M. Ibrahim and the Flowers of the Koran


Second part of the 'cycle de l'invisible"

Paris in the 1960s. Thirteen-year-old Moses lives in the shadow of his less-than loving father. When he's caught stealing from wise old shopkeeper Monsieur Ibrahim, his discovers an unlikely friend and a whole new world. Together they embark on a journey that takes them from the streets of Paris to the whirling dervishes of the Golden Crescent.


« There are some texts you carry »

There are some texts you carry around in you so naturally that you don't realise how important they are. Writing them is like breathing, and they seem to get written in an exhalation.

Monsieur Ibrahim and the Flowers of the Koran is a text like this. I wrote it in a few days for a friend, perched at the corner of a table. It came to me effortlessly without fuss or bother. I never dreamt it would be so successful and go around the world, still less that I'd become known in many countries as 'the author of Monsieur Ibrahim'.

Bruno Abraham-Kremer, a friend and actor, was spending a few days with me at my house in Ireland. He had been travelling in Turkey, where he'd crossed the arid landscapes of Anatolia on foot, visited Sufi monasteries, and whirled with dervishes in prayer. He came back full of the mystic poetry of Islam. We fell to talking about Rumi, a wonderful sage and writer, and about the humility he advised, about dance as a form of prayer. As we talked, my thoughts took off on a flying carpet towards the Orient.

Wisdom often has its roots in childhood, and we naturally enough began to remember our grandfathers who we realised had marked us in as much as we had loved them. Before the laughing, soothing images of our forebears, Monsieur Ibrahim was already taking shape. Then Bruno told me his family history; I described my own…

When Bruno Abraham-Kremer left, I promised to write something in which our love of the Islam he had experienced came together with our memories of adolescence.
In the event, he had hardly boarded the plane when I began scribbling. Momo spoke unbidden; I just had to listen to everything he dictated. A week later, I phoned Bruno Abraham-Kremer.

- 'I've got the text I promised you.'
- 'Oh, yes… have you started?'
- 'No, I've done it. Where are you?'
- 'In Paris, in the street.'
- 'I want to read it to you. Is there a bench around where you can sit down?'
- 'No. But there's the kerb… OK, I've got my feet in the gutter. Fire away.'
And I read him the adventures of Momo and Monsieur Ibrahim straight off. Now and again, he laughed in encouragement. Sometimes, I couldn't hear him.
- 'Are you still there? Can you still hear me?'
- 'I'm in tears…'

My last words to him, as I wound up the conversation, were that if he wanted to recite the narrative on stage, it was his for the asking.' After this, my thoughts turned to other things, and I immediately got involved in another piece of writing. For me, the matter was over. Written from the heart by heart, Monsieur Ibrahim inhabited a private universe, and I didn't really consider consigning it to the stage or even to the public. I wasn't allowed to get away with it.
Friends, family, my publisher - everyone was thrilled with the book. Far from being pleased, I was a bit annoyed by so many compliments, which seemed excessive: why were they so excited about these pages that had demanded nothing from me when I'd spend hours sweating blood over others? Like anyone else, I like things I've had to work at, things that cost an effort, because they improve my self-respect.
I was wrong. Sweat is not a sign of talent. What comes naturally is often better than sheer hard work; an artist should admit that some things come easily. This was the lesson I learnt from what happened to Monsieur Ibrahim.

Who are Momo and Monsieur Ibrahim?
Two people who pass unnoticed through the world. Momo is an only child with no mother, and a father who barely deserves the name of 'father', too sunk in depression to take care of his son and bring him up, or teach him and hand on to him a taste for life and its principles. As for Monsieur Ibrahim, the only thing anyone asks of him is that he give them the correct change. Both man and boy change their lives as they get to know one another. Their encounter is a marvellous enrichment.
There's been a lot of verbiage about the fact that the child is Jewish and the grocer Muslim. Rightly so. It was a deliberate move to create them like that. I set out to prove something and be provocative.

