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Former Taliban Captive to Baghdadi: ‘Release him and Take Me’

This week saw the anniversary of 9/11…an event which always resonates deeply not least of all because it is also a reminder of the time I was held captive by the Taliban in Afghanistan.

I was working for the Sunday Express newspaper when I was sent to Pakistan to cover the impending war in neighbouring Afghanistan in the wake of the atrocity; unable to wait for the start of the invasion I sneaked in to the country wearing the all-enveloping blue burqa.

After two days travelling in and around the Jalalabad district I was caught by members of what was described as the most evil, brutal regime in the world. However, compared to the Islamic State (ISIS), Mullah Mohammed Omar and his band of turban-wearing, bearded Taliban act like a bunch of choir boys.

Terrifying as it was, throughout my 10 days as a prisoner of the Taliban I was treated with courtesy and respect and, compared to the treatment subsequently meted out to those held in Guantanamo, Bagram and Abu Ghraib I have often reflected:

“Thank God I was captured by the most evil, brutal regime in the world and not by the Americans!”

Now it is ISIS putting captives into orange boiler suits and reportedly water-boarding them and carrying out abuse on detainees using methods outlined in the CIA’s own handbook of torture. The sheer terror and revulsion invoked by the executions which followed are beyond words.

Sadly it appears George W Bush’s ill conceived War on Terror has made the world a less safe place especially for ordinary British and American citizens who work overseas in the volatile Middle East as aid workers, medics and journalists.

You can be sure that ISIS would never have emerged in Iraq if Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair had only listened to the people that voted them in to power. The legacy of their “shock and awe” in Iraq can be seen quite clearly today for what it is … a war based on lies over WMD. The war went on to become a spectacular failure causing the deaths of many and the creation of more than one million widows and orphans.

And now Iraq has morphed into a playground of terror for the self-styled caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and his military council that formulates all the group’s strategic decisions. It was they who must have agreed to sanction the beheading of two American journalists and now a Scottish aid worker is the next one being lined up for execution.

The bloody deaths of James Foley and Stephen Sotloff, have enraged the world and given fuel to the Islamaphobes who try and demonise Islam as a violent, aggressive and barbaric religion. As I, and the majority of Muslims around the world know, this is not the case. Islam is a religion of peace and the behaviour of the Islamic State towards its enemies and its captives is at odds with what Islam teaches.

I know this to be the case because I studied the religion for two years after my own ordeal as a Taliban captive; subsequently I embraced Islam more than 10 years ago. Today I throw out a challenge to the Caliph and I am doing this on the basis of a verse in the Holy Qur’an from the chapter of an-Nisa, which roughly translated says:

“He who intercedes in a good cause shall have a share in its good result, and he who intercedes in an evil cause shall have a share in its burden. Allah watches over everything.” [1]

My personal intervention is with Quranic words and if Bagdahdi is the wise Caliph he promotes himself to be then he will accept my offer and it is this … release David Haines, the Scotsman in your custody, and I will take his place.

Why would I make such an offer? Well I am a person who is known for my word, so it is not an empty gesture or one made lightly, nor on the spur of the moment. As I write this I am in South Africa from where I took part in the recent launch of Cage Africa, a chapter of the London-based NGO Cage UK which is an advocacy group spawned from Guantanamo where around 150 men are still being held today without charge or trial.

So why would I, a Muslim, offer to swap places with a father-of-two who is not of the same Faith? I hear you ask. I am doing this for many reasons. Firstly, as an aid worker we are told he did a great deal to help Muslims during the Bosnia war and has devoted much of his life to helping others without concern over their faith, culture or nationality. This is, indeed, the true spirit of Islam where help is given freely to those in need and now I want to return the same kindness and compassion he showed Muslims.

Secondly, I’ve spent the last two days pondering over the photograph of him and his young child; it reminded me so much of my young daughter Daisy when I was taken into captivity 13 years ago this month by the Taliban. She is 21 and embarking on her final year at Newcastle University, a fine young woman of whom I’m very proud. While we share the unconditional love between mother and daughter, she doesn’t really need me as much as the child in the photograph needs her father.

