A young Muslim woman was invited to be a guest on Dr. Phil with her mother. Four months after, and as the video of that show continued to go viral, she reflects on the way she felt wrongly portrayed.
Editor’s Note: We sat with Abby to tell her life story—an incredibly profound story of a woman who experienced it all at such a young age, but now struggles with finding support, and acceptance, in her new found place in life. Abby’s life story will be featured on That’s Some American Muslim Life by the end of the summer. Abby also shared in great detail the hard time she has had finding acceptance in the Muslim community too, and has felt alienated and discriminated against by Muslims as well. Stay tuned for that story in a few months.
Kristin Nicole Ritchie, now known as Abby, appeared on the Dr. Phil show on March 3, 2014. Abby, 28, was born, and lives, in Forth Worth, Texas. She is a former world renowned rapper who was best know for her provocative, rapping performances where she would chug a full case of beer while on stage. She traveled to many different parts of the world for her performances. Her stage name was MC Router.
But Abby says that after a chance encounter with some Arabs at a local restaurant and sheesha place near a former job of hers, and then meeting some Arab students, she started to develop a love and fascination for Arab culture. She’d befriend many of the patrons of the restaurant, then started studying Arabic as a language at her college when a few Saudi students introduced themselves to her. They introduced her to Islam and shortly after that, she would convert. Except that, once she did, she faced a lot of difficulty finding acceptance, within the Muslim community and within her old circle of friends and family…but most importantly, with her mom.
And that is what led her to one day write to Dr. Phil. Without sharing too much of her life story (which will be released later this summer) here is her experience about the Dr. Phil show, and it’s aftermath. This is edited from an interview with Editor in Chief Amina Chaudary
Abby: My mother’s friends kept asking her why I converted to Islam. Over like a year or two, she became more and more paranoid and she started looking online, and of course finding all the bad stuff that the media has to portray about Muslims, and finally they got to the point where they convinced her that I was a prime candidate for being a terrorist. And so they said, “we need to get you help.” So, one of them actually told her that they were going to contact someone, like a talk show or a newspaper or magazine, and try to get my mom and me help, and they reached out to some Christian organizations and stuff, to try to reel me back in to Christianity. Then I realized there is a really deep-seated issue with me and my mom. So, a friend suggested that they saw on the Dr Phil website “Are you having problems with your mom, and is there mother-daughter conflict?” I was like, hey, I feel like my mother could use some counseling. I didn’t really expect [they would] call back or anything, but the guy, one of the producers, who ended up calling me, was actually a Muslim. And he’s like we are interested in your story. I got passed around for like three months with different producers and doing phone interviews and [giving] background information. And then they called my mom and they said, “your daughter called and she has some concerns.” They asked her questions and they said, “would you like to come on to the show?” At first she said, no. This was in February of this year.
My mom said to me, “I got a call from Doctor Phil, why did you contact them? I don’t want our business out there.” And I said, “oh, it’s kind of a last resort. Like, I have try to tell you about my religion, and I have tried to show you the beautiful things about Islam and I tried to show you, through my actions and my character, that me becoming a Muslim made me a better daughter, it made me a better person and [you] won’t accept this.” So I said, “maybe if this guy can talk to you about it and counsel you, you can see it from a different perspective.” And she said “okay.” [Then] she said, “I want to see if I am the only person that is having a problem with this.”
They told us not to talk to each other about it. And that they wanted to resolve the issues on the show. So, we didn’t talk to each other at all about the show or what we were asked or anything like that.
They flew us separately on separate days. When I arrived, I went to my hotel, and of course, they put my mom in a separate hotel. I was taken to a mini studio, outside of the Paramount Studios, and they basically did a video interview and they asked me some questions, they got some background and stuff on video, had me do some cut scenes.
They really brought up the terrorist thing. And my intention was to for my mom to get some counseling and to just learn to accept that her daughter chose a different religion. And when I got there, they were asking me things like, oh, so you know a bunch of Saudi people and you know a lot of people high up in Saudi Arabia and you have pictures with scarves across your face and guns, you know, all of these things and bringing up my military [background] and they are asking me like “do you like America and what do you think of America?” I told them, even before the show that I appreciate America’s freedoms and the education and everything, but I have learned to appreciate other countries in other ways. When I lived in Europe for a while or when I go to other countries, I feel like there is more culture and its more exciting. So, when they started asking me these things in the pre-interview, I was kind of like [feeling] awkward. It wasn’t until the end of that first initial interview, pre-show, [that] I realized okay, I see, they are kind of twisting in the terrorist activity thing here.
Amina Chaudary: And you weren’t expecting that obviously?
Abby: I wasn’t.
