Who should decide a child’s religion?

Update:  We’ve been trying to get in touch with Rifqa, her father and the pastor who took her in to see if they would take part in this show. Progress is slow but will keep you posted on how this goes!

Meet Rifqa, the teen who ran away because she feared being killed by her Muslim family for converting to Christianity. Here’s what she had to say before she left home Her parent’s disagree and authorities have said they have found no credible evidence to back up Rifqa’s claims.  They plan to make their case on Monday. Click on the video below to hear their testimony.

When is a child old enough to choose their own faith? Should a child automatically follow the religion of their parents? And how would you react if your child decided to convert?

39 Responses to “Who should decide a child’s religion?”

  1. 1 Maccus Germanis
    September 18, 2009 at 19:59

    To answer your questions directly. It is largely a waste of time to try to decide anything for someone else. All teaching and instruction culminates in a pivotal moment when the individual judges what they should hold true for themselves. Any person, or religion, that has no respect for this is fighting a losing battle. A parent is best served by pateince and trust, that their invested love will not go unheeded.

    Of note in this particular case:
    Rifqa was questioned by FDLE without her lawyers or guardian ad litem present.
    CAIR lawyers were present when FDLE interviewed her father.

  2. 2 steve
    September 18, 2009 at 20:06

    Isn’t technically aspostacy a capital offense in Islam? While her parents might not kill her, the religion would hold that she must be killed. Where are the human rights in being allowed to become a muslim, but not allowed to leave it?

    • 3 A.Z.Utilitarian
      September 22, 2009 at 06:25

      Hey – ya can’t make an omlet with breaking a few children…er…eggs. Good technical observation though. Probably a death sentence for the kid. Islam has not been known for tolerance lately; this case makes that point yet again.

  3. 4 patti in cape coral
    September 18, 2009 at 20:47

    Is it just me that thinks she acts kind of brain-washed? I have no problem with the christian faith, but the extremes that she is going through seem very strange. Also, that a father that is undecided about whether to take his daughter’s laptop or not because he is worried about her being able to do her schoolwork doesn’t sound like the type of authoritarian father she describes. In addition, her father went to a catholic school. Her poor mother is in such obvious pain. I don’t see any evidence these parents would kill her. If they would, they are amazingly gifted actors. I lean towards believing in God, but I’m not at all a big fan of organized religion, so I admit maybe my thinking starts in a place that is biased.

  4. 6 T
    September 18, 2009 at 21:51

    They should be able to decide by the time they reach high school. Also, some religions allowing “honor” killings for converting or marrying someone outside their faith is one major problem with religion. These people can hide behind the teachings all day long. But as a human being, how can you kill your own child? Murder is murder, no matter what the religion is.

  5. 7 Bert
    September 18, 2009 at 22:24

    I think it’s very disturbing to see kids become religiously fanatic, although in this case, at least that fanaticism will (most likely) not lead to unspeakable acts of violence and terror. Don’t know what it is that causes some young people to be vulnerable to religious extremism. However,if a set of religious beliefs leads to generally good behavior, at least this is not detrimental to society. It may even be a net positive.

    Rifka is a lovely girl. Bubbly and positive, and I can’t help but wish the very best for her. I’m puzzled by all this “sin” she felt she had to be rid of. Who knows what all this was about. There’s something in her past, either real or imagined, that led her down this path. We are clearly missing that background information.

    • 8 Bert
      September 19, 2009 at 00:39

      By the way, to answer the question directly, CERTAINLY by age 13 or 14, as was the case with Rifka, a child can decide what, if any, religion to subscribe to? Most kids are plenty aware enough by that age to make up their own minds. If they play along with mom and dad, it’s mostly because it’s “good enough” for them. If they feel strnongly against mom and dad’s religion, forcing them comply is just plain foolish. It is a perfect recipe for teenage rebellion, and totally unnecessary, if the child’s new cult, group, whatever, is not involved in criminal behavior.

      Even after reading the piece by the mother’s former attorney, I’m left wondering what it is in Rifka’s past that made her so vulnerable to this “salvation theology.”

  6. 9 Tan Boon Tee
    September 19, 2009 at 03:41

    Nobody should decide a child’s religion. He or she may be guided to follow the faith of the parents when small, but by and large, it should be up to the child to choose when becoming an adult.

    A few world great religions do not allow children to be born free of belief. The children must embrace the parents’ (especially the father’s) religion straight away on birth. Such practice has been around for many centuries, to ensure the continuity and growth of the particular faith.

    The traumatic part is when the children grow up and are old enough to make their own decisions, conversion will be unthinkable and not be permitted outright in most cases. They will very likely face ex-communication, be ostracized or even condemned. And that could be too strong a pill to swallow for any normal person.

