Jihadi Wedding

01 May, 2015

ABOUT THE STORY Jibran, a British Muslim who has given up life in London to join ISIS in Syria, is a jihadi and proud of it. As Abu Ramzan, his commander, repeatedly tells him, his excellent English accent is of great use to the organisation’s propaganda operations. He is not a native Syrian whose beliefs can be ignored by a Western audience, but a man who has given up the comforts of the West for the arduous sacrifices of the Truth—in this case, the three main points of the Truth as retailed to him by his commander. However, there is no principle or nature so pure that it can continue without a little earthly dilution. In Jibran’s case, his mixed motives, with their own innocence and purity, draw from a desire to have a wife in the country for which he has sacrificed everything.

Fatima Bhutto’s story, astutely tinted by the patois and categories of Jibran’s own Hackney (and perhaps hackneyed) worldview, takes place over the course of a television interview. As Jibran beats back inquiries from a BBC correspondent, he mentally reprises the consolations of his conjugal life. But is everything as secure as it seems?

Jihadi Wedding


JIB SHIFTED in his seat.

“All us brothers…” He gestured around the room to give the impression that there were many brothers there; even though there was no one present except for him, Dave and Dave’s cameraman, a skinny fellow called Hirsh, which was a pretty Jewish-sounding name. “All us brothers came here to fight oppression.”

He pointed to the floor. Here, Syria. Home of the Caliphate, home of the Sunni people.

“It’s natural,” Abu Ramzan told the boys when they joined the camp. “London Paris France not natural.” He spat on the floor whenever he named European cities. London Paris France, pftoo. But even though France was like, not a city, Abu Ramzan always spat extra hard afterwards. “It’s natural to come here to Syria, we come home. We are home to fight.”

Jib came to fight, obviously, but he did also come out here looking for a wife. Jib wanted to talk about Maryam. But Dave had been here all week and it hadn’t really come up yet. He had really missed her the past seven days that he had been babysitting this wally from the BBC.

As usual, Dave wanted to talk about the struggle, about the war. Again. He only mentioned his Bachelor’s degree in Oriental Studies from Oxford Brookes every other hour.

Dave rolled up the sleeves of his blue linen shirt, put away his Gauloises cigarettes and nodded at the cameraman. “Jibran,” he said, leaning forward, “could you pull your mike up a bit higher?” He raised his hand, like an elevator climbing a floor. “One more.” Dave’s hand floated underneath his chin. He wore a little gold ring on his pinky finger. “Yes, that’s it. Perfect.”

“Born in South London, degree in marketing, a job in the city,” Dave’s camera voice was low and creepy. He always baritoned his voice up when they started filming. “Why give that all up, Jibran—your car, your family, your freedom—to come here?”

Abu Ramzan told all the men to convey a singular message. Take three points, he instructed them in his heavy Caucasus accent, and repeat. Repeat always three points, never change. “You are best for this,” he told Jib, “very good voice, very good feeling for Western journalist.”

Dave rolled his hand like an egg whisk low in his lap. The movement distracted Jib. He glanced at the cameraman, who did look properly Jewish. He would make it a point to mention this to Abu Ramzan later; he was always telling the brothers how to spot enemies by their physical characteristics. Jews have skinny shoulder, he cannot fight. Shias, he have weak stomach. Hindus not possible to tell. But they have many gods, play good sport, they keep book of Kama Sutra, sex book, on every shelf. Jib remembered seeing a copy of it once in the Hackney library. He flipped through it giggling with his mates. He knew it was haram, but he wished he remembered some of it now that he was a married man. Dave carried on with the stupid hand movement.

“Go on,” Dave mouthed.

“Yeah, well,” Jib found it hard to concentrate with that hand churning in his lap. But this was important. Abu Ramzan had selected him to take their message to Britain. “You are one of them,” he said, “you have movie accent. They understand you.” Jib thought Abu Ramzan should have done it—he knew all the logistical stuff, had contacts across the region and had been here for the last three years fighting. But Abu Ramzan insisted. “Must be Jibran, I busy. You speak for Abu Ramzan. Meanwhile, I take care of Maryam.”