What I wanted to prove was that in many places in the world (European capitals, ports, American cities, North African villages), people of different religions from different backgrounds live together in harmony. In Paris, Rue Bleue, the road where this story takes place and where I once lived and which definitely isn't blue, was largely inhabited by Jews with a few Christians and Muslims. They all shared not only the same street, but daily life, their joys, discontents and conversation. Friendships or mutual understanding developed among these people who came from just about everywhere, either geographically or spiritually. In this unpretentious quartier down from Montmartre, I felt I was living somewhere rich and burgeoning, where cultures met, took an interest in each other and joked about their differences - like the old Jewish doctor who told the Muslim grocer that he would only celebrate Ramadan if he lived in Sweden where it was dark at three in the afternoon.

Sadly, the news we get from journalists only reflects what is going wrong, never what is running smoothly. It thus perniciously reduces Jewish-Arab relations to the conflict between Israel and Palestine, neglecting areas of agreement and peaceful cohabitation and giving weight to the idea of irremediable opposition. I don't want to deny the tragedy of the conflict, but one shouldn't confuse the world's real sounds with a part of the world or with journalistic and political fury. I felt it was important to tell a story of fraternity with a message of happiness. One of my proudest moments was when I discovered that in Israel, for instance, Arab, Christian and Jewish peace supporters use Monsieur Ibrahim and the Flowers of the Koran to try to spread their hopes, acting it out in the same theatre in Hebrew one night, Arabic the next.

The provocative element was to give a positive image of Islam at a time when monstrous acts of terrorism were distorting the Islamic faith. If today Islamicism is an insult to Islam, if it is infecting the planet, we should as a matter of urgency make a distinction between Islam and Islamicism, wrest from our minds the irrational fear of Islam and stop associating a religion, whose thousand-year old wisdom is an inspiration to millions of men and women, with the excessive and deadly scowl of certain militants.
Stories have their part to play in the life of the mind, even short stories about minor characters. Monsieur Ibrahim and Momo are united by a love that dismisses our fears of otherness and difference because it occurs simply in flesh and blood beings with emotions like our own.
Monsieur Ibrahim teaches Momo essential things: to smile, to talk, not to move too much, and to look at women with a look that comes from the heart not from lust. He reveals to him a more contemplative universe and even teaches him to accept death. All these things Monsieur Ibrahim has learnt from his Koran. They are things one could learn elsewhere, but Monsieur Ibrahim has learnt them from his Koran. 'I know what is in my Koran' he keeps saying.

When Momo is handed Monsieur Ibrahim's old copy, he finds what was in it: dried flowers. His Koran is the text but it is also what Monsieur Ibrahim has placed in it: his life, his way of reading, his interpretation. Spirituality is not about repeating sentences parrot-fashion, but about grasping the meaning and understanding the concept and shades of meaning, the implications. True spirituality is only worthwhile when obedience and freedom are balanced.
There you have the explanation I'm always asked for, the explanation of the mysterious title, Monsieur Ibrahim and the Flowers of the Koran.

Brussels,16 November 2004
Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt


Le Figaro - « At a time when every shade of fanaticism ... »

At a time when every shade of fanaticism is rearing its head and religion drawing swords to win victory by force, Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt's fable, in which man is reconciled with himself, provides a marvellous antidote. [...] The simplicity and compassion of Schmitt's writing are truly affecting. [...] Laughter and tears are guaranteed at this superb show.

Armelle Heliot

Le Pariscope - « A beautiful fable of spiralling threads,... »

A beautiful fable of spiralling threads, from the older man to the child, from Sufism to Judaism - two strands that interweave to form a ribbon of shimmering silk with deep contrasts. There's no lack of meaning but there are also the joy and freedom of sheer fantasy.


Le Figaro - « From the Rue Bleue to the crescent moon,... »

From the Rue Bleue to the crescent moon, Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt's story is funny, sensitive and serious. [...] Gravity and fantasy combine with infinite charm on this journey of self-discovery that ends with love of the self, the most important love of all, because it leads to reconciliation with other people. [...]

One's only regret is that the story has to come to an end.
A real treat.

Philippe Tesson

Télérama - « A stylistic gem, sparkling with emotion and humour ... »

A stylistic gem, sparkling with emotion and humour, that tells a simple tale of friendship between a Jewish lad, Momo, and the old Arab grocer of Rue Bleue in Paris. Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt reveals his 'alterity'. With an acrobatic flourish, he has realised Flaubert's dream to 'write a book about nothing, a book dependent on nothing external.'

