Published in The Guardian on 2 September 2006
It was a story of a clash of two cultures, of the abduction of a 12-year-old mixed-race Muslim girl taken by her father to Pakistan amid claims that she would be forced into marriage with a man more than twice her age.
But yesterday Misbah Iram Ahmed Rana, also known as Molly Campbell, smiled and laughed as she spoke of how she had travelled to Lahore with her elder sister Tahmina and father Sajad Ahmed Rana of her own free will. She added defiantly: “I’m not Molly, I’m Misbah.”
The story of the girl who is not Molly is less straightforward than it seemed on the surface. It was last Friday that Misbah disappeared from her home in Stornoway on the island of Lewis. In a tearful appeal her mother, Louise Campbell, 38, who has legal custody of her daughter, claimed the schoolgirl had been snatched from her school gates and police said they were investigating the “kidnapping”.
Misbah, though, says she told them that it was her decision to leave. She posted letters from Glasgow airport to her mother and headmaster telling them “not to worry” and that she “wanted to live in Pakistan”.
When she arrived there she phoned police in Stornoway to say she had not been forced to leave the country in which she was born.
“I’m not a runaway,” Misbah told the Guardian. “And I’m not going back there. I told them in my letters I was going with my dad and my family, that I was safe and it was all my own choice. When I decided to leave, it was like ‘wow’. I was happy and shocked.”
Wearing a black and white shalwar kameez, Misbah cuddled her father and sister and said she had not seen her siblings for more than a year. She had been unhappy and missed them terribly.
Misbah was “stunned” when the sister whom she had been forbidden from contacting turned up at her school clutching a CD she had made of her favourite Urdu songs. When her mother refused to let her attend 18-year-old Tahmina’s wedding in Pakistan in March, saying she would be forced into marriage, Misbah doubted they would ever be reunited. Emails she was sent, she said, were deleted by Mrs Campbell. Desperate at the lack of communication with her sister, Tahmina asked her father to take her to her.
Misbah said: “I had pictures all over my walls of my family when I was in Stornoway. I always cried. My mum said she didn’t trust my brothers and sisters. She told me not to give them my phone number because they would give it to my dad.”
Misbah’s life has been peripatetic: she has lived in Glasgow, Blackburn, Pakistan, Stranraer and then Stornoway. After her parents’ marriage dissolved, she found herself inhabiting isolated places as part of her mother’s attempt to evade her ex-husband. Last November she was told she should join her nickname Molly up with Campbell, a surname taken from her mother’s new partner Kenny, so that her father could not find her.
Misbah’s parents met at school in Glasgow. The 16-year-old Louise became an observant Muslim, took the name Shazia Ahmed Rana and wore a burka for the majority of their marriage. Mrs Rana then left her husband and for a few years the four Rana children lived with their father before moving in with their mother.
“Within a month or so, three of the children had left because they didn’t like the environment she was living in,” said Mr Rana, who claims that his ex-wife turned her back on Islam and began smoking and drinking. “We had an out-of-court settlement and I paid her X amount of money,” he said. He said the money was all gone and Mrs Campbell was “on the broo” [Scottish slang for unemployment benefit].
As with many fractured families, it is difficult to know the whole story but the children, including Omar, 21, who lives in the UK but has no contact with his mother, say they did not like her lifestyle, that she was not a good Muslim. And this was not all they did not like.
“I didn’t like Kenny, I didn’t like him at all and I told my mum and she told me I had to live with it,” Misbah said in a soft Glasgow burr. “I had good times with them but there were bad times too. My mum and Kenny, they kept on arguing, fighting and swearing.”
The family spoke out after the intervention of the Glasgow Labour MP, Mohammed Sarwar, who met up with Misbah’s mother on Thursday and then the child and her father yesterday. Asked if she wanted to return to Scotland with him she gave an emphatic no. Mr Sarwar said: “The children all love their mother and she loves them. But there is no trust and a lack of confidence exists on both sides. They need to resolve this tragic family dispute in an amicable way. The bond that exists between children and their mother will come back and they will re-establish their trust.”
Yesterday, Mrs Campbell issued a statement through her solicitors, saying: “We have agreed we are not going to say anything. We are acting in the best interests of the child and we’re doing all we can to secure Molly back. We’re pursuing the proper lines to get Molly back.”
Hours before, Misbah had called her mother to tell her that she loved her and that she was welcome to visit her in Pakistan at any time. If she stayed with her dad, she explained, she could see all her family, if she had stayed with her, she could not. Her mum had been “surprised”, she said.
Though she looks older than 12, Misbah is a child caught up in an adult mess. Asked if she would miss Scotland, she said: “There was a beach in Stornoway and I always used to go down on my bike. It was massive and really long. I used to take biscuits and juice and it was really pretty. I will miss it but only a wee bit – I only went there to take my mind of stuff at home and missing my family.”
Misbah’s father says the forced marriage claims were wrong. “I would hope that she will wait till her 20s before she is married. What father would wish for his daughter to be wed at 12?”
At that, the little girl who wants to be a vet piped up: “I’m not getting married – and I’m 12 and a half.”