A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

Archive for the ‘mosque’ Category

holidays, Lebanese style

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on October 3, 2008

This week has been filled with holidays: with Rosh Hashanah, for Jews; and with Eid al-Fitr, for Muslims. Both religions follow a lunar calendar, which means that their holidays do not always align – but I love it whenever they do.

I also love that these holidays are increasingly recognized in the United States, both by schools and businesses. Jewish and Muslim students and workers are more able today to request time off from work or school without prejudice than they were fifteen or twenty years ago. And in some communities, particularly those with long-standing multi-faith populations, these holidays may be publicly commemorated: with a menorah in a town square, for Hanukkah; or a mayoral iftar, for Ramadan.

I love these changes, but I also want more. And holidays are an area in which I think we could learn something from Lebanon.

Here is one list of all Lebanon’s 2008 public holidays:

1 Jan New Year’s Day.
6 Jan Orthodox Armenian Christmas.
10 Jan Islamic New Year.
19 Jan Ashoura.
9 Feb Feast of St Maroun.
20 Mar Mawlid al-Nabi (Prophet’s Birthday).
21 Mar Good Friday.
23 Mar Easter Sunday.
25 Apr Orthodox Good Friday.
Apr Orthodox Easter.
1 May Labor Day.
6 May Martyrs’ Day.
13 May Resistance and Liberation Day.
15 Aug Assumption of the Virgin.
2 Oct Eid al-Fitr (End of Ramadan).
1 Nov All Saints’ Day.
22 Nov Independence Day.
9 Dec Eid al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice).
25 Dec Christmas Day.
29 Dec Islamic New Year.

There are a lot of holidays in Lebanon, you might be thinking. And you are right – but they aren’t all celebrated in the same way. There are two categories of holidays: holidays that apply to everyone, and holidays that apply to people of a particular religious background.

Let me address this second category first. These “members-only” observances are used for the holidays of Lebanon’s minority communities. For example, the entire country does not celebrate Armenian Christmas. But Armenians are expected to be given the day off, with no negative repercussions from teachers or employers.

This is somewhat like what I see happening with Jews and Muslims in the US (or Hindus who want to celebrate Diwali), although with two key differences. First, it is not mandated by the national or state government; and second, it is not universal. In Lebanon, my understanding (which may be wrong – so please correct me if so!) is that employers are required to give members of the celebrating faith the day off, and the government can take legal action against them if they do not. This aspect of holiday’ing makes me a bit uncomfortable – as a product of the separation of church (or synagogue, or mosque) and state, I dislike the idea that people should be automatically defined by their religious affiliation.

Also, in the case of the particular example I gave above, it can get a bit confusing. All Armenians do not celebrate Christmas on January 6 – there are different denominations within the Armenian community. Yet all Armenians are, at least officially, granted the day off. (I would argue that this is one of many indications of Lebanon’s Ottoman heritage. In the Ottoman Empire, “Armenian” was a catch-all millet category that mashed together religious identity and ethnicity – just like “Greek” did. Hence “Armenians” included all ethnic Armenians, who are both Orthodox and Eastern Catholic, and Maronites.)

So: I am not advocating the Lebanese system of insisting that people of a particular religion must celebrate its holidays – after all, we as a country are officially religion-blind.

But I am interested in thinking seriously about the first category of holidays: those that everyone celebrates, at least in the sense of having the day off from work or school. In Lebanon, as here in the US, everyone celebrates national days, like Independence Day and Labor Day.

And in Lebanon, as in the US, everyone celebrates certain religious holidays, like Christmas and New Year’s Day. In the US, these holidays follow the Western Christian calendar. But in Lebanon, they follow the Western and Eastern Christian calendars, and they include the Muslim calendars as well. So everyone celebrates Orthodox Easter as well as Western Easter; and everyone celebrates Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha, and the Prophet’s birthday.

The exact list of holidays seems to shift from year to year – in 2009, for example, Armenian Christmas does appear to be an official holiday. And for the past two years, the Lebanese government has been considering removing Good Friday from the holiday list – inspiring copious amounts of over-heated rhetoric as well as public protests.