  7. 11 Sumedh Sharma
    September 19, 2009 at 06:20

    the time at which the teenager becomes able to acquire his citizenship is probably the time when he can decide his religion.
    what i want to say to the parents is that they need to bring their children in such an environment that they get completely known to their parents religious norms and values.Even after doing so for probably up to a certain age the teenager turned child feels he does not want follow his parents religion than he should be allowed to… follow the other religion he like. The parents can never force their child to follow a certain religion.
    it also implies that a child must not be forced to change his religion if his parents change their religion.

  8. 12 James Ian
    September 19, 2009 at 08:06

    Soon as they know what faith is. Faith and spriituality is very, very personal and is to be decided by ones self, NO ONE ELSE. All a parent can do is lead by example.

  9. 13 Will, British Columbia
    September 19, 2009 at 09:57

    To borrow a quote from Clockwork Orange,
    ‘goodness is chosen, goodness comes from within, when a man cannot choose, he ceases to be a man’

    Children are much smarter then we sometimes lead ourselves to believe and we can try to guide them towards religious or moral lifestyles, but they ultimately make the choice to follow them. I suppose if we had all followed the religions of our parents from day one this world might have been a lot more peaceful but like a child entering adolesence, religions question themselves, grow, change and even splinter down different paths.

    My concern with this girl is that she may have had her teenage angst towards her parents exploited with negative images of Islam held against shall we say right wing Christian docterine and the choice may not have been properly thought out, but still that was the choice she made. It’s unfortunate but faith has a way of dividing, sometimes even destroying, the relationships that take a lifetime to build up. I would hope that this family has a chance to reconcile and put aside the sharper words to come together.

  10. September 19, 2009 at 13:07

    If the child feels herself called by God to a religion, that is sufficient.

  11. 15 Bazen Berhe
    September 19, 2009 at 14:35

    My conscience tells me that a parent or guardian has a moral responsibility to teach/guide her/his child in this world, including religious sentiments of ones own. This doen’t mean that the teaching includes involuntary retuals of any religion.
    Here there is a big but, that this religious guidance should only continue up untill the adolescent stage, which is 18 – 21 years of age varing in different countries.
    God, Allah or you name it as a supernatural force has given human kind the right to choose, entailing to accomodate its consequences. Thus in reference to Rifqa’s case it’s her choice to decide what religion to follow, she had to follow her heart. She is leading her life: not her parents, nor her community. God/Allah Bless Her!!

  12. 16 Tom K in Mpls
    September 19, 2009 at 15:12

    Typical family drama, nobody understands anyone. I *hate* the ‘poster child’ aspect of specific cases. As for belief, asking who and when a religion is decided shows a lack of understanding. It happens. most stay with what they were raised with. But there is a thing called an epiphany. The old ‘I have seen the light’ moment. And this can not be controlled. Anything different said after that is meaningless acting.

  13. 17 Pamir
    September 19, 2009 at 17:42

    Religion, once chosen, inflicts our life till it doesn’t end. Obviousy we would entertain no one but ourselves to make such a critical choice. But, a child has little conscience and is not able to make efficient decisions by itself and in such circumstances, it would be almost a sin for anyone to load him with something which would restrain its mind to respond to the world-community in a distinctive manner. It’s the best thing to let the child grow first with availability of good education and broad-minded social environment and then leave it to himself after he is elegible to choose a religion, if he likes to!

  14. 18 Andy
    September 19, 2009 at 20:22

    Well in most cases latest when the child reaches adulthood he or she will be able to choose what religion to follow and in most cases it will be the parents religion if any at all which they have been indoctrinated in from a very early age. Unfortunately abandoning your religion(especially in some strict Muslim countries) can be very risky and even if that is not the case in your country you may still be permanently mutilated as a result of the religious convictions your parents tried to impose upon you,(Islam, Judaism and various other tribal religions spring to mind here)

  15. 19 anu_d
    September 19, 2009 at 20:34

    Whoever converted the minor girl was serving his own agenda more than the welfare of the girl.

    Anyone with even little appreciation to his surroudnign would undertsand religion is a potnetially explosive matter even in the best of times.

    Only adults can change their religion.

    Children are born into their parent’s religion….and whether they like it or not….it’s as cast in stone until their adulthood as their inability to choose who their parents will be.

    The court should anull this conversion of a minor girl.

  16. 20 Dennis Junior
    September 20, 2009 at 03:53

    ///Should a child automatically follow the religion of their parents?///

    No, the child should not be automatically required to followed the religious believes of the parents….

    =Dennis Junior=

  17. 21 scmehta
    September 20, 2009 at 07:43

    It is obvious that the parents/society, to whom a child is born to survive/live, show the way of life/religion to be followed. But, religion cannot and must never be imposed, because any system of faith and worship, in reverence of the Supreme Power or God, is a matter of personal choice/belief.

