Muslim Assault Against Apostates: The Rifqa Bary Case

by Jerry Gordon (September 2009)

What occurred both inside and outside the Orlando Circuit Court room on September 3rd at the Rifqa Bary hearing was nothing short of Jihad against all apostates. Muslim fury was focused on so-called ‘Christian extremists’ who had allegedly swayed a teen-age apostate originally from Sri Lanka to convert to Christianity from Islam. In court, the petit teenager dressed demurely wearing a silver cross and holding a bible. Miss Bary’s case is being presided over by Judge Daniel Dawson. Judge Dawson has foremost in mind two basic issues; securing jurisdiction and the safety of Miss Bary. Dawson’s
August 21st hearing decision permitting her to remain in child custody in Florida. This has clearly outraged Muslims who demand her return to her Muslim parents in Ohio and an uncertain fate.

Egyptian born apostate and convert to Christianity Nonie Darwish, author of “Cruel and Unusual Punishment: The terrifying Implications of Islamic Law,” conveyed what is at stake during a Center for Security Policy bloggers call on Miss Bary’s case:

I really cannot imagine how frightened this girl is, because we adults who left Islam in America, we are scared. We’re living in constant fear. Because according to Islamic law, we must be killed. And that’s not just radical Islam. That’s all schools of Islamic law.  A person who leaves Islam must be killed. Period. No doubt about it. So this is coming to America. And radical Islam is following us here and we need protection.

One only has to recall the case of Afghan convert to Christianity Abdul Rahman who in 2006 was tried for apostasy which carried the death penalty in Afghanistan. He was released and fled to Italy, only after foreign governments pressured the Afghan government. Thousands of others were not so lucky.  Several apostates in Somalia, who were aid workers, were recently beheaded by extremist terror group Al Shabaab in that war torn country.

Harvard’s Muslim Chaplain, Taha Abdul Basser, caused an uproar on campus this spring when he sent a student an email confirming the death penalty for apostasy under Sharia-Islamic law. His email captured in the university email network was immediately picked on several blogs, including Islam TalksAn article on the disclosure published in the student newspaper, The Crimson, fanned the controversy.

Why all this Muslim fury lashing out at Christians surrounding Miss Bary, the runaway teen from Columbus, Ohio? It may be connected to the heightened religious fervor of American Muslims during the month long observances of Ramadan. They also believe that they have an important ally in the White House in President Obama.

The latest in a series of Presidential Iftar dinners at the White House was presided over by President Obama. He is an American with Muslim origins who can recite the shehada, the Muslim profession of faith, from childhood memory given his education as a stepson of a Muslim oil executive in Indonesia, his American mother’s second husband. Obama said:

“Islam, as we know, is part of America. Together we have a responsibility to foster engagement grounded in mutual interest and mutual respect.”

“That’s one of my fundamental commitments as president both at home and abroad. That is central to the new beginning that I’ve sought between the United States and Muslims around the world and that is a commitment that we can renew once again during this holy season.”

Indeed, many, if not most Muslims, given his childhood in Indonesia, consider him an advocate for rapprochement. His Cairo speech stressing outreach to the Muslim ummah and remarks at this White House dinner praising American Muslim contributions are in line with that view. Pamela Geller of the blog Atlas Shrugs, a fearless advocate for Miss Bary, had the temerity to suggest in a radio interview, that perhaps Obama should have been hugging Miss Bary.

Later this month, September 25th, as many as 50,000 Muslims are being called to a Jummah prayer session on Capitol Hill and constituent sessions with elected Members of Congress. The event is being promoted by a Mosque in Elizabeth, New Jersey. In a Newark Star Ledger report, Elizabeth mosque organizes national prayer gathering for Muslims in Washington, D.C.,”  the event sponsors speak of what motivated them to stage this event:

The event will not include political speeches or placards, just prayer, said Hassen Abdellah, president of Dar-ul-Islam [Mosque] and a main organizer of the event, which is scheduled for Sept. 25.

