Bent on Confusing the Public about Islam:  The Far Right Exploits Rifqa Bary’s Case to Distort Islam

Louay Safi

Posted Sep 28, 2009      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Bent on Confusing the Public about Islam:  The Far Right Exploits Rifqa Bary’s Case to Distort Islam

by Louay Safi

The Center for Security Policy (CSP) published recently an article on Rifqa Bary who converted to Christianity and ran away from her family with the help of an evangelical group based in Florida. The article, titled “Florida Department of Law Enforcement Earns an F,” provides yet another example of CSP’s practice of using half truth and innuendo to confuse the public on matters relating to Islam and Muslims.

CSP is led by Frank Gaffney, a well known Muslim basher and a neoconservative alarmist, has repeatedly attacked Muslim Americans and their national organizations, suggesting that any efforts by Muslims to practice their faith should be seen as a step to control and dominate the American public. Gaffney, for instance, contended in recent Washington Times editorial that the efforts to use non-interest measures to do banking transactions was a Muslim conspiracy to impose Islamic law on the United States, and went all the way to accusing President Obama of “embracing the agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood.” Obama’s guilt stems from his efforts to bridge the divide that Gaffney and his ilk in the neoconservative movement worked hard to deepen in the last two decades.

John Guandolo, a former FBI agent and the author of the article that focused on the Bary’s case, blasted Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) for issuing a report that found the allegations by the young Muslim convert against her parents baseless. In a 7-page summary of their investigation findings, the FDLE investigators reported that they have not found “any evidence of a conspiracy to commit, solicitation to commit, attempt or other efforts to commit any such action or other violence against her.”

Rifqa Bary, the Muslim convert to Christianity, ran away from her parents’ house in suburban Columbus, OH, in July 2009.  She resurfaced in Orlando Florida with Blake Lorenz, pastor of the Orlando-based Global Revolution Church, and told a news reporter that she ran because she feared being killed by her family for converting to Christianity after her parents learned that she had been baptized without telling them. It was also revealed that Rev. Lorenz befriended her on Facebook and arrange for her conversion and flight to Florida. Mohamed Bary accused Mr. Lorenz of brainwashing his minor child.

John Guandolo, the author of the confusing article published by CSP, uses misleading arguments to fault the FDLE and defend the fundamentalist Global Revolution Church. Guandolo accuses the FDLE investigators of negligence and willful blindness, and urge Florida Governor Charlie Crist to dismiss the current investigative team and appoint another one that will vindicate his version of the case. The problem is, though, that his version is replete with distortions, half-truth, innuendo, and selective research.

How do I know that Guandolo got his facts wrong? Well, he used, or rather distorted, my own writings on the issue of apostasy to advanced his prejudicial views on Islam and American Muslims. Guandolo proclaims that “a due diligence review would reveal the existence of authoritative Islamic Law” and found that “Islamic Law - which is real law - has requirements and rules as to how to deal with those who leave Islam.”

One crucial piece of evidence of his “due diligence review” comes from a book “Peace and the Limits of War.”  Guandolo writes: “In it, Mr. Safi notes that individual apostates cannot be killed for a ‘quiet desertion of personal Islamic duties,’ but can be put to death as ‘just punishment’ when the apostate deserts Islam publicly (p. 31).”

Speaking of negligence and willful blindness, it helps to reproduce the passage that preceded that selective quotations cited by Guandolo in its entirety:

“When a group of Muslim individuals fortify themselves in an area of the Muslim territory and refuse to permit the application of certain fundamental Islamic principles or laws, such as the establishment of public prayer (salah al jama’ah), the payment of zakah, and the like, it is a case of apostasy, for which, the group is to be fought until its members cease their rebellion with respect to the law. It should be clear that apostates are to be fought not because they refuse to profess or practice Islam, but because they disobey the Islamic law. Therefore, nobody should be questioned or prosecuted for not fulfilling his personal duties toward Allah – for he is answerable to Allah, not to the Muslim community, insofar as his personal duties are concerned-as long as he fulfills his public duty.”

A fair reading of the above passage should lead to a conclusion quite contrary to the one Guandolo conveniently arrived at through the partial and incomplete quotation he cherry picked from the passage to advance his ideologically held position. Indeed, the above argument was made in the context of limiting the ground for war and rejecting the use of force against people on the basis of their personal beliefs. My more definitive statement on religious freedom and the notion of apostasy in Islam is provided in another article, “Apostasy and Religious Freedom,” that was published in the wake of the case of apostasy in Afghanistan in 2006.

The article asserts the right of people to freely follow their conscience in matters of faith and demonstrates that this is the most authentic and consistent reading of the Islamic sources, from which the notion of Islamic law, or Shari’ah, receives its meaning. Here are some of the assertions that Guandolo’s due diligence fails to capture. The article points to the “ample evidence in the Qur’an that individuals should be able to accept or reject a particular faith on the basis of personal conviction, and that no amount of external pressure or compulsion should be permitted.”  It also asserts that not only “does the Qur’an recognize the individual’s right to freedom of conviction, but it also recognizes his/her moral freedom to act on the basis of their conviction.”  It further rejects the presence of any punishment for conversion in Islam, stressing that “one cannot find in the Qur’an any support for the apostasy (ridda) penalty.”

Would these facts lead to any expression of regrets on the part of Guandolo, Gaffney, or any of their anti-Muslim friends? I’m not sure but hope they have the decency and courage to do that. One thing I’m quite certain of, though. Those who think they can triumph by building on a moving ground set themselves up to a big disappointment. As Senator Robert Byrd eloquently put it as he admonished the Bush administration against embarking on the Iraq war in 2003:  ”Truth has a way of asserting itself despite all attempts to obscure it. Distortion only serves to derail it for a time. No matter to what lengths we humans may go to obfuscate facts or delude our fellows, truth has a way of squeezing out through the cracks, eventually.”

Dr. Louay Safi is the director of communications and Leadership Development, Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). He writes and lectures on issues relating to Islam and the West, democracy, human rights, leadership, and world peace. His commentaries are available at


Apostasy and Freedom of Faith in Islam