September 2006. There were posters everywhere about this woman named Yvonne Ridley who had been with the Taliban, and she was giving a talk at the university main hall. “Hmm, sounds interesting,” I looked at the poster and noted with dismay that the talk was to be held at night. I didn’t like going out alone at night, and still don’t.
Should I go or should I just stay in my room and read a book?
The main problem was that I had nobody to go along with me. Friends preferred to relax in their rooms at night than to spend two hours listening to a foreigner talk about Islam. Also, attending the talk meant having to walk for twenty minutes after sunset, alone to reach the venue. Was it going to worth the trouble?
My heart said "go" but my mind said "stay". I called up my mentor for a second opinion. “Go if your heart’s in it. You can always leave if you’re uncomfortable,” was the advice given.
So I entered the hall 20 minutes early, found a good seat and prepared to listen with a blank mind. Two hours later, I left the packed hall totally inspired. The long walk back under the street lamps was in fact enjoyable on that fateful night.
Who is Yvonne Ridley?
Well, she was a British journalist who smuggled herself into Afghanistan in order to do the cover-up in the Afghan war, by concealing herself behind a traditional burqa. The day she was about to leave the country by riding on a donkey, it seemed to identify her as an infidel and went berserk, running wildly into the market with Yvonne on its back. She landed right in front of a passing Taliban soldier, and her camera dropped at his feet. The soldier shouted and soon Yvonne was surrounded by fierce-looking men.
“Oh no! They’re going to stone me to death!” she thought and decided to defend herself.
“Look, I have no weapons,” Yvonne lifted her clothing.
And did the men stone her?
No, they all turned 180 degrees and ran away!!! ( An observation of the aurat for the men, you see).
Anyway she was arrested on 28 September 2001 and held captive for 10 days. The Taliban treated her well although she was a difficult captive. They brought her food and begged her to eat when she went on hunger strike, calling her their ‘sister’. She was to tell the world that she had never seen such brave, noble and religious men as the Taliban soldiers. Then she made a promise to the imam who visited her (Here’s how she described him, “He didn’t walk into my cell, he sort of floated in, and he had this special glow in his face.”) that if they released her, she’d read the Quran and study about Islam. Much to her own surprise and everyone else's, she was released unconditionally. Yvonne went back home and started to read the Quran. Initially she was hoping to find out why Islam is so hard on women but what she found instead was truth and high respects for women. She was surprised to find that the first convert was a woman, the first edition of the Qur’an was put in the care of a woman, and that Islam was preserved and handed down by sisters.
Later, Yvonne Ridley carried a copy of the syahadah with her everywhere she went before she finally reverted to Islam in 2003, two and a half years after her capture. Now she’s travelling worldwide giving talks about Islam and anti-wars. She has written two books, one of them,'In the Hands of the Taliban’ (I'm still searching for it) narrates her experiences in Afghanistan.
I had the privilege to listen to her talk. She was a good speaker but more importantly she was not afraid to tell the truth. I had always thought that Taliban were terrorists (thanks to reading too much tabloid papers) but now I know better. You may read more about her views about Islam, the veil and feminism in http://www.readingislam.com/servlet/Satellite?c=Article_C&cid=1165993867260&pagename=Zone-English-Discover_Islam%2FDIELayout