Thursday, April 08, 2010

Converting To and From Islam: Rifqa Barry of Sri Lanka/USA and Malini Perera of Sri Lanka/Bahrain

By Chakravarthy - Fathima Rifqa Bary who is 17 years was born on 10th of August 1993 to Ayesha Rizana and Mohamed Barry of Galle, Sri Lanka. The family is traditionally gem and jewelry merchants with respect in the Southern Province and Colombo.

As a kid she injured her right eye with the toy she was playing with. Since a major surgery was required, the couple opted to do it in the United States. So they came to the US in 2000.

Rifqa was under good medical care in the States and gained vision to some extend wearing spectacle which she no more wears now but apparently there is a significant difference between the left and the right eyes which she tactfully covers with her long hair. That way she is not innocent, but good at to cover that should be covered.

A thin, timid, shy girl she was, and always seen with a book in her hand as a book worm. Even now at 17 years she looks like a 12 year old Asian girl, leaving alone the American size. Ten years study in the US has made her fluent in English with perfect American accent like a local kid.

Initially the family lived in Queens, New York. Their life in the US was not on a bed of roses. Her father’s jewelery business, Bary Gems, that remained under license in the State of New York and imported gems from Sri Lanka, had ups and downs.

Further 9/11 attack also restricted his movement within the States. He uses a second hand hacked car where as his suppliers in Sri Lanka run in vehicles costing six or seven figures in US money.

Bary made an unsubstantiated claim that he was once stopped and searched while boarding a flight and the result was a loss of US$ 400,000 worth of gems and jewellery. From Queens they moved to New Albany in Ohio where all these complications took place.

Rifqa was seen spending lot of time on internet especially in the night. As usual the Asian mother was not happy and advised her daughter not to be awake in the night but she continued in sly.

It was said she was converted to Christianity in secret when she was 12 years old. Her posting of her new faith on her Facebook page, might have been seen by her friends from her family's mosque and reported to her father Mohamed Bary.

Ayesha started monitoring Rifqa’s movements and one day she found a Christian book in the house while her husband was out of town. She threatened to tell her father. The family was aghast and the trouble started at home.

As a result, Rifqa disappeared from home on July 19, 2009. Her cell phone was turned off and her Facebook account too was deactivated. Parents complained to the police. The girl's friends told detectives that it was possible she ran away because of conflicting religious beliefs in her home.

Investigators said Rifqa was affiliated with two central Ohio churches: one on Cleveland Avenue and the other near the Ohio State University campus. They also said she might have been seen near campus the night she disappeared.

A petition filed by Rifqa’s father in Franklin County Juvenile Court alleged that Brian Williams, a minister drove the girl to the Columbus Greyhound station where she received a bus ticket under a false name, bought by certain "Christian Associates" whom she had met on Facebook, to a "Planned Sanctuary" in Orlando, traveling 1100 miles.

Police used phone and computer records to track her to the Rev. Blake Lorenz, a Pastor of Global Revolution Church, a non-denominational Evangelical church based in Orlando, Florida.

"I am a Christian, and my parents are Muslims. They are extremely devout." . "They threatened to kill me. … You guys wouldn'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. I'm fighting for my life. ..."

Rifqa said that in the 150 generations of her family, no one has ever known Jesus. "I am the first one," "Imagine the honor in killing me. "It is the reality” she screamed “it is the reality” to a TV in perfect American English with a sweet voice, and a silver cross tangling from her neck.

Bary denied the girl's claim. “Honestly,” said he, “we didn’t know why she left. She doesn’t know what she’s talking about, I want her to come back home. I love my daughter whether she’s a Christian or anything else. I want my daughter back.”

Aysha Bary who runs a business of sewing bridal veils in her home, filed papers with the Florida court declaring herself and her husband to be indigent. She made a statement to the court, crying "I have my two sons, but I need my daughter back!" Although her daughter professed her love for her parents in court, she refused to go with them.

A Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation found no credible threats to the girl. Her use of Facebook was one issue that led to this situation.

Mohamed Bary is not a U.S. citizen or permanent resident but he said he is fighting for his residency. For Rifqa to continue her stay in the US she needs paper from her parents or else she should opt for nuptial with a national and regularize her stay. Her closeness in photo with Tayee Adrian of Xenos Cult is also puzzling.

Now Rifqa is under the custody of county children‘s service in Ohio. The family is saddled with never ending court cases from state to state that hit the news as a national story with both political undertones fanned by religious interest.

While the Muslim community supported Bary, his daughter got very favorable response from the Christian community throughout the USA and many associations came forward to help her. Rifqa Bary Support Group - on face book with 9,000 members is a notable power. Protests before the courts became common, saying it is one‘s civil right to chose her/his own religion.

It is true but there are lots of gray areas in Rifqa’s conversion. First of all, can a 12 year old understand the merits and demerits of a new religion or old religion without any inducement?

