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  • prequel

    "Top blog/Renato Obeid's World/Today's pick: This rambling weblog is worth reading not so much for its satirical posts but more for its insight into the minutiae of life in Lebanon, including the etiquette of road accidents and how to hire a taxi.” -Jane Perrone, The Guardian

    Tuesday, November 11, 2003  
    This Ramadan when I go to iftars (the meal at sundown breaking the all day fast during the Muslim holy month) I urge my hosts to serve the meal quickly – “come on, come on, hurry up, I haven’t eaten for at least an hour, I’m starving!”
    An hour being the transit time – it takes roughly an hour to get to the predominately Muslim cities of Beirut and Tripoli*(where I’ve been attending these iftars) from the Christian heartland here.
    I recall the wonderful hostess who invited my father and I to an iftar (my mother was already staying at her house – she tends to spend a lot of time with her family during Ramadan understandably) who was fretting that the meal wouldn’t be ready in time for the firing of the cannon which marks the breaking of the fast – saying she’d be so embarrassed in front of my father and I.
    Her brother jokingly and logically said “youre worried about them, what about us? – They’ve come from home where they’ve had lunch, we’ve been fasting all day!”
    Last Thursday I went to another wonderful iftar at that wonderful lady’s house – she had insisted I attend, even saying that the whole iftar was especially for me.
    I jokingly told her that this was not the time for us (Christians).
    Lebanon is a multi-confessional country.
    The state officially recognizes nineteen different religious sects (including Judaism).
    Other sects (outside the nineteen) are, off course, tolerated and respected but not officially recognized by the state – i.e. if the state is at a party and sees one or more of those unrecognised sects it will pretend not to see them, look away or something.
    But if pressed, if one of those sects approaches them and says something like “hi, its me Buddhism!” the state will say, “Hey, sorry I didn’t recognize you!”
    Even some of the religions that are recognized by the state aren’t that recognized by the populace.
    During the height of the Lebanese Civil War, my Syrian Protestant godfather**, caught in traffic in Beirut when the fighting flared up, was stopped by a Muslim militiaman who put a gun to his head and asked him whether he was Muslim or Christian.
    He replied Protestant and the gunman just dismissed him (he was obviously gunning for Maronites)You can just imagine him saying “who’s got time for you people? Can’t you see that we’re busy here? Now do something useful and go get me a Maronite!”
    A Muslim relative of mine was asking me if I was going to visit him on the Eid (Eid el Fitr- literally “the celebration of breaking the fast” - at the culmination of the month of Ramadan is the major Muslim holy day) and I replied, jokingly, “you mean Eid el Miled?”(literally meaning “the celebration of the birth” – i.e. Christmas).
    He said “no, I’ll visit you at Christmas.”
    A wonderful example of coexistence and pluralism in what Pope John Paul 2nd says is “a message not a country”.

    *Being from a multi-confesional background I find that I can easily flit between the two environments and faiths and find I need very little preparation when I go from a Christian area to a Muslim area.
    Except I have to bear in mind and remind myself of a major cultural difference which I coach myself in and try to memorize all the way to Tripoli (Beirut being a lot more progresive,modern and wordly) - "kiss the men and shake hands with the women; kiss the men and shake hands with the women right?; ok, remember, kiss the men and shake hands with the women; thats kiss the men and shake hands with the women, men - kiss them, women - shake their hands, men=kiss, women = handshake,got it?"
    ***I was a heathen for the first seven or so years of my life.
    How a Maronite came to be baptized at the age of seven with a Syrian Protestant godfather is something you’ll have to ask my parents.
    I was a deprived child.
    My friend Ronnie had already been baptized twice by that age.
    His Orthodox mother spirited him off to an Orthodox church and had him baptized while his Maronite father was overseas.
    When his father came back and found out, he righted the wrong by having him baptized again as a Maronite.
    Talk about The Two Ronnies!
    There was no religious tug of war between my parents – my siblings and I didn’t even know that our mother was a Muslim until we were in our early teens although her brainwashing us with Nasserism and the Palestinian cause should have rang alarm bells.
    When my sister was preparing for her First Communion she asked mum what kind of dress she wore for her First Communion and mum answered ‘’like your dress’’.
    We’re not to blame – even grown adults can’t spot the heathen so easily.
    A friend of a friend visiting us en route to a visit to Harisa about ten years ago asked me if I knew what time the Our Lady of Lebanon sanctuary in Harisa was open till.
    I didn’t know and she suggested that maybe my mother would know.
    I suggested that she didn’t count on that.
    My friend Tonino jokes that no Catholics would accept to be my Godparents.
    It’s all jokes of course.
    I can joke about my Godparents because I don’t have Godparents, I have second parents which is what my Godparents are to me.
    Besides, my Godfather is ancestrally Lebanese Maronite.
    His family moved to Syria from Lebanon after a village dispute and converted to Protestantism because Protestant missionaries developed their deprived and neglected village in Syria.
    So originally they were Protestants of convenience and then it just stuck.

    I think that it is simplistic to say that all Lebanon's discord is due to religion but yet I think that it is also simplistic to say that this discord is not due to religion.
    The first myth about the Lebanese civil war is that it was about religion; the second myth about the Lebanese civil war is that it wasn’t about religion.

    4:38 pm

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