I’m not advocating that we adopt the Lebanese system. As nice as 16 holidays might be, what we need to focus on now is increasing our national productivity, not reducing it.

But I think that as we mature into a country that that not only recognizes but embraces the multiple faiths that our citizens follow, we ought also to spend some time thinking seriously about our national holidays.

Erecting a public menorah and holding a city-wide iftar are important symbols. But adding a day to commemorate Yom Kippur or celebrate Eid al-Adha might be gestures of greater substance.


Posted in academia, advertising, Americans, Arab world, Arabic, Beirut, church, citizenship, family, holidays, Iowa, Lebanon, mosque, neighbors, religion, unity, words | 1 Comment »

la vie en moutarde: from Saifi to the Hariri mosque

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on August 11, 2007

My original title for this post was “la vie en jaune”. Then I decided that the color of this photograph was more accurately “orange”. For an instant I toyed with the title “la vie en jaune-orange”, but then I remembered local politics.

Downtown may still be filled with the tents of yellow and orange supporters, but I colored this photograph solely for aesthetic reasons. Since no Lebanese party has yet claimed “mustard” as its color, I feel fairly safe with this title. And the color reminds me of the day earlier this summer when “Libyan winds” brought so much red dust to Beirut that the sky was indeed stained a yellow-orange.


Posted in art, Beirut, mosque, photography | 2 Comments »

morning glories

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on June 8, 2007

This morning it rained again – a brief but intense sprinkling that left the air fresh and crisp. I walked to the gym smiling at the clean just-after-the-rain air, scented with the jasmine and other flowering bushes that grow on the grounds of my neighborhood mosque.

K is just back from Damascus, and talking about the city we both love over dinner last night made me nostalgic for its many charms. One of the loveliest things about Damascus is how green it is – not only in terms of the many parks that dot the city, but also in terms of the lush flowering trees and bushes that spill out from ground floor terraces onto the sidewalks.

When I think of Damascus greenery, I think of the jasmine that fills the city, and I think of the countless times that I have seen someone – young woman, old man, child – reach out and break off a jasmine flower to carry with them, holding it to their noses as they walk away. I rarely see it here – although now and again I have seen someone reach out for a sprig while passing the mosque. I see them, and it makes me smile.

While buying bread on my way to work, I made the usual Midwestern pleasantries with the shopkeeper.

The weather is nice today, I said. Its not too hot – or too humid.

Yes, he replied, but did you mmfmfmmmf?

What? I asked.

Errrr, he replied. “Raining”.

Ohhhh, I said, grateful for the English word. I realized what he had asked – whether I had noticed that it had “wintered” this morning.

I have a friend from Damascus who studied for several years in Beirut. This word was one he would use to highlight the differences between Lebanese and Syrian Arabic.

When it rains in Damascus, we say “its raining”. When it rains in Beirut, they say “its wintering”, K would say. The Lebanese are so dramatic.

Remembering K’s words made me smile as I replied to the grocer. I missed his use of “wintering” because to me this morning’s rain was only a light shower, lovely though it was.

Posted in Americans, Arab world, Arabic, Beirut, friends, humor, Iowa, Lebanon, mosque, rain, weather, words | Leave a Comment »

housing the faithful in Damascus

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on April 22, 2007

The bookshelf in my salon now holds two advertising fold-outs from Damascus, courtesy of G, who spent a few days there for work the week before last.

G, who knows how much I love Damascus, brought them for me as a reminder that whatever strong points the city may have, error-free English-language printing is not one of them.


Perhaps if this were the city’s name I would love it less – “Damacus Syri” really doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Syrian English is old news to me, though – what caught my eye was something different.

Look at the image above – the English language side of the card.

Now, look at the image on the Arabic side:


Its the same salon, of course – but the photograph has been taken from a slightly different angle.

Notice the television? The image on its screen is that of pilgrims on Hajj praying around the Kaaba.

