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Lebanon -The Religious Edge

2 November , 2010

Living in Lebanon forces you to confront religion. You can ignore it. You can be quite clear that you prefer not to have anything to do with it. You can claim to be spiritual. But you cannot ignore religion.

It finds you on a Sunday morning when you wander into a church, each branch of the faith competing with the other to pull you into a more beautiful, a more Eastern mass.

It finds you on a Friday when streets may close, or shops may shut, and the call of the muezzin rings out overhead as the squares start to fill with the shoes of the faithful.

It finds you in the mountains when the Druze pronounce the silent letter “q” and nobody else does.

Living in Lebanon forces you to confront religion. You dress one way in one suburb, and cover strictly in another. You may not believe you should cover, but somehow it just feels more comfortable to pull a scarf across your naked shoulders. You may not conform, but you bend, just a little.

You hear your friends talk about politics, but understand that each view is infused with the essence of a religious upbringing. The word “they” is used without a second thought. For there is difference in the unity of God. And if they want to avoid religion, and pray in aid the secular society that may be the only way to bring peace to this troubled Biblical land, you are still forced to confront religion by debating the good of having no religion.

And then, what secularism means to one is different from what secularism means to the other. A marriage without religion, a divorce without religious judgment, a parliament without religious division, laws without Sharia, the celebration by all of both Eid and Christmas? Is secularism a country without religious borders?

For even the borders are religious in Lebanon. Jewish neighbours, Shia politicians, Sunni armies, right wing Christian presidents sending their dollars to ensure there is no escape from the turmoil that may betray the country’s delicate fragility at any moment. Confrontation from one street to the next, betrayed by a circumcision or a cross.

And still there is a kind of unity. A solitary spirit that believes that the country is both blessed and cursed. The peaceful wishes of goodbye. The tearful goodbyes in almost every family, forced to seek peace in the religion of migration. The call to God through candles or Korans. A desire for it all to be forgotten, for the country to move forward as one.

As the next religious cry roars across crowded suburbs, where electricity comes rarely and clean water is a gift, applauded by beards, robes and the stern voice of God, Lebanon hopes for a miracle. A miracle that faith might work.

1st November 2010

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