfoot.blogspot.com Joel

    Davis, I thought of that, too. I see by the church’s website that they have a “Pray through Israel” trip coming up next year. So it’s not just Christian but pro-Israel as well, which probably adds a dimension to the parents’ anger.

  • Kinana

    ‘Muslim teen fears for life after changing religion’

    I agree that this wording is ‘strange’ but not from a Muslim perspective. CNN seems to be taking on that perspective, whereby if you are born of a Muslim father you are a Muslim. it is not just a matter of a belief freely chosen but almost like a genetic passing-on of the ‘faith’ which of course includes becoming a member of the umma, the nation of believers. to have been more neutral the sentence should have just left out the word ‘Muslim’ or said ‘Former Muslim’.

  • Pingback: Steynian 381 « Free Canuckistan!

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Davis and Joel,

    The Orlando Sentinel did cover the Florida church angle, fwiw.

  • http://nathanrein.com Nathan Rein

    One other link, in case anyone’s interested in digging further into the story, is to Richard Bartholomew’s 8/31 post.


    One thing he correctly points out is that observers have usually failed to make a distinction between capital punishment for apostasy, which is mandated in some strict interpretations of Islamic law but can only legitimately be carried out by the state, and “honor killings,” which are tribal practices that exist in a number of majority-Muslim cultures but don’t technically have a religious basis.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Another distinction is that honor killings can be done for the variety of ways in which a family member shames (or supposedly shames) the family.

  • CEK

    Like many people I’ve met, the journo in this piece seems to confuse religion with ethnicity. Hence the confusing ‘Muslim teen [...] because she converted to Christianity’ lede sentence.