Rifqa Bary, the Ohio woman who made national headlines in 2009 when she ran away from her Muslim family after secretly converting to Christianity, recently opened up about her radical conversion, explaining that she left Islam after experiencing the love of God "in such a way where I had to give myself and I couldn't hold back and I had to leave."
Bary, who tells her inspiring story in the new book "Hiding in the Light," reveals that she had been molested as a child by a member of her extended family and also lost sight in her right eye, two incidents which ultimately prompted her parents to leave Sri Lanka and move to the U.S. in 2000.
"I grew up in a Muslim home-- I come from an extremely strict home. In my culture there's a lot of oppression..shame is cast on the victim," the 22-year-old told Elisabeth Hasselbeck on "Fox and Friends" in her first national television interview held on Tuesday.
After moving to Ohio, the young girl gave herself completely to her Muslim faith--but found it to be empty. In her autobiography, Bary reveals that she was then drawn to Christianity because it offered her a chance to worship God in a more personal way, not by compulsion, and in a language she could understand.
"When I was 13, I sought another way and did the really 'despicable' thing, which was praying to another God," Bary recalled. "I was desperate just to be able to be free to worship Jesus, so I would sneak out sometimes to go to prayer meetings or I would stay up late and read the Bible in the bathroom or find any possible way."
Before long, Bary's her family found out about her conversion to Christianity, and the 22-year-old said she feared she would be killed, as Sharia law commands.
"I feared for my life," Bary said, recalling how at one time, her father threatened to kill her. "I believe I would have been harmed, if not something more. I can't say."
On July 19, 2009, Rifqa Bary boarded a Greyhound bus in Ohio and traveled nearly 1,000 miles southeast to Central Florida.
"It wasn't just one decision where I decided to leave. It was an entire life of oppression," she recalled of her escape.
Eventually, Police used phone and computer records to track her to the Reverend Blake Lorenz, pastor of Orlando, Florida-based Global Revolution Church, whom she had met through a Facebook prayer group. When local authorities threatened the pastor and his wife with criminal charges for harboring her, Bary turned herself in to police and spent two days behind bars at a juvenile detention facility.
After returning to Ohio, Bary was diagnosed with a rare form of uterine cancer and given a year to live. However, following eight weeks of chemotherapy and several surgeries to remove the malignant tumor, Bary stopped treatment and refused to undergo a hysterectomy citing her religious beliefs. Today, the 22-year-old is in remission against all odds, and is a college student majoring in philosophy. She still lives in an undisclosed location for fear of retribution, the Daily Mail reports.
When asked what she would say to her father if she had the opportunity, Bary offered Christ-like forgiveness despite all he had put her through.
"I would say that despite everything that has happened, I love him so much, and I pray for him, and I forgive him, because I've been forgiven. And so, I forgive."
"Could you have done all this without Jesus?" Hasselbeck asked.
"Absolutely not," Bary replied. "The whole reason that I'm sitting here and the courage that I had is not my own courage. I experienced the love of God in such a way where I had to give myself and I couldn't hold back and I had to leave."
She added, "I want to encourage people through my story that there is hope, there is healing and there is restoration."
Her new book, Hiding in the Light: Why I risked Everything to Leave Islam and Follow Jesus, was released Tuesday by the WaterBrook Press division of Penguin Random House.