Her sudden disappearance from a British school led to an international hunt and a diplomatic row with Pakistan.
And when 12-year-old Molly Campbell turned up in Lahore – 4,000 miles away from the home she shared with her mother on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland – it was feared that her Pakistani father was about to force her into marriage with a man twice her age.
Then Molly went on television insisting that she was happy and had chosen to live as a Muslim. She became Misbah Ahmed Rana and faded from the headlines.
I remember seeing Misbah’s story in the news. I wondered what had happened to her, too. I felt sympathetic towards the non-Muslim British mother based on the way the UK media had portrayed events. It was as if Misbah had been whisked away, brainwashed, and was being forced into a marriage at age 12. I had read the stories about Misbah. I had also read books with a similar theme about other internationally abducted children. (What is the name of the book by the UK woman whose two daughters were force-married in Yemen and one daughter came back? The girls married mountain men and lived under very difficult conditions in rural Yemen.) I had seen Not Without My Daughter. Haven’t we all seen that movie? There is the specter of child-kidnapping for every Western mother who has children with a foreign-born and raised man, especially an Eastern and Muslim man. If you divorce, he will steal your children, we are told by our society. And it does happen. I tried through Google to find the statistics and couldn’t, but I recall reading once that 25% of international child abductions from the US involve a parent from a Muslim majority country.
The latest update on Misbah’s situation gives a clearer and more complex picture of the situation.
I have friends whose stories have similarities to Misbah’s. They are biracial Arab-white American, and since the parents’ divorced, the kids got the mind-@#$%^ of parents constantly fighting and mom leaving anything Islamic and Arab. Even if the mom didn’t become rabidly Islamophobic, there was always the message from mom that dad’s culture was backwards, and if the kids had contact with dad, dad put down mom’s culture and ways. What an assault on a kid’s identity. Many non-Muslim Westerners cannot understand why kids in this situation would actually CHOOSE Islam. (“Why would anyone choose to be backwards and oppressed?”) But some do choose Islam. They are not being treacherous to their mothers. They are simply claiming the identity that they want. I feel the non-Muslim or ex-Muslim mothers have a complete right to leave Islam and to live any way they want. As a religious Muslim, let me make this clear: I believe that there is no compulsion in religion and that anyone has a right to leave Islam and should not be treated punitively by anyone for their personal choices. But everything known about parenting biracial/bicultural kids shows that in these situations, it is extremely damaging for one parent to isolate kids from the Other culture and Other people and especially to give negative messages about the culture. I see great error in Misbah’s mother trying to turn her daughter into “Molly Campbell” and forcing her to put Islam behind her when Misbah had previously been raised as a Muslim child. You cannot suddenly have a new identity forced upon you. As a biracial/bicultural person, you cannot suddenly be told to forget about the other half of your identity just because your mother wants to move on from her ex-husband’s culture and religion. Misbah’s situation represents how often biracial/bicultural children are forced to lay down and act as cultural bridges upon whose backs adults thoughtlessly walk across or even have battles upon.
Something else strikes me in the updated version of Misbah’s tale. She wants to live as a Muslim woman in the UK and not in Pakistan, despite living a very privileged lifestyle in Lahore, because she feels that she will have greater freedom and more autonomy with her life choices as a Muslim woman in the UK. Many Pakistanis as well as non-Muslim British people are perplexed by Misbah’s assertions, but for very different reasons. I see that from some of the comments below the above linked article. There is so much mutual misunderstanding and Misbah has borne the brunt of it on her young shoulders.
I wish the best for Misbah on her life journey. I hope that she finds what she is looking for.