Read of the Week

A Jihad for Love

Mohamed El Bachiri

Head of Zeus

Review: Chantel Erfort

What is this? But more importantly: why would anyone buy this?

On page 78, the writer himself tries to answer these questions, writing: “What is this book?

A poem. A homage, an ode to Loubna. A response to humanity, not to madness. The expression of pain, but also of resilience – through love…”

The book is not related to the 2007 documentary by the same name which explores Islam and homosexuality.

In A Jihad for Love, El Bachiri, a former Brussels metro train driver whose wife was killed in a suicide bomb attack, shares a series of thoughts, poems and reflections on life as a Muslim in Belgium, revenge, forgiveness and love. It’s a very personal account of his reaction to his wife Loubna’s death and adapting to life with his three children – without her. But the overwhelming theme of this little book is his sense of loss and loss of direction and a plea that we should all rise above vengeance in times of tragedy.

The pieces of prose, which each appear under their own titles, detail El Bachiri’s early life in Molenbeek, a suburb notorious for the number of Belgian jihadis who have come from there; meeting Loubna; her background; their life together; the suicide bomb attack that tore them apart; and the emotional fallout of that fateful day in March 2016.

While A Jihad for Love is sincere and sad – and certainly passionate – it is, however, not exceptional. And this, I believe, is why I was left with questions about who would buy this book and why.

As I read this, I felt like I was reading El Bachiri’s stream of consciousness, poured into the pages of a personal diary.

The texts are actually a combination of pieces written by El Bachiri after the attack which led to his wife’s death and comments made a year later, during an interview with Belgian cultural historian David van Reybrouck, who is listed as the co-author of A Jihad for Love. Van Reybrouck also reworked Manik Sarkar’s Dutch translation of the original French text.

This book topped the Dutch bestseller list after it was published in March this year and so it will be interesting to see how it is received locally.

It’s a quick read that you can read from cover to cover in about an hour or so, or one that you can dip into from time to time.