Fiction in CONTEST with History? Faith, Resilience and the War on Terror in Aboulela’s The Kindness of Enemies


This paper examines Arab British novelist Leila Aboulela’s representation of the precarious position British Muslims occupy as a result of the introduction of Britain’s counter-terrorism strategy (CONTEST). In The Kindness of Enemies (2015), Aboulela valorizes the horrendous experiences that members of a British Muslim family with roots in the Caucasus undergo as a result of an unsubstantiated terrorist-linked investigation. When the police arrest Oz, his mother, Malak, launches a campaign to secure the freedom of her son. During these hard times, she draws on the legacy of her great grandfather, Imam Shamil who spearheaded a Sufi Jihadist movement in the Caucasus against the Russians in the 19th century, for inspiration and solace. By drawing on history, Aboulela exposes the falsity of contemporary radical Islamist groups and presents Imam Shamil’s movement as a bright example of a Jihadist movement that was never involved in terrorist acts. In addition, by depicting how Malak embraces her great grandfather’s Sufi principles of self-control and endurance, the novel highlights the role Sufism could play in curbing radicalization among young Muslims in a hostile and McCarthyist post-9/11 and 7/7 era.


Yousef Awad



historical fiction, Leila Aboulela, diasporic Arabic literature, British Muslims