Last week, the Muslim Student Union of UC Irvine held several events to showcase Islam Awareness Week. In addition to an outdoor board where students could write their perceptions about the role of women in Islam, and a Dawah table with informational packets devoted to different topics, the MSU invited several speakers to discuss different topics pertaining to Islam.
Yvonne Ridley, a British journalist who snuck into Afghanistan to cover the war after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, recounted her capture by the Taliban and her conversion to Islam in a lecture entitled ‘Behind Enemy Lines: The Story of a Taliban Captive’ on Tuesday night at Doheny Beach CD in the Student Center.
After entering a small village near Jalalabad in Afghanistan, Ridley experienced a ‘hospitality that was only outstripped by curiosity.’ Ridley explained that when the locals found out she was a foreigner, instead of retreating, they spoke with her about their experiences post-9/11. Many did not understand what those attacks had to do with Afghanistan, as the hijackers were mostly from Saudi Arabia.
Ridley described herself as having many of the typical Western stereotypes of Muslim women. However, after speaking with a few Afghan women, she quickly found that they were not ‘quiet Afghan women hiding,’ but ‘larger than life’ and very well educated.
A Taliban soldier discovered Ridley as she was attempting to sneak out of Afghanistan via a smuggling route. Her banned camera fell out of her burqa, and she was taken into custody. She refused to eat for six days because she was not allowed to telephone home. She decided that she would be ‘the prisoner from hell, cursing, spitting and yelling’ at her captors.
Ridley refused to convert to Islam when asked to do so by a religious cleric. However, she promised to read the Qur’an and learn more about Islam if they let her go. Instead, she was moved to the ‘grimmest third-world prison.’ Four days later, she was released into Pakistan.
Upon returning home, she ‘realized that [her captors] had been decent and honorable in their treatment’ of her. This was very different from what she expected. Ridley ‘thought that Abu Ghraib would happen’ to her, referring to the prison where political prisoners were held captive and tortured under the rule of Saddam Hussein.
Ridley decided to keep her promise to her captors and began studying the Qur’an. Her promise was not the only reason she decided to look into Islam. Professionally, as a journalist covering the Middle East, she was surprised that she knew so little of the religion that encompassed the lives of many living there. She began to research women’s issues first and was surprised to find that, according to the Qur’an, ‘women were equal in spirituality and education.’
Ridley’s conversion to Islam has been continuously questioned, with many citing Stockholm Syndrome to explain her decision. However, Ridley holds that the syndrome encompasses ‘bonding with your captors,’ and she ‘did not bond with [her] captors, but instead was the prisoner from hell.’
Summer Bowie, a fourth-year dance major, learned about the role of women in Islam from Ridley’s lecture. She ‘didn’t know Muslim women played such big roles in Iraq and Afghanistan
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