Sylviane Bernard-Gresh

L'Indigo Mag - « A Dickensian story »

A Dickensian story: Paris in the sixties, Momo is 13 and an orphan whose only friend is Monsieur Ibrahim, the Arab grocer from the Rue Bleue. This is a nickname, because Rue Bleue ('Blue Road') is not so blue, and Monsieur Ibrahim may be a Muslim but he is Turkish not Arabic. [...]

It's almost uncomfortable to be this affected by a show. It may not convince you, but you can't fail to be moved by it.

Catherine Gary

Le Pariscope - « hymn to life »

Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt has written a touching hymn to life. Momo's coming-of-age journey becomes ours. It is also a tour through grassroots Paris of the sixties when generous-hearted prostitutes jostled with the hoi-poloi. Schmitt is a first-class writer, unafraid to be wildly whimsical. [...]

One ends up with a serious wish to be happy.

Marie-Cécile Nivière

Le Point - « A noble vision of human reconciliation »

A noble vision of human reconciliation. A show to recommend to all those who think Islam a hysterical religion.

Frédéric Ferney

Actualité Juive - « East meets West. »

East meets West. [...] A veritable hymn to tolerance, and to fellow-feeling not only between two men of different origins but between adult and child. A refreshing and delightful show.

Michèle Lévy-Taieb

La Tribune - « At a time when peace seems to be in its death ... »

At a time when peace seems to be in its death throes in the Middle East, this uplifting show about interreligious relationships explodes all the snares and clichés without once descending into cloying otherworldliness or irritating partisanship. [...]

A truculent show to enjoy with all the family.

Yasmine Youssi

Impact Médecine - « En route, Monsieur Ibrahim ... »

En route, Monsieur Ibrahim hands down to Momo the magic password of 'true self-love' which alone can bring reconciliation with oneself and therefore with other people. His grocer's shop is a cornucopia.

Jean-Michel Ulmann

The Scotsman - « The Scotsman Festival »

The Scotsman Festival

Wednesday 16 August 2006
Theatre: Monsieur Ibrahim and the flowers of the Qur’an

This show is so warm, well-intentioned and wise that you almost feel it could dissolve the hatreds of the Middle East. Based on a novella by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt (whose early play The Visitor can be seen at Hill Street Theatre) it’s a coming-of-age story about Jewish teenager Moses and the Muslim shopkeeper who befriends him.

Moses lives in suburban Paris with his father, a failing lawyer who lacks the ability to express affection (for reasons revealed near the end). Fed up with his dismal domestic existence, Moses begins stealing his father’s money and shoplifting to fund a newfound enthusiasm for prostitutes.

The inscrutable local shopkeeper, Monsieur Ibrahim, is the chief victim of his kleptomania, yet Moses soon discovers the man has both witnessed and forgiven his crimes. So begins an unusual friendship that will open Moses’s eyes not only to an alternative religious perspective, but also to secrets of adult happiness and fulfilment.

It may be a familiar narrative, but this production presents the story with an extraordinary degree of charm. Translated, adapted and directed by Patricia Benecke and Patrick Driver, it was originally staged at London’s Bush theatre.

However, it is hard to imagine actors better suited to these roles than James Daley, whose Moses has the guileless joie de vivre of a young Labrador, and Sam Dastor, whose Monsieur Ibrahim has eyes that rival the Andromeda galaxy for twinkle.
Daley narrates, while both actors slip in and out of supporting roles, including Moses’s father, his long-lost mother and even a cameo by Brigitte Bardot. Soutra Gilmour’s set doubles not only as Monsieur Ibrahim’s tin-can-lined shop and Moses’ gloomy home, but also as a car and sundry other locales, while Monsieur Ibrhim’s stepladder puts in a noble guest appearance as the Eiffel Tower.

It all amounts to a comedy-drama with a wonderfully flighty spirit which does not stop at promoting tolerance, but urges its audience to seize life with all energy it can muster.

