'I've met some very aggressive Christian evangelicals. A number have issued death threats while others have called me Satan and said I will go to Hell.'
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Yvonne Ridley is a journalist, author, peace activist and film-maker. She was captured by the Taliban in September 2001 after crossing the Afghan border wearing a burqa. After her release she read the Qur’an and subsequently converted to Islam. TNS spoke to her on International Women’s Day. Tell us about your conversion. I was quite happy as a practising Christian and was not looking for a new faith when I was captured by the Taliban. I offered to read the Qur’an if they released me. Against all the odds, while holding on to other westerners, they did release me. I kept my word and began reading the Qur’an and supporting Islamic literature. It was the fulfilment of a promise but, as a journalist covering the Middle East and Asia, it seemed shocking I knew so little about a religion which was clearly a way of life for people. What can Islam offer to the West – and to western women? I am a feminist, radicalised in the working class pit villages of County Durham, so when I began reading the Qur’an I was very interested to know about Islam’s position on women. The Qur’an made it crystal clear women are equal in spirituality, worth and education. The first convert to Islam was a woman and women held an equal role in society from the beginning. I began to realise male-dominated cultures had hijacked the religion and tried to use their cultures to subjugate and oppress women. I soon realised that honour killings, forced marriages, FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) had absolutely nothing to do with Islam and everything to do with these patriarchal societies. What are your views on the main things that need to be done now for women in the Middle East, and for Islamic women in the West? Women of faith and no faith need to learn from each other and, through mutual respect, strengthen their understandings. The treatment of women globally is shocking. For instance in America of the 1200 murdered annually around 400 die through domestic violence. Making a comparative study across the globe women in the USA are less safe in the home than women in Afghanistan or Pakistan. By the time we die at least one in three of us globally will have experienced some form of abuse or violence at the hands of a man. This abuse crosses faith, cultures, classes etc. Women need to unite to use our strengths to combat this. The sisterhood should become a global entity and not be mutually exclusive to women of faith or to those of no faith.
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