Montreal

Mosque shooting victim finds solace in writing poetry as he struggles to heal

Saïd Akjour has filled notebooks with his poems, in Arabic and French, in the two years since he was shot in the shoulder in the Quebec mosque attack on Jan. 29, 2017.

Poetry has 'become a need,' says Saïd Akjour, who's filled notebooks in 2 years since he was shot in shoulder

Mosque shooting victim Saïd Akjour says writing poetry has become a 'remedy' and 'therapy' for him since the attack. (Marika Wheeler/CBC)

Saïd Akjour sits in a café in Quebec City with a small pile of papers and a couple of pretty notebooks in front of him. He opens one of the books and brushes the Arabic script written there with his fingertips.

This poem is dated March 24, 2017. Just seven weeks earlier, Akjour's life had been turned upside down when he was shot in the shoulder at the Quebec mosque.

The tidy script unfurls across the page from right to left. These verses are the first he wrote after the shooting.

He turns to another page, loosely translating lines of a poem written days before the first anniversary of the shooting, last year.

She protects the flame with two cold hands

Our shadows await us

Growing bigger then smaller, smaller then bigger

Like ghosts awaiting for an opportunity to pounce

The arrows of treachery strike the peace of mind

The fear grew, a cloud overhead

Saïd Akjour gingerly handles the notebooks that hold the poems he has written since the shooting at the Quebec mosque. (Marika Wheeler/CBC)

'A therapy of its own'

Akjour says since the shooting, the words come easily.

"I think the need was there. It's a remedy, a therapy of its own," he says.

The lion's share of the dozens of poems he's written in the past two years are about the attack, the shooter's legal proceedings or other attacks elsewhere in the world.

Akjour works as an orderly at a provincial long-term care home, and he often drops by this café not far from his workplace, to read and write and reflect.

Two years after the shooting, returning to any kind of normalcy is still a struggle.

"Adapting, saying yes to life, continuing, is a daily effort," he says. "Sometimes I see a dark tunnel closing up on me; sometimes I have dark thoughts."

In bleak moments like those, he says, what helps is speaking to those closest to him, playing sports — and his writing.

But as the second commemoration of the shooting approached last week, he says he struggled with a new thought: sometimes, he says quietly, he wishes he had died on Jan. 29, 2017.

"It's sad, but that's the way it is."

Saïd Akjour said he "felt a need" to started writing poetry again after being shot in the shoulder in the Quebec Mosque in 2017. Two years later he tells the CBC's Marika Wheeler it's one of the ways he comes to term with the trauma of the attack. 12:34

Akjour saw a psychologist for some time after the shooting, but he stopped making appointments several months ago.

He wonders if starting up again would do him any good. But his family doctor is off on leave, and without someone helping him figure out where to turn for resources, he finds himself at a loss.

Turning a page

On Friday, Saïd Akjour's assailant will be back in court to find out whether he will spend the rest of his days in prison. Akjour says it will be a turning of the page on the events following the tragedy at the mosque.

During sentencing arguments last spring, Akjour read a victim impact statement.

He called for the death penalty, even if he knows that's not an option in the Canadian Criminal Code.

"My reasoning is if someone takes a life, he doesn't have the right to his own life," he said. "He doesn't have the right to savour life."

During the legal proceedings and sentencing arguments, Akjour went to court every day he could.

It was exhausting, but for him it was essential to witness the judicial process, to witness "democracy in our society."

"It was primordial, necessary, for me to be there," he said.

In the courtroom, Akjour took notes constantly.

Saïd Akjour said there was a life before and a life after Jan. 29, 2017, and each time he returns to the mosque where he was shot, it is like a pilgrimage for him. (Maxime Corneau/Radio-Canada)

The day the shooter read his statement to the court, Akjour wrote a poem, in French, that he called The Message of Pardon.

I am not Islamophobic, but I chose the mosque for the scene of my hateful crime

I have dark, suicidal ideas, but I prefer to kill others.

I am not a terrorist, but I terrorized a whole city

I want to change things in time to avoid this nightmare

this horrible dream

so I can obtain more munitions.

Trying to regain balance

Akjour says the shooter's statement made him angry, but writing the poem helped "dampen the shock."

"Writing helps me regain balance," he says.

Akjour now has a collection of notes, memories, poems and thoughts he wrote during the court proceedings.

He says he split them into four categories: his life in Morocco before coming to Canada; his life here before the shooting; the night of the shooting; and finally the impact of the shooting on his life and his community.

He says one day he hopes perhaps to draw on them, to write a memoir or a novel.

In the meantime, he continues to write poetry to work through the turbulence of the past two years.

"Thank God," he says, sometimes, "I am able to write about things that have nothing to do with the shooting."

About the Author

Marika Wheeler

CBC Quebec's travelling journalist

Based in Quebec City, Marika travels across the province telling the stories of people who live and work in la belle province for CBC Radio One and CBCnews.ca.

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