A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

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

Archive for the ‘unity’ 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 »

National Tabbouleh Day (who knew?)

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on July 6, 2007

This afternoon I received an innocent forward that made me laugh out loud. The subject line was “National Tabbouleh Day”.

Here it is, without edits or emendations (except for making the website listed at the end into a link):
A yearly national day, celebrated the first Saturday of the month of July (this year the 7-7-2007), is dedicated to TABBOULEH.

During this day, Lebanese and their friends everywhere in the world meet in private or in public around this king of the mezzé.

This artistic, cultural, gastronomic and touristy feast presents them an opportunity to show and to reinforce their attachment to their country. This year, a big public gathering is organized at Souk el Tayeb in Saifi Village (downtown Beirut), where savoring and competitions of the best TABBOULEH will take place (www.soukeltayeb.com).

The edition 2007 of the NATIONAL TABBOULEH DAY will be special since the Lebanese Ministry of Tourism granted it its approval and its patronage officially.

Let’s celebrate all together the next NATIONAL TABBOULEH DAY that will take place on Saturday July 7, 2007.

Wherever you eat Tabbouleh on Saturday July 7, 2007, take photos and send them to contact@nationaltabboulehday.com so we’ll add them to the Photo Album of the 2007 Edition.


I am nothing if not pro-tabbouleh – for me it is the king, queen, and perhaps even the “three presidents” rolled into one of the mezzeh table. Nor am I ignorant of the fact that Thanksgiving is often referred to colloquially as “turkey day”. But this email had me hooting out loud, imagining diasporic and heritage Lebanese people gathering clandestinely to eat tabbouleh together, like some culinary version of a converso shabbat.

And of course the Lebanese Ministry of Tourism approved the holiday. First, because they want to brand tabbouleh as Lebanese once and for all, eliminating competing Syrian claims. And second, because … there is no tourism in Lebanon these days. What else does the ministry have to do?

Despite my amusement, I support the holiday. I have no problem dedicating a day to tabbouleh – in fact, I’m looking forward to it!

Posted in Americans, Arab world, Beirut, citizenship, Damascus, food, holidays, humor, Lebanon, media, Syria, time, tourism, unity, words | Leave a Comment »

Aid from the shaqiqat to the Palestinians of Nahr al-Bared

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on June 10, 2007

One of the fears most often expressed by Palestinians fleeing Nahr al-Bared is that they will not be permitted to return to the camp when the fighting is over. Their fears are understandable: over the years, Palestinian camps in Lebanon have been sites of “ethnic cleansing” as well as less euphemized militia attacks.

Siniora has been quite explicit in his promises that civilian residents of the camp will be allowed to return – and the government has begun an advertising campaign with the same message.

(Of course, I question why the government is advertising its goodwill towards Palestinians to the elite and foreign communities who read the Daily Star, rather than to the poor, disenfranchised Nahr al-Baredis themselves. I can’t find the advertisement in al-Nahar, although an Arabic version must be circulating somewhere.)

Meanwhile, I see that UNRWA’s recently announced Nahr al-Bared appeal is not the only one. Several Muslim charities and social groups active in the UK have announced aid campaigns, and today I saw this article in Bahrain’s Gulf Daily News:

Help Lebanon camp refugees appeal

PEOPLE in Bahrain are being urged to come to the aid of Palestinian refugees who have been forced to flee the conflict between militants and government soldiers in northern Lebanon …

[Kanwal Hameed, a former Gulf Daily News Reporter currently volunteering in Lebanon] appealed to individuals, organisations, charities, societies and companies in Bahrain to come forward with help and revive the humanitarian response to Israel’s war against Lebanon.

Donations can be made to the First National Bank in Beirut, available on 00961 1858313. For information contact Ms Hameed on kanwal.t@gmail.com.

Posted in advertising, Arab world, Beirut, citizenship, economics, Lebanon, media, neighbors, Palestine, politics, time, unity, words | 1 Comment »

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 »

Unity in the Arab world

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 12, 2007

My friend Andrew (the Middle East is a breeding ground for expatriates named Andrews and Andy; they soring up everywhere, in journalism, the foreign service, humanitarian work, and academia. This Andrew is one of five whom I know.) has published a piece on Sunni Beiruti fears in the Toronto Star: Recipe for more bloodshed in the streets of Beirut.

Its an interesting piece. Andrew notes that the few Shiite residents of Tariq Jadideh have since moved to Shiite-majority areas, which reminds me of a comment that H made recently about a barber in my neighborhood. I had noticed that the barbershop had suddenly disappeared, but not known why until H (who frequented it, apparently) said: he moved because he is Shi3a and the neighborhood is too Sunni.

Towards the end, Andrew notes that: The clerics at Imam Ali Ben Abi Taleb have issued their fatwa and hung a blue banner in front of the mosque that reads: “Hold on to Islamic and National Unity.”

Over drinks a few weeks ago we talked about this notion of unity and why it has such strong resonance in the Arab world.

For example, almost every day I walk under a banner that reads: “The strength [quwwa] of Muslims lies in their unity”.

Here in Lebanon the opposition is calling for a unity government; the opposition in Bahrain is doing the same; and we all know about the new unity government in Palestine.

A and I wondered, at first idly but then more seriously, about the extent to which the high value in which unity is held plays into what Western analysts often see as laughably high election victories. (Not that the US’s incredibly low <50% victory margins do not merit snickers of their own, of course.)

What if we as academics and political analysts were to look at 98.75% presidential victories not as risible insults to our intelligence but as the overwhelming show of support needed for a “mandate” to rule? If unity is the ideal rubric under which one governs, a 65% or even 75% victory is little better than an outright loss.

I haven’t reached any definitive conclusions about this little rumination of mine, but I do think that notions of unity and the positive attributes attached to it are things to which we should begin to pay closer and more serious attention.

Posted in Arabic, Bahrain, Beirut, Canada, Canadians, Islam, Israel, Lebanon, Palestine, politics, unity, words | Leave a Comment »