Don’t Forget the Couscous is a book of poetry about exile and home, love and loss. It is a beautiful love-song to the Arab world – Syria, Kurdistan, Morocco, Palestine and his native Aleppo. It is a memoir of the failed Arab Spring and the civil-war that has turned his native Syria into a ‘fountain of blood’. It’s a bitter account of the demonization of Islam in the West, and the violent interference of the West in the Islamic world. It is about being a Muslim and not a terrorist.
Amir Darwish draws on the magical-realism of Naguib Mahfouz, the social satire of Muhammad al-Maghut and the love poetry of Rumi to describe the experience of Islam in Europe – from ‘a Friday night doner kebab after a good night out’ to a ‘girl who has taken off the hijab in order to feel safe’ and ‘a mosque with broken windows’. It is a book about travel and love, and an apology on behalf of Muslims everywhere for having contributed nothing to the modern world except astronomy, coffee, clocks, algebra, falafels, apricots and doner kebabs. And don’t forget the couscous...
Cover image: Margaret Williams, Life Drawing Author photo credit: Kev Howard
An apology from Muslims (or those perceived to be Muslims) to humanity We are sorry for everything That we have caused humanity to suffer from. Sorry for Algebra and the letter X. Sorry for all the words we throw at you; Amber, candy, chemistry, cotton, giraffe, hazard, Jar, jasmine, jumper, lemon, lime, lilac, Oranges, sofa, scarlet, spinach, Talisman, tangerine, tariff, traffic, tulips, Mattress (yes mattress) and the massage you enjoy on it: We are sorry for all of these. Sorry that we replaced alcohol with coffee for Enlightenment philosophers. Speaking of hot drinks, We are sorry for the cappuccino the Turks brought over. Sorry for the black Arabian race horses, For the clock, Maths, Parachutes. Abdul in the US is sorry for what so and so did; He does not know him but he is sorry anyway. Sorry that we accompanied Columbus on his journey to the States. And sorry for the Arab man with him Who was the first to touch the shore and shout ‘Honolulu’ And named the place after him. Sorry for the architecture in Spain and the Al Hambra palace there. We apologise for churches in Seville With their stars of David at the top that we built with our hands. We say sorry for every number you use in your daily life from the 0 to the trillion. Even Adnan the Yezidi (mistaken for a Muslim) Is sorry for the actions of Abu whatever who beheads people in Syria. Sorry for the mercury chloride that heals wounds, Please give us some – Because the guilt of initiating all of the above Gives us a wound as big as this earth. Sorry for the guitar that was played by Moriscosin Spain To ease their pain when they were kicked out of their homes. Sorry for the hookah as you sip on its lips And gaze into the moon hearing the Arabian Nay. Sorry for cryptanalysis and the ability to analyse information systems, To think what is at the heart of the heart of the heart and bring it to the world. Sorry for painting Grenada white to evade social hierarchy. Sorry for the stories in The Arabian Nights. Every time we see a star, we remember to be sorry for Astronomy. We are sorry that Mo Farah claimed asylum here And went to become the British champion of the world. Sorry for non-representational art, Pattern and surface decoration. We are sorry for all the food we brought over: From tuna to chicken tikka masala, Hummus, Falafel, Apricot, Doner kebab Right up to the shawarma roll. And don’t forget the couscous. If we forgot to apologise for something, never mind, We are sorry for it without even knowing it. Most of all we are sorry for Rumi’s love poems, And we desperately echo one of them to you: Oh Beloved, Take me. Liberate my soul. Fill me with your love and Release me from the two worlds. If I set my heart on anything but you Let fire burn me from inside. Oh Beloved, Take away what I want. Take away what I do. Take away what I need. Take away everything That takes me from you. Please forgive us. We are sorry and cannot be sorry enough today.
I am a chicken tikka masala in a Sunday night take-away for lovers. I am Mohammed to my Parisian friends but Jacques on my CV. I am a Friday night doner kebab after a good night out. I am a taxi driver ready to pick up and drop you on a cold winter day. I am a doctor, a white angel whose touch will make it better. I am a London sheesha smelling of apple. I am an off-license shop with a pint of milk ready for tea when guests arrive. I am hot-to-touch naan bread. I am a little boy who cannot understand why my school-friends won’t play with me anymore. I am a New York pizza delivery boy who is spat at when I deliver food. I am a young girl who has taken off the hijab in order to feel safe. I am an old man who has started to shave my beard. I am a grandmother who has exchanged the zari for a pair of jeans. I am a mosque with broken windows. I am a Muslim. I am not a terrorist.
Is a stone. A child in a Baghdad street kicks it And a drop of water Cultivates all the deserts of Dubai so it can flower. It is an eye-ball reflecting the sun Then blinking to swallow the earth. Or maybe it is a vase Near a window In Aleppo. As I stare at it, My vision expands, wide as the river Nile.