Ex-MTV star speaks of her journey to Islam
SHARJAH // The former MTV Europe presenter Kristiane Backer revealed how her new faith sustained her after she lost her job following her conversion to Islam.
She remained silent about her decision for 11 years but following a newspaper interview in 2006, and later her autobiography, From MTV to Mecca, in 2009, she has bounced back to become an author and TV personality.
Through it all, there is one thing of which she has been sure.
"All this strengthened my faith, because God is always there," said 44-year-old Backer, who was born in Hamburg, Germany but now lives in London. "People are unreliable, contracts are often not worth what they're written on. Humans can always disappoint you. But Allah is always there, you can always rely on Allah."
In the UAE this week to speak at the Muslim Women Seminar held in Sharjah, Backer left for Doha today to make an appearance at the Doha International Conference on Interfaith Dialogue.
Her path to Islam began in the early 1990s, when she was dating the Pakistani cricketer, Imran Khan.
"I was with him in Pakistan and he built a hospital and spent $20 million (Dh73m) to build it. He worked so hard to raise this hospital in Lahore and was one shining example of being a servant for God."
She was impressed by how the poor in Lahore managed to be generous and happy, regardless of their living conditions.
"You wonder how can they be smiling? It's the faith, inner peace doesn't have to do with Prada bags or Mercedes. These are extra bonuses, but not the reason to be really happy."
It was when celebrating a milestone for her RTL 2 show, Bravo TV, 15 years ago that Backer's life as she knew it began to unravel. "I hadn't even become a Muslim by then, we were celebrating the 100th episode of my youth show on German TV, and then a journalist asked me, 'Have you converted yet for your boyfriend?' I said, 'No, but I'm a Muslim at heart' and that was the drive for the negative media campaign in Germany."
Two weeks later she lost her show.
"I learned to look at things from a spiritual perspective, my new Muslim friends helped me understand that suffering is a form of purification."
In April 1995, she went to a mosque in London and converted.
After losing her job, she continued to do some presenting work and also studied natural medicine and Islam. Then after she performed Haj in 2006, a journalist asked her for an interview and, although she had spoken with the UK reporters, for the first time she felt ready to speak to the German press.
"It was very positive and more interviews in big national newspapers followed. It lead to a book agent writing to me, asking if I wanted to write my story in a book."
Backer's autobiography is due to be released in Arabic in January, to be followed by English, Indonesian, Turkish and Dutch versions. She has already been pleased with the reaction.
"A German-Turkish reader told me, 'I was on my way to the petrol station to buy a bottle of wine, but now that I finished your book, that I know that you don't drink, I have decided to also change my life and stop drinking and go on this difficult spiritual path, the royal path'."
Last June, Backer was one of the faces for the Inspired by Muhammad campaign in the UK, and will be working on it next year as well. In addition to hosting a show on the Travel Channel, she serves as presenter for an interfaith programme, Matters of Faith on Ebru TV. Through both and her book, her main concern is the desire to improve Islam's image in the West and build bridges between the West and Islam.
"There should be television stations in the English language that portray Islamic values in entertaining ways in international stations," she said. "We need to produce more movies. Nowadays you can only reach the youth through social media or through movies.
"The Prophet said that the ink of a scholar is worth more than the blood of a martyr.
"The ink is television, the silver screen or social media," Backer said.