Of course, I am tempted to draw the conclusion that the designer chose these two images consciously in an effort to target Muslim travelers with the Arabic side, and “foreigners (Europeans and North Americans) with the other.

This would be a savvy move for a new hotel in a city where European investment and tourism coming from the Muslim world are both gathering speed.

But do you think they really did this on purpose? G asked after hearing my theory.

I’m not sure. If I knew that the card had been created by a professional advertising firm, definitely – this would be a classic case of targeted marketing.

On the other hand (and given the English errors) … it could very well be mere Syrian serendipity.

Posted in advertising, Arab world, Arabic, Damascus, economics, holidays, Islam, mosque, photography, religion, romance, Syria, travel | Leave a Comment »

heartbreak and shattered illusions

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 31, 2007

This is a difficult post to write, because it deals with the shattering of a very fondly held illusion of mine.

My neighborhood mosque, the one I love for the sonorous clarity of its muezzin’s voice, uses a … recording.

I had started to suspect this some time ago, but had been unwilling to face my suspicions head on and actually ask one of the groundskeepers.

Two Fridays evenings ago, on my way home from a coffee at Bardo, I heard the call to prayer – my favorite one – broadcasting from my mosque. Oh, how beautiful, I thought.

The call ended, and … suddenly began again – this time coming not from my mosque but from one further south.

I tried telling myself that the muezzin had somehow run from one mosque to the next, or that the second mosque was using a relay system to rebroadcast the call, but … in my heart I knew the truth.

To borrow a metaphor that switches from Islam to Christianity, and from the spiritual to the material register, it was like a child discovering that there is no Santa Claus.

At least the spirit of the call lives on, I told myself sadly, remembering a similar meant-to-be-comforting argument my mother had used about St. Nick as the spirit of Christmas.

Any remaining possibility of retaining my illusions about my mosque and “its” muezzin was destroyed during my shop through the Mall of the Emirates on Tuesday. As I hopped my way into a particularly tight pair of Levi’s,


the Levistore, like the others, turned off its music so shoppers could hear the call to prayer being broadcast over the mall loudspeakers.

It was the same call to prayer: same voice, same intonation, same piercingly beautiful pitch.

I was heartbroken (though still composed enough to notice how well the new jeans fit). Apparently the spirit of Christmas … errr … the adhaan is not only not live, it is also not uniquely Lebanese.

The international character of Islam can be so disilllusioning sometimes.

Posted in Americans, Arab world, Arabic, Beirut, Dubai, Islam, Lebanon, mosque, music, neighbors, Qur'an, religion, travel, tune, words | 1 Comment »

The south the south the beautiful south

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 19, 2007

Yesterday my friend S took four of us on a lovely tour of south Lebanon. S’s father escorted us much of the way, from just south of Saida all the way to the border at Adayssa, back up through Marjayoun and Hasbaya to Khiam, and back up again towards Saida for lunch at S’s maternal grandmother’s house.

The skies were moody – beautiful tone poems of cloud and grey.


I took this photograph looking a bit further into the valley that separated us from Beaufort Castle.



This photograph I took a bit further south, in the rolling hills just past the “enter in peace and safety” sign erected to mark the lands recovered after the 2000 Israeli withdrawal.



Naturally our day also included a sheep crossing :-).


This photograph requires a bit more explanation. My friend K, whose apartment view I posted in “Your goal the sky”, has a partner whose greatest fear is being killed by a piece of rebar, the lengths of steel used to reinforce concrete buildings.

Although I sympathize greatly with fear-of-death phobias (mine are more of the fear-of-deathly-embarrassment variety and generally involve staircases), the incredible specificity of this one struck me as funny.

As we continued southward, however, it struck us all that in Lebanon at least this might be a more logical fear. Between the shattered bridges and buildings we passed, their destroyed floors and supports hanging from odd angles, and the intensive reconstruction efforts, rebar is everywhere.

Rebar is everywhere – including in the back of this old station wagon. K took one look at this car and said, I wonder what would happen if I said: when we get married I want to leave the church in a car like this?

I think the wedding would be off.




