For Mali, I will pray and implore the blessing of Allah, because I am Muslim. You say Sophie, but it is Mariam that you have before you.
These are the powerful words that former French hostage Sophie Petronin said upon her return from Mali on October 8, 2020.
Sophie Petronin was a lab expert involved in humanitarian work in Mali. She was taken hostage by the Gao jihadist group on December 24, 2016, and remained in their hands for almost 4 years. The French state desperately undertook a costly search with the help of her son, Sebastien, who had remained in France.
She was eventually released in exchange for 200 Malian hostages. France thought it was a good deal, but it was because it did not know about Sophie’s situation, who had secretly become a Muslim, her new name was Maryam.
The news spread when she arrived at the airport in Paris, and Macron rapidly canceled his speech. It was the first time in French Republic’s History that the president did not pronounce his speech after such event. He left silently, ashamed of the scandal he had provoked.
While traditionally the head of state speaks after a hostage release, Emmanuel Macron canceled his speech before leaving Villacoublay.
At the surprise of the media, during interviews, Mariam seemed fine and at peace with herself. She even declared that she has only returned to France to visit her son, take a trip to Switzerland, and then she will soon return to Mali to “see if everything is okay.”
I was always respected, they took care of me. They brought me a doctor when I was sick. He came back to see me several times.
Last week, Sister Maryam finally managed to return to Mali, though clandestinely. She had tried several times to obtain a visa to return but the French authorities strongly opposed it to avoid any controversy.
Sophie had left behind an adopted daughter in Mali. She dedicated years of her life to helping orphans and the poor. For her big heart, Allah gave her Islam. In Mali, He also gave her a country.
Her story is very similar to Yvonne Ridley’s, who was a journalist taken as a hostage by the Taliban. She had been moved by their behavior, and she reverted to Islam. This example shows that the situation on the field in these Muslim countries is a lot more complicated and nuanced than what Western media depict.
Obviously, I am not condoning any of these groups as they may engage in inappropriate, blameworthy, and even un-Islamic actions. But these two stories show how biased the liberal discourse is and that we should be careful before making any quick judgements regarding their narratives.
O you who have believed, if there comes to you a disobedient one with information, investigate, lest you harm a people out of ignorance and become, over what you have done, regretful.
Throughout history, many people suffered from misconceptions about Islam, yet they saw the truthfulness of the religion when they met true believers. This is not limited to recent events.
This can even be found in the sirah of Muhammad, Rasul Allah ﷺ in this beautiful narration found in Sahih al Bukhari:
The Prophet (ﷺ) sent some cavalry towards Najd and they brought a man from the tribe of Banu Hanifa who was called Thumama bin Uthal. They fastened him to one of the pillars of the Mosque.
The Prophet went to him and said, “What have you got, O Thumama?” He replied,” I have got a good thought, O Muhammad! If you should kill me, you would kill a person who has already killed somebody, and if you should set me free, you would do a favor to one who is grateful, and if you want property, then ask me whatever wealth you want.”
He was left till the next day when the Prophet (ﷺ) said to him, “What have you got, Thumama? He said, “What I told you, i.e. if you set me free, you would do a favor to one who is grateful.” The Prophet (ﷺ) left him till the day after, when he said, “What have you got, O Thumama?” He said, “I have got what I told you.”
On that the Prophet (ﷺ) said, “Release Thumama.” So he (i.e. Thumama) went to a garden of date-palm trees near to the Mosque, took a bath and then entered the Mosque and said, “I testify that None has the right to be worshipped except Allah, and also testify that Muhammad is His Apostle! By Allah, O Muhammad! There was no face on the surface of the earth most disliked by me than yours, but now your face has become the most beloved face to me. By Allah, there was no religion most disliked by me than yours, but now it is the most beloved religion to me. By Allah, there was no town most disliked by me than your town, but now it is the most beloved town to me. Your cavalry arrested me (at the time) when I was intending to perform the `Umra. And now what do you think?”
The Prophet (ﷺ) gave him good tidings (congratulated him) and ordered him to perform the `Umra. So when he came to Mecca, someone said to him, “You have become a Sabian?” Thumama replied, “No! By Allah, I have embraced Islam with Muhammad, Apostle of Allah. No, by Allah! Not a single grain of wheat will come to you from Yamamah unless the Prophet gives his permission.
Sahih al-Bukhari 4372