x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Trading fame for faith

Kristiane Backer began her career surrounded by fame and excess on MTV. Now, she's converted to Islam, and her new book tells how it all came about.

There was a time when Kristiane Backer was a household name among teenagers, and probably their parents too. Back in the early 1990s, Backer was one of the very first presenters on MTV Europe, entertaining young people and interviewing pop stars.

Not everyone will remember Backer from MTV, but in Muslim households at least she is becoming known again, in the unlikeliest way. Across the world, she is upheld as a shining example of what happens when you turn to Islam.

Backer embraced the religion in 1995, leaving behind the dazzling lights of TV fame for a more spiritual life. In many Muslim circles, the shift has been well known; now it is fully documented, with the English publication of her long-awaited book, From MTV to Mecca, which was published in German in 2009.

It is not a story that has always been easy for Backer to tell; for some time she had no choice but to keep it under wraps.

"When it first emerged that I was Muslim, I was told that if I ever wanted to work in Germany again, I had to keep quiet about it," she says. "So I did. But as a journalist, I was itching to speak out, especially because whenever I opened the German newspapers, they depicted Islam in a way I didn't recognise my beautiful faith."

Eventually a book agent contacted her, asking her if she would share her experience.

"I felt it was an opportunity and I wanted to show my story - show that if I can be a happy, practising Muslim, then there must be something to it." The end result portrays the challenges Backer has faced in choosing her faith and reconciling it with her European identity.

On the book cover, Backer, 46, smiles serenely at the camera, her hair partly covered by an elegantly draped pale blue scarf. Meanwhile, inside the book there are a few pictures of Backer from her MTV youth; she is all shiny hair and sunglasses, surrounded by stars. The first part of the book, which charts her burgeoning career and brush with stardom as she began to get recognised, is littered with the names of all the famous people she met and tales about the parties she went to. Does any part of her miss that life?

"No - I lived that life to the max for seven-and-a-half years, but it's a well-closed chapter now," she says. "I don't miss any of it, but I don't regret any of it either. I look back with great fondness and gratitude. I have never looked back with a tear in my eye."

Backer's faith has deepened since the days when she taught herself how to pray using a children's prayer book; in 2005, coinciding with her 40th birthday, she went on the Hajj.

"It was exhausting and I felt like a zombie, but I enjoyed every moment of it, hard as it was," she says. "It was a blessed Hajj. You get into the spirit of things. It's wonderful for learning and building your personality. It makes you realise you are with God wherever you are and there's this invisible bond with all the other people there, all of us in communion with God. You feel connected."

Searching for a connection is something you sense Backer is constantly looking for in her book. She admits that in the past, Eid has been lonely as a new Muslim without a family or a husband to share it with. In her book, she talks openly about her failed relationships, first with the Pakistani cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, whom she credits with introducing her to Islam, and then her former husband Rachid, whom she met online and married very quickly - too quickly, as she concedes.

But her London friends are her Muslim family now and Backer says she is hopeful about what it means to be a Muslim today.

"There is such a vibrant Muslim scene and culture in London; there is so much going on here and it's so exciting. It is entirely possible to be a Muslim, European woman. I can simply be who I am here."

• Kristiane Backer will be at the Sharjah International Book Fair on Wednesday at 6pm. From MTV to Mecca is available online at www.awakeningstore.com.

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