By Irfan Khan and Mohammad Ayoub
Yvonne Ridley is probably the most popular revert to Islam, since her conversion back in 2001 after she was captured by the Taliban.
Since embracing Islam she hosts a talk show on Islam Channel and is very outspoken with her views on current issues and how Muslims should behave.
The Revival has met up with sister Yvonne to ask her a few questions.
Revival: Asalamalaykum (Peace be upon You)
Sister Yvonne Ridley: Wa allaykum Salam (Peace be upon you too)
Revival:We’re sitting here at the convention of ‘Global Peace and Unity’ event with sister Yvonne Ridley. A lot of things come to mind, it’s a big event, mashallah, it’s well organised. We have several questions for you, but let’s start with the most important: What does global peace and unity mean and what context is it applied to in this event?
Sister Yvonne: It’s an excellent question because we don’t have global peace, and we don’t have global unity and we don’t actually have unity globally, regionally or locally [so] these sort of events, as long as we’re brutally honest and frank can explore ways of trying to pull the Ummah together as one which was as Allah (swt) had intended.
Revival: What do you think needs to be done or taken away from today to allow genuine unity to actually take place, rather than just being discussed?
Sister Yvonne: Well I hope Muslims walk away [from] today with their heads held high saying you know this is a great day, this is a fantastic day, look at what the Muslims can do when we aim very high.
Revival: What I’m trying to get at is that this event has happened at a time when the Muslim Ummah is (to some extent) in a bad way, what do we need to do? Is this going to be a theological debate that we need to have?
Sister Yvonne: We need to get guts, its as simple as that. And the only way we can get guts is by believing in what Islam teaches us which is to fear no one but Allah (swt). And you know we have the Qur’an in our hearts.
Not even the most brutal dictator in the world can rip that out from us. And we’ve got to remember that this life is just a short blip and stop getting obsessed with material things and titles and honours, that is not what Islam is about.
Nobody in here is better than anyone out there and nobody out there is worse; we are all brothers and sisters.
Revival: As a youth magazine we attempt to engage our readers in the process of uniting the Ummah, but what is the role of the adult generation in this?
Sister Yvonne: Well I feel very sorry for the young people today because they are far brighter and far more clever and far more articulate than the motley crew of Muslim leaders that are paraded in front of us at events like this.
How on earth can someone who can hardly string two words together engage with the Muslim youth? The Muslim youth are incredibly bright … you know they combine the best of the west and the best of the east and you know what...mashallah I’m so impressed in the way they are holding onto the rope of their deen.
Revival: We do have knowledgeable adults involved with the Muslim Council of Britain, who are trying to be the Muslim voice. And if you have a look most of the people here today are of an older generation.
Do you think that the views and opinions of the youth are being listened to by these people? What about the day to day situations affecting the youth, can they be answered and tackled by this older generation?
Sister Yvonne: No not at all, they are totally out of touch with the youth. I go out into the community throughout the UK across Europe and … you know across the world and I engage with young people and I keep my mouth shut and I listen.
I listen to what they have to say and what their concerns are. And quite clearly the MCB is out of touch....
Revival: A major issue being addressed right now is that women are still marginalised in our community…
Sister Yvonne: Of course I was going to come on to that. Look at the event today it’s a boys only club. The MCB is a boys only club; they have a few token women-its lip service.
Many of the MCB brothers I have met have a major problem recognising women as an equal part of the Ummah. I think it’s a cultural problem they have and they resent somebody like me as lippy. Who is prepared to stand up and say ‘You’re a chauvinist, you’re misogynistic?’ You know I have countless examples of the unchivalrous behaviour of MCB members towards sisters.
You know we are half of the Ummah … an important half of the Ummah and how dare they… you know this is why they are out of touch. Now when you look at universities today you’ll find that the driving force of many Islamic Societies is the sisters. How on earth can they look up to or engage with some of these leaders who are totally misogynistic?
Revival: That brings me onto my next question, do you think that the future is brighter or better for the Muslims especially when it comes to female participation and allowing women to get involved?
Sister Yvonne: You say allowing women to get involved, basically what we are doing is racing ahead, and we are not even standing there waiting to be asked. The Muslim women are extremely opportunistic and I mean that in a very good way.
They are bright intelligent and while brothers talk about it, sisters do it. We are seizing the opportunities; we are seizing the moments.
Revival: Do you think there are some leaders that have old fashioned views, e.g. “we’re older and we know better.” ?
Sister Yvonne: This is the trouble…
Revival: How can the youth take on a more important role ?
Sister Yvonne: Some of these sisters are brighter, far more intelligent and far more articulate than these old fossils. They might have been the big cheese in the local village back home but the time has come when they should bow-out gracefully and let younger brighter voices of the Ummah move in.
I’m not saying we should disrespect our elders you know at my age I’d be shooting myself in the foot by saying that.
Revival: Some in the West believe that there is a “Clash of Civilizations” between the West and Islam. What are your views about Islam in the West?
Is there a clash, is there quite a bit of disparity; are we going to continue in this mode for a long time or do you see us improving relations and improving our situation and working together? And are peace and global unity going across humanity rather than just across Muslims?
Sister Yvonne: You see I think Islam is civilised anyway. I have a difficulty at the moment describing the West as civilised. And I think that is a contradiction in terms when you look at the primitive, disgusting behaviour of the American soldiers in Iraq.
Our soldiers, the British soldiers have hardly clothed themselves in glory either. You know how do you define civilisation? I was in a debate in Oxford recently and it was over the you know ‘is there a clash of civilisations?’ and my argument was ‘no’ because the West is not civilised.