As Rifqa pronounces the word God God every minute like a Christian preacher, and enjoys the ‘celebrity status’ by giving interviews to media laughing and crying, I am sure the Bary’s who came to the US for eye care to their daughter who is now callous and not caring about the parents, will one day return to Sri Lanka sobbing and leaving their apple of the eye behind in America.

No doubt the notoriety Rifqa’s case jolted the first generation immigrant Muslims in the North America and Europe.

An American in a web wrote, ‘if Rifqa’s case happened to be a Mary becoming Mariyam, the Mosque she got associated would have been raided and the people who gave shelter got arrested as extremists or terrorists‘. Is not that too a reality Rifqa?

In the mean time in Sri Lanka, a convert from Buddhism to Islam, Panadura born Sarah Malani Perera’s “anti state” activity has surfaced in the media with mute response from Muslim community, unlike Rifqa’s from the Christians.

It was said the manager of the courier services was the cause for her arrest. Is not it a breach of ethic by the commercial organization to intercept any articles that are not declared as contraband by the state? Yes it is.

How could the courier man deem it as a blasphemy without reading it? Under what authority he acted? If I receive a love letter from my girl friend, does the postman have any right to report it to my father?

38 year old Sarah Malani went to Manama, Bahrain in 1985 to assist her elder sister Mariam, who owned a gifts and flowers shop called Madhuri in The Palace hotel, Adliya. Later she worked as a teacher at the Child Development Centre, Juffair.

Out of interest, like foreigners do in a host country, especially in Arab countries, she spent time on reading about Islam and the Arab culture before joining ’Discover Islam’.

Subsequently she embraced Islam in 1999 at the age of 27, unlike Rifqa to Christianity at 12. Her father Norbet Perera, mother Soma and sisters Padma, Rasa, and Padmani were also converted to Islam at different times.

Mariam said that police forcibly removed Malani’s headscarf and made a video, which was played on all Sri Lankan television channels. "They were so cruel to her“.

After 11 days of custody, police allowed Sarah to speak to her mother for five minutes.

“My mother has stopped eating since she spoke to Sarah and we are worried about her health as she is 82."

"My mother is very close to Sarah and is crying for her and praying for her immediate release," said Mariam. She revealed that the family had already paid Sri Lankan rupees 90,000 to lawyers.

On the other hand, family members do also fear that Sarah may face some obstacles in Sri Lanka to return to Bahrain since her residence permit expired on March 24.

"From Darkness to Light” is a common title every religious cross over uses to defend his/her choice. Rifqa also tells the same.

As the initial charges against Malani looked insignificant, now the jaundiced eyed state says she is being investigated for possible links to Islamic extremists. When will Lanka stop telling unbelievable lies?

Which Islamic extremist organization is against Sri Lanka? None. Not even the Taliban that destroyed the Budhha statues of the Bamyan valley in 2001.

But under the emergency law, this is an escape route for a dictatorial state to justify its atrocity against anyone who irks its interest. Arrest first and charge later, is the Mantra here. That has been the position in Sarath Fonseka’s matter too. He is not tried for the charges made out to him.

In a country that is trying to ban religious conversion especially from the Buddhism, arresting Sarah Malani Perera, a Sinhalese with a head scarf in Islamic attire, must have been a God sent opportunity to affirm the government’s affinity as the guardian of Buddhist superiority in the island during the general election.

Well, from the biggest religion of the world - Christianity, today few turn to Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam. Under the colonial rule in Asia, Hindus and Buddhists, large number Sri Lankans, adopted to follow Jesus due to circumstance or to appease the masters. Even today many ardent Lankan Buddhists cherish to maintain their Christian names.

Apple Computer boss Steve Job [have you bought the iPad ?] says he is a vegetarian and Buddhist. But he denied paternity to a girl child for many years, saying he was sterile before accepting it finally. He forgot the fact that he was a child of two unwed University students.Is this Buddhism?

Golf champion Tiger Woods said his failure to follow Buddhist principles was the cause for his sex scandals. His mother was a Bangkok bar girl who his father befriended as a soldier in Vietnam War. Was her life based on Buddha’s teaching?

In the US, a documentary film, The Buddha by award winning David Grubin is to be released on April 7th. The intention is good but we do not know how the fanatics of Sri Lanka will react when it is released there. Interestingly the narration is done by a poet named W.S. Merwin and Holiness the Dalai Lama who the guardian of Buddhism Sri Lankan government, do not permit to visit in fear of China. Here politics overshadows religion.

When Malani’s case is concerned, Shaikh Essam Ishaq, Discover Islam’s Sharia adviser and director, said some of Bahrain's MPs were in talks with the Sri Lankan government trying to negotiate Sarah’s release. "They are optimistic something positive would happen and they would release her soon," he said.

A belief is she may be freed after 8th April with “no evidence”. But what is the cost for the agony she underwent? On the contrary, if it takes a different turn then the response from the Arab world will become hostile and the Friend of the Palestinian image alone would not pacify.

Finally, why did not any Muslim lawyer came forward to help Sarah while in the US there are so many for Rifqa?

© Transcurrents

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