Amina Chaudary: Was your mom expecting that would come up?
Abby: I think my mom was a little bit because she did have concerns that I was going to join a terrorist group. She had made comments, and they made this on the show, that I am a prime candidate for being a terrorist because I am good with computers and I am ex-military and I speak a lot of languages, so they are like, “what more than a prime candidate for terrorist then me.” And you know, a lot of people that I meet ask me “do you work for the FBI- because we think that you are working for the Arabs and spying on Americans. So you are like trying to blend in with Americans, but really you are giving intel back to Saudi Arabia, the Muslim brotherhood or whatever.” She’s like people have commented that maybe [I am] involved with Al Qaeda or something like that. And when [my mom] looked up Islam online, of course, all she found was Jihad and Al Qaeda and Taliban. So, she thought that the terrorist groups were going to brainwash me into doing their dirty work for them because my mother thinks that I am really easily persuaded and easily manipulated. She thinks that when I see something cool or people are nice to me, I am just going to do whatever they want and jump into whatever. So, she had expressed that to them.
They didn’t tell me about anything they were going to talk about on the show really, except for my relationship with my mom and how my converting to Islam, affected our mother-daughter relationship. And they just very subtly asked me questions [like] “oh do you like America? Who do you know in Saudi Arabia?” But before that they didn’t say okay, you are going to go on the show and talk about this and this and this. Because they said, it’s not scripted, so Doctor Phil just watches the interview and decides on the show what he wants to talk about. It’s a surprise, but they never said like, he is going to ask you about terrorism or anything like that.
Before the show they had me and my mom in different dressing rooms and we did make up and stuff. And then, they had me behind the curtain or behind the audience where they were sitting and there is a little TV. Dr Phil walked in. Before I came out, he is like, “this is MC Router. She’s a rapper, look at her tattoos, she drinks, she’s promiscuous”, and then he showed a picture of me and my hijab. And then he was like, “this is Abby, she is Muslim, and she is devout, and here [she] is praying” and the [he says] “what if I told you, it was the same person?” And the crowds like oh, ha. And right then is when they brought me out. I am used to talking in front of like a lot of people because of my fame pre-Islam–I have performed in front of over a thousand people before. So, I wasn’t nervous at all. But I just walked on there and I saw the audience surprised, a look of bewilderment and confusion and shock on their face. When I was walking to the chair on the stage, the audience was like gasping and stuff and I was like, oh my God, this is so dramatic. He started talking to me and nothing really caught me off guard except for when he started asking me about America.
Amina Chaudary: And how about your mom –I remember from the show, is they said, this is the first time, you guys are seeing after a long time, was that true?
Abby: No, actually, we had seen each other like on and off, like once a month or once every couple months because I was living in a different city and then I moved with a friend to another city, and it wasn’t until right before the show when I was making my transition in moving back in with her and it had been like good six months that we talked or anything like that but my mom had said that they had asked her to be like, “oh, whoa, so you haven’t seen her in a year, huh? A year.” She doesn’t know anything about TV or media or production, so she was like, “yeah, I haven’t seen her.” After the show, I told her that was for dramatic affect, it’s a show, they [have] to do what they can to spice it up and make the story good. So even if the story is good, they need to make it fit their theme or their intentions.
My mom feels very misrepresented. She feels like she was betrayed like as a terrible racist, terrible mother and she’s really not. She’s just having a hard time accepting that her daughter’s converted to different religion and she says she felt really bad because Dr. Phil didn’t give her a chance to explain her side in more detail. And also, she said,the questions he asked her were the kind of trick questions where she had to answer in a way that would make her look bad. I told her it is show business, they are leading questions. She was really misrepresented. She’s not a racist, and she’s a great mother and you know, that show should have been an hour-long really to get both sides of the story and to be fair and to really explain everything–it should have been an hour-long show, so it would equally and accurately represent both sides.
After the show, he normally offers counseling, I guess because I have never seen Dr. Phil before that, and apparently he does help people, but he didn’t offer us any sort of counseling. And after the show we were taken to a room where the Trevon Martin girl was and me and my mom were there and there was another Muslim sister on there who was in the audience [and] who spoke, and she kind of talk to my mother afterwards, and I think that helped my mom more than anything, because it was another non-Arab Muslim, like a white Muslim girl, and I think my mom meeting another white Muslim girl really helped sink in the fact that I am not the only one doing it. I am not being a rebel, you know, I am not abnormal, so I think that the ten or fifteen minutes that my mom talked with her helped my mom out after the show more than Dr. Phil or anyone else on there.