So how can you have this clash? Really what we’ve got at the moment, we’ve got a government that is pedalling 24 hour binge drinking, 24 hour gambling- you know basically its promoting a sediment life style and you know the young people in this Ummah.
Now does that make them uncivilised because they don’t want to drink around the clock and gamble around the clock and live outside of wedlock.
If you said ‘do you want people to have strong family values? Not to get drunk, not to waste their money on gambling,’ people would say yes. Well that is Islam. So you know how can the West be civilised when it’s promoting this hedonistic lifestyle.
I mean when the Roman Empire collapsed it was probably because the very sort of lifestyle that you know… promiscuity… drunkenness… they brought about the collapse of the Roman Empire and you know this country is on the road to ruin.
When you get kids as young as 23/24 being treated in hospital for cirrhosis of the liver that’s what the government should be concerning itself with. What I am really very concerned about within the Muslim community is the drugs problem.
Most of the major drug syndicates in this country are Muslim. And we have Muslims selling drugs to Muslims and that is obscene. It’s vitally important to get hold of them and put them on the right path.
Revival:According to some sources 7% of Muslims, Scholars, individuals and prominent people have turned around and said they would not grass on a Muslim to the police if they found out they were doing something wrong.
Should the Muslim community be more open with the institutions like the police who are attempting to get rid of the problems? Or is it that right now an issue of confidence and we don’t have enough confidence in the police or in the institutions ?
Sister Yvonne: It serves the police’s purpose for the Muslim community to be dealing with drugs. People are dealing right outside Sparkhill police station in Birmingham for instance. Nobody gets nicked. It’s no use telling the police.
What I would like to do and what I would like to see is some parents take more responsibility. You know if the virginity of their daughter is an issue they’re up in the air, they’re screaming and shouting. If only they cared for their sons’ welfare as much as their daughters chastity.
Why don’t they ask ‘oh son where did you get that four wheel drive from? When you’re not working and you’re 17,’ or ‘Son you’ve just given me a thousand pounds towards my new home in Pakistan, where did that money come from?’ or something like that.
You don’t need to talk to the police because they’re not going to help. It’s the parents; you know it’s the parents in this country who should hang their heads in shame because they are taking drug money from their sons for their nice retirement.
For goodness sake we’re travelling through this life you cant take you’re fancy home in Peshawar with you to paradise or hell wherever you’re going.
Revival: When there is a problem with drugs we say: “they’re not as educated,” “there’s poverty here,” “we don’t get the same chances and opportunities that other people in other communities do.” Do you believe that’s a ‘get-out-clause’
Sister Yvonne: It isn’t a ‘get-out-clause’. We know the difference between right and wrong. It doesn’t matter if we’ve been educated or not, we know the difference between right and wrong.
Even the most ignorant Muslim knows alcohol is haraam and that is not an excuse. I really want every parent to really honestly search their hearts and as I say, if they cared as much as their sons welfare as they care about their daughters chastity you know we wouldn’t have some of the drug problems that we’ve got.
Revival: We must look within and change within?
Sister Yvonne: Yes … we can’t rely on the establishment. The establishment doesn’t care about us, the establishment doesn’t have any time for us, the establishment puts fear in our communities and in the home. Muslims in Downing Street you know are quite happy to spread this fear around the community.
We have to start taking control of ourselves and we should look to the way the Jewish community handles its affairs as an example. They’re a tiny minority compared to us and yet, they are a very tight community, there’s diversity there.
They handle and protect their community very well. And this is what we should be doing.
Getting rid of this tribal mentality, Islam transcends nationality, skin colours, cultures- these elders should start to practice what they preach.
One of the things that upsets me time and time again is when a young Asian girl will come to me and she has a very good proposition for marriage from a good practising brother that is black and the parents wont tolerate it: that is not Islam.
There is this racism in the community.
When I campaigned for Iraq in Leicester for instance there were two or three members of the Gujarati community who said ‘well she’s not a real Muslim, she’s not like us’. All these prejudices and this racism have got to be eroded.
When I look at somebody I see a brother or a sister I don’t see a skin colour, I don’t see a culture, I don’t see that at all.
Revival: The West is saying that we fall into categories now- Islamist, fundamentalist, we’re moderate, we’re extremist. What do you make of these labels?
Sister Yvonne: I hate labels. I was at an event in America and somebody introduced me to their husband and said ‘oh he’s a moderate Muslim’ and I said ‘a moderate’. I said ‘what does that mean?’
You know its like you’re either pregnant or you’re not, you’re either a Muslim or you’re not. I said ‘do you believe in the five pillars of Islam’ he said ‘of course I do’. I said ‘so does Osama Bin Laden’ .I said ‘so does that mean he’s a moderate as well?’ and he just acknowledged my point in the end and said ‘sister I’m a Muslim’ and I said ‘fine’.
I said ‘that’s all I am’. People keep saying to me ‘what sort of Muslim are you?’ I’m barely two years old I can’t speak authoritatively about Islam and I say ‘I’m a very simple basic Muslim and I follow the Prophet (peace be upon him) and I follow the Sunnah and that’s me. I am nothing more than a Muslim.’
Revival: And finally, with all your experience working with young people in various programs, what is your message for our readers, especially our leaders... what would you like to say to them? Is there anything positive to look out for? What do we need to do to ensure Muslims, especially the sisters, have a better tomorrow?
Sister Yvonne: Education, education, education and fear no one but Allah (swt).
Revival: Thank you very much.