Posted in Americans, Beirut, childhood, citizenship, family, food, friends, holidays, home, Lebanon, mosque, photography, rain, tourism, traffic, travel, weather, women, words | 4 Comments »

Little Mosque on the Prairie VI: Good Neighbors

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 4, 2007

Several times during the past week the fact that I have no television set has come up in conversation. Regardless of nationality, everyone is horrified.

I love radio, newspapers, books, and magazines; somehow the appeal of television and cinema is less strong for me. When I watch television here, I download American shows and watch them on my computer.

I include all this exposition about my media consumption as explanation for my tardiness in posting about the two most recent Little Mosque episodes. I adore the show, but … I forget to watch it. Television, even good television, doesn’t always grip me in the way that a novel does.

Episode six,  which I am taking from mydien rather than asifnana because mydien’s version has stripped the show of its commercials, deals with the ominous visit of the Anglican archbishop. He is making a tour of non-performing parishes and closing those with poor attendance.

Given the small (and aged) size of his parish, our priest fears that his church will be the next to go. The Muslim congregation volunteers to impersonate a full, enthusiastic, multi-cultural congregation in order to give the impression that the parish is full of active parishioners. They stage a dress rehearsal, practicing hymns, the sequence of standing and sitting, and prayers – a delightful display of good neighboring, as they attempt to help the parish that helped them (by renting its parish hall to them as the community mosque).

Some of the humor is situational, and some of it a bit slapstick for me. What I found fascinating about this episode was the (very realistic, in my experience) gulf between Muslims and Christians with respect to knowledge of one another’s religious praxis.

While many Muslims may be aware of two of the fundamental theological differences between Islam and Christianity (the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the related doctrine of the Holy Trinity), the details of their neighbors’ religious lives are unknown. For example, Yasser, though married to a converted Anglican, has no idea what distinguishes New Testament from Old.

Sarah is called upon to give the congregation a crash course in Anglicanism, and her efforts to do so are funny but also sad. Her knowledge of the faith and practices of her former faith are hazy at best – and a not inaccurate depiction of the depth of many Christians’ religious knowledge.

As a scholar of the Islamic world, I am quite accustomed to the reality that Christians (in the Middle East almost more than in the United States) know very little about the ways in which practicing Muslims live their faith. This episode brought home the reality that our lack of knowledge of one another extends in both directions. For me, it was comic and sobering at one and the same time.

Posted in Americans, Canada, Canadians, church, Islam, mosque, neighbors, religion, unity | 2 Comments »

books around the world, one flight at a time (iv)

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 23, 2007

Serendipity enters one’s life when one least expects it.

Yesterday I took advantage of a long layover at Heathrow to wander slowly through Borders’ aisles. Many books called my name, but only one found its way into my carry-on bag: Tahir Shah’s The Caliph’s House.


In the tradition of A Year in Provence and other similar books, The Caliph’s House tells of Shah’s experience relocating to Morocco, buying an old riad in Casablanca, and restoring it – or at least restoring it to inhabitability.

I began reading with the assumption that Shah was a British subject of Indian (Muslim) heritage, based largely on his name (Tahir means “pure” in Arabic) and his wife’s (Rachana, an Indian Hindu name and one, incidentally, shared by one of my favorite college professors.

Soon, however, Shah disclosed that he was Afghani British, not Indian. Hmm, I thought.

He mentioned his father’s regret at having raised his children in a quiet English town rather than in the Hindu Kush, where he had spent his own childhood. Interesting, I thought. Sounds a bit familiar.

Finally, he noted that Morocco held particular fascination for him because his father’s father had moved their after the death of his wife, a Scottish aristocrat known as Bobo. Ahaaaa, I thought. I know who you are!

Tahir Shah is the brother of Saira Shah, whose book The Storyteller’s Daughter started my books around the world posts.

The book was good on its own – a well crafted read and a thoughtful narrative made all the more interesting by the fact that Shah was neither a total newcomer to Morocco nor a complete outsider (he might not be Arab, or Berber, but as a Muslim and a sayyid he is certainly within the community of the faithful).