Amina Chaudary: You mentioned to me that you received a lot of criticism from people, how did people get in touch with you and what sort of things were people saying, Muslim and non Muslim, to you and your mom after the show?
Abby: I will say that after the show, a lot of people wrote a lot of hateful messages and they are like, “oh you are Muslim now, don’t you know the status of mothers in Islam.” I am like, okay, don’t be ridiculous, like because I am smirking a few times on the Dr Phil show, it doesn’t mean I treat my mom in disrespectful way. I was there for her, to help her and to help us. They don’t know anything about me and mom’s relationship, except for the thirty minutes they saw on TV and they are like “you shouldn’t be laughing and smirking and you are just doing it for attention, you are just a Muslim to get attention and your mother is right, you just jump from phase to phase. So, Islam is a phase for you”, and that is the number one thing that made me upset. And I stopped reading the comments after that because I was like, “how dare another Muslim judge my intention, judge my niyah, and how dare they assume that because I have visited other countries and learned other languages, that those are phases and that Islam is that way for me.” And then some of the non-Muslims are saying, “you are brainwashed by the Arabs, you are brainwashed by the Muslims. You need to come back to Jesus and you need to know that Jesus is your Lord and Savior, and you need to comeback to the right way and you are going to burn in hell, unless you take Jesus as your Lord and Savior” and you know, all these crazy Christians like just tearing me apart. And that was about eighty percent of the comments and feedback I got and only a few were Muslims being like, “you know what, welcome to Islam, glad to have you as a sister and we are glad to see that you are trying to help your mom.”
Amina Chaudary: And how about the criticism for your mom?
Abby: A lot of people were taking her side. I will say the, majority of people were saying, “yes, if my daughter was doing that, I would be worried too” or, “Islam is a cult.” But [people] were [also] saying she was racist and a bad mother and you know, shame on her and that really hurt my mom a lot and I told her, don’t read the comments because people are really mean on the internet.
She said, “I want to cry,” she was so sad, she is like, “people think I am a racist and people think I am a bad mother.” I [told her] “you are not, the show was too short, and he didn’t give you time to explain, it was all about me. He didn’t give you time to explain. All you can do is, don’t read the comments and hopefully he will invite us back for an update episode or hopefully another talk show will invite us and give us more speaking time to get the other side.” I know a lot a lot of talk shows will do that, they will bring someone to get like an update, like where they are now, or they will bring someone to get the other side of story, the one side wasn’t told. So, yeah, she was hurt and we talked about it. After like a couple of days, she was just like, “well, I hope that we get invited back somewhere, so I can tell my side of the story, I want to people know that we get along, that we are not just fighting and everything like that.”
Amina Chaudary: And since then, has there been a Dr. Phil, followup?
Abby: I am probably going to regret saying this but the Muslim guy that was one of the producers, the Lebanese guy, he, was really friendly and he was like, “we want to keep in touch, and who knows, we might bring you back, and he is like, please keep in touch with me, add me to Facebook, keep in touch, so I can stay updated on you and your mom” and he made it sound like he was really interested in helping me and staying in touch with me and like tracking the progress of me and my mom. And after the show, he and just everyone disappeared. I tried to add him on Facebook, he never added me, I sent messages, he didn’t reply, I called. I left my jacket in the Paramount Studios, my sweater, and I called his line to get it, and he was very short, very rude with me like, that was it. And I thought that was very peculiar.
My personal theory is that, he didn’t like what I had to say, on stage. I know it’s a production. You herd in the cattle and you herd them out, You bring them in, and you push the out. But for Dr. Phil, being a doctor and being someone to counsel and help, I feel like his producers need to be a little bit more easy on this, you know, herding the cattle through the studios and I don’t know, it hurt me. No one from the show kept in contact [with me] and I know that my mom’s been hoping for to tell her side of the story because you know how many Americans saw the show, or how many people all over the world saw that show. We got comments from a lot of people, all over the world, She is like, “I was happy to see after the show that there’s other Muslim women, like you,” but at the same time she’s like, “I just feel like I am betrayed up all across the world, as this terrible racist and I am not.” She still thinks about that, you know, even now.
We are in touch with Abby’s mother for a possible follow up interview as well, which we hope to publish soon.
Stay with this story! That’s Some American Muslim Life will bring to you more about Abby’s life and challenges as a new Muslim in the coming months. As a preview, she shares with us this experience: “After I converted, I started going to Masjid, kind of by myself. I went into the bathroom to make wudu and when I am rolling up my sleeves, the sisters’ faces were just like so disgusted by my tattoos. I would walk out of the bathroom area to go into the prayer room and they would just be like “sister, you’re Haram.” I am like, ‘I got these before, and I have just been a Muslim a week.'”