The Christian Runaway High-school student Rifqa Bary says her conversion to Christianity threatened her life. Her Muslim parents say they just want their daughter back—no matter what faith she practices. Brian Williams wasn't sure what to make of his young friend's stories. He'd met Rifqa Bary, a high-school student from Gahanna, Ohio, at a prayer house at Ohio State University late last year. Intensely devout and deeply inquisitive, she recounted that she came from a Muslim family but had converted to Christianity. This had enraged her parents, who threatened her with violence, she said. She had to hide her faith, conceal her Bible, and sneak away to attend church. According to Williams, a nondenominational minister, she researched the persecution of Christians around the world obsessively and lived in constant fear that her parents would kill her for apostasy. At first "I didn't believe her, to be honest," says Williams. "Maybe she's just young and overemotional," he thought. But Bary spoke with such conviction that she eventually convinced Williams. And when she ran away from home and fled to Orlando in July, claiming she was in danger of falling victim to an "honor killing," it seemed like all the more reason to trust that she was telling the truth. Why else would she uproot her life that way? Nevertheless, three separate investigations—two by authorities in Ohio and one by law enforcement in Florida—have found no reason to believe that her allegations are true or her life is imperiled. Her parents vehemently deny all the accusations she has made against them and say they have no issue with her being a Christian. Yet Bary continues to maintain that if she's returned to Ohio, she'll be murdered. The dispute is now the subject of a rancorous legal battle in Florida family court. It's up to a judge to sort through the facts and determine what's best for Bary, 17, who's living with a foster family in Orlando. But that won't be easy. Her case has spilled far beyond the courtroom walls and escalated into a virulent religious clash. She's being represented by John Stemberger, a conservative Christian lawyer who was involved in the battle over Terri Schiavo, the Florida woman kept alive with a feeding tube until it was disconnected in 2005. He and various right-wing groups have unleashed a barrage of allegations against Bary's parents and a mosque they attend in Columbus, Ohio. Yet as Krista Bartholomew, Bary's guardian ad litem (appointed by the court to offer guidance on the girl's best interests), said in a hearing last Thursday, "This is not a holy war. This is a case about a frightened little girl and a broken family." Mohamed and Aysha Bary left Sri Lanka in 2000 with their two kids, Rifqa and an older brother, and moved to New York (their third child, a boy, was born in the United States). The reason: concern about Rifqa's well-being. As a child, she'd fallen on a toy airplane that pierced her right eye. Doctors in Sri Lanka wanted to remove the eye, prompting Mohamed to relocate the whole family so Rifqa could obtain better medical treatment. In the end, her eye was spared, though she can't see out of it. Then, in 2004, Mohamed moved the family again, this time to seek a better public education for the kids. He settled on the Columbus area, which had highly ranked schools. At New Albany High School, Rifqa excelled. She maintained a 3.5 grade-point average and became a member of the cheerleading squad. Mohamed "is so proud of his children," says Gary Abbott, his closest friend in the U.S. (and a Christian). "He values them more than his own life." Soon after arriving in Ohio, Rifqa began exploring Christianity. (Though the Barys raised their kids Muslim, Mohamed says the family didn't attend mosque regularly, due to his travel schedule as a gem dealer.) According to Jamal Jivanjee, a Muslim-to-Christian convert who later befriended Rifqa (and now lives in Nashville), she first learned about Jesus Christ from a girl in junior high who shared Scripture with her. The idea that "you could have a relationship with God was a very attractive concept to her," says Jivanjee. In 2005, Rifqa became a Christian at Korean United Methodist Church in Columbus, according to an affidavit filed by her lawyer. With time, she became more fervent about her beliefs. Williams says she regularly attended prayer groups and participated in pro-life gatherings at abortion clinics. She also connected with fellow believers online, through religious groups like the United States of Prayer on Facebook. "The Internet became her church," says Williams, who calls Bary "by far the most passionate Christian I think I've ever met." Bary's claims about her parents' hostility to her new religion date back at least a year. In an August 2008 e-mail to Jivanjee, she described her parents as "very devoted Muslims" and wrote that after accepting Jesus at the age of 13, "of course I couldn't tell them. Where would I live and go?" Noting that Jivanjee was also a convert, she asked, "How were you able to handle the persecution?" In her affidavit, Bary contends that her father forced her to attend youth gatherings every Saturday at the Noor Islamic Cultural Center in Dublin, Ohio (though the center says its records show she attended only three classes there in 2007). Mohamed, a polite, mild-mannered man who seems deeply pained by the acrimony, responds that all this is nonsense. He and his wife learned that Rifqa considered herself a Christian when she was 14, he says, and though they would have preferred she remain Muslim, "we did not make a big fuss about it." Plus, he points out, if they were indeed such fanatics, why would they have let their daughter prance around as a cheerleader? Mohamed says Rifqa's behavior began to change more markedly at the beginning of this summer. She became withdrawn, barely speaking to him when they drove places together. She rejected the company of her little brother, with whom she'd always been affectionate. She would stay up late, reading her Bible on the balcony. Aysha also found books in the girl's room that she found troubling, like Is the Injeel Corrupted? (Its author, Fouad Masri, believes that "radical Islam is a reflection of a spiritual thirst that can only be quenched through the teachings and the life of Christ," according to one of his press releases.) Moreover, Rifqa was constantly on Facebook, interacting with people her parents had no clue about. "We were worried," says Mohamed.