Islamic Voice A Monthly English Magazine
Rajab / Shaban 1423 H
October 2002
Volume 15-10 No:190

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Islam and the World

Out of Taliban's Prison, into the Islamic Fold
Muslims in the United Kingdom

Out of Taliban's Prison, into the Islamic Fold

A British woman journalist was taken prisoner by the Taliban. She did not like them.
But she promised to study Islam. And a profound study led her to the portals of Islam.

Ms. Yvonne Ridley, a journalist with a British tabloid who was taken a prisoner by the Taliban forces is now poised to embrace Islam. Though it might surprise a lot many people who have known the Taliban as male chauvinists, Ridley discovered Islam through them. Ridley had entered Afghanistan cloaked in a burqa, astride a mule last September, when the United States was preparing to attack Afghanistan to “avenge” the September 11 attack on the World Trade Centre in New York. She was however detected and imprisoned by the Taliban for 10 days. The Western media raised a ruckus over her arrest. But she was later set free and is back in London and plans to embrace Islam. The metamorphosis in Yvonne Ridley’s life from being a trenchant critic of the Taliban to one who intends to enter the fold of Islam, is breathtaking. She recently spoke to an American magazine. Yvonne Ridley is currently a freelance journalist and her book “In the Hands of the Taliban” was published by Robson books. Excerpts from her interview:

File Photo at the time of Taliban

Is it not surprising that one who was imprisoned by the Taliban is planning to embrace Islam on being set free?
I know it is so difficult to digest for you. It must be really bizarre. Some people feel I am stuck with the Stockholm Syndrome (where the hostages begin to love their captors). But I am different. I have never thought of integrating with the Talibans. I used to condemn and criticise them. I have ridiculed them. I have never listened to them. People afflicted with the Stockholm Syndrome never behave like this.

Then what takes you towards Islam?
When I was arrested by the Taliban, an imam met me and enquired if I would like to embrace Islam. I thought if I said ‘yes’, Ms Yvonne Ridley he would take this as an index of mercurial temperament. And my ‘no’ would have been interpreted as a contempt for Islam. Then I told them that if I was released, I would return to London and make a deeper study of Islam. I did likewise and turned to several academics like Zaki Badawi for advice and received books from the notorious Sheikh Abu Hamza Al-Masri with whom I had a debate in the Oxford University. Some in the Western media thought I am going to open a madrasa for Al-Qaida recruits in my flat in Soho. So I am classed as a subversive by those incompetent spooks from the US Intelligence agencies. The study of Islam reinforced me spiritually. It made certain very striking revelations. I was deeply impressed. Let me tell you, that not one of the Muslim brothers or sisters who spoke to me has urged me to become a Muslim.

Which aspect of Islam impressed you so deeply?
I cannot cite one particular aspect. However I can claim with some measure of confidence that I got disillusioned with Christianity. One particular instance can be cited in this context. When the Israeli forces were firing on the Church of Nativity in the Occupied West Bank, none from the Church of England condemned it. This silence on the sacrilege of the most sacred shrine of Christianity shocked me beyond belief. I thought why should the teachings of a faith impress me when no one is bothered about the sanctity of the holy places. Our Prime Minister Tony Blair who loves to be pictured coming out of Church with his family espousing Christian values, was silent.

What was the nature of your conversation/discussion with the Talibans while in prison? Did you talk about Islam with them?
Unfortunately, I did not know about Islam then as much as I know today. Had I known what I know today, I would have confidently fielded questions about the way they treat women. The Talibans were quite rigid about the religion. So I never broached this subject with them. However I did question them about their blasting of the Buddha statues of Bamiyan. They said they did not mean any sacrilege, but wanted to use the incident to draw the world attention towards the hunger and famine in Afghanistan. They said, the world appeared concerned about the statues of Buddha, but not the human beings suffering with hunger. Only then the world began to listen to them.

What impressions do you carry about the Taliban’s Islam?
They always addressed me as ‘sister.’ When it was time for meals, they asked me to wash my hands and invited me to the frugal meals, even when I used to be on hunger strike. They offered the five-time prayers without fail, notwithstanding their circumstances which were often too insecure.