  18. September 20, 2009 at 12:51

    Who should decide the child’s religion? I believe it is up to the child to decide which way he or she wishes to pray. Besides religion, I think in every aspect of life, children should have the right to have their say on those things that concerns thier welbeing. The only thing I would suggest that parents do is play a care taker role of a child. Advice the child about the afthermath of every decision he/she makes. It would be a mistake if any parent try to intrude on the right of a child to do what the think would lead him or her to success in the long run.

  19. 23 Audrius Kviliunas
    September 20, 2009 at 14:47

    I think that there must be more broader problem which solving we can answer this question.This problem is essential peoples rights in religions equality and possibility change religion if you want.In some countries there are not such rights.Even sunits brothers in islam shiitshave no rights ro have their own mosques in Mecca because sunis consider them as unbelievers.We see big terror on this base in Iraq and not only in this country and with this religion.About what chilgrens rights we can speak when all theese are? I think that at first this problem must be solved in United Nations Organization.Signing by all countries agreement on equality of all religions can gradualy solve this problem of new form of racism.

  20. 24 Miriam from USA/Israel
    September 21, 2009 at 01:05

    Religion is less important than jobs. Plus, converison wipes out native cultures with no possiblitiy of return to indigent culture. All of Latin America, Middle East and North Africa, Europe, have forever lost their original culture completely and totally.
    So, conversion amounts to cultural genocide and religious colonialism.

    The kids and even rural adults in India, Mongolia, Vietnam and Ceylon are victims of catholic conversion – mainly due to being immature and the those doing the cultural assault being cunningly devious and insidious with an ugly amount of political and economic capital.

    Now Pope had an agreement with Jews not to prey on Jews and to some extent with Muslims via so-called interfaith dialog.. He didn’t have such pact with the Buddhists, Hindus and other vulnerable groups.

    The wily god-men must see sense and desist from such evil and criminal activities and create jobs instead for the poor and downtrodden, especially in India (that has 80% poverty level)and Mongolia.

  21. 25 Ibrahim in UK
    September 21, 2009 at 11:45

    The parents are responsible for the child, and they will decide which rules the child follows. If religion was just a set of rules, then the answer to your question would be that the parents decide a child’s religion.
    But religion concerns faith. Faith is from the heart. The heart follows no rules, it seeks love and peace and will grab them wherever it finds them. No one can force love.
    When the Quran says “Let there be no compulsion in religion”, (Al-Baqarah 2:256) I believe this is what it is referring to.
    Neither a child’s heart nor an adult’s heart can be decided by another person.

  22. 26 VictorK
    September 21, 2009 at 12:15

    The question’s meaningless without context.

    In some societies it would be foolish to ask it, e.g. Saudi Arabia and most of the Muslim world.

    In other societies, such as those of the West, it’s not worth asking, since there is freedom of conscience as far a religion is concerned, for adults and young people.

    In all societies, as a matter of commonsense, a child is raised in the religion of his family and community. The real issue is what happens, and what should happen, when that child becomes an adult, and how this plays out in different societies and cultures.

    Rifqa isn’t a child. And she can change her religion because she enjoys liberty of conscience in one of the world’s few free countries.

  23. 27 Jennifer
    September 21, 2009 at 13:41

    I have been following Rifqa’s story closely. I worry for her; that she will be harmed by her parents if people do not take her seriously. Consider a young adult saying that she thinks she will be harmed if returned to her family. Islam demands punishment for “leaving” it. Remember the man in NY that cut off his wife’s head for divorce?

    People should listen to this young woman and help her.

  24. 28 Dinka Aliap Chawul-Kampala,Uganda
    September 21, 2009 at 13:51

    The Religion is a rightful choice of parents.

  25. 29 Jennifer
    September 21, 2009 at 14:03

    RE: When is a child old enough to choose their own faith? Should a child automatically follow the religion of their parents? And how would you react if your child decided to convert?

    I think that parents should first and foremost lead by example; being good role models for their children. This may include a religion; the religion of the parents.

    If I were a parent I would want my children to feel comfortable coming to me with their thoughts and opinions on everything; including religion. I think there are those who believe in God and even atheists who would be unaccepting of a child having a differing view on religion.

    Any path to God is a very personal one. I don’t ever remember being forced to practice a religion. This is not something that parents should do.

