Neighbour, Sally. The mother of Mohammed

MUP, $29.99

Robyn Hutchinson’s path began in near-poverty in Mudgee, NSW, detoured via Sydney’s northern beaches – where, as a rebellious teenager, she dropped out of high school, smoked dope, and dated a surfing champion – and carried her on a hippy trip to Bali in the 1970s.

Young Robyn was something of a religious dilettante. Born Anglican, as a child she sampled Catholicism but found it not to her taste. InBaliin her early 20s, Robyn met both Islam and her first husband (and father of her first three children). Blighted by his drug problems, the marriage eventually failed, but her faith remained, and grew.

In 1980, Robyn became Rabiah and began a life devoted to Islam.  As student of Islam, as wife and mother, as mujahir (a Muslim pilgrim seeking safe haven), and as volunteer supporting the mujahidin (holy warriors), Rabiah has lived inAustralia, Indonesia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, andEgypt. Her many marriages have earned her the nickname the “Elizabeth Taylor of the jihad” by CIA types. Osama Bin Laden once gave her an air conditioner. She was married to one of Al Qaeda’s senior commanders and military strategists when theUnited Statesand allies began bombingAfghanistanin retaliation for the attacks of September 11, 2001, eventually “escaping” toIran, where she and her family were repatriated toAustralia. ASIO deems her a security risk and has cancelled her passport, citing her support for Islamic extremists and links to senior members of Jemaah Islamiyah and al-Qa’ida.

Sally Neighbour’s balanced and compelling story of how Robyn, a blonde-haired, blue-eyed surfer’s girlfriend, became Rabiah, Salafist Muslim mother of six, friend of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), and wife of al Qaeda veteran commander, is an arresting personal narrative benefitting from the exquisite research you would expect from this multi-Walkley winner.