Lebanon’s location at the crossroads of the Mediterranean Basin and the Arabian hinterland has shaped its rich history and cultivated a cultural identity of religious and ethnic diversity rarely seen elsewhere in the world.
First and foremost, let’s set the facts straight. There are 18 officially recognized denominations in Lebanon. In these tight quarters and at such close proximity, it would be difficult for any other group of people to evade conflicts and diffuse tensions. But, we have been doing just that for centuries, always prevailing, always coexisting.
Therefore, in today’s interweaved sacred periods while some observe Lent and prepare for Easter Sunday, others prepare for the holy month of Ramadan. It is a special time of spiritual celebration and togetherness for all.
For those of you who wonder how we do it, here are 8 Ways Lebanon Proves to the World Christians and Muslims Can Coexist.
#1 We live together
I’m not talking about the predominantly Muslim or predominantly Christian towns and neighborhoods in Lebanon, because we definitely have those. I’m talking about the plenitude of cities and villages where we live side-by-side and door-to-door.
For over eight hundred years, long before the Republic of Lebanon was officially created, our Christian and Muslim ancestors inhabited the same geographical mass, living not only in peace but in harmony and cooperation too.
We live door-to-door and window-to-window, often knocking on said doors for a pinch of Cumin or Salt or an afternoon gossip session or to check on a neighbor’s kid falling sick, and on, and on. Our lives are intertwined and we care about each other.
You might find it hard to believe if you are not a local fellow raised and grown up in Lebanon. Yet, testimonies of such reality are countless.
A relevant one, reported by The Guardian on the Southern village of Yaroun, speaks plain truths about our friendly coexistence.
Yaroun is only one of the many places in Lebanon where Muslims and Christians share a cultural heritage more powerful than religious rifts and political divides. No surprise for us there.
#2 We Live Our Joys Together
Like all good neighbors and friends, we often celebrate events and happy occasions together. It is so normal for Christians to attend Muslim weddings and vice versa. It is also common that Christian couples often reserve tables that don’t serve alcohol for their Muslim guests.
The Lebanese are firm believers of “those who laugh together, cry together.” We do not take our people’s plights lightly, nor do we take for granted our moral obligation towards them. It is, therefore, no oddity to see Muslims attending Christian funeral services in churches.
Likewise, Christians often pay their respects at mosques and husayniahs. This practice is a common one passed on from our grandparents who regularly delegated groups of their most respected elders to offer condolences.
#4 We Fall In Love With Each Other
Because how can we not? Lebanese people of different religions have been falling in love and getting married since the very beginning. Our civil laws still prohibit (or contain no clause for) the union, but that’s not for our lack of trying nor hasn’t it impeded Love to thrive between Lebanese citizens of different religions.
Not ones to be deterred by these archaic confines, many Lebanese couples head to Cyprus to legalize their matrimony. One famous example on Lebanese inter-faith marriage is the union of Sami Gemayel, a political leader and scion of a prominent Christian family, to Carine Tadmouri, daughter of an ancient Muslim family of our northern capital of Tripoli.
We play together, we grow up together, we go to school together, so it’s no surprise that we do pretty much everything together. Contrary to some foreign communities, where members of a religious denomination cluster in tight groups and keep to themselves, the Lebanese society is a homogenous entity of ‘everyone’s invited’.
A striking example of us valuing our coexistence is how Muslim and Christian co-workers hold symbolic fasts, refraining from eating in front of the other in public workplaces during Lent and Ramadan. That is also observed during our home visits to each other during each other’s fasting.
The value we give to our coexistence is also relevant in our restaurants. Regardless of their owners’ religious background, they all offer halal meat to accommodate Muslims’ dietary restrictions. And when the food happens to contain pork or any ingredient Muslims can’t consume, Lebanese Christians are quick to the punch and are often the ones to warn their counterparts or to offer them replacements. No big deal.
#6 We Pray Together
Believe it or not, it is how things go in our homeland. Lebanon is an ancient land that has been at the heart of the growth of two of the world’s major religions, Christianity and Islam. For centuries, diverse religious traditions have shared this beloved land, making it a place of refuge and spiritual retreat for Muslims and Christians alike.
We are partners in joy, partners in grief… and partners in activism. In the 10,452 square kilometers that we call Lebanon, hundreds of political protests and rallies see Lebanese activists joining hands to call for action. Even when the causes pertain to a particular denomination, it is not uncommon for groups of different confessions to march in solidarity.
When people tell me that this isn’t the case in other countries, I feel perplexed. Contrary to what some media outlets would have you believe, Muslims celebrating Christian holidays, and Christians celebrating Muslim holidays is the most natural thing in the world for us.
In fact, most Muslim homes light up Christmas trees and exchange gifts every December. Likewise, all Christians wish their Muslim friends Ramadan Mubarak and Happy Eid every year. They seek the pastry stores for the pastries that are particular to the Eid season.
The Muslim Iftar (break-of-fast) at each Ramadan sunset is also commonly attended by Lebanese Christians, whether they are invited or they themselves extend the invitations.
Christians also join in celebrating the nightly Ramadaniyet dinner celebrations that are very popular in our restaurants during the season.
With the exception of our civil war, we have risen above every heedless attempt to instigate violence and agitate sectarians rifts.
It is crucial to point out in this context that our civil war was in fact triggered not by religious differences but by a conflict between a foreign militant party and a local political party and unfolded uncontrollably by reckless local and international politics.
As Robert Fisk of The Guardian notes, years of civil war “taught the Lebanese that no one wins.” No matter how large or potent the threat is, our common grounds of brotherhood and compassion persevere and shall prevail.
This is Lebanon, the remarkable country that refuses to give up its distinguished coexistence, because we Lebanese know that together, in our variety, we make up this amazing homeland of ours.