A Transforming Journey

Category: Articles, Faith, Featured, Society | Topic: afghanistan, pakistan, yvonne ridley | Views: 4,165

It was an Afghan donkey that gave the game away. If it hadn’t bolted, Yvonne Ridley and her two guides would have made it out over the Afghan border and back into Pakistan.

Some weeks previously, Yvonne Ridley was chief reporter for the Sunday Express in London. Like hundreds of other journalists, she was tying to get to New York to cover the events following the events following Sept. 11. While in the airport scrimmage for seats, she received a call from the news editor telling her to get to Pakistan.

A journalist for more than 25 years, she was one of the first into Pakistan to cover the impending attack on Afghanistan.

“There were thousands of us, all being spoon-fed with information. I got fed up with it, and decided to see if I could get into Afghanistan.” She applied many times to the Taleban embassy, but to no avail. “Western journalists were persona non grata.”

Yvonne found two guides and, adopting the cover-all burqa, slipped into Afghanistan as part of a wedding party.

“I was totally anonymous – I simply disappeared from view because I looked and was perceived exactly the same as all the other women in burqas."

She spent days speaking to whomever she could, always aware that the slightest hint could give her away. When she decided to head back to the border, the trio joined a party heading that way. That meant that Yvonne had walked a great deal in the unaccustomed Afghani sandals she wore as part of her disguise, and her feet were badly cut and bruised.

“We managed to obtain the use of a decrepit donkey,” she said.

The donkey bolted and Yvonne, in a desperate attempt to stay aboard, grabbed the halter. The camera that she had been carefully concealing under her burqa swung into full view, exactly at the moment that a Taleban soldier was passing.

“At this stage they seemed rather more concerned with the relationship between my guides and I than the fact I might be a spy,” she said.

The party she was traveling with continued to move toward the border. She kept moving with them but looked back to establish the fate of her guides. “There was a large crowd gathering and it looked as if trouble was brewing. I felt I had to go back.” Walking into the center of the group, she brought the proceedings to a halt by imperiously throwing off her burqa and demanding, “Give me the darn camera back.”

She and her companions were arrested and hauled off to the local men’s prison, where they were separated. “I did see my companions after that,” she said, “and they did look as if they had been roughed up.”

Her first reaction was to go on hunger strike because she was refused a telephone call.

“I was never physically maltreated. They tried to break me mentally by constantly asking the same questions day after day – until nine o’clock in the evening sometimes.” Her captors constantly told her that she would be released – only to move her to another cell.

It was five days before Mullah Omar was told that the suspected spy was a woman. He at once ordered her removal to what was by local standards a comfortable room in a women’s prison.

“I was detained in the company of six Christian aid workers from Shelter Now International, who had been accused of trying to convert the local people to Christianity. They were certainly very religious – and the Taleban were quite comfortable about allowing them a bible and for them to perform their religious observances in captivity.”

Yvonne found out from her captors that they had chosen – albeit unwittingly – to set up their headquarters next door to one of Osama Bin Laden’s residences. “I have this delicious image of Bin Laden sitting in the garden plotting, with the sounds of happy-clappy Baptist hymns wafting over the wall.”

Yvonne was interrogated for days as an American spy – unaware that her captors were in possession of a file that alleged that she was in the pay of Mossad, amongst others.

“On one occasion, I lost my temper and spat and swore at my captors while I was being held in Kabul prison.” The reaction of her captors rather surprised her. “Instead of a hostile reaction they looked reproved and slightly hurt; they insisted I was their guest and their ‘sister.'”

The attack by America and Britain on Afghanistan was immanent, and the file in the possession of Mullah Omar could well have been Yvonne’s death certificate. “I feel I was set up. The attack needed a trigger. A dead English woman executed by the Taleban regime would have been very useful. It was a crude device and I suspect that the CIA were behind it.”

While she was in captivity, she was asked what she thought of Islam. “I gave a non-committal reply – I had no real knowledge of it. I promised I would study the Qur’an.”

The bombing of Kabul began while Yvonne was still in captivity. Two days later she was released. “I was quite sure that the one-eyed Mullah had put two fingers up to the world. He saw the file as a transparent provocation and was not buying it,” said Yvonne.

“On the whole, the Taleban treated me with great courtesy and respect. I had entered their country illegally – I was totally in the wrong and I could have been put on trial.”

When she arrived in Britain, the experience in Kabul had a subtle effect on her. “I decided to look at Islam in the interests of academic enquiry and was given an English Qur’an by a Muslim friend.”

Over the next few months she began to learn more about Islam. “The first thing I scrutinized when I read the Qur’an closely was the law as it relates to property and divorce.” Cheerfully admitting to having been married three times, she was particularly drawn to the way that the Qur’an dealt with what so often is a contentious issue.

Yvonne couldn’t put her finger on any single thing that decided her to embrace Islam. “I spoke to more and more people and became more involved. The way that that the faith treats women as exact spiritual and human equals in worth I found very sustaining,” she said. “It just felt right.”

Whilst the Taleban treated Yvonne – “probably their most difficult prisoner” – with some decency, it doesn’t lessen her desire to question them on their more general behavior. “I would really like to sit down with Mullah Omar, who ordered my release on humanitarian grounds. I would want to know why they treat their women so badly.”

Recently, an opportunity to work in the Gulf with a web-based news organization presented itself. “I decided to take the chance and go,” she said. “A couple of days before the flight, I made the decision to say the shahada, and called a couple of close friends as witnesses. It was an intensely spiritual moment and very intimate. The feeling after I had spoken the words was one of community with the biggest club in the world. It was exhilarating.”