Andew Burnet

Daily Telegraph - « What an absolute ... »

"What an absolute - and unexpected - delight...the heartwarming chemistry on stage has to be seen to be believed"

Dominic Cavendish

The Independent - « A tale that is charming »

A tale that is charming and touching - as well as beautifully acted in Patricia Benecke's lovely, spare production"

Paul Taylor

The Times - « Touching, humorous... »

"Touching, humorous... its subject leaps the decades, cities and nations."

Benedict Nightingale

Financial Times - « "Patricia Benecke's production has »

"Patricia Benecke's production has a light touch and Sampson and Sawalha give funny, warm performances that reach across the footlights"

Sarah Hemming

The Stage - « What a glorious story »

"What a glorious story and wonderful feelgood production this is, with outstanding performances from Ryan Sampson and Nadim Sawalha"

Jeremy Austin

Sunday Times review - « Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt has packed more into 70 minutes .... »

"Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt has packed more into 70 minutes than many others do in three times that length. Moses (Ryan Sampson), a 13-year-old Jewish boy in Paris, becomes friendly with M Ibrahim, a Muslim grocer (Nadim Sawalha). Moses is lonely. His lawyer father is demanding and remote. He is also a failure; he loses his job, feels ashamed, disappears, leaving Moses to fend for himself, commits suicide. This is the story of a fatherless boy who finds a new father; of a Jew and a Muslim who find that they have life in common. The writing is spare, cool, matter-of-fact.

Schmitt does not preach. The emotion seeps out from between the words, where it's always strongest in people who feel deeply. The acting is unshowy, delicate and precise; the complicity of shared harmony, like musicians playing a Mozart sonata." ****

John Peter

The Daily Telegraph review - « Mr. Ibrahim and the flowers of the Qu'ram »

"What an absolute - and unexpected - delight. Having neither read Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt's novella nor seen the 2003 film adaptation starring Omar Sharif, I approached the theatrical incarnation of Monsieur Ibrahim and the Flowers of the Qu'ran with a high degree of scepticism. What flowers are these exactly? Those bouquets of wisdom which come with such friendly exhortations as "Strive hard against the unbelievers" attached? The global hothouse is heavy with the competing scents of fundamentalism's fleurs du mal at the moment - and we could all do with a breather from religious proselytising. But that's exactly why this unaffectedly charming two-hander turns out to be such a rare pleasure. In its delicate tracing of the quick-blossoming friendship between an elderly Muslim shopkeeper and a young Jewish boy, it suggests how easily differences between faiths can be laid aside - or at least could be, back in '60s Paris. Monsieur Ibrahim - played with wonderfully grizzled authority by Nadim Sawalha, father of actress Julia - might, were he so inclined, take offence at the casual assumptions and petty thieving that regular visitor Moses is prone to. The 13-year-old lad, whom he dubs "Momo", lazily refers to Ibrahim as an "Arab" and filches store items to fund his pubescent encounters with prostitutes. Rather than chopping off the scamp's hands, though, the kindly Ibrahim takes Moses under his wing as a surrogate son, gleaning that the boy's mother abandoned him shortly after birth and that his father has no time for him. "Arab," the shopkeeper quips, "means open at night and on Sundays in the grocery business." Free of charge, he offers invaluable advice. "It's smiling that makes you happy," Ibrahim explains, not the other way round. His words have the power of divine revelation - and Ryan Sampson's Momo instantly starts flashing grins at us with the sort of eager-eyed freshness that can't be faked. Just as this young actor catches the myriad vulnerabilities of the teenage years, so Sawalha displays a matching versatility, switching into heavy, depressive mode to play Momo's father, and undertaking a spot of female impersonation, as first Brigitte Bardot, then later Momo's long-lost mother, when she comes into the shop. For all the elegant simplicity of Soutra Gilmour's set design - rows of shelving units stacked with gleaming tins - there's no doubt that the pair's horizon-broadening treks across Paris and the Continent would be better evoked on film, but the heartwarming chemistry on stage has to be seen to be believed." Daily Telegraph review by Dominic Cavendish