It made Jibran proud to hear that. The bit about speaking for him, not taking care of Maryam. She was a grown-up, hardly needed anyone to watch her. Though she did seem to like spending time with Abu R. He was very mature, Maryam pronounced thoughtfully.

“We came because there was a war against believers here. The world doesn’t care what happens to Muslims. The United Nations doesn’t care. They only go to war against our brothers; they don’t step in to save them when they are being butchered. They are killing our sisters and brothers and no one—” Jib repeated himself for emphasis, “—no one is stopping them.”


Dave smiled now. Even the Jew behind the camera seemed to relax.

Dave adjusted his khaki flak jacket, and as he did so flashed Jib a thumbs up. Stupid git.

“What does that mean to you, Jibran?”

Jibran knew from Abu Ramzan’s lectures that the Western man had no understanding of military matters, they had become mentally corrupt due to watching too much football and pornography on television, but even then this tosser was pushing it.

“Yeah, well, it’s bad isn’t it?”

“No, no—”

“It is evil stuff, obviously.”

“No,” Dave interrupted him again, and said in a slower voice, as though Jibran had been talking to him in another language, “what does that struggle mean to you?”

He really was thick as two planks.

“It’s jihad isn’t it?” Jib leaned back into his chair and stretched his arms a little bit so that the camerajew would be able to get a better view of how much ammunition he wore in the bandolier straps across his chest. A big shipment had come in from Riyadh last week, and Abu Ramzan was keen to show it off. Some of Jib’s mates, Sufiyan and Bakr, filmed videos with the MANPADs they had captured out of Latakia. Sufiyan always laughed whenever someone said MANPAD, but he was a bit of a nob. Maryam said Sufiyan was unlikely to find a woman to marry until he matured some more. It was Jib’s maturity that had attracted her when they had finally been introduced and were waiting for the mullah to sign their wedding papers. She wanted a man older than her, Maryam told Jib later, one who had seen something of the world and could speak politics and history with some depth. Jib was only seven months older than her, but that had made him dead happy.


Abu Ramzan had arranged it, calling on her parents and taking Jib to see them. “He is doctor’s son,” Abu Ramzan told the Saifs. Jib’s dad was a dermatologist, but that totally counted. Jib was English, he had a passport and a home in Hackney where his parents and brothers still lived.

“Pakistani?” Maryam’s parents, the Saifs, had asked Abu Ramzan, replacing the P with a B like they did here. “Bakistani?”

Abu Ramzan shook his head strongly. “La, Ingleezi,” he confirmed, without spitting.

Jib wished his own dad had been there for the proposal, as he didn’t really know how to discuss the business of marriage. “I only ever had two girlfriends, but nothing massively serious,” Jib told Abu Ramzan, exaggerating slightly about Rita and Aisha. Aisha was his mum’s friend’s daughter and she was a proper Muslimah. She only spoke to Jib on the telephone, only WhatsApp-ed him in group chats, and sent him emails with pictures of her and her mates at sixth form in college looking all girly like. But whenever he tried to meet up and hang, she would chicken out. He took her to the cinema once. Aisha had insisted on a cartoon. There was only so much you could watch of Frozen before losing all romantic feeling. Rita was white though. She let Jib feel her up (only on top though).

It didn’t matter in the end, only the passport did. The Saifs didn’t see all the faff that came with her Majesty’s papers—teachers at school always asking Jib and his mates “But where are you really from?”; Mr Bromley, the family accountant, hassling Jib since he’d been out here to explain his expenses, “What do you mean by ‘charitable donation? And just what is ISIS? Do they have a registered charity number?”

