Rifqa Bary’s journey began in her native Sri Lanka, where she grew up in a tight-knit Islamic community.
Her parents had said they moved to America in 2000 to seek medical help for Rifqa, whose right eye was blinded after her older brother threw a metal toy airplane at her.
But they really left because she had been molested by an extended family member. In some Muslim cultures, like mine, this kind of violation is a great source of dishonor,” Bary writes in her book. “Yet the shame is not attached to the abuser; it is cast on the victim. So not only was I viewed now in my parents’ eyes as a half-blind picture of imperfection, but I was also a shameful disgrace.
Almost six years ago, Bary boarded a bus that would take her 1,000 miles away from home and her father, who she said had threatened to kill her for converting to Christianity. She stayed with a local Christian evangelical family she met through Facebook until court battles here put her in state custody.
Ultimately, an Orange County circuit judge ordered her back to Ohio where her parents wanted her — until she aged out of foster care. Bary’s sojourn in Central Florida was marked by jail time, court hearings and revolving foster homes to keep her location undisclosed.
Investigations had been long under way when her father publicly announced Rifqa could practice any religion she wanted as long as she came home.
Doctors diagnosed Bary with a rare form of uterine cancer. They gave her one year to live. By this time, Bary was weeks away from graduating from high school and her parents had stopped their legal battle.
After enduring eight weeks of chemotherapy and several surgeries to remove the cancer, she felt compelled by God to stop treatments and refused a recommended hysterectomy, she said.
Today, Bary is somehow in remission. After taking a few years off of school, she is now studying so she can help people like herself.
Unlike most 22-year-olds, she’s not on social media. She said she needs to remain undetectable so that people angry with her choices cannot harm her. She’s still not ready to reconcile with her parents.