Jihad, a word that strikes fear into many Europeans and a term Belgian director Ismael Saidi couldn’t resist when he named his first stage production. He used the French spelling Djihad.
Originally scheduled for just five performances last December, ‘Jihad’ has played non stop to audiences in Brussels ever since.
The story is about three disillusioned residents of the city who decide to travel to Syria.
In an interview with euronews, Director Saidi admitted there was a flavour of himself in two of the characters.
“At one point, I had these ideological views about a strict form of Islam, where everything is forbidden.
In that way, I am just as naive as one of the characters Reda. But I’ve also asked deep philosophical questions like another character Ishmael who – as the son of an immigrant – seeks to understand what’s going on. He often looks for others to blame for his own failures. Yes they are, in many ways, very similar to me.”
Critics say the play certainly has guts, daring to laugh at everything from dogmatic behaviour and victimization, to plain racism and intolerance.
It has even played to primary and secondary schoolchildren.
“This is not some elitist theatre production, it’s very popularist in the best sense of the term. It allows people to understand and to laugh and cry because the audience gets completely caught up in the story. It helps to deconstruct what’s really going on,” Saidi told euronews.
Two audience-goers also shared what they thought of the play.
“It can’t change everything but it can change minds. It can show a different view of what’s happening. The interpretation of Jihad, why people go to fight in Syria. We can see it in a different light,” said one man.
Another fan told euronews: “It shows that the Koran does not teach evil things, that the Koran does not say go to war, no, it’s the people who make up these things.”
Director Saidi said he’s been blown away by the response to the play.
“We had a lot of emails from young people who admitted that the play has changed their minds.Even though it’s a play about intolerance, eventually tolerance wins.”
He said many had faced similar problems to those raised in Djihad – like dating outside of the religion.
Djihad will soon be performed in France, the Netherlands and perhaps even Morocco.