As part of our Ramadan special at QUAKE Books, I decided to read Kristiane Backer’s personal and compelling book From MTV to Mecca. It is not only an incredibly moving and intricate account of one woman’s search for meaning and sincerity, but one I believe that should be read by ALL women everywhere who are themselves soul-searching and contemplating a life that goes above and beyond a 9 to 5 job, shopping malls and raising children. For that reason alone, I knew I had a God-given duty this Ramadan to reach out to Kristiane and interview her, despite neither of us having access to a sip of water!
First and foremost, I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing your personal experiences with the world. I really believe that if we could get your book into more people’s hands Islam would be better understood by both its adherents and those outside of the religion alike. I promise I will do everything I can to ensure that happens!
Secondly thank you for taking the time out of your business schedule, at short notice, to conduct this interview. I am truly grateful and I am sure my readers will be also! So now to the questions…
1. Having read your deeply personal memoir and journey to faith MTV to Mecca, I noticed you have two passions, reading and music. Which came first and what role do they play in your life these days?
Reading came first. I loved reading books as a child and I later bought records. I still love reading and music. I probably overdosed myself on most forms of music during my days as an MTV presenter. Nowadays, at least at home, I prefer silence or contemplative Sufi music, including Qawwali. I also like classical Indian, Arabic or Persian music- Eastern music in general. This week I am going to see Yusuf Islam in concert and very much looking forward to it. I enjoy good music but in much smaller doses and usually wouldn’t go out of my way to see most bands, however, just on special occasions. I have been there done that and evolved to a place where I no longer feel the need for it.
In terms of reading, I love to be informed and to deepen my knowledge. It is a pursuit which leads to endless fascination.
2. Despite your very public presenting jobs and being the face of Islam through your excellent campaign Inspired by Mohammed, you seem to me to be a very private introverted person, who gains energy from spending time by yourself, how do you balance such pressures, which many would consider to be a dichotomy of sorts?
I actually feel I have both qualities. I love speaking to an audience and engaging with them, especially on Islam related subjects. At the same time, I love peace and privacy. In the modern world, I find that we all fight for time and have a real challenge when it comes to the equal nourishing of our mind body and soul. It is very important, particularly during Ramadan, to make time for the Quran and the renewal of spiritual strength.
3. What inspired you to write such a personal account of your life as a successful woman who embraced Islam? What has been people’s reaction in Germany and Britain to MTV to Mecca?
The reactions have been delightful, amazing. You can read some of the feedback on my website http://kristianebacker.com/book
As a media person, that is to say a TV presenter, speaker and journalist, it was my duty to speak out in the face of unfairness and injustice and that is how I feel Islam is misrepresented in the media generally. You see I discovered this beautiful very profound religion which is so misunderstood generally and that is painful to see. So I decided to write a book taking the reader by my hand and showing him how I was looking behind the headlines and dissolving my prejudices against Islam.
Making a contribution was particularly important to me as I was myself a victim of Islamophobia and knew from my own experience how prevalent it is in the West. I was a high flying MTV presenter interviewing rock stars for a living and when at the height of my career I converted to Islam after travelling to Pakistan many times with Imran Kham, suddenly a negative press campaign made me out to be public enemy number one in Germany and I lost my presenting jobs very quickly.
As I grew in strength, I felt compelled to speak out and came to the realisation that if I didn’t stand up for my religion that I would have failed in my mission. Why? Because I would not have used the pedestal that MTV put me on to glorify and serve Allah. It became, in time, a pressing need.
So my book MTV to Mecca, is my small attempt to speak out and be counted as those that used their God-given talents and societal position to make a difference for the sake of Allah.
4. Other than the Quran, if you were stuck in an airport lounge which book would you choose to have with you? Would you have it as a physical copy or on your Kindle?
I like my Kindle and take it everywhere. They are so useful, as I can have all the books I enjoy right with me! The book I would recommend to you is Fath Ar Rabani by Abdul Qadir Al Gilani and that I would probably have it in physical form, as I am not sure it exists on Kindle.
5. Given that this is QUAKE Books, if you had to review your QUAKE Book, which book would you choose and what would readers find interesting about it?
The book I just mentioned, in answer to your previous question would be my QUAKE Book. It is one of those rare books that talk to your soul, to your core being and that puts things into perspective. The author was an inspired teacher/master. Reading this book will help you change yourself for the better and you will be led in the right direction. When you have questions you just open that book anywhere you like and you will find a profound message that draws you towards the Divine. It is an absolutely wonderful book and a real must read.
6. What are your favourite non-Islamic books and what does your appreciation of them say about you?
Between working and all my other activities I don’t have a lot of time for reading things outside the Quran and Islamic works that guide and nurture my spirituality and walk with Allah. There are many non-Islamic books I like but they are not so important to me right now… I try to keep up with the news (Newsweek, The Economist) and find barely time to read those magazines.
7. This month both you and I are celebrating Ramadan as Muslim converts. What does Ramadan mean to you? Do you find the lack of Muslim family to share it with as difficult as I do? What could the Muslim community do to help people like us who are fasting long hours and waking up for fajr alone?
Whenever I publically speak to the Muslim community I do actively make a point of reminding them that should they know a Muslim convert, to please invite them for Iftar as it is a really nice way to break the fast in likeminded company. That said, Ramadan is the month that we should dedicate to God so social gatherings are of secondary importance. During this month I focus on remembering Allah, asking Him for forgiveness and striving along the path He asks me to follow. I balance my nights with iftar gatherings with friends, Tarawih prayers and spending quiet time in contemplation of the Quran and its meaning. I do not partake in otherwise frivolous activity such as partying or cinema during this time.
8. Finally, and given my background as an environmental/sustainability academic, please tell us where your passion for the environment comes from, and why conservation and ecological consideration weighs so heavily on your heart as a Muslim…
I always have had a passion for the environment. I guess it is in the German psyche. I love nature and animals since being a child. Furthermore, stewardship of our environment – the world and everything in it – is what Mohammed (PBUH) taught us, to be God’s representatives on Earth. We were given the charge to take care of everything.
The Earth and its resources do not exist for us to plunder or abuse. Islam is very clear that we should live in harmony with the world around us. Consequently, as Muslims we should not cherry pick the teachings of our prophets (PBUT). God states in the Quran that He does not like those who waste our finite resources. Many Muslims know this, but do not take personal responsibility in their homes and in their neighbourhoods. They leave lights on, boil a full kettle for one cup of tea, throw away perfectly usable goods and consume with a passion. It makes me sad really and there is still a long way for us to go if we are to properly fulfil our duty as God’s representatives on Earth.
Thanks so much Kristiane, once again for writing your book and sharing things with me here in our interview. May God bless you this Ramadan and give you back in abundance the time you dedicated to me and my QUAKE Books readers.
– Readers if you haven’t already, please do read my QUAKE Report on MTV to Mecca and grab a copy for you and your friends this Ramadan!