Na, you were held down by the man wherever you were from. But being British out here made a massive difference. “You are lucky, from superpower,” Abu Ramzan told Jib, with mega contempt in his voice. “Good families like Saifs not considering Chechnya superpower.” He kept stressing the word. “They don’t know Caucasus, but Mr Bean, David Beckhams, Tony Cherry Blair—” Abu Ramzan rubbed his fingers together like he was counting money. “Everyone knows Britain.”

Jib felt bad, Abu Ramzan was a real jihadi, a real leader. He could have been British if he really wanted—lots of Poles were doing it. Abu R really had gone the extra mile for Jib, visiting Maryam’s house for several weeks before he took his proposal forward. “Must be sure,” he told Jib. “Must check parents, family, cousins, house, also girl.”

It had been painful, waiting all that time before finally being introduced to Maryam. But Abu Ramzan was so thorough. Even after the Saifs accepted his proposal, Abu Ramzan carried on visiting Maryam and checking up on her on Jib’s behalf.

Dave widened his eyes; they were nearly popping out of his pink face. “Jibran,” he said slowly in that plonky voice of his, “what does jihad mean to you?”

Jibran slouched further into his chair. This was dead boring. He didn’t know why he had to do this segment, he’d already taken Dave all over the camp and all around Latakia, out to training and reconnaissance. He couldn’t remember the last time he was home. For days he’d been out with this duffer.

Yesterday he’d taken Dave to the firing range and let him watch Bakr’s target practice. Dave asked divvy questions then too—“What do your parents think about you coming out here? Did you ask their permission? Have you ever fought in a civil war before? Did you learn your shooting from playing video games?”

“No fool, from killing in-fi-dels, innit!” Bakr laughed, but later they wondered if Dave and the camera guy thought Bakr had been joking. He had that kind of sense of humour, like Quentin Tarantino. Dark, but fucking funny.

The only breaks they got from Dave were when he stepped out to smoke those girly fags of his and call up people on the satellite phone.

“Jihad is jihad.” Jib replied, philosophically. “It is the duty of all brothers.”

“But what does it mean?”

“What, to me?”

“No, I mean, explain to our viewers, what is jihad exactly?”

He thought it was what Bakr and Sufiyan and all the other lads thought—stopping unbelievers and kufr and the like from wiping out Islam, making sure them Christians and Westerners didn’t lower the Muslim birthrate, war, violence, pestilence and shit—but Maryam had another idea.

Her English was good, real good considering her parents only spoke Arabic. Haalala walla khallala. That’s all he heard around the house. Even at breakfast when they were saying good morning it sounded like they were fighting. But Maryam, even when she spoke in Arabic, always spoke softly and purposefully, like she was tasting each word. “Jihad is observation,” his wife had told him, placing her pretty hand on his chest and touching his heart. “It is submission. Only when you battle yourself do you truly engage in jihad.” God, she was beautiful. Even when she didn’t know what she was going on about.

Before the war Maryam was in her third year at art school. She had passed the national baccalaureate and was studying sculpture at university. But since the war started, the classes had shut down. Some teachers had been killed, some left to work in Jordan or Lebanon, and many students now worked as guides and translators to foreign journalists and fighters. Maryam’s parents had heard about those kufr who came to take women, they said they were taking them out of the country to find work but all the work they ever got them was tricks. The Saifs obvs didn’t want anything bad to happen to Maryam, their only daughter. Soon as they heard about Abu Ramzan’s warriors, good young boys coming from the Netherlands, Germany and other Schengen countries to help the weak and the pitiful, they got in touch.

Abu Ramzan was a firm believer in marriage. He believed it tied his men to the country and enlivened their fight. “Man has gun, good. Man has gun in heart, better.” He missed his own wife, Katerina, who waited for him in Grozny. Abu Ramzan hadn’t been with his family in years. He was married to Syria now, he said, no time for real wife. So when Maryam’s parents approached him, Abu Ramzan was in rather a sentimental mood.