Although I moved to Scotland barely three years ago this aid worker was brought up in Perth, more than an hour’s drive from my home in the Borders creating an affinity between us although we’ve never met. Finally, I have campaigned for the release of prisoners regularly since I supported Cage in those early days when Guantanamo opened for business. May be in some way I can highlight the injustices victims of the War on Terror are facing by making this exchange.

In many ways there are parallels between David Haines and the Guantanamo detainees … all are being held without trial or charge for nothing more than being swept up in the War on Terror or a by-product of it.

This offer of exchange is being made in the true spirit of Islam, a face of Islam unfortunately obscured all too often by the atrocities being carried out in the name of ISIS.

I don’t consider myself a brave person nor do I want to be a martyr. I enjoy the life I live with my wonderful husband very much but there comes a time when we have to make a stand for our beliefs and this is mine.

The Prophet Muhammad once said that the duty of Muslims was to,

“Visit the sick, feed the hungry and arrange for the release of the captive.”[2]

I am told that every decision taken by Baghdadi is motivated by Quranic teachings so he should, as a person of knowledge, be well acquainted with the full meaning of Surah an-Nisa’s verse 85 I quoted earlier. It now remains to be seen if he is man enough to take up my offer and release the aid worker, a good person swept up in a conflict not of his making.

I eagerly await his response and beg him, in the meantime, to spare the life of David Haines and show the sort of wisdom and compassion the Taliban showed me.


[1]  Al Qur’an 4:85

[2] Al Bukhari Book 7 Hadith 4


This article was originally posted here.
Click here for an interview with Yvonne Ridley following this article’s initial release.


About Yvonne Ridley


  1. @Muslimah…Islam is not as black and white as you have interpreted.

    • @ ra – Then pls feel free to elaborate, as you really haven’t offered any legitimate “grey areas” within the Shari’ah….??

  2. I would assume that sister Yvonne’s request is good intentioned, however, it would not be legitimate for a Muslim woman to be ransomed for a non Muslim man! This lacks common sense and is not applicable in Shari’ah. Irrespective of who was holding them and whether or not killing civilians is allowed Islamically in war situations. These issues are side issues. A Muslim woman cannot offer herself in these situations. We need less emotion and more logic. We have become a society of mulit media sensationalism.
    And as we see the gentleman in question is not dead. But any future offers like this, are not legitimate Islamically. Wa Allahualim

  3. Yvonne Ridley, do you actually think that Mr Baghdadi will actually be reading your article or has time to acknowledge your offer??
    Surely they are trying to flee from the obliteration of the American bombers as are the rest of the population.

    Too often we muslims are more concerned about non Muslims and their treatment but what about what Assad using chemical weapons, young Syrian girls being raped and killed?? What about the honour of Muslims world over?
    I am also surprised that no one condemns sisis government for detaining and torturing journalists. No one is going in and trying to free them?

  4. Masha Allah very well written with a courageous offer by sister Yvonne.
    Where are such men of the Muslim Ummah?
    We need to bombard social media with such positive role models to do some justice to our beautiful deen.

  5. Shelly Belaribi

    MashAllah very inspiring in a days plagued by family quarrels that spins into community and society at large. This is breath of fresh air and hope for those who do good that good will be counted and be victorious inshaAllah.

    Allah make mire sincere people whp serve humsnitu for your pleasure.

  6. Salam dear sister Yvonne
    I am really moved by your words and would like to thank you for the courage, decency and humanity your have shown towards this innocent man. Indeed, helping and supporting others – Muslims and non muslims is the true spirit, meaning and message of Islam. May Allah shower you with His blessing and and guide us all to work for the benefit of Islam and humanity.

  7. Oh how I admire your strength here. I was so touched by your story. I don’t think though, however much you are intent on carrying this through that they would harm a Muslim woman in such a barbaric way. Having said that, I truly admire you. Sobhanallah sister.

  8. as a british muslim I also offer myself to be prisoner this ‘false bagdadi caliph’ in exchange for his 3rd innocent victim.

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