Yvonne has been accused of suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, first described in 1973 when a bond of sympathy was observed developing between hostage takers and their victims.

“It always raises a wry smile with me. The only people I really bonded with, and keep in touch with on an occasional basis, are the girls from Shelter Now International, the ones accused of trying to convert Muslims to Christianity. So if that was the case, I should be in America’s bible belt now with my tambourine!”

Reflecting on her behavior when held by the Taleban, she said, “I don’t think cursing, spitting and refusing to eat endeared me to those poor men who had to put up with my bad behavior. In fact, when I was released, I don’t know who was happier – them or me.”

Now the undercover journalist has exchanged the burqah as a disguise for the hijab as a symbol of a new freedom.


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  1. Ironically, the true face of Islam presents itself to the world through reverts to Islam, not through lives of those who have been Muslims all their lives. Inshallah, the decadent Muslim world will learn to clean up its act. But then, these reverts will have to be bold, brave knights in armour, not meek, submissive followers of others in their midst. Will they be able to assert their interpretation of Islam and saner attitudes to the others? This might well decide the Muslim ummah’s future towards renewal and renaissance or further decadence.

  2. Asalam Alaikum,

    I Think what has happened to our there sister or mother is a blessing to ISLAM. Islam is not a Religion of threat to any body, either in european countries or united state.

    However, let the western super power do justice to those who deserve it the MIDDLE EAST.

    Ma Salam.

  3. Alhamdulillah! Allah SWT out of His mercy chose to guide Sister Yvonne to Islam. I was very impressed by her meticulous search for and arriving at the truth of Islam. I wish her a very uniquely wonderful experience as a Muslim.InshaAllah as an eperienced “Western” journalist she can serve Islam tremendously by helping clarify numerous misunderstandings about Islam, esp. the issues of the role and status of women. And as a Psychiatrist I can reassure you that you have nothing to be concerned about the Stockholm syndrome—the only syndrome you may be experiencing is that of an intense spiritual upliftment!

  4. This is certainly a favour to our sister out of the bounties of ALLAH. Q49 V17 reminds us that “they consider it a favour to you that they have accepted Islam. Say,’Do not consider your Islam a favour to me. Rather, Allah has conferred favour upon you that He has guided you to the faith, if you should be truthful.”

    I am also very happy to hear that our Taliban brothers treated their prisoners with didnity in line with Prophet’s practice. This is where the supriority of Islam stands out. We dont oppress those whom Allah has humbled before us.

    May Allah guide Sister Yvonne in the SIRATAL MUSTAQEEM and all members of this exalted Ummah.

  5. I am happy read the story of sister Yvonne, which lead to the discovery of the true path. Her reversion to Islam is a wonderfull gift for her as well as to whole Muslim World from Almighty Allah. Being a junalist for over 25 years and having seen the world of its good, bad and ugly; her acceptance of Islam after being released from the a prisena of Taliban is realiy wonderfull.

  6. All praise due to allah. Allah guides whom ever He wishes to the right track.

    Sister Yvonne, you now have a big task ahead of you. Remember saving a soul is like saving the whole humanity. Invite as much as you can to the path of islam and any good thing that you do, Allah will multiply it 10 fold.

    May Allah Guide you.


  7. Asslamualikum!!!!this is a very ignore girl about islam but at hte same time believer who wants to know more about it!!!! i find this site which can help me to enlight abt islam.i m really glad to my friend who sent this site to me n to u.i would also like to know whats the inner meaning of this article??? like did that female journalist find Quran the best path of living??? did she convert into muslim after this incident?? what did she find out from her this journey??? would u plsssss email me to inform all these which i didnt get from the article then i would be really greatful to u.thank u!!!!

  8. Because she is covering her body the ways it should be, She is looking like a decent and civilized and rightly-guided individual. What I see in the streets of America everyday and in Europe, and other modernity-loving countries (including the way the queen of Jordan) dress, make me CLOSE my eyes. In fact, I close my eyes in disgust. They will never be my girlfriends unless they cover their bodies. I am NOT tempted. NO guarding your chastity means you are off my list. The more you show your body and the faster I close my eyes (it’s directly proportioanl)

    God is great! God is great! God is great!!!

    This story is just another example of the miracles of Al-Quran. So read it, in the name of God, who created ……..

    Muslims should remember that the people of the WEST need to be civilized. We should NOT be angry w/ them or blowing them up. We, Muslims, need to spread the messages of Quran, then they will spontaneously anti-expose their bodies.

  9. Alhamdulillah! Allah has blessed her with knowledge and wisdom to select the path of success in this life as well as the life Here-after. May Allah make her an asset for spread of the “Deen” (Code of Life) He has selected and ordained for the mankind! Aameen.

  10. Masha’allah sister! I thank Allah for guiding you in the right way, converting your route to New York in to Pakistan and than to Afganistan where Islam’s light come to you not because someone told you but because of the behavior of you captures. That is one of the ways Islam treat people especialy captives.

    Sister, please take a look at how prophet Mohamed dealt with captives especially ladies. You will find the real character there. It is amazing that what we have in Islam is not only a religion but it is also a way of life. And we have an example to follow “Prophet Mohamed scw”

    May Allah guide those others like the sisters you met in the jail. All praise is to Allah and thank God for making us Muslims. Alhamdulilah.

  11. The main stream media needs to see this. The skeptics and critics need to hear this. Perhaps they know and just want their own purpose fulfilled. Allahu Akbar! The truth prevails.

  12. Assalamu alaikum wa barakatuhu wa rahmatullahi. Insha’Allah Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala) will show mercy towards us, our antagonists and everyone who is distinguishable from both our antagonists and ourselves insha’Allah.