“This is not about personalities,” Abdellah said. “We don’t want personalities involved. The personality for this event is the prophet Muhammad.”

“Most of the time, when Muslims go to Washington, D.C., they go there to protest some type of event,” Abdellah said. “This is not a protest. Never has the Islamic community prayed on Capitol Hill for the soul of America. We’re Americans. We need to change the face of Islam so people don’t feel every Muslim believes America is ‘the great Satan,’ because we love America.”

In fact, it was President Obama’s words at his inauguration in January, and then his speech in Egypt in June, that led Abdellah and an area imam, Abdul Malik, to begin discussing the idea, Abdellah said.

“For the first time in my lifetime,” Abdellah said, “I heard someone of his stature speaking about Islam and Muslims not in an adversarial sense, but in the sense of being welcome and acknowledging we are integral citizens in the society — that we’re gainfully employed, we’re educated.”

“He said he had his hand open to the Islamic world,” he said. “The Islamic world wants to open their hand and shake it.”

“It’s historical,” he said, adding that in his opinion, the mere granting of permission to hold the event reflects a dramatic post-9/11 change in how many Americans view Muslims:

“Yesterday I was viewed as a terrorist,” he said, “and today I’ve been given a permit on Capitol Hill to come and pray in a spirit of unity.”

Pictures of thousands of Muslims praying on Capitol Hill that day could graphically communicate to the nation and the world that the US may be on the verge of becoming what Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy called “Amerabia”, akin to the Islamization of Europe, which the scholar Bat Ye’or terms, Eurabia.

At the center of this struggle during Ramadan is runaway teen Rifqa Bary, an apostate and Muslim convert to Christianity caught in a web of controversy over her plight and disposition by the Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge Daniel Dawson.  As Pamela Geller pointed out on a recent Andrea Shea King radio interview Muslims were outraged by Judge Dawson’s decisions on August 21st granting a stay on Ms. Bary’s possible return to Ohio, pending review of a Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) report of the home situation in Columbus. That FDLE report became a ‘hot potato’ in the court proceedings. Aspects of the report have been leaked by Muslims seeking to change public opinion both inside and outside the court room and aided by willing helpmates in the media: the Orlando Sentinel, St, Petersburg Times and others promoting the supposedly forlorn position of the girl’s Muslim parents.

Miss Bary’s parents, Mohammed and Aysha, abruptly changed counsel, discharging their court appointed ones. Lawyer Robert Weeden represented Aysha while, Shayan Elahi, a Pakistani American lawyer, represented, Mohammed. Weeden argued: “My client has been dragged through the mud in this case…It’s an attack on my client in particular and on their religion in general.” So the stage was set for bombastic fireworks in Judge Dawson’s court room.

Geller witnessed firsthand Elahi’s assault on Judge Dawson and Attorney John Stemberger who is representing Rifqa. Elahi disputed Judge Dawson’s request for mediation between Rifqa and her parents, demanding with effrontery that there is “no room to maneuver.” Instead, he asked for a psychiatric evaluation of Rifqa implying that she was disturbed. At which point, the counsel for the Orlando Sentinel, petitioned to be part of the dependency petition matter. Judge Dawson vigorously denied the petition by the newspaper stating: “the media has no right to be a party to this case.” Elahi then demanded that Attorney Stemberger be replaced with an attorney ad litem, accusing him of being a right wing Christian activist. Elahi, according to an Orlando Sentinel account of the proceedings accused Miss Bary’s lawyer, John Stemberger, of “grandstanding” and telling anti-Muslim “lies, lies, lies.” Judge Dawson thought “there were enough lawyers already” and stayed Elahi’s request. Stemberger had earlier requested and the Judge granted a 10 day gag order on the much awaited FDLE report. That gag order extended to all counsel thereby denying any more news conferences of the type held by Stemberger on September 1st where he introduced a  35 page special intelligence memorandum on the extremist Noor Islamic Center attended by the Bary family and Miss Bary’s affidavit attesting to threats and abuse from her parents. That led to a vituperative exchange between Attorney Weeden, who breached the Judge’s gag order by stating in open court that, “there’s nothing in this (FDLE) report that supports the girl’s claim.” That led Miss Bary’s Guardian ad litem, Attorney Krista Bartholomew to stop Weeden cold in his tracks by saying: “I can’t believe you just said that.” She demanded that his comments be stricken from the record. 

