In 2009 a 16 year old Sri Lankan girl living in the US gained international media attention when she ran away from home and claimed that her Muslim father wanted to kill her for becoming a Christian. Rifqa Bary's father said that she was free to practice her Christianity at home, and took her to court to force her to return. But she turned 18 before he could succeed.
Now 22, Rifqa has written a book detailing her upbringing, conversion to Christianity, and the legal battle for her life. Hiding in the Light is a striking contrast to Nabeel Qureshi's conversion story, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. Nabeel's Muslim family was wonderful, and his conversion came only after agonizing debates and detailed research convinced him the Bible is true and the Quran isn't. Rifqa required far less intellectual proof to come to Jesus; the Christians she encountered were so much kinder than the form of Islam surrounding her that in one sense her conversion is not at all surprising.
But the book does pack its share of surprises. Even though I knew "the end of the story" when I started reading it, I still found this book a nailbiter. I would like to highlight five.
1. The dismal state of the legal system for children. Forget the "Islam versus Christianity" aspect of this story for a minute. Let's just focus on the story of a 16 year old girl running away from home because she says her dad wants to kill her. We've all heard horror stories of the Child Protective Service taking children from innocent parents because of some anonymous report of abuse. But here is almost the exact opposite horror: the government prosecuting the people who helped the child escape, arresting the child (complete with strip search), and trying to force her to reunite with the father she swears will kill her.
2. The dismal state of the foster care system. One would think that with the international media attention focused on Rifqa, her state social workers and foster homes would have been exceptionally well screened. Without giving away any of the book, let's just say that that was not the case. One can only imagine how much abuse must be going on right now in foster homes across America, unfortunately to children who will never have the publicity to write a book about it afterwards. One of Rifqa's future dreams is to help these victims.
3. The bizarre behavior required to preserve Islamic honor. Many Muslims no doubt still believe Rifqa's father's story: that he had never abused his daughter in any way, that she was free to practice Christianity at home, and that perhaps she had been brainwashed into conversion by sinister Christians. I can even understand how that could be true. But even if it were true, why in the world would Mr. Bary have fought to force his daughter to return home? If your teenage daughter suddenly flipped out and thought you wanted to kill her, what could you do to convince her that she was believing a lie? You would treat her with great tenderness and generosity. You might offer to pay her expenses to live in a place she felt safe. You might give her a cell phone and ensure she knew where to get help whenever she needed. You might make sure she had what she needed to attend a good school of her choice, to continue her education. You certainly would not send the police to haul her off to jail and instigate a complicated legal battle to force her to return home. But apparently in Mr. Bary's Islamic worldview, a runaway daughter is a shame on the family, and the only way to restore honor is to get her back home -- even if it is by force.
4. The insanity of our immigration system. The entire Bary family had been living in the United States illegally for years. Why did Mr. Bary have legal standing to bring any kind of case in a US court against his daughter? If anything, one would think that he and his wife and remaining children would have been sent back to Sri Lanka.
5. The goodness and power of God. Rifqa's own sinfulness is not masked in this story. She is not the hero; God is. God somehow brought Rifqa through all of the above crises (not to mention two rare forms of incurable uterine cancer, without even having a hysterectomy). We do indeed serve a great and mighty God, a God who causes all things to work together for the good of those who love Him, a God of unsearchable judgments and unfathomable ways.
Waterbrook Multnomah was kind enough to send me a copy for free in exchange for an unbiased review.