  • In Albanian language, published by Asdreni 
  • In Arabic, published by Dar Al Shorouk
  • In Basque, published by Erein, 2006
  • In Bulgarian, published by Lege Artis Publishing House
  • In Castillan language, published by Ediciones Obelisco, 2003, and  published by Ediciones Destino in 2007
  • In Catalan language, published by Editorial Cruilla
  • In Chinese, published by Eurasian Publishing, 2005, translated by Lin Ya-Fen
  • In Danisch, published by Bjartur/HR Ferdinand, 2004, translated by Elisabeth  Ellekjaer: Monsieur Ibrahim og Koranens blomster
  • In Dutch, published by Uitgeverij Atlas, 2004, translated by Eef Gratama: Meneer Ibrahim en de bloemen van de Koran; Published by Wolters-Noordhoff in french (School); in soft cover published by Fisher.
  • In American English, published by The Other Press, 2003, translated by Marjolijn de Jager
  • In English (UK), published by Methuen
  • In Georgian language, published by Bakur Sulakauri
  • In Estonian language, published by Varrak
  • In Finnish, published by Like Publishing, 2005, translated by Mrja Haapio: Monsieur Ibrahim ja Koraanin Kukkaset
  • In Galician, published by Faktoria K de Libros (Vigo- Pontevedra)
  • In Georgian language, published by Bakur Sulakauri
  • In German, published by Ammann Verlag, 2003, translated by Annette and Paul Bäcker
  • In Greeks, published by Opera Book, 2002
  • In Hebrew, published by Kinneret-Zmora-Dvir Publishing, 2002
  • In Hungarian, published by Europa konyvkiado, 2005, translated by Balla Katalin: Ibrahim ur es Koran viragai
  • In Icelandic, published by Bjartur Reykjavik, 2004, translated by Guorun Vilmundardottir pyddi: Hr Ibrahim og blom koransins
  • In Italian, published by Edizioni e/o Roma,  2003, translated by Alberto Bracci Testasecca: Monsieur Ibrahim e i fiori del Corano
  • In Japanese published by Yumiko Ban
  • In Korean, published by Munkhak Segye-sa publishing co, 2005, translated by Rosa Han
  • In Norwegian, published by Lanser Forlag, 2002, translated by Willy Flock: Herr Ibrahim og Koranens blomster
  • En langue perse
  • In Polisch, published by Wydawnictwo Znak, 2004, translated by Barbara Grzegorzewska: Pan Ibrahim I kwiaty Koranu
  • In Portuguese, published by Ambar, 2003, translated by Carlos Correia Monteiro de Oliveira: O senhor Ibrahim e as flores do Corao
  • In Portuguese (Brazil), published by Editoria Nova Fronteira, 2003, translated by Jannaina Senna: Sur Ibrahim e as flores do Corao
  • In Russian, published by Azbuka, 2004
  • In Serbian, published by Laguna, 2001, translated by Ana Stosic : Gospodin Ibrahim I evetovi iz Kurana
  • In Slovenian, published by Vale-Novak
  • In Swedish, published by Storm Forlag, 2004, translated by Till Svenska and Asa Larsson