Bartholomew further noted that the video questioning of Miss Bary by the FDLE interviewers was done without counsel present. Then the counsel for the Orlando Sentinel objected to the Judge’s gag order on the grounds that this was not a jury trial. Judge Dawson denied that request, as well. He adjourned the fractious hearing until September 28th, continuing Rifqa Bary’s stay in Florida in secure foster care, permitting visitation rights with the three children of Pastor Lorenz who had given Rifqa sanctuary, staying attorney Elahi’s aggressive tactics for the moment.
Outside the courtroom, another jihad assault was in the works. Mohammed Lutfi, a CAIR operative from Orlando and Hamas-supporter, interjected himself into a press conference with Robert Spencer author of numerous books on Islam and director of Jihad Watch, Pamela Geller of Atlas Shrugs and Tom Trento of the Florida Security Council. Spencer was explaining to the media the extremist nature of the Noor Islamic Center in Dublin, Ohio, giving explicit references to Quranic and canonical Hadiths used by patently anti-Semitic Egyptian Muslim cleric Sheik Yusuf Qaradawi who condoned murder of apostates and preached at the Noor Center. Spencer told the press that in one of the more reliable Bukhari Hadiths Mohammed said, “If anyone changes his religion, kill him.”

Geller was endeavoring to present a pattern of physical abuse that Miss Bary had suffered at home and revealed at school and her secret conversion to Christianity four years ago. Lutfi immediately jumped in and called Spencer a pathological liar about Muslim doctrine on apostates and the press immediately decamped to follow and listen to Lutfi’s categorical lies and taqiyya. Fortunately, Spencer and Geller held their ground.

On a Center for Security Policy teleconference following the hearing, Geller opined that perhaps Attorney Stemberger should have concentrated more on the apostasy issue than on the dossier about the extremist Noor Center the focus of the September 1st press conference. Geller also drew attention to the murky issue of the immigration status of Miss Bary and the peril she might face if returned to Sri Lanka “to be dealt with”- an alleged threat her mother Aysha made in an affidavit filed by Attorney Stemberger.

Geller noted that Rifqa came to the US under her mother’s passport Visa that expired in 2005, and thus might be at risk of being returned to an uncertain fate in Sri Lanka following a possible US immigration hearing. Nina Shea of the Hudson Institute Center for Religious Freedom and I had been reviewing documentation on the indigenous Muslim population, the so-called “Moors” of Sri Lanka, who represent approximately 8% of the country’s 21.3 million population concentrated in the eastern province. An International Crisis Group report circa 2007, “Sri Lankan Muslims: Caught in the Cross Fire”  noted the rise of armed Muslim Jihadi groups among the ummah there:

There is increasing interest among some Muslims in more fundamentalist versions of Islam, and there have been violent clashes between ultra-orthodox and Sufi movements. This kind of violence remains limited and most Muslims show considerable tolerance to other sects and other faiths. Nevertheless, the conflict is at least partly responsible for some Muslims channeling their frustrations and identity issues into religious disputes.

The track record of apostates from Muslim lands applying to the US for asylum on grounds of religious freedom is rather murky. The recent US 11th Circuit Court of appeals case of Iranian dissident Hani Kazemzadeh  who converted to Christianity and applied for asylum on religious grounds illustrates the indifference of US immigration tribunals to apostates fleeing possible death sentences in Muslim lands. Note this from a decision of the 11th Circuit court in the matter of Kazemzadeh versus Attorney General:

On the latter question, the Court held that the BIA did not adequately address Kazemzadeh’s religious persecution claims. The Court agreed with the Seventh Circuit’s decision in Muhur v. Ashcroft, 355 F.3d 958 (7th Cir. 2004), which recognized that having to practice religion underground to avoid punishment is itself a form of persecution. The Court cited its own decision in Antipova v. U.S. Attorney General, 392 F.3d 1259, 1264-65 (11th Cir. 2004), for the proposition that “the [INA] and related regulations . . . do not require applicants . . . to avoid signaling to others that they are indeed members of a particular race, or adherents of a certain religion, etc.”  Moreover, the Court held that the fact that Kazemzadeh was of heightened interest to the Iranian government because of his political history made it more likely that his religious conversion would be discovered and become a basis for his persecution. 

The Court vacated the BIA’s decision on the religious persecution claim and remanded for further proceedings. 

If Geller’s allegations about possible family abuse of Rifqa by her father, brother and, more recently, her uncle  can be confirmed, then the possibility remains of giving her asylum as a battered woman.  A recent INS ruling in the San Francisco case of an illegal alien Mexican woman abused by her common law husband may have established such a precedent. In a report on asylum for foreign battered women, an immigration counsel discussed the daunting threshold conditions that result in up to four fifths of such requests being rejected by immigration courts in this country:

“Asylum gives you permanent status without having to go through any other steps,” said Sheela Murthy, an immigration lawyer in Baltimore, Md., who also advocates for women.

Most requests for asylum currently filed in the United States are based on claims by applicants that they fear persecution if they are sent back to their homeland because of their race, religion, nationality, political beliefs or any particular party they may belong to. Murthy said nearly 80 percent of those applicants are denied asylum for lack of providing adequate evidence.

Asylum seekers generally arrive in the United States on fake travel documents. Upon arrival at the airport, they ask for asylum.

“Getting asylum is not going to be a slam dunk” for abused women, Murthy reiterated, noting that they have to meet the most stringent of requirements.

Picking up the thread of Geller’s concern that the Bary case should be focused on her apostasy, Shea discussed with me the importance of relevant ‘messaging’ that might be provided by iconic apostate figures in America during the period of the gag order issued by Orlando Circuit Court Judge Dawson. The object of such messaging about  Muslim apostasy would be to educate the American public, question the spiritual leaders and trustees of the Noor Center in Ohio, and American Muslims, especially those attending Islam Day on Capitol Hill, September 25th. The message might be conveyed on national media by noted Muslim apostates such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Ibn Warraq, Dr. Wafa Sultan,Daveed Gartenstein Ross and Nonie Darwish, among others. Darwish is in the midst of forming a national group of former Muslims. Geller during a recent radio interview compared the plight of apostates to that of gays in the 1950’s here in America. Such an organization of apostates envisioned by Darwish might give voice to apostates who feel threatened and isolated fearing for their lives.

Pakistani-born U.K. Anglican Bishop Dr. Michael Nazir-Ali has been in the forefront of defending apostates, including two Iranian women converts Maryam Rustampoor, 27, and Marzieh Amirizadeh, 30, arrested and confined to the notorious Evin prison in Tehran. Note the Bishop’s pleadings to the Iranian government in Ruth Gledhill’s Times-On line column, Articles On faith:

Dr Nazir-Ali told me: ‘Maryam and Marzieh are being held simply because they have changed their belief. The UN Declaration on Human Rights says people everywhere should be free to do this and the Iranian Constitution guarantees freedom of religion. I appeal to the Iranian President to have mercy and to release these two young women forthwith so that they can receive the medical treatment which they so desperately need.’

Dr. Nazir-Ali confronted the British Muslim Council – a Muslim Brotherhood front with a simple demand to reject canonical Hadiths on apostasy like those cited by Robert Spencer at the aborted press conference in Orlando. To paraphrase Dr. Nazir-Ali: “Do you reject and forbid worldly and corporal punishment of apostates from Islam by the family, community, Mosque leaders, and Muslim states in the ummah?” Bishop Nazir Ali’s demand was met with stony silence from the British Muslim Council. Concern by the U.K. Centre for Social Cohesion (CSC) about police indifference in dealing with the plague of more than 100 ‘honor killings’ among the 2 million Muslims in the U.K. was raised in a report in early 2008. A Daily Mail article on the CSC report noted:

Teachers, police and councils are afraid to take action against so-called honour crimes for fear of being accused of racism, it is claimed. Women are also being betrayed by community figures who believe those who break traditional taboos deserve to be punished, the report found.

