“Imran was my teacher”

In an interview with Ammara Ahmad, Kristiane Backer, MTV VJ turned evangelist talks about her friendship with Imran Khan, conversion to Islam and her latest book - From MTV to Mecca

“Imran was my teacher”
AA: When did you first meet Imran Khan?

KB: I was working for MTV. He played Sufi music for me, you know the qawali. It was by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. The lyrics were so deep, so beautiful. It was this music that opened my heart to the culture and religion of Islam.

And then I started reading relevant books and I met so many Muslims through him. They were all busy helping to build his cancer hospital. That inspired me – to see people doing all this for a higher cause. Then he took me to Pakistan and I absolutely loved it.

Even the poor people invited us to tea and to a meal. Wherever the jeep stopped, there were a lot of people who wanted a photograph or a cricket bat signed. He used to say that it’s the poor people who built the hospital. You don’t see anything like this in England or in London. Certainly not in my industry and it just completely changed my life. It made me reflect on the industry I was working in.

AA: Imran has the image of a playboy. Does the irony that he was the one who brought you to Islam ever strike you?

KB: I think it is superficial. He was never a playboy. Playboy means an idle person, who doesn’t work. He was a very hard working man. Remember he was a sportsman at the top of his career and you don’t become that successful from just playing around.

As for the irony that someone with the image of Imran brought me to Islam – yes, Imran was my Islam teacher. He was my very first Islam teacher, chosen by God, by nobody else. I was a MTV presenter. Had he sent me a long-bearded mullah, do you think I would have given him the time of the day? Do you think I would have listened at all? No. God sent Imran, and that worked. He did his dawah on me and I became a Muslim, Alhamdullilah. Imran gave me the greatest gift I have ever been given in life, that is my faith.

[quote]Had God sent me a long-bearded mullah, do you think I would have given him the time of day?[/quote]

AA: Are you still on talking terms with Imran Khan?

KB: I am.

AA: Do you agree with the PTI’s politics? Their take on minorities and social issues?

KB: I live in London. I don’t know. What I know is, his heart is in the right place. He wants to better the situation for the Pakistani people. And he is a very passionate man. He is very pro-environment and he wants to better the lot of the ordinary Pakistani people and that is very noble. He seeks peace, so of course I like Imran Khan’s politics. He is not in it to make a killing for himself. I really wish him all the best but I stay away from politics.

AA: As a Muslim do you find it difficult to live in the UK because of the very different British values?

KB: Actually, the UK is the best place for Muslims in Europe. So I love living in the UK. Well, I am from Germany and Islamophobia is very strong there. In all of Europe, France, Belgium and Switzerland, Muslims have it hard. In the UK you don’t get discriminated because you are wearing a hijab. You see hijab even on TV and in the Parliament, banks and fashion stores – everywhere.

AA: Did you face any discrimination because of your conversion?

KB: I was a very popular, award-winning TV presenter, and then I became a Muslim. I lost my job, I lost my entertainment career. When it came out in Germany, a very negative press campaign followed.

AA: What exactly did they say?

KB: They said, “Has she lost the plot?” Is she now “supporting terrorism?” Is she becoming the first lady of Pakistan?

AA: What year was this? Before 9/11?

KB: 1995. Way before 9/11. I got one negative article after the next, this was after seven years of positive articles, and suddenly I was hounded by the press. Shortly afterwards they sacked me from my new show. Although the contract had been freshly signed, and they had begged me to sign up for another year, yet I was suddenly sacked.

AA: Did you go to the court?

KB: I did. I tried. I won something or the other. But I never got back on TV in Germany since becoming a Muslim.

AA: A few days ago there were protests by Muslims, calling for a ban on alcohol in London. What do you think about that?

KB: You know I am so sorry. They live in the United Kingdom, why on Earth? Imagine if Europeans start protesting about not being able to wear bikinis in Pakistan? If Muslims live in the United Kingdom, the law of the land applies. Christians can’t protest that suddenly the Azaan be stopped in Pakistan.

AA: Do you see yourself as a mediator between two civilizations?

KB: That’s exactly what I am trying to do – help build bridges between Muslims and mainstream Western society. I know the mainstream society. I come from it. Yet I am a Muslim. So if I have the opportunity, I would speak to Muslims and say, look, Islam teaches us to follow the law of the land.

Yet on the other hand, in family matters, there are movements that say Sharia law should be applied in Britain for family rulings. And I think it is happening already, for divorce, marriage and those kinds of matters. The Jews have their own courts for family matters.

I want Muslims to become active members of the society, especially girls, they need to get education and become an asset to British society.

AA: How exactly did you convert?

KB: I went to a mosque in London. It came after studying Islam for three years – reading books, travelling to Pakistan. I was here nine times, meeting Muslims, asking questions. This was after my friendship with Imran had finished. I didn’t convert for him. I converted for myself. I didn’t do it to impress somebody.

AA: How much of your personal life is in accordance with Islam?

KB: I say my prayers. I eat halal. I dress covered. I don’t drink. Though I do not wear the hijab. It is a complete change, a total change of life. You know what it did? It helped me clean up my act.

AA: How long did this transition take?

KB: It definitely doesn’t happen overnight. I think it’s a process that can last till the last breath of your life.

My first Ramadan was a disaster. I went out the night before. I had a few glasses of Champaigne. The next morning I lay in bed, with a pounding headache; dehydrated, unable to eat or drink. Finally after lunch I said, Ramadan is not for me and gave up fasting.

Kristiane from her MTV days
Kristiane from her MTV days

[quote]I don't want to just hang out in my Muslim bubble[/quote]

AA: Do you see a similarity between yourself and Yvona Ridley, a British journalist and convert like you?

KB: We see each other sometimes at events, she is a lovely lady but what we have in common is that we are converts to Islam but that’s about it. She wears the hijab, I am a different person. I don’t want to just hang out in my Muslim bubble.

AA: Tell us a bit about your book, From MTV to Mecca.

KB: In my book, MTV to Mecca, I write about my adventures in Pakistan with Imran. It is now being launched in Urdu. The Urdu version will come out InshAllah around October-November with Jamhoori publishing.

AA: Are you coming on a channel in Pakistan?

KB: Right now I am in negotiations.

AA: Do you feel safe in Pakistan?

KB: Yes, I feel safe. God is my protector.