Stage Productions

  • Argentina
    Buenos Aires, Theater of l’Amia, 2003
    Buenos Aires, Centro Cultural d España, Latin America Tour, 2008
  • Austria
    Innsbruck, Kellertheater 04/05
    Vienna, Th in der Drachengasse 03
  • French-speaking Belgium
    Brussels, Théâtre le Public, 2005, 2006, 2007
    Ittre, Théâtre de la Valette, 06
    Whith Michel Kacenelenborgen, directed by Oliviers Massart, national tour 2007
    Liège, Théâtre de la Place, 21st may 2008, Soirée de gala
  • Bulgaria : ???????? ????X?? ? ????????? ?? ??????
    Translation Snéjina Roussinova-Zdravkova
    Sofia, National Theater Yvan Vasov,
  • Chile: El señor Ibrahim y las flores del Corán
    Santiago de Chile, Latin America Tour, 2008
  • France: Monsieur Ibrahim et les Fleurs du Coran
    Avignon, Festival off, Théâtre des Halles, July 01
    Châtenay-Malabris,  Théâtre de la Piscine, 1999
    Paris, Studio des Champs-Elysée, 2002
    Cado Orléans, 2003
    Paris, Théâtre Marigny, Salle Popesco, permanently from 99 to 06
  • Germany: Monsieur Ibrahim und die Blumen des Korans
    Aachen, Grenzlandtheater, 2005
    Bad Godesberg, Kleines Theater, 06/07
    Bad Salzuflen, 2005
    Berlin, Tertianum Residenz, 2005
    Berlin, Andreas Loos, 2005
    Berlin, Werkstattbühne,04/05/06
    Bielefeld, Dieter Grell 04/05
    Bonn, Theater der Jugend, 2005
    Bremen, Andrea Zoog, 2005
    Burghofbuhne Landestheater, 2001
    Cottbus, Stadttheater, 03/04
    Dessau, Eine-Welt-Verein, 2005 
    Dresden, Societätstheater, 2005
    Düsseldorf, Rolf Fuchs, 2005
    Düsseldorf, Schauspielhaus Kinder & Jugendtheater
    Frankfurt, Theater Tamen, 2005
    Gera/Altenburg, Landestheater, 2009
    Germering, Rossstalltheater
    Giessen, Stadttheater 2007, 2008, 2009
    Halle, Kulturhalle 2006/07
    Harsewinkel, Dieter Grell, 2005
    Heilbronn, Theater, 2009/2010
    Herford, Dieter Grell, 2005
    Innsbruck, Kellertheater, 2005
    Jürgen Heimüller, 2005
    Krefeld und Mönchengladbach, Vereinigte Bühen, 04/05
    Köln, Theater Arcadia 04/05
    Landshut, Kleines Theater 04/05
    Lehan, Hermann, 2005
    Leipzig, Theater der jungen Generation 04/05
    Manheim, Nationaltheater-Shnawwl, 2009
    München, Tournée American Drama Group, 2009/2010
    Neuss, Moment Theater 04/05
    Neuwied, Landestheater Rheinland-Pfalz, 05/06
    Northeim, Dieter Grell 2005
    Oldenburg, Theater Laboratorium 04/05/06
    Pforzheim, Stadtheater, 2009
    Regensburg, Stadttheater, 04/05
    Stuttgart, Forum Theater, 2005
    Stuttgart, Schauspielbühnen, 2009/2010 
    Ulm, Theaterei Herrlingen, 2005
    Würzburg, Stadtheater, 01/02
  • Israel
    Translation: Maya Tavi
    Tel Aviv, alternately in hebraïc and Arab languages, 03/04
  • Italy
    Turin, Teatro Juvarra 04/05 + national tour
    Milano, Lux teatro 06 + tour
  • Japan
    Tokyo, Hakuhinkan Theatre lectures 2005
    + national tour lectures in 2006
  • Luxemburg
    Luxembourg, Théâtre Ouvert, 2005
  • The Netherlands: Meneer Ibrahim en de bloemen van de Koran
    Beermuziektheater, national tour 05/07
  • Paraguay: El señor Ibrahim y las flores del Corán
    Asunción, Centro Cultural de España, Latin America Tour, 2008
  • Niederlanden: Meneer Ibrahim en de bloemen van de Koran
    Beermuziektheater, Tournee 05/07
  • Peru: El señor Ibrahim y las flores del Corán
    Lima, Latin America Tour, 2008
  • Portugal: O Senhor Ibrahim e as Flores do Corão
    Coimbra, Théâtre Académique de Gil Vicente, 2007-2008 
  • Puerto Rico
    San Juan, Teatro de la Comedia, 2005
  • Spain: El senor Ibrahim y la flores del Coran
    Madrid, Verteatro, 04/05+ national tour
    Madrid, Teatero Maria Guerrero, 2006
  • French-speaking Switzerland
    Geneva, Théâtre de Poche, 06/07
  • German speaking Switzerland: Monsieur Ibrahim und die Blumen des Korans
    Zurich, Viviane Schmid, 2005
  • Turkey
    Translation Serap Babur
    Theater National, 2003
  • United Kingdom
    London, Soho Theatre, lectures 02
    London, Bush Theatre, 2005 + Edinburgh Fringe Festival summer 2006 + tour
  • United States
    New York, McGinn-Cazale Theatre, the Play Cy, 2001
    New York, reopening 2003


M. Ibrahim and the Flowers of the Koran