There is some talk of the Taliban objecting to your drying of lingerie in the open?
I used to hang the undergarments in open for drying. They asked me to cover it with another cloth. I said this was utterly stupid. But they told me their Governor was particular that undergarments should be covered while drying. They said, “in my case, since I was a prisoner, this should be followed strictly as the guards appointed for my security could get evil thoughts about me.”

Will you follow their instructions about lingerie now?
I too detest it. I won’t do it now. But while in prison, I had opposed and disobeyed them. That was because I had decided to harass them in order that they should release me early.

What do you think of the status of women in Islam?
You’d think, I had made a pact with the devil or wanted to become a grand wizard in the Ku Klux Klan. Others feared I was being brain-washed and that I would soon be back in my burqa, silenced forever like all Muslim women. All this, of course is nonsense. I have never met so many well-educated, outspoken, intelligent, politically aware women in the Muslim groups I have visited throughout the UK. Yes, it is true that many Muslim women around the world are subjugated, but this has only come about through other cultures, hijacking and misinterpreting the Quran. The Quran makes it crystal clear that all Muslims, men or women are equal in worth, spirituality and responsibility. Allah ordained equality and fairness for women in education and opportunity, at least that is my understanding. Fair property law and divorce settlements were introduced for Muslim women 1500 years ago — maybe this is where Californian divorce lawyers got the inspiration from in recent years.


Statistical Profile

Muslims in the United Kingdom

One among seven persons in London is a Muslim. But Muslim participation in trade and industry is low. Educational attainments of Muslims are pathetic.

Mosque in United KingdomThe United Kingdom has now 1.8 million (18 lakh) Muslims which is three per cent of British population. One million (10 lakh) Muslims live in London itself which has a total population of 7.2 million (72 lakh). Of the total Muslim population, 12 lakh Muslims are of South Asian origin. Turks constitute 1.5 lakh, Arab and African, 3.5 lakh and remaining come from other ethnic backgrounds. However 10,000 Muslims are either White converts or are of Afro-Caribbean origin. Among the South-Asian Muslims, 6.75,000 are of Pakistani origin, 2,57,000, Bangladeshi and 1,60,000 of Indian origin. Half the ethnic minority people were born in the UK. Nearly 90 per cent of South Asian kids live with both the parents, compared with 40 per cent of Black children. Half the White population is under 38 years of age while half the minority ethnic population is under 27 years. Over two-thirds of Bangladeshi and Pakistani households (68 per cent) are living below the poverty line compared to 23 per cent of the general households. A Policy Studies Institute Study found that Pakistanis and Bangladeshis are living in serious poverty, with incomes below half of the national average. There is high social deprivation in areas of Pakistani concentration.

Unemployment is high among young Pakistanis. Pakistani Muslims are three times more likely to be jobless than Hindus are. Indian Muslims are twice as likely to be jobless than Hindus and 37 per cent of London’s poorest borough i.e Tower Hamlet, are Bangladeshis. Just two out of 10 Pakistani or Bangaldeshi women are active in the job market, compared to seven in the 10 black Caribbean and White women. There are 8,500 Indian restaurants, of which roughly 7,200 are Bengali. One in ten of the 2,50,000 businesses are owned by Asians. Pakistanis and Bangladeshis own 2,450 businesses, Britain may well have 5000 Muslim millionaires with liquid assets of 3.6 billion Sterling Pounds. Every year, 20,000 British Muslims travel to Saudi Arabia for Hajj pilgrimage.

Its Salaat Time nowAlthough Muslims make up just five per cent of UK’s population, they consume an estimated 20 per cent of all lamb and mutton produced in Britain. Pre-childbirth mortality rate among Pakistani mothers is 16 per cent, twice the UK average, 18 per cent Pakistanis are diagnosed for heart disease against 14 per cent Sikhs and 8 per cent Hindus. 44 per cent men of Bangladeshi origin smoke compared with 29 per cent of the general male population. 56 per cent of Bangladeshi women aged over 55, chew tobacco. England and Wales Registrar General records 584 mosques in 1999 which were certified as ‘Places of Worship’. But a mosque database by Salam portal records 900 mosques. The British Parliament’s House of Commons has two Muslim MPs while 217 Muslim Councillors were elected in the May 2000 elections for 25,000 councillors for the entire England for local governments.

Source: This piece is compiled on the basis of the British Muslims Statistical Review,
a database carried by
The Muslim News, UK in its August 2002 issue.


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