From MTV to Mecca: An Inspiring Story of Kristiane Backer’s Journey to Islam
By Dr A. Khan
From MTV to Mecca: How Islam Inspired My Life, is a stimulating story of Kristiane Backer’s journey to Islam. In the 1990s, she was the face of European MTV; she was the icon of European popular culture. Presently, Kristiane Backer is based in London and works as a television presenter and a journalist. The UK edition of her book was launched on September 5 at the Palace of Westminster, the meeting place of the House of Commons and the House of Lords, the two houses of the Parliament of the United Kingdom.
In 1992 Backer’s meeting with Imran Khan led her to Pakistan where she discovered Islam. She was moved by the people’s love of God. As she experienced the love of God, she felt her spiritual thirst. Over the next three years she studied the religion and fell in love with Islam. In 1995 she accepted Islam at a London mosque.
In her autobiography, Backer builds cultural and spiritual bridges connecting people between East and West. In the process of exploring Islam she followed the path of Sufism, and went on to experience the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca. Backer’s cultural and spiritual journey exposes readers to the cultures of Pakistan, Bosnia, America, United Kingdom, Europe and Saudi Arabia. She also talks about her trials and tribulations of life: difficulty of finding love and professional struggles in career growth. She ponders over the problems and challenges of being a Muslim in Western society.
Kristiane Backer was born and grew up in Hamburg, Germany. At age 21, she joined Radio Hamburg as a reporter. After two years Backer moved to London when she was chosen as a presenter on MTV Europe. In her book she elaborates on the prevalence of Islamophobia in Europe, which led to her dismissal from the MTV job, and expounds about the levity of the television, music, and show business. Discussing the difficulties she experienced after accepting Islam, she observes, “Sometime after I decided to become Muslim, I feel very alienated. I was ostracized by my friends and my relatives. But Alhamdulillah, my parents support the move and revert to Islam.”
In a recent interview explaining her inspiration for accepting Islam, she has observed, “ When Islam was introduced to me, I was at first touched by ancient Sufi poems that were sung by traditional Pakistani musicians. The genre is called Qawwali. It is intoxicating music once you understand the lyrics. I began to read books and was intellectually captivated also. When travelling to Pakistan and seeing the exquisite Mogul architecture, I knew something great must be behind it. After researching the religion for a few more years and asking so many questions to scholars and anyone I met, I eventually felt the desire to taste the spiritual fruits I was reading about and actively bring God into my life. So, although intellectually convinced, the decision to convert was a spiritual one.”
Dr. Annemarie Schimmel (1922-2003), the internationally acclaimed scholar who dedicated more than fifty years of her life to explain Islam to the West, had observed, “I have never seen anything in Qur’an or in traditional writings that called for even allowed terrorism or hostage-taking.” Commenting on the stereotypical Western view of Islam, Dr. Annemarie Schimmel had observed, “I think that all of you who have worked in the history of religion would be aware that Islam is usually treated rather badly or briefly…but I think if you approach it from a different angle, it can yield interesting results” (Lecture on “The Phenomenology of Islam). In this regard, like Dr. Schimmel, Backer observes, “True Islam is very different from its picture painted in the media (or the ugly distortions by certain extremists). It is not only my personal interpretation that is different. Anyone who takes the time to do serious research (reading books and speaking to Muslim scholars not just browsing the Internet) with an open heart and mind will discover its profundity, and will see the truth in its spiritual and ethical teachings.”
Commenting on how Islam and the West can harmoniously coexist and march forward, Backer observes, “ Islam is a universal religion, it is not bound to Eastern culture. I am very comfortable in my identity as a European Muslim. There are no conflicts at all; in fact real European values such as human rights, environmental consciousness, honesty, professionalism, religious freedom etc. are also Islamic values.”
Discussing the equality of men and women in Islam, she writes, “I found the truth that Islam treats women and men equally. In Islam, women have their right to vote in year 600. Men and women dressed in a decent way. They are prohibited to tease each other. Indeed, the women need to elongate their dresses.”
Pondering over the Qur’an, and her discovering Islam and rights of women in Islam, she expounds, “I found that the Qur’an is loaded with rational things. And my old view of Islam changed. Because of what I learned is different from the opinion of those people around me. Even when I studied the issues of women in Islam, I found that Islam upholds the rights of a woman who was now fighting in the entire world. But Islam has upheld the rights of women since hundreds of years ago. Women and men dressed and behaved in a polite manner.”
Describing her travel to Pakistan, Backer observed, “Travelling for the first time to Pakistan was an eye opener. It is a very beautiful country, the landscape is varied from awe-inspiring snow-peaked mountains to luscious valleys and the desert. Lahore, the Paris of the Subcontinent with its Old City is a richly colorful, bustling place with wonderful ancient art and architecture. It is as if several centuries exist there in parallel. You have donkeys pulling carts in the bazaars but at the same time high-tech and a sumptuous high society night life. Mostly I was taken by the warmth and generosity of the Pakistani people, which did not depend on their status but their culture and their faith in God.”
Remembering her feelings about Hajj, she observed, “On Hajj, in Mecca and Medina, it feels like the whole universe is congregating; you see different kinds of nationalities, colors and outfits and you hear every language in the world. I was one of three million plus. Fellow pilgrims were all exceptionally friendly. I remember after staying for days in a tent in Mina with only very basic amenities…The Hajj is an enormous challenge on all levels - physical, interpersonal and spiritual. You are pushed to your limits - sleep very little and are constantly surrounded by millions of people. But all worldly matters are irrelevant. You are there at the center of Islam to connect with God. That is your entire focus. And everyone else’s. Circulating the House of God in the middle of the grand mosque, the Kaaba in prayer with everyone else clad in white robes, you are suspended from time and space, you feel as happy as a child. It is as if God’s light shines into your heart. It is so beautiful and peaceful. You leave on a spiritual high and this special feeling stays with you for quite a while. I love Yusuf Islam’s quote on the Hajj which I found at the Hajj exhibition: ‘I had come to the Center of the Universe, where the physical and metaphysical worlds meet. I was floating in that wonderful sea of humanity, turning like stars in a galaxy, around the house of God …I had at last found that dimension where human existence ceases to be held by the gravitation of sensual and worldly desires, where the soul is freed in an atmosphere of obedience and peaceful submission to the Divine Presence.’”
From MTV to Mecca: How Islam Inspired My Life is an interesting read. It is an inspiring story of Kristiane Baker’s journey to Islam; it explains how Islam transformed her life, and how she gained inner peace. All people, interested in peace and love, will find this book as a blueprint for bringing people closer by building cultural and spiritual bridges. In the words of Kristiane Backer, “ I would be happy if my book inspired people to discover their spiritual side and to open themselves up…On the other hand, I want to help clarify some prejudices against Islam. I want to build bridges and help support the dialogue between different religions and cultures."
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