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  Inside Out - North East & Cumbria: Monday October 6, 2003


Yvonne Ridley in a burka
The famous burka that led to Ridley's arrest

British journalist Yvonne Ridley was captured by the Talibans two years ago. Find out why Ridley has converted to Islam following her ordeal.

Yvonne Ridley is the Sunday Express journalist who hit the headlines when she was arrested after being sent to cover the build-up to the Afghan war.

Two years ago Yvonne was detained on suspicion of spying after going in search of a scoop disguised in a traditional burka

But it ended in disaster when she was thrown into prison and held for ten days, while the government, Yvonne's family and work colleagues tried to secure her release.

Against the odds Yvonne was set free, but her time in the hands of the Taliban proved to be a life-changing experience.

Against The Odds

Yvonne Ridley says she was 'simply doing her job' when she was seized by the Taliban near the city of Jalalabad.

Soldier in Afghanistan
Yvonne's time in the hands of the Taliban changed her life forever

As Yvonne explains, "A camera which I had hidden in the folds of my burka slipped out right into the full view of a passing Taliban soldier."

"He went crazy - cameras were banned under the regime - and pulled me off the donkey and removed the camera."

For the first six days Yvonne was held in the intelligence headquarters in Jalalabad before being taken to Kabul prison.

Her cell was very basic and the experience was terrifying. Yvonne lay on her bed inside a dirty, claustrophobic prison cell with no running water.

"Every morning I woke up, I thought 'is this going to be my last day?'" she says.

Hostage to Fortune


There are two billion Muslims world-wide.

The Qur'an is the Book of Allah that was revealed to the Prophet Muhammed over a period of 23 years.

The Qur'an consists of 114 surahs (or chapters) varying in length from 3 to 286 verses.

To properly understand the teachings of Allah, Muslims say that one should refer to the Arabic text of the Qur'an

The Qur'an is the most widely read book in the world. All Muslims memorise parts of it to recite in their prayers.

Some Muslims memorise the entire Qur'an.

Although Yvonne was never physically hurt in any way, the experience was mentally exhausting.

"Although they were very nice, I just thought 'these are the good guys, the bad cops are going to appear at any time now with electrodes and torture instruments, or I'm going to be taken outside and shot."

While being held captive she kept a secret diary using the inside of a box from a toothpaste tube and the inside of a soap wrapper.

Yvonne recorded her thoughts when she was in her cell.

"They tried to break me mentally by asking the same questions time and time again, day after day, sometimes until 9 o'clock at night," she recalls.

Muslim Convert

Whilst in prison Yvonne tried to secure her release by offering to read the Koran or Qur'an. It was the start of her conversion to Islam.

Yvonne wearing a burka
Yvonne wears a burka, a garment viewed by many as demeaning to women

Yvonne took on the Muslim faith in August 2003. As a result she's given up drinking, tries to pray five times a day and visits a mosque every Friday.

So why has a feisty war correspondent been drawn to a faith which some in the west say oppresses women?

"I started reading the Koran and it was an absolutely breathtaking. It could have been written yesterday for today."

"It was crystal clear that women are equal in spirituality, worth and education," says Yvonne.

Yvonne was brought up as a Protestant in Stanley, sang in the church choir, and was the Sunday school teacher in her village.

Today she's exchanged her Church of England upbringing for Islam and a very different set of spiritual beliefs.

Changing Places

It's not just her faith that Yvonne has changed - she also has a new employer, the controversial Arab broadcaster Al Jazeera.

Yvonne works on their new English website, and she's hooked on the internet. "It's a really exciting 24/7 operation... if something breaks, we can put it straight onto the Internet," she says.

Yvonne believes Al Jazeera has given the Arab world a previously unheard independent voice.

Anti-War Campaigner

Yvonne's experiences in the Middle East have made her a vocal anti-war campaigner.

Yvonne in the desert
Yvonne enjoys the isolation and beauty of her new home in Qatar

She started to think about the futility of war because, in her words, "These missiles can't differentiate between civilians and military targets, between a woman, a child and a soldier."

"If I can use any of my fifteen minutes of notoriety and celebrity for good, then I will," says Yvonne.

Yvonne has also changed as a person. "I think I've become more reflective and tolerant than I used to be," she concludes.

In just two years, Yvonne has been transformed from a war corespondent to a committed Muslim with a new lifestyle and a change of career.

It's been an amazing spiritual and physical journey for the North East-born journalist who finally has found her spiritual roots, thousands of miles from her country of birth.

From Durham to Dohar, it's been an amazing adventure and a fascinating spiritual rebirth.

See also ...

BBC: Yvonne Ridley
BBC: Diplomats Seek To Free Reporter
BBC: Freed Reporter Tells Of Ordeal
BBC: Religion

On the rest of the web
Islam Online
Al Jazeera
Muslim News

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites

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Readers' Comments

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Alison Yarushin
Yvonne Ridley is very fortunate to have the freedom to convert to Islam, what about the thousands of Muslims who have no right to convert to Christianity? Many live under the fear of apostasy, being subjected to loss of home/job or even life in some instances. Perhaps Ms.Ridley would like to put the case on her AL-Jazeera website, for the basic right of human beings worldwide, but particularly in Muslim countries, to follow any religion of their choosing.

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