Finding Women’s Liberation in Islam: An Interview With Yvonne Ridley

By Neveen Shedid

Yvonne Ridley while being interviewed on November 22,2006 by

Yvonne Ridley, the acclaimed British writer and commentator, was in Cairo, Egypt, to attend the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY) conference from November 21- 23, 2006. She graciously agreed to meet with for the following interview.

IslamOnline (IOL): How much did you know about Islam before becoming Muslim?

Yvonne Ridley: I knew very little about Islam before becoming Muslim. I only knew what the media told me.

IOL: How did you embrace Islam?

Yvonne Ridley: During my captivity by the Taliban, a religious cleric visited me. He asked me some questions about religion, and asked if I would like to convert. I was terrified that if I gave the wrong response, I’d be killed. After careful thought, I thanked the cleric for his generous offer and said it would be difficult for me to make such a life-altering decision while I was imprisoned. However, I did make a promise that if I were to be released, I would study Islam upon my return to London.

So after being released, I read an English translation of the Qur’an. When I went back home to England, I went cherry-picking in the index of the Qur’an, and read different chapters. I was amazed by the rights Islam has given to women, and that really was the thing that attracted me most to Islam.

IOL: Did you find the needed support from the Muslim community, especially after embracing Islam?

How could a party girl suddenly walk away from the Western lifestyle and embrace Islam?

Yvonne Ridley :
Yes and no. I got lots of support from the sisters; I think I was luckier than a lot of reverts. Some reverts really need very close support and almost supervision on a daily basis. Sadly, a lot of us are abandoned once we have said our Shahadah (testimony of faith.) In fact, I would like to say to the brothers and sisters out there, the first year for reverts is extremely critical in one’s development as a Muslim. Please don’t abandon us as soon as we have said our Shahadah.

IOL: What have been the greatest challenges you’ve had to face after embracing Islam?

Yvonne Ridley: Learning to be a better person. This may sound strange because I don’t think I was a bad person before embracing Islam, but I did need to learn Islamic etiquette, such as being patient and tolerant. For those who know me quite well know that this can be quite a struggle for me at times.

IOL: How did you your family and friends accept you becoming Muslim? What was their reaction?

Yvonne Ridley: Everyone was shocked. How could a party girl suddenly walk away from the Western lifestyle and embrace Islam? But after awhile, they found that I haven’t grown two heads! I am happier and healthier; I’ve lost weight. They see that whatever it is in my life, I am doing very well with it. They were in denial that it is Islam. My girlfriends would ask me if I have a man in my life, and I would say, “Why do you think that to look this good I have to have a man in my life? I mean, can’t you just accept that I have found something that gives me a lot of happiness, inner strength, and spirituality?”

IOL: With all this fuss going on about hijab, how did you cope with wearing it in England?

My advice to those politicians is to stay out of our wardrobe.

Yvonne Ridley: I didn’t put the hijab on straight away, and I’m so pleased that you’ve asked me about this. Many people have an opinion about the hijab, mainly men, who don’t have to wear it. They have no idea what challenges every Muslim woman must face the moment she puts on the hijab or the niqab and goes out her front door. She is fighting for Islam; she is on the front lines. She is open to abuse. Sadly, some sisters have been physically attacked because of the ongoing debate about hijab started by various ill-advised politicians.

My advice to those politicians is to stay out of our wardrobe. What women wear has nothing whatsoever to do with you.

What I would say to my sisters is, yes, the hijab is an obligation in Islam. I’ve looked for the shortcuts and the get-outs, but there is no get-out. The hijab is an obligation.

To those sisters who are wearing it, I salute your strength and courage and conviction of faith.

For the sisters who don’t wear it, I would tell the people around them to be patient and give them time. We are all on a spiritual journey, some of us reach levels much more quickly than others. It just takes time. We shouldn’t be critical of those sisters who don’t wear the hijab, because there are many pressures and stresses. Instead of being critical, we should be supportive and help them.

I didn’t put my hijab on immediately. It took time for me, and is part of my growth and development as a Muslim. Each day I’m developing, and if we have this conversation in twenty years time, I will still be learning and developing in sha’ Allah.

IOL: What do you think non-Muslims need to know most about Islam? What is the most important message we as Muslims should convey to non-Muslims?

Yvonne Ridley: We have to get through to the West that Muslim women are not oppressed, subjugated creatures. Yes, some women are under the rule of men, but I can take you into non-Muslim areas and show you oppressed Western women. The problem of domestic violence is not a Muslim one, it’s a global issue for women.

There are many issues that affect Western women and Muslim women. And what I would say to non-Muslim women is that there is quite a lot of substance and character underneath that veil. If you take a look, you will realize that there are some incredible, highly-politicized, internationally-aware, multi-skilled, multi-talented women under that veil. So instead of spending so much time wondering what’s underneath the veil, stop and talk to the sisters. There are a lot of Islamic feminists. And they are far more radical than their secular counterparts.

This interview was performed by Neveen Shedid, editor of Understanding Islam page at She holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Cairo university and is currently working on her Diploma in Islamic studies.


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