My reading of The Caliph’s House drew extra richness from all I had learned about the Shahs’ family from The Storyteller’s Daughter. I love literary families – the way individual family members’ memories resonate with one another’s, even when they do not agree. (For example, I think no one should read Edward Said’s Out of Place without also reading his sister Jean Said Makdisi’s Mother, Teta, and Me.)

I read The Caliph’s House all in one gulp, bookended by two venti Starbucks teas, as my layover flew by.

Posted in Afghanistan, Americans, books, home, India, London, Morocco, mosque, religion, time, travel, women, words | 4 Comments »

Little Mosque on the Prairie V: praising God

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 17, 2007

Episode five of Little Mosque on the Prairie is available on YouTube (and again, with thanks to Asifnana for the prompt uploading.

This episode has a rather painfully funny addition: a white Canadian convert. He exemplifies the by-the-book rigidity that converts to any religion can exhibit, running around shouting Allahu Akbar and criticizing the community’s Muslims for their various lapses in correct practice.

A sub-plot involves Sarah and her daughter Rayyan’s pinkie-swear that Sarah can keep up with the five daily prayers for a month. The rigor of doing so is exaggerated for comic effect, which I find less than funny. I know many people who pray the required 9salat without falling prey to such total exhaustion.

One bit did make me laugh. After Sarah agrees, Rayyan brings her something to help her keep track of the prayer times: a mosque clock! I’ve never seen one that keeps track of the five prayer times, as the television show’s clock is meant to, but it could be possible.


Posted in Arabic, Canada, Canadians, clothing, family, food, Islam, mosque, music, politics, Qur'an, religion, television, time, women, words | 1 Comment »

Little Mosque on the Prairie: Pools & Pirates

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 15, 2007

Last Saturday I watched episode four of Little Mosque on the Prairie, which was excellent. It covered two very common daily-life issues for Muslims – one a universal issue for today’s world, and the other more specifically related to life in North America: swimming and Halloween.

Rayyan advises Fatima, who has sprained her leg, that she needs exercise, and suggests the ladies’ fitness classes at the local pool. The class instructor, however, turns out to be a man. There is a long plot line revolving around the solution to this problem, which ends with Fatima dressed in an “Islamically appropriate” swimsuit – which appears to be a modified fireman’s costume.

I used to swim at the state pool in Damascus during its weekly women’s hours. My fellow swimmers came dressed in all kinds of bathing costumes, from bikinis to loose, vaguely wet-suit like costumes that covered them from neck to wrist to ankle.

More recently, the Australian government has launched an all-Muslim lifeguard program, with really slick looking modests swimming costumes for women.

I understand that Little Mosque chose the swimming costume designed to make the biggest visual “splash”, but I wish they had chosen to highlight a less risible, more likely-to-appear-at-a-pool-near-you outfit.

The community’s discussion of Halloween begins with an argument between Fatima and Babur over whether their children should be allowed to participate. I know several Muslims (and know of many born again Christians) who have debated this same issue: is anything centered around devilish revelry truly harmless?

The imam comes to the rescue and suggests an Islamic Halloween: Halaloween, with Arab-world costumes. Not the stereotypical ones of oil barons and their shrouded wives (several years ago an old friend, just returned from a stint in the Emirates, went to a Halloween party dressed as a “chic sheikh”, complete with stylish mobile and watch. none of the American guests got the joke.) – he suggests that the two pre-teens go as a fig and an olive.

Babur is nominated, much against his will, to accompany them. The children’s costumes draw puzzled looks, but his “costume” is a great hit. One child compliments him on his “Osama costume”, while a parent says approvingly: oh, the Taliban – how topical!

Seeing the Halloween issue brought to life in Little Mosque reminded me of my aunt’s post on the difficulties she has faced in explaining the holiday to friends in the Gulf: some things just don’t translate.


(a photo M took last January of a left over Halloween pumpkin slowly returning to the earth from whence it came)

Posted in Canada, Canadians, childhood, holidays, Islam, media, mosque, politics, Qur'an, religion, swimming, television, women | 2 Comments »