Jib stroked his cheek. “Jihad is everything,” he said, trying to match Dave’s camera voice. “Everything.”

Dave made that egg-beating movement with his hand again. It looked a bit wanky, to tell you the truth.

“Jihad is life, it is the reason God brought us here, collecting us all in this spot.”

Was this Dave’s first war? Even the cameraman seemed to snigger, even he knew these questions were like properly pitiful. Jib smiled at Hirsh in recognition of their shared understanding of how naff Dave was. But then Jib remembered that Hirsh and him were sworn enemies thanks to Israel. Jib quickly shut his mouth and frowned.

“Jihad is being waged all over the umma—from Iraq to Afghanistan. Islam is being attacked and it is up to us to defend it.” For a second Jib forgot what his three messages were supposed to be.

“But what does the word actually mean?” Dave sat up straighter in his chair. “For those at home in Hackney, how would you describe the meaning of jihad?”

What was this—BBC Question Time? Jib had answered him like eight times already. This Koran lesson was getting in the way of his three messages—funding for the free army, the need for fresh volunteers, and praise for their Turkish allies whose television serials the lads just could not get enough of.

“Jihad means...”

Only Maryam didn’t watch The Sultan’s Turban at night. She said the way it depicted women demystified them. How could they show the women of the harem uncovered? Was nothing sacred? Now even Sultan Mehmet’s wife had a French manicure and blonde hair extensions?

“War?” David suggested.

“No, no.”


“No, it’s not that.” Jibran wished Dave would stop showing off. Off camera he was always too matey, trying to name Hackney bands and bars Jib might know (Jib had never heard of White Mischief or Joanna Trollope before), offering him the almost-finished box of PG Tips he had brought over in his suitcase as though they couldn’t get tea here, and always, always flexing his Islam muscles.

“It doesn’t mean struggle?”

God. Shut up Dave. “Na, it’s something deeper you know?”

“Tell us Jibran, what is the deep meaning of jihad that took you away from your family and brought you out here?” Dave put his hands under his chin like a pointy roof. Thought it made him look all clever and interested like. There was almost no point to this. Jib wondered what Maryam was doing now and whether she missed him.

“Look, I came because I knew that my people needed me.” Volunteers. “This battle is about saving the Muslim umma and our brothers here need all the help they can get, especially better weapons and uh, support.” Funds. “And you know, it’s not all going to come from Turkey, God bless them.” Turkey.

Jibran leaned back in his chair now and smiled. Ha, he had gotten it through like a boss. Abu Ramzan would be proud. He wondered why he wasn’t here. Actually, why wasn’t he here? Maryam had refused to come too.

Dave flashed Jib a sly thumbs up before clearing his throat and uncrossing his legs. Finally, it was over. Jib had broken his collarbone once—playing field hockey at school. His bones had healed faster than this farking interview. Jib uncrossed his legs as well and stretched out his arms.

“Don’t vurry to come home quickly,” Abu Ramzan had told Jib before shunting Dave the div on him. “Be friends to him, take him for walk, speak to him of personal life, talk nice football joke.” Almost like he was trying to keep him busy. Did it matter that Abu Ramzan had been spending an awful amount of time with Maryam? Considering he was, like, a na mahram and all that?

Dave moved the hair out of his eyes and leaned forward, holding his notecards in front of his face, his forehead all furrowed and his lips scrunched up like he was about to kiss his questions.

“But tell me, Jibran, what do you define as ‘the Muslim umma’…?”


Jib sat back in his chair. It probably didn’t matter. After all, Abu Ramzan was like an uncle to him. And you could definitely trust your wife with one of those.

“The Muslim umma is everywhere, brother,” Jib said, spreading his arms wide open in the empty room. “Everywhere.”

Fatima Bhutto is a Contributing Editor at The Caravan. She lives in Karachi. Her last book, published by Penguin in November 2013, was The Shadow of the Crescent Moon.