The conversion of a prominent English lady journalist, Yvonne Ridley, to Islam is not something ignorable in the recent history. By embracing Islam a few years back, Ridley has, in fact, stunned the Western world. Unfortunately, such a thick smoke of bigotry has been spread around Islam by the so-called “civilized and educated Westerners” that it appears to them as a mere symbol of terror and tyranny. Conversion to Islam, therefore, by a distinguished personality, a woman in particular, amid this prejudiced environment, seems something unbelievable.
Yvonne Ridley (now Mariam Ridley) had no specific awareness of Islam before 2001 or the 9/11 incident. But astonishingly, the circumstances took a sudden turn, and Islam became the centre of Ridley’s thoughts. Professionally, she had been deputed to Afghanistan as a journalist by her newspaper for covering then-ruling Taliban, who were and are still regarded as the rigid, rude, uncultured and merciless warlords. Also, the Taliban had remained reluctant towards the western media, which had been exhibiting a hostile attitude against them.
Ridley entered into Afghanistan, donned with a long Burqa as a safety measure. Unfortunately, she was detected by the Taliban and immediately taken into custody. As a routine practice, the Western journalists always keep themselves ready to face any sort of risk, in pursuit of acquiring breaking news. Likewise, Ridley probably was also determined to face any sort of challenge inside Afghanistan for the same purpose. Unluckily, however, she was spotted and, as stated above, was imprisoned.
The interesting element in the story, however, is that the detention Ridley had suspected before and for whose evasion she had attired Burqa proved conversely a blessing to her. Her confinement in a house for ten consecutive days shook her from within. The Taliban’s compassionate and kind conduct toward Ridley pressed her to seek answers from her heart to such question as: “Are they really the rude and hard-hearted people, as my friends in the media portray?”
Detention of Ridley by the Taliban, however, provoked the entire ‘civilized’ society of the West, leading to a vast circulation of prejudiced and concocted news in their periodicals about the Taliban. With the detention of Ridley, the West had, in their sense, acquired a vivid and candid proof of the Taliban’s barbarism, whereas the facts were quite contrary. An absolutely unique and positive conduct was portrayed to the lady by the Taliban. Also, Ridley might have expected a torturous treatment from them, namely sexual abuse or physical assaults. However, no such behaviour was ever extended to her. Instead, they demonstrated a treatment which a brother extends to his sister or a father exercises over his daughter. This attitude obviously opened the eyes of Ridley and forced her to reconsider Islam. Later, after her release from the captivity, she disclosed to the media that the Taliban had left no stone unturned to leave a nice impression over her through their conduct.
“They honoured my feminism,” she once narrated. “Although the face veiling (Hijab) did never appeal to me, they made it incumbent over them to practice it with me. They never beat me,” she added, “never starved me and never insulted me. Any time they intended to visit me, they first used to knock my room’s door. They also provided me an absolute isolation for my lavatory requirements.” Ridley went on to narrate: “I remained in their confinement for ten days but never did they attempt to touch or sit just close to me, because of which I remained ever fearless from them.”
Still, however, upon return to her native land, the UK, after her captivity, the media flocked to her in an attempt to pick every minute detail of the Taliban’s conduct. “Were you ever molested, deemed like a toy, starved, gang raped or tortured?” A series of such questions were forwarded to her, but quashing their stance, Ridley replied: “No, no, never. They were never rude. They were nice fellows, aware of my pains and sorrows. They acknowledged the respect of women all the time. Although known as uncivilized Mullahs (clerics) by us, their behaviour still was marvelous.” But in place of getting pacified, the biased media flashed disgusting news against the Taliban in their journals: “She has been brainwashed. She is uttering all this because of the Taliban’s coercion. She is hiding several facts.” And so on and so forth.
Then, once in England, her mind instigated her to re-study Islam: a religion whose imitators had so nobly treated her when they could have exercised any cruelty. “Let it be revisited,” she decided. Taking in her hands the Holy Quran, the basic source of the Muslim faith, she exclaimed without the least hesitation that the Quran was the only book awarding peace and justice to the entire world. In a response to the editor of “Sunday Telegraph”, London, Ridley remarked: “I have found the Quran to be a beautifully written book prompting nothing but peace, love and understanding.” More amazingly, she added that the Burqas have been her favourite dress since then, and she puts them in her suitcase on every journey. “I still have the original one I was arrested in,” she informed.
Eventually, she stood up to proclaim: “There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is His Messenger.” By pronouncing this, she meant that her conversion to Islam was in no way coerced and that she had willfully thrown herself into the fold of Islam.
From then onwards, Ridley became a Muslim who remains ever impatient for the enhancement of her faith. Her soul then did not permit her to sit calm anymore. She already had in her mind the commandment of Allah (swt): “Arise and warn! And your Lord (Allah) magnify!” (Al-Muddaththir, 74:2-3)
She bore the standard of Islam in her hands and devoted herself to its circulation, declaring publicly that Islam was the religion most suited to her.
I, the writer, once came across a comment made by a Muslim revert upon her acceptance of Islam, wherein she had stated: “I have not just embraced Islam but, in fact, have returned to it.” In other words, she had returned to her original and natural religion. She was referring to a Hadeeth, which informs that every infant coming into the world is born on natural faith (Islam), but later his parents, kinsmen and friends drag him towards some other faith (Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, etc.). Likewise, Ridley had not just embraced Islam but had returned to her original belief.
The lesson we can learn from this story is that if the Muslims would correct their attitudes from within (their interactions, discourses, manners, etc.) and cultivate in themselves the charisma that attracts people, one-third of the world population, to speak safely, may fall into the folds of Islam.
Ridley is now a practicing Muslim, deeming it her due obligation to propagate and expand the truth of faith, which she has discovered. When she delivers speeches, travels across the world and wears a full-length Burqa, you will notice in her a lady, who is emotional for the circulation of Islamic tenets. We immensely respect her for returning to the original and natural faith.