  26. September 21, 2009 at 15:35

    why is there always such a big fuss made of this? if the girl felt she was going to have big problem over this she ought to have thought before coming out as it were.
    now is a time to get on with it. you reap what you sow. anti islamists always have a field day over this no matter what. i am not worried as a muslim what these people say for the truth will serve me in my belief. no amount of smearing is going to make a difference. no one is forced to become a muslim by law of islam – it is though a duty to inform and educate without force so that they may chose the right path as i understand but the choice remains with the individual. this is the law by which all muslims ought to live. of course in every culture/society there are those who understand better and apply this well. and there are some who are less able or unable and unwilling. be that on each individual. its absurd to say that the conduct of bad few ought to define the whole. there is no society that can claim a totally sin free. is is a utopia. in islam it is well recogised that the forebears of Adam are not perfect and pursuit of it is preferred

    • 31 Jennifer
      September 22, 2009 at 14:50

      The big deal is that this young woman should be able to choose what religion she wants to follow for herself. I imagine that stating that she fears that her own parents will harm her is not something that she takes lightly. Plus, maybe the idea of an arranged marriage doesn’t appeal to her. Maybe she knows that living in the U.S. she can make these choices on her own.

      Re: You reap what you sow.
      Are you saying that if Rifqa was killed; she would deserve that? Just for deciding she did not want to be muslim?

  27. 32 Tom D Ford
    September 21, 2009 at 16:15

    “Who should decide a child’s religion?”

    That really is the core of the problem, we allow Religious Predators to decide a childs’ religion.

    We should not allow Religious Predators to even have access to children until the child is old enough to make such harmful decisions to herself, just like with any other harmful drugs like alcohol or tobacco.

    Religion is bad for adults and even more harmful to children.

    Religionists should not be allowed to attack children at all, only adults.

    Imaginary beings, are you kidding me! Adults put away such childish things and deal in reality!

  28. 33 Tom K in Mpls
    September 21, 2009 at 17:18

    Another thought. Those posting here that it is the decision of the parents are kinda scary to me. I see the same intolerance and competition that is causing most of the violence in the world today.

  29. 34 patti in cape coral
    September 21, 2009 at 20:50

    @ Tom D. Ford – My daughter’s best friend is an atheist. He good, intelligent man, in fact the whole family is brilliant. His parents recently disowned him for being an atheist, as they are of the Ba’hai faith. Apparently, they are proponents of the “parents decide” camp. My daugher is agnostic, and I call myself agnostic, leaning towards belief. He is like part of our family and I would be proud if I could call him my son regardless of what he believes.

    I usually agree with you, but you always seem very hostile and intolerant toward religious beliefs. Are you a nonbeliever in religions, or God altogether? I’m just curious, don’t answer if I’m being too nosy.

  30. 35 Ken Sverige
    September 22, 2009 at 16:26

    This is a competition between fully grown blind faith believer’s of different ways of believing in god,.Christian, Muslim, Judaism, whatever
    All these institutes feel they have a given right to indoctrinate,”brainwash”. there offspring, to whatever degree that they wish, it is shame full that in the name of God we control our own relatives and offspring, to the degree that if they are not conformed by the age of adulthood and beyond, that they are ostracized and cast out, Surely parents are controllers of there controllers,
    I never cease to be amazed at the audacity of the so called Religions into the lives of humans in search of a happy life,. through history they have dominated robbed murdered, enslaved and pillaged the lives of millions upon millions of honest, kind and caring peoples throughout the world. and blind faith believers will continue until we set aside the possession of souls, and of bodies, from the tyranny.

  31. 36 Ken Sverige
    September 22, 2009 at 16:35

    My diatribe was not aimed at the parents who seem to be well balanced and fair in there love and devotion of there daughter. and even though I am not a believer, It would be a great day if the Religious community had the caring attitude, and understanding that these parents show for there daughter

  32. 37 Ummu Ja'afar
    September 22, 2009 at 22:12

    the parent surpose to train her since from childhood in an islamic way,give her the basic islamic knowledge and lead her to the sunnah of prophet muhammad rasulullah (S A W) if this is missing, probably that’s what makes her to convert becouse she dont really knows the religion, ALLAH SWT say”know me before you worship me if you dont know me how will you worship me”so if from the begening they do not bring her up as a muslim so i think they cant false her.

  33. 38 Tom D Ford
    September 23, 2009 at 00:26

    @ patti in cape coral
    September 21, 2009 at 20:50

    “…I usually agree with you, but you always seem very hostile and intolerant toward religious beliefs. Are you a nonbeliever in religions, or God altogether? I’m just curious, don’t answer if I’m being too nosy.”

    I have looked behind the curtain, like Dorothy did in the Wizard of Oz, and seen and thought out the psychological damage that it does to children to tell them that their personal power and responsibility is outside of their self and under the control of some imaginary being. And I concluded that I am anti-religion.

    I don’t think that children should be subjected to religion, I don’t think that anybody should decide a childs’ religion.

  34. 39 Annon
    October 18, 2009 at 08:31

    Well I’m 14 and I’m really interested in religion. I know I have a clean concious and I have no intention to do serious wrong. I have chosen a religion (Christianity) an looked into denominations. I’m really interested in Mormonism. My parents won’t let me go to a Mormon church. Do you guys think this is right? Should kids be able to chose their denomination as well.

    (my parents are both athiests btw)

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