Interview with Kristiane Backer

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Kristiane Backer’s conversion story to Islam is one of true inner contemplation and inspiration in the search for the love and connection with God. Kristiane has embarked on a journey for truth and contentment and has discovered peace within her life as a Muslim. I felt that her story would be unique to share amongst our Christian Muslim Forum members. 

The title of your much awaited book “From MTV to Mecca” can be viewed as quite striking, some may say even controversial. What were your thoughts behind entitling your conversion story “From MTV to Mecca” did you intend for it to be somewhat controversial?

Not at all. I like this title because it encapsulates my book - my journey within four words. I was a presenter on MTV when I found Islam. But the alliteration works with Mecca where I have been to as well.    

What was the first thing that made you want to find out more about Islam? Was it inspiration, a situation or an experience?

I was working on MTV presenting a number of music shows and interviewing rockstars - living a life far from faith and certainly Islam. I can’t say I searched for Islam, rather God found me! At a dinner party I met a Muslim man who was just in the process of finding his faith. Imran Khan. He saw the word with different eyes and challenged me in debates. I was curious so began to read books. The first one spoke to my heart and mind, it was from Ali Shariati, called Man and Islam.  

Thinking back to your childhood, what sort of environment did you grow up in? Were there any religious practises that took place at home?

Not really. I was protestant and as a child we went to church on Sundays and I was confirmed but then I soon lost interest in the church.

Were there any difficulties that you came across on your journey to becoming a Muslim or after your conversion?

Plenty... I practically lost my TV career over becoming Muslim – I was an award winning TV presenter before but since being a Muslim the press reported very negatively after my conversion and consequently I lost my TV jobs in Germany and never really came back. Also it can be challenging on a personal level if one doesn’t convert for marriage, which I didn’t. As a new Muslim one can sometimes feel quite isolated - not really fitting into the old social circle and then really being part of a new circle either. I have spent many Eid days for example doing business as usual because I have no family. But of course one is never really alone - as always in the best company - God. Generally trying to integrate life and faith is a challenge but also a very rewarding process. 

How did your family respond to your new way of life?

They didn’t understand. They only know Islam from the media and as you know it has a negative image. So they were worried what would happen with me. They think lslam has destroyed my career and my personal life as I am not married and lost my TV presenting jobs when the press found out I am a Muslim. On the other hand they are happy when I am happy and they see how much my faith means to me and how it turned me into a more considerate family member so they benefit.

How did you find integrating within the Muslim community?

It took a little time to make friends but people received me very warmly. Al hamduli Llah I now have a great circle of friends in faith. Although I don’t really see that there is one Muslim community as such – people seem divided along ethnic lines which is a shame. But as a new Muslim I guess I have the privilege to be able to fit in anywhere. 

What would you say has been the best thing about discovering Islam?

The intimate, close relationship with God that one develops through practising  I think Islam also helps you to become a better, more conscientious person. But also the understanding you gain about life and death and the purpose of our existence through reading. I used to feel an emptiness inside of me despite the high life I was living, that is now filled with meaning - namely trying to serve the Good - to serve God.  And I am always touched when I experience how Muslims support each other for the sake of Allah although they may not even know you. It is this invisible bond that exists between practising Muslims – a friendship in faith that I appreciate very much.  

How has it enhanced your life?

I now see the world with different eyes and try to do everything in relation to God. When I fail I apologise and try to do better the next day. Generally I feel more content and peaceful and I find my faith is a tremendous source of strength to deal with any challenge that life throws up. It’s the elixir of life. 

When did you first decide to tell your story and why was it important to you that you did?

A book agent in Germany approached me after he read several positive stories about me going on Hajj. This was in 2007, twelve years after my conversion and the negative press campaign that followed it. I agreed to write my book because I had experienced Islamophobia first hand (way before 9/11) and realised it was based on ignorance. Generally people don’t really know anything about Islam except what they see in the news. So I wanted to help dissolve misconceptions and prejudices and show the reader through my journey the beautiful values of Islam that I discovered. 

For someone who has little knowledge of Islam, what would you say being a Muslim is all about?

In a nutshell: Believe in God and do good deeds.  

What sort of difficulties did you encounter in your endeavour to publish your story? 

It was difficult for me to find an English publisher for several reasons. It’s a positive story about Islam. Had I just written about my traumatic marriage to a born Muslim and told the entire story, with al the gory details, I’m sure my book would have been published instantly. Another reason may be that I am not a household name in Britain and then the entire publishing industry is in a bad situation due to e-books and also the world economic crisis.   

What are your aspirations in life now that you have embraced this invigorating new way of life and have shared it with the world?

I want to inspire as many people as possible; there is work to be done in the East as well as the West. Translations into different languages are under way. I am also developing a TV series featuring contemporary Muslim culture and I’d love for this to be broadcast.  

In today’s world where freedom is at its peak and people can generally live however they want without being questioned.  Why would you decide to become a Muslim and live a lifestyle that has been, in some cases portrayed as restricting and controlling?

Islam is a wonderful way to God. It liberates you from following any fashion or trend. It is a criterion and puts everything in perspective by just following the One. Yes of course we all have the freedom to ruin ourselves by neglecting our soul and just acting on the whims of our ego. But Islam has a long term vision and gives us guidelines how to spend our short time on earth in a meaningful way that will impact positively on our eternal life. 

Has becoming a Muslim made you more appreciative of religion irrespective of what other people’s beliefs may be? If so why?

Yes definitely, I have become aware of the spiritual dimension that exists in every person and every religion. I usually connect very well with people of other faiths because our vision and our values are similar despite doctrinal differences - we meet on the transcendent level.  And really we need to work together for the common good and to put faith back on the map in our secular society.  

What would you say to someone who has little knowledge about Islam? 

Read! It is essential we base our opinions on knowledge not on ignorance. But be careful what you read, especially on the internet. I gave a lot of reading tips in my book of serious and enlightened scholars. 

Members of Christian Muslim Forum are constantly active in promoting positive dialogue between faiths, what would you have to say about the importance of their work?

It’s important to not only have dialogue but also inter faith action! Get to know one another, work together, socialise together, create together, have fun together and try to make the world a better place together. 

Thinking about your journey how and in view of the last decade, how essential do you think it is for communities to engage in dialogue about faith?

I think knowledge and education are essential but also personal relationships and good actions. So as ambassadors of our respective religions we must try to lead by example.

If you could give a message to the world about Islam what would it be?

Don’t judge Islam by the actions of those Muslims you see depicted in the media. Look beyond the headlines and try to discover the true Islam as practised by the vast silent majority. Differentiate between culture and religion. Go to the essence of the teachings as found in the Quran and in the practice of our Prophet Muhammad (saws).

Anissa Shah
Volunteer, Christian Muslim Forum 
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