Researchers say taxi drivers, police and government workers of Asian origin are returning women to the domestic abuse they want to escape. The report by the Centre for Social Cohesion think-tank voices the concerns of activists who say they are seeing more women fleeing “honour-based” violence.

The Crown Prosecution Service says about 12 women are victims of honour killings in the UK each year. The researchers fear the real figure is much higher.

The study found that honour crimes are being carried out by third and fourth generation immigrants.

Phyllis Chesler brought this issue to the fore in Ken Timmerman’s, account of the Rifqa Bary Orlando court hearing on September 3rd:

 “When a husband murders a wife or daughter in the United States and Canada, too often law enforcement chalks the matter up to domestic violence,” Chesler says.

But domestic violence cases bear little resemblance to Muslim honor killings, which tend to be premeditated and involve several family members of the victim, usually a young girl or woman.

Young Muslim women are murdered by family members for a variety of reasons, Chesler explains in a recent essay in the Middle East Quarterly – anything from having a non-Muslim boyfriend to leaving Islam.

“The frequent argument made by Muslim advocacy organizations that honor killings have nothing to do with Islam and that it is discriminatory to differentiate between honor killings and domestic violence is wrong,” Chesler says.

Turkish apostate and convert to Christianity, Ziya Meral notes the abysmal conditions in Muslim countries in a major report on this subject, “No Place to Call Home,“  published by Christian Solidarity Worldwide in 2008:

In Saudi Arabia, Mauritania and Iran, where the death penalty for apostasy is not codified, death remains a real possibility for the apostate on the basis of their application of shari’a. In other countries where shari’a is used to govern personal status matters, such as in Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Yemen, apostates face serious penalties, such as the annulment of marriage, termination of citizenship, confiscation of identity papers and the loss of further social and economic rights. Apostates are also penalised under other laws, such as ‘insulting Turkishness’ in Turkey, the blasphemy laws in Pakistan, contempt of religion in Egypt and treason in Iran.

Apostates are subject to gross and wide-ranging human rights abuses including extra judicial killings by state-related agents or mobs; honour killings by family members; detention, imprisonment, torture, physical and psychological intimidation by security forces; the denial of access to judicial services and social services; the denial of equal employment or education opportunities; social pressure resulting in loss of housing and employment; and day-to-day discrimination and ostracism in education, finance and social activities. The affect of all this on the personal lives of apostates and their families can be significant and far-reaching. As the number of apostate communities has significantly increased in the Middle East, North Africa and Asia over the past twenty years, human rights abuses have been more regularly reported.

The experiences of apostates in Muslim countries are blatantly at odds with their rights as guaranteed under international law. Most Muslim nations are members of the UN and have ratified international human rights treaties. However, these nations and the international community have failed in their duty to uphold the rights of apostates by neglecting to guarantee their personal safety and their full and fair participation in society.

What Rifqa Bary is being subjected to by Islamists in the Orlando court proceedings is an assault on all apostates. Her life and freedom to choose her belief must be preserved. That is what is at stake.

Perhaps the message to be used by prominent apostates on national media during the period of the Orlando court gag order and for Congressional representatives and staff to ask American Muslims whom they encounter on Islam Day on Capitol Hill might be that suggested by Dr. Nazir-Ali:

“Do you reject and forbid worldly and corporal punishment of apostates from Islam by the family, community, Mosque leaders, and Muslim states in the ummah?” 

Depending on how they answer this question will reveal whether they accept the American values of our Constitution or adhere to Sharia and abuse of apostates. Launching such an effort is an important first step in pushing back Stealth Jihad in America and saving Rifqa Bary.



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